Entrepreneurial Leadership and Management . . . and Other Stuff


My Windows Live Writer Wish List

I’ve been using Windows Live Writer to create blog posts for a few weeks now and I really like it.  It’s still in beta, though, and like any beta product, it has its bugs, quirks and incomplete features.  None of these prevent me from creating posts fairly easily and the beta product has never crashed or lost my data. 

The Help menu has an entry labeled “Send Feedback . . .”  When I click on it, I get taken to an MSN Spaces page where I have to sign in to leave feedback.  IMO, you just shouldn’t have to do this (the signing in part) in a public beta testing situation, but that’s neither here nor there because I can’t actually sign in – I get a message telling me that the service is temporarily unavailable.  So, I’ll dump my feedback right here.

First, let me say that Writer has three features that make it better than any other blogging tool that I have used.  [Disclaimer: I haven’t tried every tool out there and I’m sure that there are some with more features or are better in other ways.]

  1. Writer imports the style sheets from your target blog so that all your editing is in context and looks exactly like it will be published – fonts, colors, background, everything.
  2. The tool is fairly easy to extend with plugins and a community has already emerged creating a variety of them, a couple of which I’m using.
  3. Writer handles the insertion of stuff – links, pictures, maps, tags, etc – more elegantly than the other tools I’ve used.  This is hard to explain, because it doesn’t have a load of additional features (although map insertion is very cool), but it just always does the right thing.  Perhaps I’m biased here since I could never get my previous favorite, Blogjet, to FTP images to my server behind the scenes.

It’s also important to note that unlike doing a post in Word (versions prior to 2007), the HTML appears to be clean and compressed for the most part.

All that positive stuff said, here’s what I’d change . . .

  • No scroll bars?  When a post is longer than a displayed page, the only way to see the text above or below what is visible in the window is to use the keyboard arrows.  There are no displayed scroll bars nor does the wheel on the mouse work.  Weird.
  • Open and Save to a specific location.  Right now, Writer can open and Save documents to any directory as long as it’s named “My Weblog Posts” and it’s in the current user’s “My Documents” tree.  I should be able to specify whatever directory I want drafts or completed posts saved in and this should be assignable as a preference so I don’t need to always enter it.  To be clear, posts can already be opened in the current version from the Drafts directory, the directory of previously posted docs or from the the blog itself.
  • New/Open creates a new window, always.  IMO, Writer should use an MDI window or should ask me whether it should replace the current window when I do a New or Open.  One of the reasons I moved to Firefox was that IE opened a new window for every site clicked on, making window management too difficult.  Keep everything in one window, even if there’s only one document displayed at a time.
  • Remember where my last window was.  This is standard operating procedure for software these days.  Just open the window in the same place I closed it last time.  Writer, for some reason, wants to open a new window to the left and lower on the screen than where the previously closed window was.  If others like this, please give me an option to remember the location or not.
  • Spelling squiggles.  Writer has a spell checker that can be invoked automatically prior to posting or manually at any time.  It does not, however, do it dynamically like Word.  I know that the Writer team probably has a goal to keep this free software as lean as possible.  For me, size doesn’t matter too much and I’d be happy if the team loaded up Writer with a bunch of great Word-like features – especially on-the-fly spelling and grammar checking.

That’s all I can think of right now.  For the most part, I think it’s a very good beta release.  Writer, apparently works with most blog servers out there.  I am using it with Community Server and it works very well.  There are features I haven’t used and I haven’t been able to get Insert . . . Picture from Web . . . to work like I think it should, but that could be user error or my misinterpreting what it’s supposed to do – there’s no documentation.

I don’t work for Microsoft and I have no interest in promoting any products because they’re from Microsoft.  I think this is a good tool that’s worth a look, though.  It’ll be even better if the above bugs and feature requests are addressed.

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 August 28th, 2006  

What’s the Best Management Style – Article

Harvard Business School published a terrific article last week on management titled, On Managing with Bobby Knight and “Coach K,”  which delves into two very different management styles; how these divergent management techniques can both be successful and how one’s management style is heavily influenced by what kind of person they are.  The article goes on to explain that a manager needs to be aware of the type of person they are to fully understand how they manage and in what situations they will be successful.

For those that don’t follow college sports, Bobby Night was the long-time head basketball coach at the Indiana University (currently the head coach at Texas Tech).  He was (and still is) known for his “in your face” coaching style, sometimes, actually getting in the face of his players – he was once photographed clutching one of his players by the throat and was ultimately fired from Indiana for his antics.

Coach K – Mike Krzyzewski – head coach of the Duke University basketball team has a completely different coaching style.  Much more from the touchy-feely school, Coach K is known for his analogies relating his basketball team to a family.

Even though each man applies a very different style of management, they both are extremely successful coaches and have consistently produced outstanding basketball teams and players.  The HBS article discusses how the management techniques of the two coaches is derived from the type of people they are and what they see in others.

From the article . . .

What you believe about human nature, says Snook, influences your leadership style. “If you believe people are fundamentally good—good meaning that they’re trying to do their best, they’re self-motivated, they want to perform—then your fundamental leadership style will be one way. It will be empowering them, getting obstacles out of the way, and setting high goals while maintaining standards.

“If you believe people are fundamentally bad—if you believe people are constantly looking to get over and get by and won’t do anything unless they’re watched—then you’ll tend to lead with a very transactional management style that’s built primarily around rewards and punishments. Tight supervision, a controlling type of leadership style characterized by a great deal of social distance between leaders and led.”

Of course, any good manager can choose to adapt their style to the situation within a certain range.  The key to good management is to understand the key variables in a situation and to find the right permutation of those variables that best addresses it.

Again, from the article . . .

On the classroom board, Snook [Professor Scott Snook, whose HBS classroom work the article is based on] draws three ovals. “The first oval is who you are. The middle oval, which overlaps a little bit, is how you lead, your style. The third overlapping oval is the situation.”

Leaders who can recognize and call upon all three areas can expand their range of management styles to meet the needs of the situation, Snook says. “That could be an individual subordinate who needs more structure, or less structure, or more love, more challenge, or more support. Increasing your ability to accurately read relevant situational demands, understand more clearly your own assumptions about human nature, and then appropriately adapt ‘how you lead,’ your style, is a life-long process.”

The article asks the question, “is it better to be loved or feared as a manager.”  Being more of the Coach K style manager, myself, I’ve always struggled with the success that more draconian management (as I see it) has wrought.  I’ve always wanted to see management styles as either being black or white – wanting there to be one right way.  As this article points out and from what I’ve found in my own experience, this is just not the way it is – many management styles can bring about success.

I really like this article’s description and Professor Snook’s use of a Venn diagram describing the intersection of who you are, your style as a manager and the situation.  It’s a great tool in thinking about how to manage in a given situation.  It’s important to remember, though, that this tool is somewhat limited in its scope.  Much of what is important in management at a particular moment has less to do with what you do than what you have done.  The culture you’ve created, the training that you’ve given, the motivation you’ve encouraged and the people that you’ve hired have all laid the groundwork to the response of your team at any given time.

Thanks to Rob May over at BusinessPundit.com for pointing it out.

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 August 19th, 2006  
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LEDs Lighting the Way to Competitive Strategy

John Dvorak’s Inside Track column in the August 22, 2006 edition of PC Magazine contains a fascinating tidbit about the amazing advances happening in lighting.  We’re talking basic illumination here – run-of-the-mill light bulb replacements.  Apparently, LED advancements have been coming fast and furious.  LEDs can now produce 133 lumens/watt.  As a comparison, incandescent lights deliver about 20 lumens/watt and florescent lights, 60 lumens/watt.

” . . . And of course it’s apparent to everyone that most lighting for general-purpose uses will gradually be taken over by LEDs. The most competitive lighting technology insofar as cost per watt is concerned is still fluorescent lights, but the crossover point is close. In terms of lumens per watt, LEDs have stormed to the forefront. Cree Inc. has shown an LED that can deliver 133 lumens per watt. This breaks the old record of 100 with typical high-output LEDs in the 80-lumen range. Compare this with an incandescent bulb, which delivers about 20 lumens per watt at the high end, and fluorescent lights, which hit maybe 60.

When you consider that the life expectancy of LEDs can be measured in decades, the world of lighting is about to change dramatically.

There’s a lesson here somewhere about innovation, invention and competitive strategy.  Sometimes replacing the most basic, widely disbursed and entrenched products represents the biggest opportunity.  While you need to be cautious about tugging on Superman’s cape or talking smack to Lord Vader (direct strategies against strong, entrenched competitors), holding your biggest potential competition in too high regard can limit your opportunities.

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 August 17th, 2006  
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Your 15 Minutes of Fame

I just ran across Jeff Bussgang’s post titled, VCs Blink.  Jeff’s post discusses how Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink, relates to the world of venture capital.  Specifically, Jeff talks about how VCs blink all the time – they frequently make intuitive and fast decisions about what investments to make and what teams to back.  From his post:

Simply put, VCs blink all the time.  Ask your VC friends how long it takes them to decide whether a deal will be a good one in a first meeting or call.  Typical answer:  15 minutes.  How long does it take them to decide whether an interview candidate is an “A” player worthy of an executive position in their portfolio companies?  15 minutes.  Everything else is just to fill the time.”

In my experience, this is a completely accurate observation.  As an entrepreneur presenting to a VC, Jeff’s wisdom and advice may be among the most important things to consider when preparing for and delivering your pitch for money.  Definitely required reading for anyone promoting an idea for investment.  Jeff’s post is almost a year old, but it’s content has no expiration date.  Check it out.

 August 16th, 2006  
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Yeah, That’s What I Was Thinking

Thanks to Worth1000.  This is just one of many edited advertisements on Worth1000’s web site.  Check ’em out.  A total hoot.

 August 16th, 2006  
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Microsoft Windows Live Writer Beta

This post and the audiobook review before it were both composed using Windows Live Writer.  I thought I’d give it a try and it seems to be working fairly well, although there are still a few beta glitches.

I’m a long-time user of Blogjet, which is a terrific tool.  Blogjet imposes a few constraints in my blogging workflow, though.  It doesn’t integrate with Community Server, my blog server, as well as I would like and I can never get it to automatically upload image files to my FTP server with any consistency.  I also don’t like it’s limited text formatting capabilities – while adequate for plain blogging, I end up manually entering some HTML in many posts to make the formatting appear as I want it.  So far, it seems like Live Writer addresses all these concerns.

It appears that Microsoft intends to make this an extensible platform that will work with all blogging engines.  From what I read, it also seems like Microsoft intends to keep this as free software.  As I said, though, it’s beta and exhibits some beta-type problems.

Hey, Live Writer Team, why can’t I save and open draft posts from any location on my computer like I can with any Office app or with Blogjet?  Scrolling the post window is also sorta screwy.

 August 15th, 2006  
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The Cold Moon by Jeffery Deaver

  • Narrator: Joe Mantegna – One of My Favorites
  • Genre: Murder, Detective
  • Writing: Excellent
  • Story: Very Good
  • Time: 15 hours 6 minutes

I’m not a huge fan of murder mysteries, but having read and enjoyed one of Deaver’s other books about his master, limb-challenged (quadriplegic) detective, Lincoln Rhyme, The Empty Chair, I thought I’d give another one a shot.

This book was thoroughly enjoyable and kept me guessing all the way.  Matching wits with the ace ex-NYC detective Rhyme, is a serial killer they call The Watchmaker.  A virtual equal to Rhyme in terms of skills, although converted to the dark side of course, The Watchmaker seems to always stay one step ahead of Rhyme and his team.

I found Deaver’s ability to intertwine two cases far better than the usual coalescing of stories that you find in this type of novel.  At points in the story, it’s not even clear that the plot lines will ever converge.  When they do, though, it’s subtle and meaningful to the story.

The only downside to Deaver’s style is his desire to review all of the forensic evidence to date many times throughout the story.  This results in the reciting of long lists of information already obvious from the telling of the story.  The technique creates breaks in the suspense that are unneeded and distracting.

That said, the book is a no-brainer if you enjoy murder mysteries.  It is well put together, reasonably fast-paced and loaded with surprises.  Highly recommended

With this book/audiobook review, I’m going to start to add a couple of additional categories; relative amount of sex that takes place, approximate numbers of deaths that occur and the overall description of gore.  A reader of this blog suggested that she could not possibly find my reviews useful unless I included these facts and I suppose I agree.

Without being as eloquent, I’m going to try to mimic Joe Bob Briggs’ great drive-in movie reviews in which he always included at least the breast count, pints of blood spilled, number of kung-fu fights and so forth.

The Cold Moon included no sex; less death than you’d expect from a murder mystery, although detailed descriptions of planned methods of murder; and gruesome details about the few deaths that do occur.

 August 15th, 2006  
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My Way, The Entrepreneur Network

Regular readers of this blog (both of you) might notice the new badge in the right column – My Way, The Entrepreneur Network.  A network is Feedburner’s way of categorizing a blog of blogs.  So, if you’d like a one-stop-shop of blogs about and by entrepreneur’s, you can subscribe to the network rather than trying to hunt down individual blogs that interest you.  You may find that getting a good overview of posts from many blogs helps you narrow down the list of blogs that you are interested in.  Of course, you can always continue to subscribe to the individual blogs separately from the network.

Tom Evslin, the network publisher (aka: coordinator) has a much better description of the whole thing in his post Herding EntrepreneursBrad Feld also has a post about another Feedburner network that he publishes, Venture Capital, here.

 August 11th, 2006  
 General Business  
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It’s August and the Red Sox are Imploding on Schedule

At the All-Star break, the Sox were the third best team in baseball, behind the Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox.  They were three games ahead of the Yankees and had a winning percentage of .616 (yeah, it’s a game of statistics).  Since the All-Star break, they’ve gone 11–13 with a winning percentage of .458.  In the last 10 games, they’ve gone 4–6 for an obvious winning percentage of .400.  They’re now 2 games behind the Yankees in the American League East and falling fast.

As a long-time Red Sox fan, this shouldn’t surprise me.  It’s August, after all.  This happens almost every August.  This year I swore I wasn’t gonna let the Sox get me emotionally roped in but, since I drank the Kool-Aid decades ago, I’m sweating out every game already.  They looked really good this year and I thought we had a shot.  Of course, I always think that – such is the life of a Red Sox fan.

Red Sox fans are already turning to the AL Wild Card where the Sox are one game behind the White Sox and a half game behind the Twins.  Just a month ago we were all saying that the AL Wild Card would probably not come from the AL East.  Now we’re all praying we were wrong.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t given up hope.  If history has an ability to repeat itself, though, Red Sox fans are in trouble.  Oh well, football starts this week.  Maybe that’ll take my mind off the pain.

 August 9th, 2006  
 Red Sox  
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I’ve Never Fired Anyone Too Quickly

Contrary to how rational and formulaic I may have seemed in my post, When to Get Rid of the “Best” People That Work for You, firing people in a timely fashion has always been the area where I’ve demonstrated my greatest management failures (I’m sure that many who have worked for me might suggest a long list of other actions that qualify for this honor).  I’ve always refused to give up on people, convinced that I could help anyone become more productive or knowledgeable; a better leader or follower; a harder worker or one more dedicated to the task at hand.  I’ve guided, taught, changed roles, adjusted compensation, added stress, removed stress, kicked ass, coddled and tried everything I could think of and almost everything I’ve read to help people succeed. 

In some cases, these efforts were, rewardingly, successful.  In almost as many cases, though, the effort to improve someone’s performance ended up being a complete waste of time and often, regrettably, damaging to the organization.  “Damaging” might seem a bit extreme, but in my view, it’s a reasonable assessment of what happens when a manager takes too long to terminate employees when things have little hope of working out. 

This is what happens: for one of a variety of reasons, an employee isn’t cutting it.  It may be a cultural alignment issue or it might be a skill issue.  In either case, their failings are obvious to many of their peers and co-workers well in advance of when you, as the manager, figure it all out.  So, by the time you take action, the group the employee belongs to is suffering because of their lagging comrade.  It’s not that they want the person cut (although sometimes they do), but they just want you to fix the problem ASAP.  As you work with the failing employee, the entire group is suffering. The longer you take, the more they suffer.  Eventually, their angst about the failing employee wanes and their questions about your management skills grows. 

This is even worse when the person in question has a relatively high-level position.  Perhaps they are a manager themselves or are responsible for some high-level strategy or implementation plan.  While they are failing their co-workers, they are also failing the larger organization that is not making progress towards its goals.  Sometimes, the lack of progress toward the organizational goals is irreparable with respect to lost opportunities or time, which always works against you.

These problems are compounded by the fact that the time you spend in trying to fix the failing employee is distracting you from dealing with your other responsibilities which, inevitably, include working with other employees that also need your attention.  The opportunity cost is even greater than the actual cost of the failing employee, because your distraction with the problem employee creates problems with a much larger number of people.  Productivity falls and the faith placed in you as a manager may be considerably diminished.

Oy vey!

OK, perhaps a little melodramatic, but it’s closer to reality than you might think.  In order to avoid these firing pitfalls you need to recognize the situation when you encounter it and deal with it quickly.  Looking back, I think that there were three reasons why I delayed firing people that should have been fired immediately.

  1. Fear: I was afraid of the psychological impact on the rest of the organization.  I feared that if other employees felt that someone was fired without good reason or that I, as the manager, had not given my best efforts to help that employee improve or adapt, they would question their own bond with and commitment to the organization.
  2. Cost: The costs of hiring and training a new employee are extremely high – especially the opportunity cost.  A fired person, most likely, needs to be replaced, forcing the organization to absorb the costs of hiring for the same role a second time.
  3. Ignorance:  I ignored the obvious signs that the employee was failing and the damage that the employee’s failing was doing to the rest of the organization. 

Only when these people were finally fired did I look back with a Homer Simpson-like “doh!” and realize that in reality . . . .

  1. The best people working with the failing employee knew that he/she was damaging the group and holding them back even before I recognized that the problem existed in the first place.  By the time I actually fired the employee, I was one of the last people to recognize that they had to go.  It’s disappointing when you speak with group members after the firing and consistently hear: “about time.”  Morale can actually increase after a failing employee is fired.  Productivity among the employee’s peers improves and the group’s assessment of the manager’s skills grows.
  2. The costs of hiring a replacement pale in comparison with the cost of the damage being created by a failing employee.  Often the actual damage attributed to such an employee is low.  It’s the opportunity cost damage – the absorption of your time and the energy of the employee’s peers – that is truly costly to the organization.
  3. As a manager you need to look for failure as well as success – a weakness of mine.  Managers, looking for positive signals, often seek out progress and improvement and sometimes neglect signs of failure or imminent failure.  Good managers actively seek out both and find early signals of each.  Failure is a better teacher, but it’s also a more expensive one.  Don’t let that scare you away from looking for it.

Keep in mind that this holds true for people at any level – janitor to CEO.  If people aren’t cutting it, they are hurting the entire organization and need to be dealt with swiftly.  This means that an immediate evaluation of whether or not they can be turned around needs to be made and the second that it is determined that they can’t be made to change (moved, taught, motivated or whatever), they must be terminated.

None of this is to say that you should terminate an employee without making a serious attempt at addressing the problem.  This is critical to optimize your investment in the employee and to demonstrate to others your commitment and dedication to the people that work for you.  Here are some examples of reasonable actions to take if you are addressing a problem with an employee that may lead to termination:

  • Tell them about the problem you see and ask them for an explanation.  It may be something simple.  Discuss the impact of the problem on the entire organization – hold them responsible.  Ask for their help in fixing the situation.  Communicate that the problems need to be fixed immediately.
  • Put them on a formal, written plan.  There are good legal reasons for this (to cover your ass in the event of a wrongful termination suit), but it makes sense as a management tool all by itself.  Make sure you explain the problems you see and what actions are going to be taken to address them.
  • Set metrics – you can’t improve what you can’t measure.  Make everything short term – find ways to get immediate feedback on changes made by the employee.  Align the metrics with the plan you’ve put in place.  Make clear what is being measured and its purpose.
  • Set a deadline and stick to it.  If improvement hasn’t happened according to the metrics you set, terminate the employee.  It’s for the best of everyone.

Nothing here is completely black-and-white and each situation and employee will be different.  In my firing failures, I have let the exceptions override the rules too frequently, though.  The fact is that it is your job as a manager to make your group – no matter how large that group is – as productive as possible and a single failing employee can create huge problems in accomplishing that task.  My experience has taught me that you need to recognize any problems early and deal with them swiftly.  If you don’t, you’ll leave yourself open to the potential of creating some real, long-lasting issues in the organization that may remain long after you eventually fire the employee in question.

 August 9th, 2006