I was nurtured in a moderately magnanimously Italian family which congregated habitually for what appeared to be the single-minded duty of crafting and devouring epicurean delights.  These occasions were bursting with hustle-bustle and passion in all things from the door-flying-open greetings to the seniority driven kitchen disputations.  Everything somehow remained in motion as the family settled in.  An outsider would have perceived the intensifying aroma filled cacophony as chaotic, but to us it was just another Sunday dinner.   Throughout years of tables amassed with lasagna, braciolettine, cioppino, eggplant parmesan, and hundreds of other top-button dislodging courses, I innately grew cognizant that our banquet was only a concealment for our family’s real communal function.  What my family revered above all else was talking!

Discussions on everything from family issues, politics (this was the contentious ‘60s), movies, religion, and work were openly thrown into battle between the tastes and praises of

food.  As children we were encouraged to sit-up and heed the engaging rants and arguments of our elders regardless of the issues intricacy.  I am certain the majority of my value and belief system was formulated while feasting.  One persuasion you could not elude was that of my Uncle Mario’s.  He was one of the Tough Leaders in the family.  Not very tall, and more rounded than any Italian General, he carried a force of conviction that could heat up any matter.  Uncle Mario was fervent, compassionate, arduous, resilient, intellectual and the most successful businessman at the table.  I was enthralled, enchanted, and loved by him.

In my early teens an intense conversation developed around the talking table involving my Uncle Mario.  He had been exceptionally successful in his management position and was being promoted to Vice President.  Customarily, this would have been a celebration but a controversy spun around the reality that he and his family would have to relocate to the East Coast for the new situation.  It was a heartbreaking prospect which defied any purpose.   Then, between one of the courses, I heard the magic figure driving the decision.  He was to be paid $50,000 a year, a tremendous amount at that time.  He accepted the position and moved a few months later leaving a momentous void at the table.

A few years later I activated my work-life in an unpretentious shipping department making $105 net per week.  It was a sufficient commencement, managing to pay the rent, put food on the table and gas in the car.  I worked harder than most, learning all I could and with the help of my first mentors, gained promotion after promotion increasing my compensation approximately 150% every two years.  I was driven to be a “Success”.  Then it materialized!  I was about 25 or 26 years old and my W2 hit $50,000.  “Wow!  What a milestone, what an accomplishment”, I thought to myself.  “Yes, I believe I am able say, I am a Success!”

Enjoying my success, the next year I earned about $50,000 and the following year, again $50,000.  And as I was on-track for another replication, I grappled with the realization that I was no longer attaining those substantial year-to-year compensation increases.  I had stagnated and was falling behind.  As I tried to gain an introspective answer to my flat-lined prosperity,   I realized the “subconscious” definition I had set for success so many years before.   I had accomplished my goal of success without an awareness of it.  And success had supplanted my inner drive to accomplish more.  With this awareness, I quickly established a new “cognizant” goal to double my earnings and achieved the new benchmark over the next several years.

As a Leader you need to accept that success is only a momentary accomplishment.  Success is the favorable outcome of a goal.  It is the termination of something sought.  Winston

Winston Churchill

Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”  He appreciated that success was a temporary state and that without continued effort it would fade away.  Success does not guarantee a secured entitlement for your future.  It only measures your achievement up to that moment.

We have all witnessed great successes mutate into complacency and then plummet towards disaster.  History is bursting of fallen men, companies and countries that became comfortable with their success.  The aggressive action orientated values and culture which created the success becomes effortlessly replaced with the minimum determination necessary to maintain the status quo.  Success becomes a detriment to continued progress.

Much attention is spent on instructing the unsuccessful to become successful.  Many Leadership endeavors are focused on turn-around situations where failure must be replaced with victory.  But as a Leader you must also learn how to build success upon success.  You must be able to reprogram your thoughts to comprehend success as a potential impediment to your future.  “Resting on your Laurels” is an easy way to crumble the foundation of your success.

Take a moment and evaluate the current success of your team, your company and yourself.  How long ago was your current level of success achieved?  When is the last time you shook things up with real challenges for new and forward leaping goals.  Do you recognize complacency anywhere in your world?  If so, it is time to recapture your inner drive and move into aggressive action again.  First, set fresh goals over past achievements that will defy and stretch the normalized comfort zones which have developed.  Become uncomfortable with the current state of affairs and terminate your success.  Focus on the untapped potential that continues to exist and create new opportunities.  Secondly, return to the 1996 book “Built to Last” by James Collins and Jerry Porras and refresh yourself with the concept of BHAG Goals.   BHAG stands for Big Hairy Audacious Goal that change the very nature of a something’s existence.  Dig deep and become serious about integrating a BHAG goal into your life.

Business Leaders are approaching dangerous times.  Recent years of economic downturn have shifted focus from “thriving to surviving”.  And although surviving may indeed be a success story in these turbulent times, it is a lethal formula for lasting prosperity.  As many are feeling successful for surviving tough times the opportunity peaks to grasp the future with innovative goals and expectations.  As many wait for a 2% economic upturn to replenish their severely diminished revenues, courageous leaders will take charge of their destiny and focus on the achievement of double-digit growth while increasing productivity.


Be vigilant and recognize success for the impostor that it is.  Strong Leaders must constantly and consistently “raise the bar’ on prior accomplishments.  Remember that complacency and comfort are your enemies and must be rooted out if you expect your achievements to grow over the long-term.  And although there is much to be proud of after turning around a bad situation, a Street Smart Leader learns how to build “success upon success”.  Today’s Leaders, who refuse to be subconsciously flat-lined and remain highly challenged, will be ready to savor tomorrow’s opportunities.  It is time to upgrade your Goals!


“Running a football team is no different than running any other kind of organization – an army, a political party or a business. The principles are the same. The object is to win – to beat the other guy. Maybe that sounds hard or cruel. I don’t think it is.

“It is a reality of life that men are competitive and the most competitive games draw the most competitive men. That’s why they are there – to compete. To know the rules and objectives when they get in the game. The object is to win fairly, squarely, by the rules – but to win.

Vince Lombardi

Essentially all managers have acquired their opportunity and constructed command from the potency of their individual endeavors.  They have ascended beyond their peers by building an extraordinary reputation founded on incomparable performance, an acute understanding of the organizational goals, and the ability to interface in an orchestrated manner with other components of the enterprise.  They have inspired their team, shown them the vision, and laid out the strategy and plans for their team to excel.  As a manager, they have efficaciously directed their team to the realization of key objectives.  These managers have erected a high performance A-Team capable of delivering first class results.  This is an exhilarating period in a manager’s career.  It is a time when he senses he has it “dead-on” and concepts are flowing into actions almost seamlessly.  The team is responding, executing, and the ability to accomplish goals seems virtually endless.

Few developments can subvert a manager from this bliss more than his ensuing promotion.  With this elevation the game completely changes and it becomes essential for him to acquire the talents to manage other managers for the first time.  In this new arena he must achieve outcomes through an intermediary person.  The new Vice President or Director has successfully proven his ability to deliver results from his team, but now he has multiple teams from which to cumulate achievement.  And each team is headed by a manager who was, most likely, not performing as superbly as he was.  A newfangled challenge has arisen and if he is to evade the ensnarement of the Peter Principle, he must learn to master and shine in this stage of his career.  Building a performance based management team is a Leaders first major-league coaching assignment.

Finding yourself in this position should be a proud moment.  You have competed and won.  But your new challenge is substantial.  It is now compulsory for you to transform yourself from a field quarterback, who has been executing plays, to an adept Coach capable of sending the plays into action.  This is a dangerous transition primed for failure, but you now possess the potential to create significant contributions.  This success will have a larger impact on the company and therefore a greater bearing to your career.  The key to victory lies in knowing how to stay intimately involved without hands on execution.  Most managers, who fail, either will not let go of the ball or they take their eye off the ball entirely.  An exceptional Leader learns to realize results through the efforts of other leaders.

Managing Managers – A Game Changer

Up until now, you were rewarded for running, throwing the ball, and leading your team to victory on the field.  Now you are expected to do more planning and develop higher levels of strategy.  Your new responsibility entails developing and improving the cross functionality of in-house systems, processes and procedures.  If you linger on the field, you will find yourself leaping from issue to issue while realizing the work you just finished deteriorates with each new leap.  You can no longer persist at being hands-on in all situations.  Doing so will result in your failure.  You will only re-prove your capability as a front-line manager and that is a path leading to nowhere.

Cultivating your front-line managers should be your crucial focus.  Developing their skill set is your number one priority.  Since they are most likely less proficient than you were on the field, this can be a daunting endeavor.  It is essential to ensure your team’s success does not backslide while at the same time repelling all inducement to seize the ball and run with it yourself.

In addition to diffusing your priorities, your inability to step off the field, undermines your managers and emasculates their authority.  It precludes them from learning and growing and places them on a downward spiral towards failure.  Their employees see your continued involvement and continue to interact with you.  They go to you with their problems and look to you for solutions completely neutralizing your front-line manager.  Eventually your managers will become disgruntled and as they begin to question your motives, they will fall into disarray.

So let us discuss some essentials of how you can be successful in your new Coaching assignment.  First, your managers must understand the overall game-plan; what you are trying to accomplish with and their individual roles in a winning outcome.  Next, it comes down to my mantra of Business is Easy; People are Hard.  Without the right people, nothing materializes.  So your second job is to Coach your managers in assessing their people to guarantee A-Teams are being built everywhere.  With the right plan and the best people, execution on the field becomes the winning dynamic.  Just because you are coaching someone else to take over, does not mean your entire experience should not be utilized.  Your purpose is to replicate your success throughout the management team and teach them to acquire your methodology for being a great manager.  You want them to be able to reap results from their teams without you having to be involved in each situation.

At this point, I feel obligated to deliberate on that enchanted buzzword, “Empowerment”.  Over recent decades we have been indoctrinated to believe that if we just empower people, they will automatically be successful.  Just wave the magic wand and people can accomplish anything because you have empowered them.  After years of searching for genuine meaning and relevance for this term, I have determined this “mythical power” to be an absurdity.  You are not capable of giving someone your power.  If they are to become a Tough Leader, they must build and accumulate their “Own Power”.  Leaders must rely on their own skills, realizations and triumphs to create a power base.  Power propagates from success in doing things right.  Empowerment implies power is handed off and gifted to somebody for use.  The idea of empowerment is weak.  Empowerment equals “Under-powerment”.  You cannot afford to have an underpowered management team.  Instead you can Coach your managers to success utilizing these three step “hands-on” practice sessions.

First Step: Show them how to do it.

When faced with a new situation, whether it is explaining something to the team, counseling a team member, or describing a new process, your first step is to demonstrate through example to your manager how you expect it to be done.  Ask your manager to observe your presentation and take notes, not on what you say but rather on what he observes.  Ask him to study the structure of the meeting.  Then after the meeting ask your manager to explain what he observed.  If there is a significant gap between the lesson you expected him to learn and his feedback, you will need to repeat this process again.  Do not make the blunder of believing that an explanation from you prepares him for the next step.  He must be able to explain in his own words what you were attempting to extract from the situation.

Second Step:  Observe your manager’s execution the next time the situation arises.

This can be one the most difficult coaching assignments that exists.  Because it requires you to sit still and say nothing.  It is your turn to take the notes.  He has seen your execution and understands the concepts, methodology, and the outcomes that are to be achieved.  You must avoid the temptation to interrupt, to correct, and to enhance what he is presenting.  You are concerned with his development and not with delivering a perfect meeting.  After the meeting sit down with your manager and conduct a post-game review.  Discuss points where you wanted to jump in and describe how he can improve the next time.  Then determine if he is prepared to advance.

Third Step:  Next time this situation arises, he is on his own.

You have practiced and now it is time for him to engage on his own.  You still meet with him prior to this event and inquire about what he going to present and how he plans set it up.  Your job is to ask a lot of tough questions at this point to ensure he has indeed thought everything through.   At this stage you need to prepare him for the questions he will to be asked when you are not there.  As you give him the third degree, you are building his confidence to deal with the unexpected.   If he is weak in answering your questions, you must to tell him to go back and re-think the matter before proceeding.  Once he has adequately passed your Q&A session he is ready to step on the field and run the play on his own.  Of course, after he is finished, you will want to regroup for that post meeting and ask him to explain how the group responded in the meeting

Vince Lombardi also said, “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.”  Practice these three simple steps over and over again until your standards are embedded and you will develop powerful managers who build successes in their own right.  A Street Smart Leader knows that no one can be empowered.  Your job as a Coach is to teach your managers the leadership skills with which to flourish.  By getting off of the field and starting to call the plays you will be able to keep your perspective.  Coaching your managers with your direct experience will lead to one victory after another.  Imagine leading five or six high performance teams and before you know it you will have racked up Championship Season.