How adaptable are you? . . . A lesson from Paul Williams

How adaptable are you?

A few months ago I found a story in the Wall Street Journal that riveted me, that is, it shook me from my coffee drinking observer mode to "whoa, I couldn't do that...I wouldn't even think of doing that" The article by Stefanos Chen was titled "The Paul Williams Premium" and detailed how Mr. Williams, a California based architect and the first African American admitted to the American Institute of Architects (1923), was enjoying a resurgence of recognition today's southern California real estate market. One home alone in Los Angeles carried the names; Frank Sinatra; Mia Farrow; Audrey Hepburn and Eva Gabor as owners or renters.

Williams quality work attracted a large clientele in the 1920's and 30's of Southern California. The lengthy article detailed the different styles and amenities, "the intricate detailing and elegant proportions" Mr. Williams put in his designs and the ever increasing prices that the homes he conceived are fetching today. What riveted me, however, was the anecdote regarding how Williams adapted his presentation style for his potential clients in order to accommodate prejudices they might (knowingly or unknowingly) harbor. Specifically, Chen highlights from an article Williams wrote in 1937:

"In an era of deeply held prejudice, he learned to draw renderings upside down (emphasis added) so as to never force his white patrons to sit beside him"

How many of us would have the power, the insight, the acumen to adapt to that level? To "suck it up" and adjust so that our "goods" would see their way to market? To enable the achievement of our life's work?

Paul Williams, an example of a man who adapted, adjusted and ultimately overcame. Doubtful that he enjoyed the prejudices and discrimination of his time, enlightening that he found the will to accomdate and in so doing ensured his work would endure long after his passing. An insight for us all, play the long game....he kept his "eye on the prize"

Our 45th President's Leadership, Key's to Watch For

Our 45th President's Leadership, Key's to Watch For

Tomorrow, is day 1 (according to Mr Trump) of the 45th President's first term. After all the protests and heat that's been generated about his election I'd offer 3 leadership "keys" that will give our nation's 300 Million citizens an indication at how effective a leader "number 45" will become for us.

The Transition from Campaigning to Managing: Effective 20 January 2017, Donald Trump's job title changed from "leader of a movement" to the constitutionally mandated CEO of the Federal Government's Executive Branch. That's over 2 million federal employees and the President's appointees serving in 15 cabinet agencies. After the energy and chants of the campaign have died down citizens at the grass roots have basic (but important) expectations. FEMA shows up at a disaster and helps, the TSA keeps passengers flowing, Social Security checks get deposited, The IRS mails out refunds, and someone picks up the phone at 3am in the Pentagon (when it's 9 am in Russia and noon in Afghanistan) and knows what to do. If the new administration struggles with the basics, we're going to be their "training aids" as the new team navigates up the "discovery learning curve". The longer that takes, the less of their vision will be achieved.

Who Stays: The Presidency is a lonely position and a stressful job and it's getting tougher to get and keep staff to help. For example, Jimmy Carter went through 22 cabinet secretaries in his 4 year term, Ronald Reagan had 3 different Chiefs of Staff in his second term. Most recently, President George W. Bush and President Obama had only one cabinet member who stayed the entire course with their President. If President Trump can keep a team together he'll be better postured to execute his vision. If the cabinet becomes a revolving door, he'll struggle.

Wait a Year: Reality has an inconvenient way of intruding on a President's plans. In my 33 years in the Army, 7 President's served as my "Commander in Chief" Here's how it unfolded for them in their first year:

  1. Ford: Nixon's Pardon, the fall of South Vietnam and the inflation crisis (anybody remember the "Whip Inflation Now" aka WIN buttons?)
  2. Carter: 8% unemployment, Gas lines (and no White House Chief of Staff for his first two years).
  3. Reagan: Assassination attempt that almost killed him.
  4. Bush 41: Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, Tiananmen Square protests and killings in Beijing; Fall of the Berlin Wall.
  5. Clinton: World Trade Center attack that killed 6 and injured over 1,000; Attack on our Soldiers in Mogadishu Somalia and the fiascoes of the White House travel office dust up and Whitewater investigations.
  6. Bush 43: US Navy P3 Spy Plane forced to land in China and the 9-11 attacks.
  7. Obama: Deal with an economy on the brink of depression, sent 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan, GM files for bankruptcy; begin healthcare reform.

I can't predict what future will come at our 45th President and our nation. But it will and the true measure of his administration will be how he and his team handle the future as it breaks upon them. Pray for him, he's not "that man" anymore he's our President.

Time will tell, be patient and remember we're a blessed nation. More unites us than divides us.

What Ideas Do You Have on Ensuring I'm Not Hiring the Wrong Person?"..."I have 3 Questions"

Help Wanted

I was speaking at a local leadership forum recently and was asked the question above. As in so many questions, there's both the specified issue and then there's the implied question and all the issues that it contains. The questioner further clarified his issue for me (paraphrased as I recall it) "I interview people, they sound good, resume and references are all positive, the atmospherics and social skills feel right. It starts out OK and then after 6 or so months their attitude and performance goes south. Do you have any thoughts on how I can better do this, so I don't keep missing this?"

I didn't get into how often this occurs. If it bothers a leader enough to raise it publicly then it's an itch that needs some attention. I told him that he wanted to ensure he was asking questions of sufficient depth that gave he and his team the information to make an informed hiring decision. The task is made difficult by all the "interview help" the web makes available to prospective candidates. A sampling includes:

"31 Most Common Interview Questions and Answers"

"Top 10 Interview Questions (And How to Answer Them)

"50 Most Common Interview Questions"

"How To Ace The 50 Most Common Interview Questions"


...to list just a few.


So here are three questions I have found in my experiences as; an assignment officer; job interviewer (and interviewee) and executive coach that get below the candidate's surface ambiance and provide a window into seeing if someone is "self aware or self absorbed" as one of my great officers once said.

  1. "Tell me about a mistake you made, how it happened, what you did wrong, what you learned from it, and how you've ensured not to make it again?" You can ask this as one question or break it up into a series of basic (mistake you made and follow up questions) The depth of the question requires the candidate to reflect and answer in some detail. If they hem and haw or get flippant when you ask, they probably won't generate a learning environment when you hire them and they have to work with others and learn from their own and others mistakes.
  2. Bring the candidate back: People are usually the highest expense and the decision that has the greatest impact (positive and/or negative) on the bottom line of your business enterprise. The right person in the right job builds the organization by doing the right thing routinely. The "wrong" hire sucks the energy out of the organization. Either by being tolerated because "they're not so bad" or, they occupy leader time, attention and energy that should be spent growing the business. So I've found it pays to take the extra time to do a second interview. The candidate, if they're faking it, will be challenged to maintain the facade a second time and you'll be further along at penetrating deeper into the "real worker" Trust me here, EVERY (emphasis added) I've done this I've learned something. The time spent is worth it.
  3. "Tell me about a time(or times) you were or should have been fired. What did you learn from it?": This question is for those senior middle and upper management candidates with some years (10+) of experience and different levels that you are considering for a key leadership role. You've been through the list of mistakes, brought them back and you want to be sure. After getting over the surprise, you'll either have a candidate who answers forthrightly and talks about learning; "patience with others, mercy, attention to critical details, listening, getting on the same page with my boss and team" are among the answers I've heard. Or, you'll have a stammering "humma humma" candidate who either didn't extend themselves to take a chance or blamed others for their shortfalls. (By the way, my answer is three times")

Hiring isn't little league, it's worth the time you'll take and if you don't take the time to do it right, you will get to do it over again.

Hire Vinny

For information on booking Vinny to speak to your organization, please contact Lisa Henry at:

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