Archive for March, 2011


“Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

I just finished former U.S. President George W. Bush’s book, Decision Points. The book was a great read; his plain-spoken style was refreshing and disarming.

It was very emotional reading his personal account of 9/11.  As the events of the day unfolded, it was compellingly clear how aware he was that as the leader of the most powerful country in the world which had just been the target of one of the most tragic assaults in history, he needed to control his reactions knowing the world was watching.  And when the former President addressed the workers at ground zero three days later, the workers – indeed, every citizen of America – needed for him to clearly state that there would be consequences to those responsible for these terroristic actions. It was equally important to relay the message that our country would be lead with a measured and well thought-out action plan.

From a leadership perspective, the insight was phenomenal. Even as I read Bush’s viewpoints on issues that I did not agree with such as the war in Iraq, I could appreciate that based on his understanding of all the factors and influences involved, he made what he believed to be the best decision for our country at that time. And in retrospect, he builds a strong case that he was probably correct.

Every time I read a new book, I try to take a life lesson out of it (excluding, however, the fictional thrillers by Stephen King I enjoy on occasion). As a CEO, the evident takeaway was that decisions are based upon the best information that is available to us at the time; decisions need to be clear and concise; and decisions are to be made after careful consideration of all facts and circumstances relative to the situation. However, being careful is not an excuse for procrastination. When we delay an important decision, we risk eliminating the potentially best options and/or resolutions due to time limitations or getting trumped by the competition.

Leadership isn’t easy and we can all be criticized for our decisions (as we witnessed during the latter stages of Bush’s tenure), but we owe it to the organizations which we lead to take positions and provide clear direction… and then live with the results.



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Culture: Know It When You See It

We often tout the fact that we have a “unique culture” and I am often asked what that means.  It’s very difficult to define, and – using Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous colloquial expression – I have to simply say, “I know it when I see it”. A strong culture is best witnessed and viewed in the eyes of the staff of a firm. As I walk through our offices and see our staff, I can get a feel for the culture of the office and whether or not it’s consistent with the overall firm culture we are trying to create. I look for pictures of events depicting camaraderie between staff members, and lighthearted postings to bulletin boards. As often as I can, I like to stop in and ask people how their work load is and how we are treating them. Sometimes they lie to me – hey, no one likes to complain to the boss – but most are enthusiastic about their tasks and their learning experience.

The best way to manage culture is at the ground level. We can create a great atmosphere by putting foosball tables or Wii games in the office kitchen; we can boost morale by having office trips to Broadway shows, or by coordinating beach parties and afternoon bowling games.  But if a manager or partner in our organization doesn’t say “please” or “thank you” and let our staff know when they are doing a good job with a simple pat on the back, or by providing clear feedback when the staff person falls short of expectations, then it all falls apart.  Creating great culture is a team sport. We need to create overall staff benefit programs that are competitive within the market place, and we need managers and partners spending time with staff, understanding their unique personalities and what motivates them. We need to see energy and optimism from our leadership group. Energy and optimism are infectious and will permeate an organization in ways you can’t describe or predict.

So, when you are visiting a WithumSmith+Brown office or see one of our teams working out in the field with a client, with regards to our unique culture… hopefully you’ll “know it when you see it.”


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