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Reporter Faints on Live TV: Lessons in Brilliant Customer Service

Last month, a video went viral showing reporter Brooke Graham passing out on live television. But the most intriguing part of the video is not Ms. Graham passing out, it’s everything that happened afterward.

Dealing with Embarrassment

The video opens on Brooke Graham standing in the snow, wearing cross country skis. A few words into the interview, she passes out and falls backward. She wakes immediately, but she’s lying on the ground, embarrassed and confused.

Meanwhile, Richard Hodges (the man she was trying to interview) quickly pulls off his own skis and drops to the ground. He quietly pulls Brooke’s skis off and puts a concerned hand on her leg. Brooke recovers sufficiently to continue the interview, so Richard goes along with it.

And they finish the interview successfully.

Making a Graceful Recovery

Richard is the star of this video. As President of the Utah Nordic Alliance, Richard Hodges appeared for the interview to promote his organization. When Brooke passed out, it could have been his embarrassment and his lost opportunity.

If Richard had stayed in his skis, embarrassed for or about the reporter, the interview would have been over. If he’d displayed discomfort or aversion, it would have reflected poorly on him and his organization.

But Richard took off his skis.

Deal With It, Don’t Avoid It

Embarrassment happens. Customers are actually okay with problems, provided you recover well. A good recovery, like Richard’s, rushes to respond. The urgent response communicates “your discomfort is important to me.” Avoiding or denying the embarrassment only magnifies and prolongs the problem.

The awkwardness of embarrassment comes from not knowing what to do. Seeing someone like Richard step up and take decisive action eases our discomfort and gives us confidence in that person. We naturally look to them with respect.

Show Concern for Others, Not Yourself

In the video, Richard is clearly more concerned about the reporter than about how this might affect him. And it makes us want to trust him. By putting the reporter ahead of himself, Richard greatly improved his own standing in the situation.

This is where most companies turn faux pas into PR nightmares. When police arrested 4 teens for rapping their order at McDonalds, the company responded by defending their employee’s decision to call 911. When baggage handlers broke Dave Carroll’s $3500 guitar, United Airlines’ customer service reps deflected responsibility for months. Defending yourself before taking care of your customers means losing a golden opportunity to be the hero.

Take Your Cue from Your Customer

When Brooke Graham tried to continue the interview, Richard went with it. They were still on the ground. The reporter might have passed out again. But she wanted to keep going, so he went with her version of moving past the embarrassment.

Listen to your customers. Somewhere in their communication, they will tell you exactly how to resolve the situation. Dave Carroll asked United to pay for his guitar repairs, and if they had agreed, Dave would have dropped the issue long before making his viral music video.

It’s Your Culture, Not Your Slogan

As a CEO, you have to rely on your employees to resolve customer complaints. The only way to ensure inspiring customer service at every level of the organization is to build it into the culture. Without that, it may be your value but not yet your employees’ value. Programs, PR, and initiatives will fail if the culture doesn’t permeate to every level of the organization.

This was United Airline’s problem. Jeff Smisek, CEO of United, said that customer service is important to him. But since the United Breaks Guitars video, the airline still managed to lose Dave Carroll’s luggage and a ten-year-old girl. The problem isn’t values at the top, it’s penetration throughout the company.

Create a Culture of Heroism—Quickly

Fortunately, company culture can change rapidly if you’re smart about it. Start with the smallest possible changes with the greatest impact. For example, to transform your customer service culture, start here:

Change 1: Forget Perfection—Be the Hero Instead

This excellent research explains why customer loyalty programs fail. The real opportunity isn’t in delighting your customers up front—they expect that. The best you can do is not disappoint them, and perfection is disproportionately expensive.

The real opportunity comes when something goes wrong. Step up quickly and brilliantly, and your customers love you for it. They may even tell the world. When Brooke fainted, Richard quietly saved the day, and more than five million YouTubers have seen it so far. You can’t buy publicity like that.

Even if it was your mistake, you can still be the hero. Just look at these 11,000 reviews for the EatSmart scale on The scale is nice, but they rave about the after-sale service when something wasn’t right.

The best thing about giving heroic service is that one empowered employee or “tiger team” can pull it off. This allows small initial changes in culture to have dramatic, self-reinforcing impacts on the customer and the company over time.

Change 2: Meetings Determine Destiny

Your meetings reflect and create your culture, so to change your culture, you need to change your meetings. You say “customer service is important,” but do your meetings say otherwise? What do you discuss when you meet? Do you get excited about yesterday’s burning customer issues or do you endure metrics, reports, and death-by-PowerPoint? Boring, unfocused meetings mean bored, unfocused staff. Exciting, meaningful meetings on interesting, core issues create engaged staff who actually care.

Change your meetings, and you change your culture. Change your culture, and you change your future.

Seize the Opportunity

The next time you face a customer service disaster, think of the reporter in the snow. Make yourself the hero, no matter whose fault it was.

Or better yet, start the change now, before the next blowup. Your customers and shareholders will love you for it.



Top 10 Excuses for Not Hiring a Great Executive Assistant

Don’t have a great executive assistant? Why not?

Here are my favorite excuses, causes, and solutions.


Pepper Potts / Paramount/Marvel Studios

“We can’t afford it.”
“The company won’t pay for it.”

That’s terrible economics. Re-think how you spend your (company’s) money. Consider:

  • Everything you do now isn’t equally profitable. The company pays $50,000 to $500,000/yr for your wage+benefits. Do they really want you working at 60% efficiency? Without an admin, poor efficiency is guaranteed. Hiring someone 10 hours per week to do “the trivial many” will let you focus on the “crucial few,” which will more than pay for itself. (Exception: If you have very little to do or your work is unimportant, stop reading now and go look busy. Your job is probably in jeopardy.)
  • A great admin gets you the highest ROI for your time. Their #1 job is to make sure you stay focused on your Most Profitable Activities. When that happens, your bottom line grows and stress drops.
  • Do you manage a budget? Does the company give you any discretion over where it is spent? (If not, you don’t really manage your budget, they do. Be assertive and ask for flexibility.) You probably have more latitude than you think: instead of recruiting that new middle-manager they budgeted, hire a great admin, boost your own productivity and career, and start developing existing staff in-house to become the managers and leaders. That kind of staff development is easy when you’re not mired in the mud.

“I have nothing for the admin to do.”
“I don’t have time to train them.” 

Oh, yes you do, and you can. This fear really comes from one or more other issues:

  • You’re so mired in minor things that you’ve already stopped thinking strategically. Think for a moment: what % of your time is spent on strategic things? If that % ideal? Is it acceptable? What are you going to do about it?
  • You’re imagining the wrong kind of admin. I’m not talking about someone you need to motivate. I can show you how to find great ones with tons of smarts and initiative, with very little effort. Think of Pepper Potts in “Iron Man” or Alfred in “Batman.” THAT’S what you need, and that’s what you can have.
  • You need a better delegation method. Almost ANYTHING can be delegated, at least partially, using “fuzzy delegation.” It’s fun and it develops your staff as you assign to them.
  • You don’t realize that your taskslist will change the instant you have someone to assign to. Right now you skip (lesser) opportunities and threats because you don’t have the time. The admin can handle those in a cost-effective way.

“There’s no space for their desk or computer.”

You don’t need one. Instead:

  • Hire a virtual admin. The world is connected now, and its easy to work over the Internet when you set it up right. There is no need to stand over someone and watch them work.

“I don’t have the time to do the hiring.”
“I don’t know how to spot a good admin.”

Don’t use old, time-consuming hiring methods. Instead:

  • Use “agile hiring.” This means the job application is the initial interview. Put a list of thought-provoking questions in the job description, and throw out any application that doesn’t follow directions or shine.
  • Agile hiring requires 1) Knowing the attitudes and skills you need, 2) making the prospect prove their skills instead of you guessing, via questions in the job application plus 3) taking them for a short “test drive” (3-5 hours of work or less), and 4) letting them go quickly if it isn’t working. You can do this without violating any labor laws by hiring them as a true contractor (piecework assignment, their tools, their schedule) via oDesk or similar, letting them work their own hours with their own tools.

“I don’t know where to find one.”

Nowdays, you just look in new places, using new methods. Here’s where to start:

  • Twitter can point you to great options. Look at the @priacta/virtual-admins list for a start. Search for Virtual Assistant. There are many, many out there. (Admins: tweet @priacta to be considered for that list.)
  • oDesk is awesome for finding great ones if you’re using an agile hiring process (above).
  •, CareerBuilder, LinkedIn, and Craigslist work well for agile hiring. One of the best hires I ever found came from Craigslist, and that was for a specialized position. We used agile hiring—we weren’t flooded with applicants, and we knew we had a winner the instant he applied.
  • Online/regional job boards work too with an agile hiring approach.

“I can’t use one full-time.”

You don’t need to. Options and benefits include:

  • Hire part-time, hourly. Works especially well for virtual admins.
  • Share the admin with other workers or companies. Again, virtual admins do this all the time.
  • Contract labor is a variable cost. If demand slows, they work fewer hours. As you start to generate more demand, they work more hours. And it’s often cheaper.

“An admin could generate more sales and opportunities than I can handle.”

Say what?  This is by far my personal favorite, and the solution is easy:

  • Only the wrong kind of admin would do that to you. A great one will be a trusted business advisor, helping you figure out ways to improve your model to expand your ability to deliver. They’ll help bring in the deals AND find ways to deliver the goods. Again, you want a “Pepper” or “Alfred.” When you have an admin like that, anything is possible.

What It Feels Like


Alfred Pennyworth / Warner Bros

I advise a client who runs the #1 regional franchise group for a respected international company. He has tremendous flexibility in how much, or if, he works. He’s free to focus on the big-picture strategic initiatives and help make great things happen in the company. Nice.

How did that happen?

Decades ago, he found a “Pepper” and put her in charge. He helped (and let her) develop her natural abilities until she was able to run the whole shootin’ match. And she does, brilliantly.

That’s a great job for both of them, and for everyone else on the team. That’s what you want, and you can have it.

- Kevin

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Kevin Crenshaw is an executive coach and contract executive. He writes about principle-based management, leadership, and extreme productivity. Kevin is also CEO of Priacta and creator of the Total, Relaxed Organization time management system, which gives executives 1.6 extra hours daily and 60% less stress on average. Follow @kcren on Twittter.



(Less) Time Tracking for (More) Productivity


Image © Madartists | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

Client Question: For best productivity, shouldn’t we measure all the time actually spent and compare to the time we planned to spend?

Answer: No. It works against you. Try this instead…

As a productivity coach with years of hands-on experience, here’s what I’ve learned about time monitoring and tracking:

Do NOT track and reconcile every minute of work—not with your team, not with yourself.

True, time and money are similar:

  • Both get spent by people
  • Both need some form of budgeting

But what happens to a company when every dollar is tracked down to the penny, all the time?

What if every expenditure must be approved or justified to a manager? Does productivity improve? No—it almost always gets worse, because morale declines. [Exception: when cash is the key factor for short-term survival, you have to monitor it closely during turnaround.]

The same is true for individuals. The best personal budgets have both fixed and flexible components, for two reasons:

  1. People have feelings. Good psychology is an essential part of great productivity. Too much constraint kills morale.
  2. Agility and versatility are essential. You need room to respond intelligently, intuitively, to new opportuntities and threats as they arise.

But you don’t want either of those to get out of control. So how to balance them?

For Yourself…

Be as organized as necessary—no more, no less.

DO budget time appropriately and get excellent feedback on its use.

BUT a “natural feedback loop” is best. It should:

  • Automatically give you feedback with no effort
  • Take no extra time
  • Require little or no logical analysis
  • Change behavior naturally, subconsciously

That kind of feedback loop is already built into the Total, Relaxed Organization time management system:

  • The feedback happens automatically, intuitively during your Reviewing step (5 min./day regardless).
  • For longer tasks/steps, you also get that feedback constantly during the DOing step.

Easy Personal Time Tracking Tool

For smaller items, if time is draining inexplicably, use a simple spreadsheet printout, one column per day, 1/2 hour time grid, and a pencil.

  • Record the ONE major type of activity you did during each 1/2 hour block.
  • Set an onscreen timer if needed. I like this one:
  • That’s as much granularity as you need to see what’s going on.

For Teams and Direct Reports…

Do NOT use Time Doctor or any other tool that tracks actions and records screen shots every minute. They will:

  • Create stress, resentment, and looking-over-my-shoulder feelings of mistrust
  • Kill initiative and creativity
  • Force your best innovators to go somewhere else

See this excellent YouTube video about some of the psychology factors with teams and direct reports: [youtube]

The optimal approach:

  • Hold people accountable for broad visions, objectives, assignments, goals
  • Have regular 1-1 meetings to discuss objectives and progress
  • Let them find the best ways to accomplish those things
  • When intervention is needed, use the easy personal time tracking tool above

Total, Relaxed Organization also makes this easy. Automatic 1-1 follow-up and zero-preparation group agendas are built into the system.

What’s your experience?



Kevin Crenshaw is an executive coach and contract interim executive. He writes about principle-based management, leadership, and extreme productivity. Kevin is also CEO of Priacta and creator of the Total, Relaxed Organization time management system, which gives executives 1.6 extra hours daily and 60% less stress on average. Follow @kcren on Twittter.



For the Incoming CEO: Your First Action Is …


Image: © Smilla | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

Question (from ExecuNet LinkedIn discussion group):

What advice would you give an incoming CEO?

Answer (Kevin Crenshaw):

Empower and strengthen the executive team immediately. Nothing else comes close in your first days.

The executive team members should cover all facets of the business. They already have the institutional knowledge, they know the staff and the issues, Give them clear rules of engagement, encourage transparency and real engagement on any topics, and establish a clear decision-making pattern (with you as the CEO still in charge, but listen, listen, listen). 

Doing this will instantly boost morale and motivation across the company—an instant win. This also starts a pattern of developing a culture of leadership at all levels, which will translate hugely into the bottom line. Also, a great executive team with the CEO at the head is always smarter and more agile than any lone CEO making the call. That’s especially true when you’re getting started. You’ll also get vigorous, interesting discussions and real buy-in, and you’ll train train everyone to think more strategically and collaboratively, which starts to break down silos. 

Been there, done that. Loved it. :-)

Practical first step: Gather the existing team, introduce yourself briefly, but focus on them, not you. Lay the framework for how the team will discuss and decide together, get their buy-in on the process, and get right to work. You’ll quickly see the team’s strengths and areas needing development.

Kevin Crenshaw is an executive coach and contract interim executive. He writes about principle-based management, leadership, and extreme productivity for executives and business owners. Kevin is also CEO of Priacta and creator of the Total, Relaxed Organization time management system, which gives executives 1.6 extra hours daily and 60% less stress on average. Follow @kcren on Twittter.



Your Decision-Making Style Is Holding You Back


Aspiring manager or leader? Trying to advance? Change your decision-making style.

Scientific Study

The Seasoned Executive’s Decision-Making Style is a brilliant must-read. It shows how a manager’s approach to decisions will make or break their career. Astonishingly, different roles require different types of thinking, and if you want to advance, your decision-making style needs to change at each career level. One approach doesn’t work for all positions.

Example 1: CEO vs. Volunteer Team Leader
While President & CEO in two different firms, I also held a volunteer positions leading teams of two or three. Those team meetings were frustrating and ineffective until I read this article. Why? I was trying to use the a CEO’s integrative style in a front-line supervisor role. By consciously shifting gears and making faster, more directive decisions, things improved overnight.

Example 2: Entrepreneurs in Startups
Q: What decision-making style is best for a start-up entrepreneur?
A: Ask yourself: “What roles am I functioning in?” In most new startups you are CEO, Director, Manager, and front-line supervisor, switching rapidly from one to the other throughout the day. This is one reason why running a startup is so tough: you need to switch decision-making methods throughout the day. Notice which role you are in at that time, and make decisions using the best approach for that role. For example, deciding on signage doesn’t require an integrative (high-level, strategic) approach. Just make the call quickly and move on to more important things.

Example 3: Already at the Top
Beware: Because you’re a senior partner at a law firm does’t prove anything about your decision-making style. You may have been appointed for different reasons, by partners who didn’t understand this principle. (It’s likely, in fact.) If you started with a “front-line supervisior, give-orders-and-follow-up” decision-making style to the position and haven’t evolved, it’s hurting the firm. Guaranteed.

The Solution: Get a savvy executive coach who can help you make the transition quickly. Rapid change is not only possible, and it’s fun.

Leadership Style vs. Decision-Making Style

“Leadership style” (collaborative, authoritative, etc.) is something different than decision-making style, but they fit hand-in hand. Combine the right decision-making style for your upper management position with a team-oriented, collaborative approach and watch great things happen.

Image courtesy of Sigurd Decroos



3 Things You Forgot When You Interviewed That Last New Hire

These three skills are essential to success in work and life. Why don’t hiring managers assess them when interviewing? Do you?


“Those Who Succeeded and Those Who Failed”

A friend I reconnected with just shared this amazing insight:

Several years ago … I returned to my hometown after an absence of many years. Seeing old friends, people I had associated with I was able to see: in a very objective, rational way: those who had succeed and those who had failed [I wrote the results in my journal]. Without exception those who had succeed had always chosen [I emphasize the word chosen] good relationships. They were also self-reliant, and good self-managers. The failures were the complete opposite: they always chose bad relationships and were dependent: in fact the two seemed to go hand-in-hand. It was an incredible experience because I was able to see true sowing and reaping in a very objective, long-term way.

Who are You Really Hiring?

You never hire just the person, especially in today’s social, interconnected world.

Indirectly, you’re also hiring the assets and liabilities of their relationships, connections, and associates; you’re hiring their modes of interaction, inter-reliance, and collaboration.

These are especially important when hiring a potential executive team member, manager, or other leader.

Problems (and Assets) To Watch For

1. Bad Relationships

PROBLEMS: Bad (current) relationships drain time, mental energy, and creativity. They can sap our resilience and flexibility in the workplace and leave us more vulnerable and less effective.

Example: Years ago, I managed an otherwise productive programmer who started showing up late and was increasingly distracted. Years later, I learned the cause:a horrific relationship was draining them dry, pulling them in two directions at once.

POTENTIAL BENEFITS: Prior bad relationships, if successfully overcome, can give a person amazing insights and skills in workplace dynamics. These people have usually seen effective counsellors and acquired strong interpersonal and team skills. They may be able to see minefields from afar, defuse situtations, influence change, and help others step around trouble spots deftly. Having faced a bad situation isn’t enough—they must know what the issues were that they faced, they must have overcome them, and they must be able to articulate exactly how and why their methods were effective.


  • Without sharing too-personal details, have you ever faced a difficult non-work relationship?
    [Who hasn’t?! If they never have, they may be oblivious—a warning sign; or they may cater to everyone, which could impact work in different ways; clarify why t hey seem tom get along with everyone.]
  • Without sharing too-personal details, what were the general issues you faced, and how did you handle them?
    [You’re looking for 1) ability to identify the principles behind the issues they faced, 2) ability to bring outside expertise into the equation to develop skills to cope and overcome, and 3) ability to “choose” or create healthy relationships even when it’s tough.]
  • What was the outcome?
    [Are they still stranded? Did they take action to resolve it? get a handle on whether this will affect their work.]



Fuzzy Delegation and Multipurposing: New Survival Skills for Managers

Small and midsize business leaders have so much to do! How can you do it all, competing against the big guns, when there’s so much demand on your time and resources?

FAIL: Multitasking


“Multitasking” is not the answer.

  • Multitasking is a lie—you’re really “switch-tasking,” and switching costs you big time (see Dave Crenshaw, The Myth of Multitasking).
  • Cure and Proof: The Total, Relaxed Organization time management system naturally minimizes switching, which is one of the main reasons it reclaims an average of 600 hours per year and reduces stress by 60%. See live stats here.)

WIN: Multipurposing (The New Multitasking 2.0)


Sure, an extra 600 hours/yr helps, but to really “get everything done” in the 21st century I believe business leaders need to master a new skill: “multipurposing.” It’s also known as “killing two birds with one stone,” solving more than one problem with a single action, or “integrative thinking.”

Blocking the Big Guys in 9th Grade P.E.


I learned this principle the hard way—in 9th grade P.E. I was a year younger, a scrawny kid forced to play football with the jocks. When they chose offense assignments, my job was always the same: “go up front and block.” Yeah, right. With everyone else doing the “important” jobs, I had to face two mammoths at once. By myself. FAIL.

But then something wonderful happened. I discovered that one skinny kid could block two big guys … by pushing or tripping one into the other. The blocks weren’t bone-crushing, but they lasted long enough to run the plays. Their frustrated looks were a bonus. WIN.

That’s the essence of multipurposing. To multipurpose, you must:

  1. Clearly see what’s most important to you and your company. This includes opportunities and threats, even if they seem to conflict.
  2. See how those things are actually connected. (“Creativity is just connecting things.” - Steve Jobs)
  3. Address several of those issues at once (problems and opportunities) with a single solution.
  4. Repeat.

Don’t Forget “Agility”

When multipurposing, you also need to be “agile.” I tell clients and staff that “agile” means:

  1. It must NOT be perfect at first, and
  2. Improve it rapidly, over and over (iterating) as you get solid feedback.

In other words, get it done fast, get it out there fast, then improve it fast, over and over. Apple is great at this. Do you remember the FIRST iPhone? They kept improving it—obsessively—until they dominated.

Example: A Common SmallBiz Situation

Consider these (seemingly conflicting) needs:

  • New staff needs to be trained and developed.
  • Many big projects need to be dealt with.
  • You are overwhelmed with smaller but important things.

The Solution: “Fuzzy Delegation”

You can handle all these needs at once (and more) by “fuzzy delegating” one large project to each new staff member:

  1. Hand off the project by telling them what you know about it already and describing this fuzzy delegation process to them.
  2. They start working on it and see what solutions and information they can come up with,
  3. They report back regularly to propose solutions, get feedback and course corrections, and refine the results.

The Results: How Many Needs Are Met at Once?

  • Staff develops initiative and feels ownership of their projects.
  • Happy staff. See this amazing video: [youtube].
  • Subject matter experts (SMEs) develop around the projects assigned to them. People will go to them for answers, not you.
  • Staff gets trained by you in just a few minutes per week (in your 1-1s).
  • Projects get handled!
  • Multiple minds handle the projects, which means more creative solutions.
  • You are now delegating even tough projects to new people, so you begin to feel less overwhelmed.
  • You build excellent accountability in your regular 1-1 meetings, so staff and teams will flourish.

The Principles: Why Does it Work?

Looking back, it’s easy to see why this works:

  • You’re handling multiple issues at once (multipurposing).
  • You’re doing it in an iterative, agile way (“fuzzy delegation” means you keep revisiting it, getting it better each time).
  • You’re relying on other proven management and leadership principles in your solution (delegation, accountability, communication, collaboration, leadership, employee engagement, employee development).

What’s Your Experience?

Have you done something like this and found success? What was it? Don’t forget to point us to your web site or other success story while you’re at it. I did ;), and we’d all like to see your results. - KC

Images courtesy of:



Wow or Die


Recently I hunkered down to think deeply about company direction. (My own company is “pivoting,” preparing to leverage what we already have to accomplish something new and amazing for business owners and managers.)

Here’s the bottom line for your company.

The Now of Wow

One thing is utterly clear: to succeed any more you can’t just be good. A strategy or direction change can’t just be another type of business as usual. It has to radically push limits, “shock and awe,” make great things happen.  You have to be “Wow” in anything you do. 

To accomplish that, you need to define and refine your strategy in a big way. You have to ask (and answer) a lot of questions.

New ventures or directions especially need to “Get to Wow” from the start. If it isn’t wow, it isn’t worth doing.

Example: Twylah. I signed up for an invite to a new visual Twitter service. The next day I was told that my new Twylah page was ready. Here’s what I saw:

That was AUTOMATIC with no help from me. It just worked, brilliantly, visually, from my Twitter feed. (Visual is king now.) A couple of clicks later and I saw I had control over the web site (I can own the site name and the traffic), I can pin major topics, etc. So I started to pin some topics and stopped myself. Twylah worked so well out of the box that I didn’t want to interfere with it. I wanted it to keep working its magic, to see what it would come up with next instead of me doing it all. Talk about a timesaver.

“If it isn’t wow,
it isn’t worth doing.”

Not Perfect, Just Wow


But “wow” doesn’t mean perfect. (Perfect is the enemy of fast, and you need to be fast.)

Example: LastPass. LastPass is kinda annoying to use sometimes; sometimes it’s hard to figure out (and I’m a techie at heart!) But after one year of using it in the enterprise, I panicked when renewal was debated. There was simply NO WAY I would dream of operating without it. The pain it relieves is just too great.


There are many possible “wow” factors. You don’t have to do them all, at least not at first. But you’ve got to have at least one big “WOW” or it won’t fly.

Getting to Wow

So where’s the “wow” in your company, new strategy, or project?

Here’s how to wow:

  • Involve the whole team in the process.
  • Brainstorm.
  • Ask the hard questions.
  • Creatively tear down anything that isn’t wow.
  • Distill it to its absolute simplest form.
  • Require a minimum 10:1 benefit over the current way of doing thngs, AND minimize or eliminate the change required for new users. (See this HBR article.)
  • Clear time to make room to do it right. (Tip: Use this time management system [mine].)

It’s lurking there somewhere, just around the corner. You can probably feel it. You just need to precisely define it in a few words—whatever your wow factor is—so the investors and clients see it like a hammer hitting them over the head.

When you finally have a 10:1 or 20:1 advantage over the current way of doing things, only then have you found “wow.”

Only then can you or I be a huge success.



The High ROI ($$$) of Engaging Your Employees

You can’t afford to not let your employees help solve the issues.

Research …shows for every employee that crosses over from being disengaged (meaning they do only what they are told to do) to engaged (meaning they make decisions and implement improvements without being asked), you can expect to add an incremental $13,000 to the bottom line each and every year.  That’s $13,000 per year per employee. Just do the math.

So what holds you back?

Image courtesy of miamiamia



The Crash of Flight 447: Leadership Failure

Simple leadership and management principles can save—or kill—an entire aircraft or company.


For more than two years, the disappearance of Air France Flight 447 over the mid-Atlantic in the early hours of June 1, 2009, remained one of aviation’s great mysteries. How could a technologically state-of-the art airliner simply vanish? - Jeff Wise, Popular Mechanics

Nova’s excellent documentary (The Crash of Flight 447) tried to unravel the mystery of Flight 447 using the latest technology. I highly recommend watching.

However, Nova got it wrong.

The seeds of the disaster were already in place before it took off, in the training, behaviors, and leadership processes of the crew. The real question wasn’t “what happened to the plane?” but “how did the crew respond, and why?”

The Flight Transcript Recovered

Af447-minutes-0511-mdnIn April 2011, the flight recorder was recovered from 2 miles beneath the ocean. Leaked to the press via Popular Mechanics magazine, the full, translated transcript reveals a chilling truth:

If you don’t have one person clearly in charge, leading and managing according to sound principles, you’re in danger.

With full respect for the brave and well-intentioned crew, here are pertinent excerpts from the transcript. Read below and think of leadership and management principles in any organization. Consider the impact of having no clear leader, or two equal leaders, or a leader who is not leading, or inexperienced leaders not leading according to well-established principles…

At approximately 2 am, the other co-pilot, David Robert, returns to the cockpit after a rest break. At 37, Robert is both older and more experienced than Bonin, with more than double his colleague’s total flight hours. The head pilot gets up and gives him the left-hand seat. Despite the gap in seniority and experience, the captain leaves Bonin in charge of the controls. 

At 2:02 am, the captain leaves the flight deck to take a nap. Within 15 minutes, everyone aboard the plane will be dead.] 

02:08:07 (Robert) Tu peux éventuellement prendre un peu à gauche. On est d’accord qu’on est en manuel, hein?
You can possibly pull it a little to the left. We’re agreed that we’re in manual, yeah? … 
Just then an alarm sounds for 2.2 seconds, indicating that the autopilot is disconnecting. The cause is the fact that the plane’s pitot tubes, externally mounted sensors that determine air speed, have iced over, so the human pilots will now have to fly the plane by hand. 

Note, however, that the plane has suffered no mechanical malfunction. Aside from the loss of airspeed indication, everything is working fine. Otelli reports that many airline pilots (and, indeed, he himself) subsequently flew a simulation of the flight from this point and were able to do so without any trouble. But neither Bonin nor Roberts has ever received training in how to deal with an unreliable airspeed indicator at cruise altitude, or in flying the airplane by hand under such conditions. 02:10:06 (Bonin) J’ai les commandes.
I have the controls. 

02:10:07 (Robert) D’accord.
Okay. Perhaps spooked by everything that has unfolded over the past few minutes—the turbulence, the strange electrical phenomena, his colleague’s failure to route around the potentially dangerous storm—Bonin reacts irrationally. He pulls back on the side stick to put the airplane into a steep climb, despite having recently discussed the fact that the plane could not safely ascend due to the unusually high external temperature.  Bonin’s behavior is difficult for professional aviators to understand. “If he’s going straight and level and he’s got no airspeed, I don’t know why he’d pull back,” says Chris Nutter, an airline pilot and flight instructor. “The logical thing to do would be to cross-check”—that is, compare the pilot’s airspeed indicator with the co-pilot’s and with other instrument readings, such as groundspeed, altitude, engine settings, and rate of climb. In such a situation, “we go through an iterative assessment and evaluation process,” Nutter explains, before engaging in any manipulation of the controls. “Apparently that didn’t happen.” Almost as soon as Bonin pulls up into a climb, the plane’s computer reacts. A warning chime alerts the cockpit to the fact that they are leaving their programmed altitude. Then the stall warning sounds. This is a synthesized human voice that repeatedly calls out, “Stall!” in English, followed by a loud and intentionally annoying sound called a “cricket.” A stall is a potentially dangerous situation that can result from flying too slowly. At a critical speed, a wing suddenly becomes much less effective at generating lift, and a plane can plunge precipitously. All pilots are trained to push the controls forward when they’re at risk of a stall so the plane will dive and gain speed. 

The Airbus’s stall alarm is designed to be impossible to ignore. Yet for the duration of the flight, none of the pilots will mention it, or acknowledge the possibility that the plane has indeed stalled—even though the word “Stall!” will blare through the cockpit 75 times. Throughout, Bonin will keep pulling back on the stick, the exact opposite of what he must do to recover from the stall. 

02:10:41(Bonin) On est en… ouais, on est en “climb.”
We’re… yeah, we’re in a climb. Yet, still, Bonin does not lower the nose. Recognizing the urgency of the situation, Robert pushes a button to summon the captain. 

02:10:49 (Robert) Putain, il est où… euh?
Damn it, where is he [the captain]? 

The plane has climbed to 2512 feet above its initial altitude
, and though it is still ascending at a dangerously high rate, it is flying within its acceptable envelope. But for reasons unknown, Bonin once again increases his back pressure on the stick, raising the nose of the plane and bleeding off speed. Again, the stall alarm begins to sound. 

Still, the pilots continue to ignore it, and the reason may be that they believe it is impossible for them to stall the airplane. It’s not an entirely unreasonable idea: The Airbus is a fly-by-wire plane; the control inputs are not fed directly to the control surfaces, but to a computer, which then in turn commands actuators that move the ailerons, rudder, elevator, and flaps. The vast majority of the time, the computer operates within what’s known as normal law, which means that the computer will not enact any control movements that would cause the plane to leave its flight envelope. The flight control computer under normal law will not allow an aircraft to stall, aviation experts say. But once the computer lost its airspeed data, it disconnected the autopilot and switched from normal law to “alternate law,” a regime with far fewer restrictions on what a pilot can do. In alternate law, pilots can stall an airplane. 

It’s quite possible that Bonin had never flown an airplane in alternate law, or understood its lack of restrictions. Therefore, Bonin may have assumed that the stall warning was spurious because he didn’t realize that the plane could remove its own restrictions against stalling and, indeed, had done so.  

While Bonin’s behavior is irrational, it is not inexplicable. Intense psychological stress tends to shut down the part of the brain responsible for innovative, creative thought. Instead, we tend to revert to the familiar and the well-rehearsed. Though pilots are required to practice hand-flying their aircraft during all phases of flight as part of recurrent training, in their daily routine they do most of their hand-flying at low altitude—while taking off, landing, and maneuvering. It’s not surprising, then, that amid the frightening disorientation of the thunderstorm, Bonin reverted to flying the plane as if it had been close to the ground, even though this response was totally ill-suited to the situation. 

02:11:06 (Robert) Putain, il vient ou il vient pas?
Damn it, is he [the captain] coming or not?  The plane now reaches its maximum altitude. With engines at full power, the nose pitched upward at an angle of 18 degrees, it moves horizontally for an instant and then begins to sink back toward the ocean. 02:11:21 (Robert) On a pourtant les moteurs! Qu’est-ce qui se passe bordel? Je ne comprends pas ce que se passe.
We still have the engines! What the hell is happening? I don’t understand what’s happening. 

Unlike the control yokes of a Boeing jetliner, the side sticks on an Airbus are “asynchronous”—that is, they move independently. “If the person in the right seat is pulling back on the joystick, the person in the left seat doesn’t feel it,” says Dr. David Esser, a professor of aeronautical science at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. “Their stick doesn’t move just because the other one does, unlike the old-fashioned mechanical systems like you find in small planes, where if you turn one, the [other] one turns the same way.” Robert has no idea that, despite their conversation about descending, Bonin has continued to pull back on the side stick. The men are utterly failing to engage in an important process known as crew resource management, or CRM. They are failing, essentially, to cooperate. It is not clear to either one of them who is responsible for what, and who is doing what. This is a natural result of having two co-pilots flying the plane. “When you have a captain and a first officer in the cockpit, it’s clear who’s in charge,” Nutter explains. “The captain has command authority. He’s legally responsible for the safety of the flight. When you put two first officers up front, it changes things. You don’t have the sort of traditional discipline imposed on the flight deck when you have a captain.”  The vertical speed toward the ocean accelerates. If Bonin were to let go of the controls, the nose would fall and the plane would regain forward speed. But because he is holding the stick all the way back, the nose remains high and the plane has barely enough forward speed for the controls to be effective. As turbulence continues to buffet the plane, it is nearly impossible to keep the wings level. 02:11:32 (Bonin) Putain, j’ai plus le contrôle de l’avion, là! J’ai plus le contrôle de l’avion!
Damn it, I don’t have control of the plane, I don’t have control of the plane at all! 

02:11:37 (Robert) Commandes à gauche!
Left seat taking control! At last, the more senior of the pilots (and the one who seems to have a somewhat better grasp of the situation) now takes control of the airplane. Unfortunately, he, too, seems unaware of the fact that the plane is now stalled, and pulls back on the stick as well. Although the plane’s nose is pitched up, it is descending at a 40-degree angle. The stall warning continues to sound. At any rate, Bonin soon after takes back the controls.  A minute and a half after the crisis began, the captain returns to the cockpit. The stall warning continues to blare. 

02:11:47 (Robert) On a totalement perdu le contrôle de l’avion… On comprend rien… On a tout tenté…
We’ve totally lost control of the plane. We don’t understand at all… We’ve tried everything. By now the plane has returned to its initial altitude but is falling fast. With its nose pitched 15 degrees up, and a forward speed of 100 knots, it is descending at a rate of 10,000 feet per minute, at an angle of 41.5 degrees. It will maintain this attitude with little variation all the way to the sea. Though the pitot tubes are now fully functional, the forward airspeed is so low—below 60 knots—that the angle-of-attack inputs are no longer accepted as valid, and the stall-warning horn temporarily stops. This may give the pilots the impression that their situation is improving, when in fact it signals just the reverse. 

Another of the revelations of Otelli’s transcript is that 
the captain of the flight makes no attempt to physically take control of the airplane. Had Dubois done so, he almost certainly would have understood, as a pilot with many hours flying light airplanes, the insanity of pulling back on the controls while stalled. But instead, he takes a seat behind the other two pilots. This, experts say, is not so hard to understand. “They were probably experiencing some pretty wild gyrations,” Esser says. “In a condition like that, he might not necessarily want to make the situation worse by having one of the crew members actually disengage and stand up. He was probably in a better position to observe and give his commands from the seat behind.”  But from his seat, Dubois is unable to infer from the instrument displays in front of him why the plane is behaving as it is. The critical missing piece of information: the fact that someone has been holding the controls all the way back for virtually the entire time. No one has told Dubois, and he hasn’t thought to ask. 

02:12:14 (Robert) Qu’est-ce que tu en penses? Qu’est-ce que tu en penses? Qu’est-ce qu’il faut faire?
What do you think? What do you think? What should we do? 

02:12:15 (Captain) Alors, là, je ne sais pas!
Well, I don’t know!  As the stall warning continues to blare, the three pilots discuss the situation with no hint of understanding the nature of their problem. No one mentions the word “stall.” As the plane is buffeted by turbulence, the captain urges Bonin to level the wings—advice that does nothing to address their main problem. The men briefly discuss, incredibly, whether they are in fact climbing or descending, before agreeing that they are indeed descending. As the plane approaches 10,000 feet, Robert tries to take back the controls, and pushes forward on the stick, but the plane is in “dual input” mode, and so the system averages his inputs with those of Bonin, who continues to pull back. The nose remains high. 02:13:40 (Robert) Remonte… remonte… remonte… remonte… 
Climb… climb… climb… climb… 

02:13:40 (Bonin) Mais je suis à fond à cabrer depuis tout à l’heure!
But I’ve had the stick back the whole time! At last, Bonin tells the others the crucial fact whose import he has so grievously failed to understand himself.  02:13:42 (Captain) Non, non, non… Ne remonte pas… non, non.
No, no, no… Don’t climb… no, no. 

02:13:43 (Robert) Alors descends… Alors, donne-moi les commandes… À moi les commandes!
Descend, then… Give me the controls… Give me the controls! 

Bonin yields the controls, and Robert finally puts the nose down. The plane begins to regain speed. But it is still descending at a precipitous angle. As they near 2000 feet, the aircraft’s sensors detect the fast-approaching surface and trigger a new alarm. There is no time left to build up speed by pushing the plane’s nose forward into a dive. At any rate, without warning his colleagues, Bonin once again takes back the controls and pulls his side stick all the way back.  02:14:23 (Robert) Putain, on va taper… C’est pas vrai!
Damn it, we’re going to crash… This can’t be happening! 02:14:25 (Bonin) Mais qu’est-ce que se passe?
But what’s happening? 

02:14:27 (Captain) 10 degrès d’assiette…
Ten degrees of pitch… Exactly 1.4 seconds later, the cockpit voice recorder stops. 

Share Your Insights and Experiences

What are your thoughts and feelings?



Why Your Organization Needs ONE Clear Leader (A Wordless Essay)



The Eight Laws of Excellent Corporate Communication

 A Simple Blueprint for Any Organization



The most essential element of leadership and management is… communication. To be effective, you have to understand the impact of what, why, and how you communicate—personally and as an organization. Fortunately, great communication comes down to a few simple principles. Master them and you get amazing organizational focus and vigor.

Here are the most crucial laws of communication for any organization—from a family to a Fortune 500 firm. I’ve identified these from decades of experience with start-ups to multinational Fortune 500 corporations to nonprofits to families. Regardless of the size or setting, these principles apply.

Do you know of more laws? Do you disagree with the order? Let us know below.

Law #1: Communicate the strategic vision to everyone, often. 

Where are you headed? Decide, then focus everyone on it, over and over and over. Constantly tie short-term actions to that long-term vision. You can’t get organizational clarity any other way. As Yogi Berra said: “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.”

Law #2: Keep it clear and simple. 

Less is more. If they won’t read it or can’t understand it, you didn’t communicate.

Law #3: Distinguish leadership from management, and communicate accordingly.

Managing = Delegating and following up. [Ed: Use Donedesk for this. Period.]
Leading = Encouraging, lobbying, focusing each other on the common vision.

Everyone leads. Only direct supervisors manage. Violate this rule and you will confuse the troops, stifle initiative, and micromanage a lot.

Law #4: Ensure excellent, constructive engagement on all the issues. 

Internal contention destroys organizations. So does its opposite, groupthink, as the Lehman Brothers collapse attests. Therefore, keep communication abundant and effective by emphasizing the need for feedback with mutual respect and mutual purpose.

The Crucial Conversations model gives excellent results. 

Law #5: Create accountability, but don’t kill initiative.

What you measure, improves, and in the best organizations, everyone is accountable to each other regardless of level or seniority. HOWEVER, excessive follow-up stifles initiative, and if you measure the wrong things, the wrong things improve.

So, be careful what you ask about, and when. But do ask.

Law #6: Add permanent value.

Convert discussions and decisions into long-lasting, easy-to-use stores of knowledge. Let all participants do this together, especially new team members, since that reinforces learning and formalizes decisions. Do it during meetings in a shared document that everyone can see (a Google doc displayed overhead, for example).

Law #7: Involve others freely, but beware TMI.

By involving more people, you get great benefits:

  • Communicate whole-organization issues directly to the whole organization for precision and efficiency.
  • Include others when it can create collaboration and shared responsibility. This breaks down information silos and creates essential systems thinking.

However, you need to avoid TMI (“too much information”), which can paralyze people. Therefore, limit communication to what really matters, when it matters, and only to the parties who will benefit.

Law #8 The Golden Law of Great Communication: “Never reach a negative conclusion without carefully clarifying.”

This one should really be first. Violating this rule destroys teamwork by damaging mutual trust and mutual respect. Visibly honor this law and insist on it in others. It will establish trust, which is the foundation of great teamwork and world-class communication.

Now, stop a moment and look over the items above. Seriously—do it right now.

Imagine your organization communicating this way, all the time. How would it feel? What would you accomplish together?

It is surprisingly easy to do with the right tools.

“We need to be the change we wish to see in the world.” – Ghandi



Twain on Time Management …


Without a foundation of relaxed productivity, you can’t lead or execute your strategy well. And here’s some futuristic advice on productivity from Mark Twain:

The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small, manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” - Mark Twain

Great advice. David Allen (GTD) popularized this idea as the “single next action.” However, he never claimed to be its inventor. Dean Acheson introduced the concept to Allen (GTD, p. 237), and Mark Twain beat Dean to it by a century….

Kevin Crenshaw is a business consultant and executive coach. As author of the blog “Strategy in Principle,” he shares insights on hot topics in management and productivity tips for business owners. He is also CEO of Priacta, Inc., a time management company that helps you get an extra two hours out of your day—for life. Follow him on Twitter for more tips in all these areas.



On Going First (The Real Cost of Pioneering)

Read carefully. The reason for this poem may surprise you…




Intrepid leader, pioneer,

the first to start the race.

Who charts a course to lead the way,

a route to second place.


Though guides are callow, maps unknown,

who treks the virgin land,

by each new failure, marks the path,

to reach the final strand.


The first will vanquish demons that

no other man will face,

and then to hold the place in line,

march on at double pace.


Who oft as not will never see

themself the end reward.

The trail built but someone else

will bridge the final ford.


Regret and failure, dreams destroyed

the conquered hero stands,

to see the next, in half the time,

will navigate these lands.


What will they see, the third and fourth,

while passing by the first?

A counterfeit? A vagabond?

A swine? A fool, accursed?


Or will they see the harbinger

of all they soon will reach?

Who cut the trail, but time expired

short of the final beach.


And will the vanguard be content

to never see the end?

Instead, to be the stepping stone,

instead, to help a friend.


John Crenshaw

”Dedicated to every oldest sibling.”


My son John wrote this the day his fourth brother received his Eagle Scout award. All his brothers beneath him got theirs or are in line for it.

He never received his.

As new parents, we were still learning the ropes, and he was cutting a trail for this brothers and sisters. I’m the oldest in my family, and I never earned my Eagle either.

However, I’m totally “content,” as his poem uses that word, and I think he is too. Blazing the path for others and seeing them succeed is where I get much of my satisfaction in life. Perhaps that’s why I love being a coach so much …


Kevin Crenshaw is a business consultant and executive coach. As author of the blog “Strategy in Principle,” he shares insights on hot topics in management and productivity tips for business owners. He is also CEO of Priacta, Inc., a time management company that helps you get an extra two hours out of your day—for life. Follow him on Twitter for more tips in all these areas.




Consensus in Crisis


What happens when a true leader, facing a crisis, honestly collaborates with all parties to find a group solution?

Read the following article. I don’t think this is “spin” or positioning. It’s the real deal. There were no dissenting comments posted on the Richmond Time-Dispatch news article as of this writing.
I recommend this pattern for any leader in any organization: 
  • Use your influence as a leader to be a catalyst for responsible consensus.
  • What common ground can you find?
  • What ideas does the “other side” have?
  • Avoid finger pointing. Focus on issues, not people. (I think this article only scores a C+ for that.)
Bring all parties to the table, agree on the need, then figure it out together. Not only do you get a solution, but you get a solution people can believe in and implement with enthusiasm. And that makes all the difference.
“Tough, Responsible Choices Set Stage for Recovery”
Richmond Times Dispatch, March 7, 2010
By Guest Columnist Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell
Virginians need more good jobs. In this uniquely difficult economy, a top priority of government must be strengthening the free enterprise system and helping the private sector create jobs to get our economy back on track. This has been the focus of much of our efforts since taking office.
We have seen in Congress what happens when our leaders do not focus on economic growth, competitiveness, and job creation. They get pulled into partisan fights over other issues. Some of their actions have a negative impact on the capital markets, captains of industry, small business entrepreneurs, and consumers upon whom job creation depends.

I’m grateful to our state legislature that most of my economic development and reform proposals have passed one or both houses, most with large bipartisan majorities. The new tools we will have to promote small business, tourism, film production, wineries, and the energy industry will help to create the jobs and prosperity of tomorrow.
For the past seven weeks I have been working in a collaborative fashion with leading budget-writers in both parties and have made our budget priorities clear: First, new tools for job creation and economic development to foster future growth. Second, no job-killing tax increases. Third, generating a balanced budget on time that preserves our Triple-A bond rating and attractiveness to new private investment. Finally, protecting public safety and focusing reductions on those areas that had not received large cuts before.
Our work on the budget began in January — facing a budget shortfall of $4.2 billion. Gov. Tim Kaine’s introduced budget proposed to cover half of the shortfall with the largest tax increase in Virginia history — a minimum 17 percent income tax increase for Virginians. Both houses of the General Assembly dismissed this plan on a bipartisan basis.
The inclusion of a tax hike proposal with no realistic prospect for passage left us with an unbalanced budget. It meant closing the remaining $2.2 billion shortfall in just a few weeks. It presented an unprecedented situation. Prior to this year, the most revisions an incoming governor ever made to his predecessor’s introduced budget were $400 million (by Gov. Mark Warner in 2002). Our task has been more than five times greater.

Choosing a process of collaboration with my former legislative colleagues, I have been meeting regularly with leaders from both houses to help forge a balanced budget. On Feb. 17, I sent the General Assembly $2.3 billion in budget recommendations. Developing this package of recommendations was one of the most difficult undertakings in my 19 years in public office. Many cuts carry with them a human face, a personal story, and a real impact on fellow Virginians. But Virginians rightly expect their elected leaders to make the hard choices necessary to run government efficiently during tough times, just as they do in their family and business budgets. That means reducing spending to meet available revenues, conservatively projecting future revenues, and not balancing the state’s budget with higher taxes.
According to Virginia’s watchdog agency JLARC, the total state operating budget has grown by 73.4 percent from 2000 to 2009. After adjusting for population and inflation, it still grew by 28 percent. When times were good we adopted a high level of spending, not sustainable in today’s economy.
Before I took office, Gov. Kaine and the General Assembly had already cut $7 billion from the budget over the past two years. Higher education, public safety, and transportation were all hit with deep cuts, while K-12 education and health care generally were not. Thus, our new spending reductions focused on those areas.
Reducing education funding is a tough choice. My sister is a teacher and all of my children graduated, or will graduate this year, from public high schools in the state. Over the past decade, direct aid to K-12 education has grown by 55 percent, faster than other areas of the general fund. In fact, education spending accounts for 39 percent of all general fund budget growth over the past decade. This has occurred while student enrollment has gone up only 7.6 percent.

Our budget proposal will still leave total K-12 spending in 2012 50 percent higher than it was in the year 2000. Our reductions are targeted primarily at expenditures outside the classroom. And the proposed reductions to K-12 can be offset in large part by the use of more than $500 million in additional revenue generated for localities through budget savings from the Virginia Retirement System payments, and through the utilization of nearly $280 million in additional revenues recently identified by our office.
The budgets of both houses have significant savings in the area of social services and health care. However, even if all of these cuts are made, Virginia will still be spending more on health care than ever before.
I have been heartened by the common ground we have found in crafting the final budget. Both the Republican House and the Democratic Senate rejected tax increases, preserved car tax relief, included funding for job creation and economic development efforts, and closed the shortfall through reductions in spending in areas not cut significantly before.
The collaboration with the General Assembly has fostered an atmosphere of candid dialogue. I have much faith in the senior leaders in the legislature to resolve their differences promptly and civilly. We stand ready to pass a balanced budget, in a bipartisan fashion, on time, and without a tax increase. These extraordinary fiscal times will bring about innovation and entrepreneurial management by both public and private sector leaders. The spirit of the people of Virginia to endure and recover from difficult times is outstanding, and I look forward to helping lead our state to brighter days ahead.