“Alpinists who’ve survived a lifetime of close scraps counsel young proteges that staying alive hinges on listening carefully to one’s inner voice. Tales of climbers who decided to remain in sleeping bags after detecting some strange vibe and thereby survived a catastrophe that wiped out others who failed to heed the portents.

I didn’t doubt the value of paying attention to subconscious cues. The ice underfoot emitted a series of loud cracking noises, like small trees being snapped in two, and I felt myself wince with each pop and rumble from the glacier’s shifting depths. But my inner voice resembled Chicken Little: it was screaming that I was about to die, but it did that every time I laced up my climbing boots. …


Why is it that most managers seem to work around the clock?

The majority of an overworked manager’s “work” is often self-imposed tampering on tasks better handled by those they lead.

I learned this the hard way as a first-time sales manager when one of my direct reports invited me to golf on a Saturday. I politely declined as I had plans of “catching up” over the weekend.

As I plodded through my Saturday to-do list, an email appeared on my screen from the same sales rep who invited me to golf, “Just checking in to see if you made progress on the proposal.” …


If you interview an executive of a large company and a military leader, many aspects of the conversation will sound remarkably similar. Both are responsible for adapting to change, leading people, thinking strategically and delivering results.

But several times during the conversation, you are reminded of just how different the stakes can be for the military leader. An executive might recall delaying the removal of a poor performer, resulting in a disruption in business. The military leader might provide a similar example but with much graver consequences.

I recently met with David Neal, the CEO of Eighth Mile Consulting, to talk about his journey from the Australian Army to founding a successful business. David spent 13 years with the armed forces before leaving to build a company that helps private enterprises with change and project management, strategy and leadership consulting. …


Most of us have a horror story about a team whose members were stifled, silenced and behaving strictly on compliance. These narratives feature domineering coaches ruling by fear, or managers caught up in the self-importance of their job title. Without effort, we conjure up our feelings while navigating those choppy waters. Our desire to escape the situation was comparable to leaving a burning building. We desired safety.

We read about an elaborate scheme by the Houston Astros to deceive, cheat and sully the game they devoted their lives to. We read the headlines about hundreds of Wells Fargo employees opening thousands of fake accounts for trusting customers. Dozens more from Volkswagen installed illegal software to pass government emission testing. …


Ever wondered what a catcher says to his pitcher during a timeout in a tight baseball game?

Few positions in sports feel pressure like a pitcher in baseball. The most talented baseball team in the world can’t win if their pitcher can’t throw strikes.

Imagine standing on the mound with your team holding onto a 2–1 lead. Your arm feels like lead and your legs are as wobbly as if you just finished a 10-mile race. You just walked two batters and have zero confidence that you can throw your best pitches for strikes.

Thankfully, this position comes with a personal psychiatrist, who just asked the umpire for time-out. The coaches remain in the dugout while teammates patiently watch and wait. At this moment, a catcher’s role is to reset the pitcher’s confidence, mentality and mindset. …


I grew up in a small town in Michigan.

Not quite Detroit, but close enough to feel all of Detroit’s problems. Kids who dreamed big in my town thought of running an auto plant one day.

If things really worked out, maybe work your way up to a corporate job with the Big Three. I didn’t have money and nor did my friends.

We were all in the same blue-collar boat. Those of us going to college hoped to get a decent job, grind for 35 years and retire with enough to fish for walleye the rest of our lives.

No one in my circle was wealthy but that changed shortly after I graduated from college. …


This question came from a union worker at an Indiana steel mill. He was thoroughly unimpressed with my plan to optimize his plant.

I worked for GE in 2000. Six Sigma was our secret weapon. Though Motorola introduced this process improvement methodology, Jack Welch made it famous. Jack made Six Sigma one of his signature initiatives, touting the cost-saving magic that helped GE beat earnings estimates like a drum.

Six Sigma was so closely tied to GE that we sold it to our biggest customers. For a fixed fee, we would attack your inefficient process with data. The process was defined by five words: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control. …


“Listen, we understand that you are not thrilled with your sales quotas.”

Not thrilled.

You’re asking me to grow sales by 60% during a recession. My first thought was prison showers and bars of soap, but it was also accurate to say I was not thrilled.

As with all things in a big company, at least I could take comfort that other miserable wretches received equally unreasonable treatment.

“The alternative to growing at this pace will be losing some great field engineers.”

I was a sales rep for a business that relied heavily on talented field engineers. I sold expensive equipment but we differentiated with world-class design, service and installation. …


The Shawshank Redemption is on my Mount Rushmore of movies.

Run a Google search for “most rewatchable movies” and you will find Shawkshank on every list.

Like all great story arcs, Shawshank drags its protagonist through an unending series of trials, torture and heartbreak. The length of this movie only serves in prolonging the punishment of its hero.

Andy Dufresne, a normal guy who makes a terrible mistake, finds himself trapped by a sadistic warden with no intention of letting him leave. …


You’ll have to forgive people from the Midwest for thinking less of you on “snow days.”

I was raised in Michigan in the 80s. A “snow day” meant that the snow was covering at least half of the windows on the main floor when you woke up.

And this only applied to children. Did the steel mill shut down and call my old man to tell him to sled with his kids? Does a shark crap in the woods?

Not showing up to work in a snowstorm in the midwest will subject you to months of humiliation. …

About

Ian Mathews

Owner of 5on4 Group | Senior executive for two Fortune 500 companies | Regular contributor for Forbes.com | Author of the 5on4 blog (5on4.group/more)

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