Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Launching Your Career

One of the things that I have become sensitive about over the years, is the idea of building a strong team. I figured out a long time ago that it didn't matter how smart I was if the people working for me weren't smart. While it feels good to be the smartest person on the team, it meant that my career was limited by my own intelligence.

At first, that doesn't sound too bad. Certainly I want my career tied to my own intelligence, don't I? But if I am competing with everyone else based on intelligence then I need to make sure that I am not only the smartest person on MY team, but the smartest person around.

Except I'm not.

I know lot's of people who are smarter at some things than I am.

So competing strictly on intelligence is not a way to the top.

But what if I could harness the power of all of the smart people around me? What if I could take their best ideas and combine them with my best ideas? Wouldn't that make me look smarter?

Of course it would. And this realization is what brought me originally to the idea of building a strong team; A team of people who are actually SMARTER than I am. If I could surround myself with people who were actually smarter than I was, then I could benefit from all of their good ideas and I could launch my career based on their fuel.

But why should they allow me to benefit from their intelligence?

More about that next week.

Dave Meyer

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Why we started ECI Learning Systems LLC

If you are reading this post, I hope that you have read the previous 6 posts that provide my personal history and career background. If not, here is the very, very short version of those posts:

I was very successful, receiving regular promotions throughout my career, because I was able to get things done. I tackled challenges that others could or would not, and found ways to make things happen. Later in my career I discovered that I had been inadvertently sabotaging my own career due to my personal blind spots. Blind spots are those things that others see in us that we cannot see in ourselves.

We all have blind spots that we are not aware of.....and my blind spots had been killing me.

I also discovered how attention to blind spots through mentoring and personal development can go a long way toward creating a more successful and fulfilling career. And how to geometrically improve my own performance by developing the people around me.

Which leads us to ECI Learning Systems LLC.

Let me start by saying that ECI Learning Systems is not my company….. it is OUR company. I work with a partner (Laurie Valaer) who shares my passion for personal development and understands the value of creating strong teams. While I approach this concept from a leadership perspective, Laurie’s view is from that of a follower. She clearly understands what motivated her and made her work harder, and what demotivated her and reduced her production. We founded ECI Learning Systems to help create the kind of workplace where people WANT to come to work and STRIVE to do their very best.....EVERY day.

And when people do that, companies don’t just survive….they THRIVE!

During my years at MCI I began the process of personal development. It was slow at first because I thought I knew it all. As my mentors invested more time in me I began to see the difference it could make in my performance, my team’s performance and the performance of the company. And a funny thing happened….. as my team’s performance improved, so did the way I was viewed by others. Oh, I still had my blind spots, but there was no question that the quality of the people around me was making me a better manager and a better leader.

At some point during this process I began to realize the folly of my earlier years and wished that I had only known what I clearly didn’t know. I wished that someone had taken me under their wing earlier and provided me with the tools I needed to be more successful. And much like the Tom Cruise character Jerry Maguire I sat down to write my personal mission statement. (Incidentally, this will likely be the only time in my life that Tom Cruise and I are mentioned in the same sentence.)

As I wrote my personal mission statement I was struck by my strong desire to help others succeed in ways that I had not. And while I still had my personal desires to “get things done” it was quickly being displaced by the great pleasure I received from watching those around me succeed. I began identifying key people below me that I thought had the talents to be excellent leaders and began to personally mentor them. I looked for ways to help my people learn lessons from the tasks that they were doing, and tried to find ways to help them identify their own blind spots.

Over time, this desire to build the people around me overcame my own personal desire to succeed and “get things done”. That desire led me to a number of training and certification programs that allowed me to do formally what I had been doing informally for a number of years: coach the best to develop strong leaders and build strong teams.

For Laurie and me, it comes back to the following key concepts:

1. You can create a great organization if you understand yourself and others.
2. Great leaders understand that it is not about them, it’s about their team.
3. Hiring and developing the best people leads to both personal and organizational success.
4. People that place themselves above the organization sap the energy out of organizations.
5. A company culture that focuses on its people energizes everyone in the organization.
6. Organizations that stress the importance of personal and team development tend to attract and retain the best talent.
7. Everyone needs someone to talk to. Someone who won’t judge them, but will help them identify and remove their blind spots.
8. No training program by itself can change a person’s behavior. People need to be trained ( Educate ); that training needs to carry across the organization (Communicate); and the training needs to be reinforced with practical and hands on coaching (Integrate).

Educate; Communicate; Integrate

That’s what ECI stands for, and it’s what Laurie and I believe in. More importantly, we believe that until we realize that “we don’t know what we don’t know” we can never begin to maximize our own, or our team's, potential.

With all of that said, I hope that you will subscribe to our blog, read our thoughts on how to become the type of leader you need to be, and begin looking for ways to identify your own blind spots.

And remember, when you are serious about getting the most out of your talent and your career, it’s time to contact ECI Learning Systems. We’ve been there ourselves and we know what it takes to create an energized workplace.

Till next time....

Dave Meyer

Monday, December 29, 2008

Let There Be Light

Jerry Hogan was a different kind of leader than I had ever exerienced before. I could say that he was a "no-nonsense" type of guy, but that would be a cliche' that would not do him justice. A lot of "no-nonsense' leaders are egotistical control freaks who want things done their way and only their way. But Jerry was not that type of a leader. He was the kind of guy who set clear direction and expected you to find your way there.

I was now a part of the Network Engineering organization, but I didn't know anything about networks and certainly was not an engineer. Jerry had taken over as Vice President of Network Engineerng about a week before I joined the organization. I had no idea what to expect from Jerry and he had no idea what to expect from me. In my first weeks there, we had a few face to face meetings. In those meetings Jerry made his expectations of his organization very clear. Things were a mess and he knew it. He didn't expect an instant turnaround, but he did expect everyone to start moving decisively toward our new goals and objectives. The objectives could not have been clearer. They were short, concise and results focused. But Jerry left it up to his leadership team to translate his objectives into specific actions for our departments.

As I began working with my new peers I began to see how different we all were and how very different all of our departments were, yet how we were all focused on the same "prize". Never before had I seen an organization with such clarity of purpose and a clear definition of what was needed. Every meeting I went to focused on how to achieve our objectives. Every decision we made was made with the overall goals of the organization in mind. Confusion over how to proceed with a new project or product was quickly resolved as we focused on how each issue blended into our overall objectives.

Morale had been extremely low when I joined the organization, but quickly things began to change. The sense of purpose that each of the management team felt was quickly adopted by every member of the organization. Each person in the organization understood exactly why they were there and exactly what they needed to do to be successful. We've all heard the hype over the need for Mission and Vision statements, but this was working proof that clarity of Mission did indeed inspire confidence and buy in from the team members. Over the next few years I learned that this clarity was the hallmark of a Jerry Hogan organization. I had the privilege of working with Jerry in several organizations and watched him provide crystal clear direction in each one.

One of the side benefits of a well run organization is the feeling that anything can and will be accomplished. While MCI had some struggles in the marketplace we surged forward with total confidence in our organization. We knew that if we did our job well, it would have a positive imact on the company and that we would all benefit. Jerry's brand of leadership can best be described as "hire good people, set clear direction, and get out of their way." The direction he set could not have been any clearer, and although he continued to closely monitor our progress toward the goals, he never stepped in to tell us "how" to do things. His view was, "I hired smart people. Let them figure out what has to be done."

This view is espsoused by many, but few leaders actually have the confidence to let their people figure out what needs to be done. So many leaders want to "help" their organizations by providing too much detail in areas that they are not experts in. Jerry didn't have this problem.

Jerry and I engaged in numerous discussions about the importance of people. He firmly believed that good people could (and would) accomplish anything. He told me, "The two most important decisions you will make as a leader are who you hire and who you fire. If you can't hire the right people you will never be successful. If you don't fire the right people your success will be short lived."

This last statement was deeply profound and deeply troubling. On one level it might suggest that firing people was a good thing. That taking people who don't perform and just getting rid of them was the best solution to your problem. But that message wasn't at the heart of Jerry's statement. The heart of his statement was "Put the right people in the right place and doors will open. Put the wrong people in the wrong place and your pathway is blocked." What Jerry taught me was that some people are really in the wrong place. And the best thing that you can do for them is help get them in the right place. Even if that means that they need to leave your organization.

Till next time.....

Dave Meyer

Sunday, December 21, 2008

You Don't Know What You Don't Know.....

I don't know where the phrase originated, but the old saying is: "you don't know what you don't know". In my business today, we call them "blind spots" and everyone has them. You don't see them because you are unaware of them. As soon as you become aware of your blind spots you can do something about them. Assuming of course, that you want to.

I had blind spots. Lots of them. In spite of the fact that I had always "gotten results," my blind spots had secretly been hurting my career for years. And I didn't even know it.

MCI was intent on developing their people and creating a workforce where the sum is greater than the parts. One day my boss called me into his office and told me that he had signed me up for a class in Conflict Management. I wasn't sure why he thought I needed a class like that. I was good at winning conflicts.

The class was an open enrollment class with about 25 people present. Remember, this is Washington DC, with a lot of very large companies. 18 of the 25 people were from different parts of MCI. the other 7 people were from 7 different companies. It was clear to me that MCI was not just investing in me, they were investing in all of us. The instructor began to talk about types of conflict and causes. I kept waiting for him to get to the part about how to win more. But as you have probably guessed, that wasn't the topic. The class was interesting for me and I took good notes. He talked about various ways to create "win-win" strategies, and ways to avoid conflict by asking the right questions. It made sense. But when I got back to the office I soon reverted to my old ways. I didn't give it much thought at the time, but looking back at it I now realize that classwork and training without reinforcement aren't really a sound investment.

My bosses signed me up for other classes as well. I probably spent 4 or 5 days in training each year. The classes were not chosen arbitrarily, but were part of a plan put together in conjunction with my boss. But there was more. I identified key employees working for me and they spent time in training classes also. I still had my blind spots, but I was becoming more and more aware of not just how to get results, but how to really utilize the people around me to create something bigger than myself. I became intrigued about people's potential and how to identify and unleash their potential. And while we couldn't afford to send everyone to training classes I began to look for creative ways to develop my people.

I found them too.

I looked at my employees and identified their technical strengths. They all seemed to have areas of specialization, areas where they were experts. I decided to use that to my advantage by having my employees prepare internal training to help their peers understand their areas of expertise as well as they did. I used those internal trainings to strengthen my group's technical skills AND to improve their ability to communicate.

Up until this time I had been working on IT functions within the Billing arena. But I had an interest in learning about the network side of the business. I went to my superiors and told them of my desires. By this time I was getting used to the idea of MCI helping their people grow, so I wasn't too surprised when my bosses not only encouraged me to move to a new area, but assisted me in finding just the right spot. In my move to Engineering I met another of my mentors. He was the VP of Network Services and his name was Jerry Hogan.

Till next time....

Dave Meyer

A Whole New Perspective

I spent about 12 years at MCI and I can't begin to communicate how much that experience meant to me. I had a series of interesting, intelligent, and insightful bosses. Linda McCarthy, Jim DeMerlis, Ernie Lederer, Jerry Hogan, Jerry Adamic, and a few others. I also met some of the most insightful people that I could imagine. Ellie Ryan, Darryl Shaw, Michael Druhan, Art Giannopoulos, Ellie Luce, Mike Shaw and Bruce Brinick taught me a lot about people. Bruce was especially insightful. He seemed to be able to peer into a person's soul and see exactly what made them tick. These people were all smarter than me, and all helped make me smarter in the process.

While I continued to get results, I began to see a different side of being a manager and a leader. Ernie began talking to me about the importance of finding quality, talented people. Sometimes he would ask me to interview someone, but couldn't tell me what job they would be filling. I found that confusing. How could I interview someone if I didn't know what job they would fill, or what skills they needed? This wasn't about skill, Ernie insisted. It was about talent. Ernie found and hired talented people whenever he could. The job he insisted, would appear later.

Without going into depth I will tell you that many of the people he hired had tremendous success inside and outside of MCI. And not just personal success. They built successful teams of talented, motivated people. They understood that success, real success, was bigger than a single person.

Under Ernie's direction (and the direction of MCI in general) we began working to develop our people. We put together Personal Development Plans for our employees that took into account not only their skills, but their desires, their talents, and their dreams as well. MCI believed that if they could help their employees achieve their dreams, they would help MCI achieve theirs as well.

Meanwhile, my bosses continued to give me feedback. After a presentation they would talk to me about what went well, and what could have gone better. They pointed out where I had hooked my audience and where the audience was left wanting. As projects completed, we sat down together to discuss what had gone well and what we wanted to do differently the next time. These sessions never involved "blame," but focused on what we could learn from each experience.

Quite frankly, the atmosphere around me was electric. Everyone wanted to do more. Everyone wanted to succeed. And everyone wanted the company to succeed as well. As we worked on projects, we would often discuss not just what we needed, but what the company needed as well. I watched organizational leaders put aside their personal goals to focus on what the company needed.

Never before had I witnessed so many people working so many hours without complaint. Never before had I watched so many talented people actively helping each other to succeed. And never before had I seen a company so vested in their employees' success.

And it only got better.

Till next time....

Dave Meyer

A Different Kind of Energy...

Still with us? Good... As they say in the movies, things are about to get interesting....

I joined MCI in late 1986. It was the Monday after the first RIF (Reduction in Force) in MCI's history, and their founder had just suffered a major heart attack, requiring a heart transplant. I walked in the door expecting a lot of negative emotion. While it was my first day on the job, many others had their last day at MCI just a few days earlier.

Things were quite odd that first day. There were a lot of tearful reunions as employees found friends that they thought had been laid off. But then it got stranger.

I went to lunch alone in the company cafeteria. After a few moments I found a few of my employees sitting together talking, and decided to join them. Surprisingly, they were talking business. Now, I had occasionally talked business at lunch in my old companies. But most of those discussions were about how bad things were, how bad the boss was, or how much we didn't like working there. These discussions were different. The employees were discussing a technical issue over lunch and brainstorming how to solve it. I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. They were clearly struggling with the problem but were animated and laughing as they worked through the various ideas.

Frankly, I couldn't follow a word of what they were talking about. This was a whole new vocabulary for me.

After a few minutes they reached a conclusion and the topic changed. They turned to me and began to ask me questions. Questions about my background, my style of management, and what I thought of the layoffs. They asked me why I was hired when the prior week 2 managers had been laid off.

There questions weren't threatening, or malicious. Their questions were curious.

I don't remember exactly what I told them but it was a thoughtful discussion about managing and why companies did what they did. This discussion lasted most of the lunch hour and all of the employees sitting with me engaged in the discussion.

The second day I went to lunch in the cafeteria again. I saw a group of employees from my area sitting together again, but this time the group was larger. They had been joined by others from our sister departments. They waived me over and I joined them. The discussion quickly turned to management and leadership again and their questions continued. It was clear that they weren't challenging me. Instead they were trying to learn from me.

Too bad I really didn't know what to tell them.

Over the next few weeks the crowd grew somewhat and then stabilized. Each day we gathered together and had discussions about how to lead people and manage our processes. These were fun, engaging discussions among a group of people who were clearly excited to be working there (in spite of the RIF) and were anxious to do more.

We were in the midst of a big project when I joined and my team worked very hard over the next few months to complete it. At one point we broke into shifts and worked around the clock to move the program forward. It was clear these people enjoyed their job and were enjoying working for me But I really didn't know why. I certainly was not any technical help to them, and I was trying to navigate through a company that was many times larger than I was used to.

At the end of the project, I was promoted. My boss did not promote me. Her boss did not promote me. Instead, my promotion came from someone three levels above who liked what I had brought to the team. But with this promotion came a Performance Review. This review was written by my boss, a woman who I learned a tremendous amount from in a relatively short period of time. Her name was Stephanie Kohan and she gave me what was, up until that time, the most honest assessment of my career. In this review she discussed my strengths and what I had brought to the team. But she also identified 3 or 4 areas where I clearly needed development.

My reaction to this review was telling. I thought, "Your boss's boss just promoted me. I'm no longer your subordinate. I'm your equal. It's odd that you would be telling me where to improve."

But reading the review, I had to admit that she made good points. I had gotten results with this project, but I certainly had a lot to learn. And the funny thing was, she didn't seem to be pointing out my areas for development to make me feel bad. Instead, she seemed to be trying to help me.

Till next time.....

Dave Meyer

Saturday, December 20, 2008

History and Background - Part II

I want to take a brief pause now and look back at my career up until the time I joined MCI. Or more correctly, I want to take a look at certain aspects of my development as a manager and leader along the way.

Throughout my career I had been promoted several times, received regular raises and praise from my bosses, and had taken on new responsiblities. I did most of this on my own because I received very little valuable feedback along the way.

I remember my first Performance Review in Chicago. My boss pulled out a copy of a report that I produced monthly on my accounts. The report was wrong, he had said. And it had been wrong for an entire year.

I was stunned. I wanted to know what was wrong so that I could fix it.

"That's your problem, not mine" was his response.

I checked with my peers. It seems that they had liked the way I did my report better than the old way, so they had modeled their reports after mine.

And we were all wrong.

And it was our problem, not the boss's.

Needless to say, I did not feel committed to that boss or that company. And when I left, I never looked back. Except to steal away one of their best employees to my next company.

In my second company I received numerous glowing reviews. Although at one point my boss said, "You know, you have a little bit of a temper." In reality, that was an understatement and I knew it. I didn't tolerate failure well from myself or those around me.

My view was, "I have high expectations".

My peers and some of my employees thought I was a jerk.

That's pretty much all of the feedback that I received until I worked for the retailer in Washington DC.

One day my boss came to me rather distraught. One of the managers who worked for me was responsible for presenting some rather complex material to a group of our associates. She had done it every couple of months for a year or so and was quite good at it.

But she was ill that day and my boss needed me to fill in for her and make this presentation to a rather large, rather skeptical audience.


If you know me, you know that I speak quickly. In fact, I sometimes speak too quickly, making it difficult for some people to understand me. At the same time, I have always done well in front of groups. I enjoy working in front of groups and for the most part, don't have the same problem with my speed.

Too bad this boss didn't know that.


My boss was very upset about the situation, but I told him not to worry. I would fill in for her.

A few hours later we were in front of this group. My boss was antsy and anxious, although I did not understand why. When it was my turn to speak I got up, engaged my audience, built a solid connection with them, and presented my material. They engaged me enthusiastically and 45 minutes later, I was done.

The next day my boss called me into his office. He had been stunned and pleased by my presentation the day before. It seems he was worried sick about my ability to talk in front of an audience. His peers had been equally concerned. But after my performance they were more than relieved. In fact, they had gone to the CEO with an unusual request. They had discussed it among themselves and wanted to send me to a speech therapist to work on my one-on-one speaking skills. This was unusual because this company did nothing (and I do mean nothing) to develop or appreciate their employees. We didn't even get Christmas cards, much less a Christmas bonus. So when my boss told me the company was willing to pay for me to see a speech therapist, I knew that this was a very big exception to their policies.

It told me that they cared about me. And it made me care about them in exactly the same way.

Till next time.....

Dave Meyer

A Little Personal History and Background

Disclaimer: The next few entries in this blog are rather personal. As you start to read them, you might think that I am bragging about my accomplishments. Read on. What you will see is that the opposite is true. Instead of bragging on my accomplishments, I want to point out what I was thinking at the time and what was really happening. I want to point out my own blind spots, in the hope that you might look for yours as well.

It is my intent in these next few posts to publicly display why I am so passionate about the importance of self development and why I believe that organizations should foster that development. It is this passion that led me into coaching in the first place. It is also the same passion that led both Laurie and I to form ECI Learning Systems.

As you read these next few posts, please see if anything here relates to you or to the people who work for you. And think of how acknowledging this situation in your own life or your own company can open the pathway to your success.




I graduated from college in June of 1977. Prior to that I accepted a position at a small consulting firm in Chicago. This company wanted me to work for them so badly that they created a position for me, allowing me to work part time until graduation. Three months later I received a raise for contributing beyond their expectations. Three months after that I received a promotion and another raise.


Because I got results.

Two years later I left that company to move to Ohio, with a number of significant successes already under my belt.

In Ohio I went to work in the Retail Industry. I was not working in a store, but in the accounting department where I was the Manager of the Accounts Payable department. I was 23 years old and running my own department of about 7 employees. Within 3 years I had been promoted twice, had 50+ employees and was the Divisional Controller.

Why had I progressed so quickly and been promoted so frequently?

Simple.... I got results. I got things done that other's had not been able to. I solved problems that had been troubling the company for years. I understood the concepts of Retail Accounting better than my counterparts twice my age. I would not tolerate failure and looked upon every project and assignment as a personal challenge.

I was proud of what I had accomplished and knew that I would always be a success becuase I was smarter than a lot of the people around me.

That company got sold and I moved to Johnstown, PA where I took over as Assistant Controller for another retailer, a bigger retailer whose controller wanted to retire and was looking for his successor. This was perfect for me.

Unfortunately the parent company decided to sell the division and I would soon be losing my job. However, the company president had taken a liking to me.


I got results. In the short time that I was there I had demonstrated a solid understanding of the business. He wanted me to follow him to his next company, but I declined for personal reasons.

A few years later I found myself in Washington D.C. as the Director of MIS for one of the most prestegious retailers in the country. Once again I was proving my value. I increased productivity in all of my areas; we cut costs and still outproduced our counterparts in other divisions. I turned a poorly running organization into a showplace for the rest of the company. As in the past, I found that I was able to overcome challenges that had stumped my predecessors and peers.

I was good and I knew it. There was no hurdle that I could not overcome.

But the retail industry was in trouble and I knew my division was about to be sold. Not wanting to go through the emotional turbulance of another company sale, I looked outside of retail and took a position at MCI Communications.

Going from retail to telecommunications would not be easy, but I was not worried. After all, I knew how to get results. I had shown my value in one industry and was confident in my abilty to learn another. Sure it would be a challenge. I mean, all of the new terminology, the technology issues of telecommunications versus retail, and of course, the size of the company. MCI was huge compared to what I was used to.

But I knew I could get results.

Till next time.....

Dave Meyer

Thursday, December 18, 2008

What is ECI?

ECI Co-founder Laurie Valaer explains the principles of ECI Learning Systems