Category Archives: Pretty Good Management

Bugs Bunny’s Real Problem

Of all of my business leadership columns, this one will always be my favorite. It ran in three newspapers during my career. The last was as a column in my “Minding Your Own Business” columns for The Lebanon Democrat. i liked it even more when JB Leftwich praised it for being an excellent column.

Bugs Bunny’s Real Problem

Several thousand years ago, Aesop created the fable “The Hare and the Tortoise,” probably the most well known fable of them all.

Aesop made a star out of Bugs Bunny.

In an early Bugs cartoon, the fable was told with Bugs as the hare.  He is undone by overconfidence and underestimating the ability of his competition.  He loses the race to the tortoise.

Bugs acquired a new agent after that cartoon, and now he always wins over the likes of Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, Daffy Duck, the Tasmanian Devil, and a whole host of other bumbling, though lovable doofuses.

My father at 96, occasionally still watches and enjoys Bugs’ cartoons.  My daughter, at 21, puts Bugs right at the top of her “to-watch” list.  My grandson at three received a “Looney Tunes” DVD for Christmas and loves Bugs and all of his buddies.  And I, somewhere in amongst the three of them, am among Bugs’ greatest fans.

Bugs’ Confidence

Bugs, after the agent change somewhere back in the ’30’s or ’40’s, succeeds in his cartoon quests in large part because of his confidence, which is also embodied in successful people in the business world.  Confidence in being right gives Bugs the power to uneven the playing field, to change the rules to his advantage.  But, as we learned in that old, scratchy rerun of Aesop’s tale, there is a thin line between confidence and arrogance.

As a facilitator in Leadership Excellence while in the Navy and later as a consultant in Organization Improvement, I have studied traits, behaviors and attitudes of successful business people: bosses, managers, leaders.  I have discussed principles, which delineate between successful businesses and those that are not successful.  I have discussed the difference between success and failure at length with many associates, colleagues and friends.  The discussions always generate high energy.  Success and failure come in many packages, but I have never met a successful leader of any organization who did not exude confidence, confidence he or she is right

Confidence or Arrogance

One can be successful even crossing the line between confidence and arrogance.  In assessing the long line of bosses I have observed, worked with, worked for, or provided services to, a number were arrogant.  That is to say, I could not tell them anything because either it was something they claimed they already knew or considered it bad information.  Yet they succeeded because they believed they were on the right track and stuck to it.  In the short run, it gave them post-tortoise Bugs’ power.

When a boss crosses the line from confidence to arrogance, it may not affect the success of his or her business in the short run.  Yet it could be disastrous immediately and the probability for dysfunction is even greater for the long haul.  Arrogance inserts an imbalance into the equation.  Arrogance has no tolerance for listening to other possibilities of right answers. Unlike confidence, arrogance is blind and deaf.

Nearly every comment I have heard or read about Ray Kroc has been high praise. Ray’s success can be attributed to many factors.  The empire which has become MacDonald’s is a complicated, sophisticated, and overwhelming success, rising from the confident leadership of Ray Kroc.

Ray’s confidence was legendary.  He preached his mantra, “Quality, Service, Cleanliness, Value,” with the assurance of being absolutely correct.  There is no question his confidence was a major, if not the primary factor in his success.  Ray Kroc possessed Bugs’ kind of confidence. He was not often, if ever arrogant.

Confidence Wins

Bugs learned a lot from the tortoise (and perhaps the tortoise’s agent).  He now assesses his competition and the situation before confidently entering the event du jour.  When he is arrogant, he stumbles, but being Bugs and a cartoon character at that, he pulls through and always wins.

For me and the rest of you business leaders, owners, and managers out there, the connection is clear.  Avoid arrogance: get as much information as you can about the situation and the competition.  Then, move forward with confidence.

The next time you relax for a bit of television and settle back to watch Bugs take on another adversary, remember Bugs rose to fame because he learned the difference between confidence and arrogance.

“That’s all, folks.”


The Right Tool at the Right Time

After about a year of writing my “Notes from the Southwest Corner,” i began a second weekly column entitled “Minding Your Own Business” in 2009. Amelia Hipps, the editor at the time, was kind enough to take on both columns in the Lebanon Democrat. i wrote 296 of those columns. New management decided $50 a week was too expensive and that column was stopped. It was probably a good thing because i was beginning to make things up.

The idea was generated when JD Waits and i co-wrote The Pretty Good Management Book in the early 1990’s. The manuscript remains above my desk.

In the middle 1990’s, i wrote a similar column for The Independent Community Post, a small local paper in Bonita, which only lasted for less than two years. That editor came up with the title “Minding Your Own Business.” i will include the Democrat columns here under JD’s and my title of “Pretty Good Management” because of the source.

We began writing our book with the idea most high end consultants try to sell a perfect system to make an organization run smoothly with minimal management and leadership. That, of course, never happens. JD pointed out his and my mothers would pay one of their highest compliments to anything with the term “pretty good,” as in leaving a fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, and fresh tomatoes supper and commenting, “That was a pretty good meal.” We figured we weren’t going to blow smoke and promise perfection, but that the principles we brought forward would allow a leader/manager to run a pretty good outfit.

i thought about the genre where the column fit and made up my on term: business leadership. The below was the introductory column for The Democrat.

Using the Right Tool at the Right Time

In forty-plus years of observing people and organizations working toward success, I frequently have been amazed at how bollixed up we can get.

Nearly all of us seem to have a pretty good idea of how we would like our business to work. Most of us have good intentions and pretty high ethical standards. Generally, we display a pride in our work and believe in our service or product. In most cases, the skills, intelligence, and common sense are sufficient to produce success are in place.

This seems to be true for nearly every kind of organization: profit or non-profit, product or service, large or small, technical and non-technical, government or commercial.

Invariably, a large number of businesses don’t fare as well as they should. We work hard but the rewards are elusive.

Why Are There Failures?

I continue to ask myself, “Why do people and businesses not succeed when they appear to be capable?

“Why do numerous people and businesses, which have initial success, have such a difficult time staying at the highest level of success?”

I do not have THE answer. Even more sadly, I haven’t seen anyone, any theory, any program, or any process which provides THE answer.

This suggests I too may never find the answer.

I refuse to believe this.

A Right Answer For You

Yet there is hope. Although there’s no single right answer, there is A right answer for you. Getting to your right answer is not easy. It wasn’t meant to be. If it becomes easy, it is about to change in a way you will not like.

Making lives and businesses work like we want them to work requires dedication and hard work. But it can be done, and this is enough to give us hope.

When I go out in my garage on the weekend to pursue some project, it is an amazing process. The garage is in disarray. I have a number of tools and materials in that garage, but finding them is a different matter. I normally can’t find the right ones. I become frustrated and head for Home Depot to buy new tools and materials.

I love this part. Wandering around a Home Depot is like visiting a wonderland of human nature and great gadgets. This fun part lasts until dark, delaying the project until the next day. And so it goes through the weekend. The project doesn’t get done, but I have lots of fun.

I can afford to do that with my garage, but neither you nor I can afford to do that with our work.

To succeed in our work, we must be organized. We must have tools and we must know how and when to use the right tools. It requires application, what our parents recognized and called “hard work.”

The good news, as I have discovered through my varied and lengthy experience, is doing it right can be mostly fun, especially if the hard work is done correctly and leads to success. It took me a long time to realize hard work can be fun.


Success doesn’t require genius or some special tool, process or some consultant selling tools and processes (although getting unbiased help and outside skilled facilitation is often a necessary assistance). Succeeding in business can be accomplished by knowing where you want to go, knowing how you want to get there, and making it happen.

This Plan of Action and Milestones (POA&M) includes:

  • Taking care of your customers (and every business has customers)
  • Taking care of your people
  • Taking care of your finances
  • Being aware of your business environment
  • Doing what makes good business sense
  • Realistically assessing how you are doing in all of the above
  • Modifying what you are doing based on assessment
  • Working hard at all of the above

My plan is to write articles about what to consider in your quest for continual business success. The considerations will be around the basics I’ve listed above. This article is, hopefully, the first of many for you to use at your discretion.

My goal is to give you some ideas about how you want to conduct your business, not what you think I want you to do. I plan to work hard and have fun. I hope you do too.