The appalling silence in leadership

22 11 2016

“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but he appalling silence of the good people.” ~ Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Many of you know that both of my parents are deaf, and I was raised in a commune-like deaf community, where all of the other deaf parents lived near us, and shared the chores of raising their wild children.  Any of the parents in the group of 4 families (6 adults and 14 children!) could, and would call us out for misbehavior, and what one adult knew, all of them knew.  One unique thing about the deaf community is that while they were silent in their communication, they were NEVER silent when pointing out the good or bad.  Coming home from college, any one of the adults might point out that one of us gained weight, or otherwise say things that many in the less-direct (more polite?) hearing world might not.  People’s “sign names” might be based around a flaw, or unique trait (like a scar, or a white streak in their hair, etc.)  They would talk with each other on topics that were embarrassing or taboo in other cultures.  They called it like they saw it.

Leaders, sometimes it’s difficult to point out some of the more uncomfortable things that you notice at work.  You might have an employee who either calls in sick, or comes in late smelling of alcohol every Monday.  You might have someone wearing inappropriate clothing, and be shy about pointing it out and/or sending them home.  You might have an employee who says inappropriate things, or dances around that line.  Don’t let the tragedy be that you weren’t brave enough to call them on their behavior and discipline them.  If you don’t have the guts to speak up, your appalling silence in leadership might just be what is put on your leadership tombstone.

Speaking of history and tombstones…


Rubes cartoons used with permission.

Spend as we say, not as we do.

21 11 2016

“A budget tells us what we can’t afford, but it doesn’t keep us from buying it.” ~ William Feather

All of the employees in my company work for a credit counseling organization, and most of us know the basic budgeting concept that we teach to tens of thousands of consumers every year:  Understand how much you make, and set up your life such that your expenses don’t exceed your income.  In other words, live within your means.  I’d also bet that many, if not most of us do carry some debt due to over-extending ourselves.  We may carry a credit card balance, or have bought a car with a loan versus paying cash for one.  In short, most of us probably have more debt than just a mortgage.  So much for living what we teach, right?

Leaders, every budget season, you’ve probably brought the executive team a budget where, after rolling the initial budgets up, you’re then told that you need to either cut more expense than in your first pitch, or you’ll be asked to find more revenue if you need all of your expenses.  Every year we have to make decisions on benefits, and often we have to give up a little bit more.  This isn’t unique to my company… just look at the 26% average increase in health care benefits across Obamacare nationally.  Even the United States, one of the greatest nations on the planet has a budget deficit.  My leadership point is that sometimes you have to make the best choices that you can within the limits of your family, department, company or country’s income.  That might start with having a roof over your head, then food, utilities, etc.  Make your choices with the most important expenses at the top of the list – start with the must have’s and only buy the nice-to-have’s if there’s assets left over.

Speaking of budgets…


Rubes cartoons used with permission.

Arguing against yourself first

18 11 2016

Alcohol is necessary for a man so he can have a good opinion of himself, undisturbed by the facts.” ~ Findley Peter Dunne

You’ve heard my frequently reported story about a group of MBA candidates being asked to rank themselves, and 80% of them put themselves in the top 20% of the class.  It’s natural to want to fool ourselves by selecting only a section of the facts, or a snippet of data, to prove our point about how good we are, or how successful our initiative is.

Leaders, keep in mind when you’re doing an analysis , or assessing a program.  You may have a bias in your head on how you want the analysis to come out, but do yourself and the team a favor:  Play devil’s advocate to your own program. Think about what someone who would argue against you would ask, and then  see if there’s data there to support THEIR position.  Worst case, you find out that you’re wrong early in the process.  Best case, you have a counter for their argument against you, and have data ready to prove it.

Speaking of alcohol…


Rubes cartoons used with permission.

Finding a leader in the front lines

16 11 2016

“The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential… these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.” ~ Confucius

How good does it feel when your favorite sports team wins?  During a good rivalry game, or when they’re not favored, there’s pure joy when they pull of the victory.  How about when your kid’s sports team wins?  Now, think about that devastating loss, or when your kid gets a bad call from an umpire.  It makes you want to either curl into a ball of mourning, or go out there and grab the ump by the shirt and yell into his face.  So, yeah, we like winning, we like success, and that desire to do so drives many of us.

Leaders, harness that feeling when you need your team to do the impossible.  Sports illustrated had an article on what happened during the rain delay in the 10th inning of last week’s world series.  The manager and GM went to their offices, and the team called a players only meeting to remind each other that the Cubs were the best team in the game, and they were GOING to win that game.  Sometimes your biggest cheerleaders don’t have to be the leader.  Sometimes, you need to give a few key members of your team the urging to speak up, and tell the rest how to get the job done.  Doing so not only allows them to show some of their leadership potential, but just might get an otherwise impossible task done!


Speaking of keys…

Rubes cartoons used with permission.

Not every problem is a nail

15 11 2016

“At the end of the day, we must go forward with hope, and not backward by fear and division.” ~ Jesse Jackson

I’ve talked about how those mistakes that we made in the past create experience, and those who have made plenty of mistakes accumulate all that experience into Wisdom.  That said, we shouldn’t spend too much of our energy looking back, wistfully, at that spilled milk.  We should use our wisdom to pour the milk correctly next time, and enjoy the milk and cookies!  There are some people who just can’t let go of the past, and spend lots of energy re-hashing how they got to where they are, instead of looking forward towards what can be, if they use their energy in reaching that destination.

Leaders, pack away those mistakes in the past, and learn from them, by knowing which leadership tool to take out of your tool bag when a similar situation occurs.  Decide where your destination should be, whether on this project, or this year, or in your career, and start moving towards it.  Bring your tool bag with you, as you never know what obstacles might pop up.  Sometimes the tool needed is the sledgehammer, sometimes it’s the tiny little cross-tip screwdriver that you use for repair eyeglasses.  Often, subtlety will accomplish more than brute force.

Speaking of backwards…


Rubes cartoons used with permission.

Unpacking bias from your leadership tool bag.

14 11 2016

“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought with, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” ~Albert Einstein

Between all of the wars we’ve had, and all of the political turmoil we’re constantly experiencing, it’s not surprise to say that people tend to form groups, and then their groups disagree, sometimes violently, with the “others”.  Groups can be countries, political groups, sports nations, and even clique’s at work, school, and in social life.  These groups make it easy to de-humanize those that aren’t like “us”.

Leaders, do your best not to let your other group’s prejudices influence your leadership decisions.  You may be of one religion, and be asked to manage those of other religions (or no religion!).  You might be of a certain ethnicity, and not be able to gain insight into those of other ethnicities.  You may not even know that you’re showing preferential treatment when you’re doing it.  One good exercise I do, at the time of annual performance evaluations, is to sit down and think hard about those that I’m reviewing, and ranking them from “Best to worst”.  Then I put that paper away, and rank them, quantitatively, on the scorecards that we have agreed on.  When done, I compare the scorecards to my “gut check” qualitative rankings from the early exercise.  When these 2 lists don’t line up pretty closely, it’s usually because of some unrealized bias.  It’s quite an enlightening exercise, and hopefully over the years, it’s made me a better leader, with fewer biases.

Just another tool for your leadership tool box, if you choose to use it.  Speaking of weapons…


Rubes cartoons used with permission.

Your Jazzy Job, Leader

7 11 2016

“You have to grab moments when they happen.  I like to improvise and ad lib.” ~ Denzel Washington

When I bought my home, there was an old masonry shed in the upper parking lot.  It was just 4 stout pressure-treated uprights, and a tin roof that had holes punched in it.  I saw the frames for a nice tool shed.  So, I went to Home Depot, bought a bunch of corrugated roof, boards, and wall materials.  Then, I improved the construction.  3 more trips to Home Depot later, I had a shed, with a skylight over the door (transom?), and a gravel floor.  It was fun, it’s not perfect, but it’s one of a kind.

As leaders, we get to improvise almost every day.  Problems pop up, and we have to decide how to solve them.  Keep in mind, though, that jazz musicians that improvise aren’t just hitting any note!  They have training in music theory, they improvise within certain parameters (beat, melody, etc.), and they know their tool (instrument).  That lesson applies to leadership.  Have a full leadership tool bag, understand your left and right boundaries, and try to play along well with others.  When you miss a note (i.e. make a mistake), you can’t focus on it, you have to play on and pretend that it wasn’t a big deal.  Never let ‘em see you sweat.

Speaking of improvisation…


Rubes cartoons used with permission.