When to step over the line.

14 12 2016

“Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty.  The obedient must be slaves.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

If you don’t know about Thoreau, Google him someday.  He seems to me to have been way ahead of his time, in that  he was a lifelong abolitionist and environmentalist, who died in 1862, at the young age of 44.  His philosophy influenced greats like Gandhi and Martin Luther King.  I wonder how much better our world might be today had he lived longer.  He is sometimes referred to as an anarchist, but he really didn’t want to destroy institutions, he just wanted to intelligently improve them, with common sense and simplicity.  Those that know my thoughts on simplicity can see why he’d be a man that I admire.

Leaders, we all are expected to follow rules, norms, rituals, and traditions in life.  It’s easy to “go along to get along”, by following in the ruts that are in the road ahead of us.  Nobody is going to be popular, and succeed by spurning every one of these things that are “the way we’ve always done it” – disagreement on a few points is OK, but turns into Rebellion when you just stop following all of the rules.  But know your heart, and know when the opportunity arises in some situations, you can and should stand up and say “No, not this thing.  I can’t do it this way”.  If you communicate your disagreement respectfully, you shouldn’t fear taking that position, no matter how hard it may be to make that stand.”

Speaking of disobedience…


Rubes cartoons used with permission. www.rubescartoons.com


To bake or to be chopped

20 10 2016

“I think it’s a novelty for cartoon characters to cross over into another strip or panel occasionally.” ~Bil Keane

Our guest writer today asked for a future Thursday, so you’re stuck with me.  I found a funny quote and comic, and I’ll spin that off into thinking inside (the comic below) or outside (the quote above) the “box”.  There are definitely uses for both types of thought.  When you’ve got regulatory, partnership, or procedural tasks, it’s important to follow directions.  Try to bake a cake from scratch, and just improvise on the measurement of ingredients – you won’t likely enjoy the result.  Science and recipes like that need you to follow the rules.

Then there’s Art:  Open the cabinet, grab the first 4 ingredients you see, open the freezer and find a protein, and make a dinner a-la “Chopped”.  Both the correctly-baked cake and the chopped recipe are types of cooking, and both can be successful.  Leaders, the fun part of leadership is knowing when to follow the protocols you’ve been given (or you created), and when to come up with an innovative, transformative solution to an old problem.  My rule of thumb is that if you’re going to get all outside the box, then the smart move is do discuss it with your leader, your peers, or others on your team.  Be prepared for “it’ll never work” and “that’s now how we do things”, so you should be ready to defend your idea, and have thought about what will blow up if you do it that way (i.e. what’s the biggest risk, and how are you going to mitigate it?).

Speaking of cartoon panels…


Rubes cartoons used with permission. www.rubescartoons.com

How “Easily” Vaporware Happens

23 08 2016

“I think a simple rule of business is: If you do the things that are easier first, then you can actually make a lot of progress.” ~ Mark Zuckerberg

There’s some good sense in the quote above.  That is: pick the low hanging fruit and celebrate early wins.  The easiest way to have someone be comfortable and happy in a new place is to provide to them an early win.  That said, you can’t just do the easy things first, and expect to be successful in the end.

The concept of “vapor ware” is software whose idea looks good, but it never gets fully built.  People selling it might do the easy things first, and give you some great screen shots, showing you how it will work.  They do a demo and show you what it WILL feel like, and say something like “and the X functionality (or the Spanish version will) be built out next year.”  What they don’t realize is that the Spanish version will take twice as long, as people argue over the X functionality, or what dialect it will be in, and the software (now vaporware) that you thought you were buying gets pushed to year 2, or 3, then runs out of budget.  Leadership lesson:  Get started, understand the problem, but don’t spend a lot of energy until you at least KNOW what the hard parts are going to be, and have a REASONABLE plan for accomplishing the hard stuff.

Speaking of rules…


Rubes cartoons used with permission. www.rubescartoons.com

Thou shalt knot – leadership lessons

25 04 2016

“You should never wear a baseball cap when working in close quarters in the attic:  You never see that beam above you!” ~ Alex Trebek

Does anyone else out there have any trouble believing that Alex Trebek would: A: Ever wear a baseball hat and/or B: Go into an attic with low-hanging beams?  That said, let’s take this good lesson at face value.  I HAVE worn a baseball hat into an attic storage space, and done this very thing.  On one hand, the hat helps cushion the blow a little bit, so you’re less likely to bleed.  On the other hand, it increase the risk of a knot to your noggin.  This is one of those lessons that you can be told about, but you’ll not remember until you learn it in pain.

That’s the thing about many leadership lessons, too.  You can be told about them.  You can read a daily comic about them.  You can read all the leadership books in the world, and some lessons you will still have to learn the hard way:  Don’t treat your employees as friends.  Don’t get involved with co-workers.  Praise in public, criticize in private. Don’t come to work contagious.  Don’t gossip about your co-workers.   Don’t whine or yell.  Don’t back-stab.  We all know that these are common-sense rules of work, but how many of you know someone who has broken one or more of these commandments, and had to learn why the hard way?  Yeah, me too.


Speaking of beams…

Rubes cartoons used with permission. www.rubescartoons.com

I did it my way (and got slapped for it)

8 06 2015

“Creative freedom is a huge carrot.” ~Adam McKay

Most people like to be able to point at some idea, product, service, and say with pride “I did that.”  This goes way back to our youth when kids, around 2 years old start to say “me do it”, and they get praised by their parents.  The independent streak is very human.  People want to succeed, and have that success recognized by their peers, leaders, and others.

Now, they start a job on the front lines.  They’re given a training manual and are told “do it like this”.  They have audits that compare their work against a checklist, and lose points if they go all independent.  Often, they have good reasons why they “went off script”, and are frustrated when they’re told that “they’re not paid to think” (as I heard many times in the military, and it’s why I didn’t re-enlist).  As leaders, we MUST do everything we can to foster that independence WITHIN THE RULES.  There are compliance, legal, financial and other reasons why our front line staff must follow certain rules.  Outside of those rules, going “outside the lines” to connect with a client, etc. should be allowed, even rewarded, within reason.  This is why management is not black & white, and that’s often a source of stress, frustration and angst for those who like rules.

Speaking of carrot…


Rubes cartoons used with permission. www.rubescartoons.com

The rule book gets smaller as you move up

29 05 2014

“Love is like playing the piano.  First you must learn to play by the rules, then you must forget the rules and play from your heart.” ~Unknown

Excellence in your career seems to me to be the same way.  You get hired to do an entry-level job.  You must learn the rules of that job, and do well at it.  As you follow the rules and excel, you get promoted.  Management has to be played from your heart, gut and head.  The rule-book on management gets thinner the higher you go.  More and more, you’re asked questions that you can’t look up the answers to.  More people are relying on your best judgment, and you’re not always going to be right.  You just do your best, and learn from your mistakes.

Some people can hack that pressure, and even thrive in uncertainty.  Others have tasted it and said “that’s not for me – let me do a job that has a thicker rule book”.  The good news is successful companies need both types, and it’s possible for people to thrive in both worlds.

Speaking of Piano…


Rubes cartoons used with permission. www.rubescartoons.com