Time to read. Finally!

I have recently retired from my more than full time job leading a mid-sized nonprofit organization. I know I will have a next act, but I haven’t exactly pinned down what that will look like yet.  Retirement has given me much more time to reflect, to get organized in my personal space, to write more, and to read. It’s been fun.

blur book close up coffee
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I have always enjoyed reading management and personal development literature. (Don’t judge!) It has helped me become a better leader, learn to manage my time and relationships better, and explore new theories and ideas. The trouble has always been, though, that with a demanding professional life, I have not had enough time and head space to really delve into management writings like I would like to. There was no time at the office, and very little mental bandwidth left when I finally got home.  Sound familiar?

As I reorganized my  books within my home office, I began reading some texts and articles I never had time for and re-reading some of the management texts that have guided my work over the past thirty years. This is certainly a work in progress, but here is a list of some favorites I am rediscovering.  (I’m linking to Goodreads.com in case you want to explore more because I am not inclined to recommend you purchase these books from one on-line retailer or another. In fact, your local independent bookseller can get them for you, or you can probably get them at your local library, even better.)

Love is the Killer App, by Tim Sanders – an oldie but goodie. This book, more than any other I have read taught me the value of being helpful, open, and supportive of others. It certainly re-energized my career and my relationships at work when I first read it, probably 15 years ago.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni. I wish this book was phrased more positively, but I guess the “dysfunctions” part sells more books.  I turned the “dysfunctions” to “practices” in my mind, and derived great benefit from the message.

Good to Great, by Jim Collins – a classic.  Good advice for becoming ‘great.’ Some of the example companies are no longer viable, but the message is still important.

How Did that Happen, by Roger Connors and Tom Smith. I originally read this when I was having to deal with some significant performance issues in my team. It really was helpful to learn how to hold people accountable.  Another similar read, Radical Candor by Kim Malone Scott, is a must read for accountability, performance, and leadership.

The Leadership Challenge, by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner. Another classic, and is full of empirical research and best practices for values-based leadership.

There are many more books and articles on my “to read” list, but I think this is a pretty good start, don’t you?

What leadership books have you read that you would recommend to others?

(So you won’t think I am a total bore, I read plenty of fiction, too. Fine literature, best sellers, sappy love stories, mysteries, crime novels, I read them all.  Maybe soon I’ll share some of my favorite novels and authors, too.)

Mutually beneficial

group of people raising right hand
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“Tell me what you want, what you really, really want.” Recognize those lyrics? I know you need to hear the whole song, now, right”  Here you go: Spice Girls – Wannabe

And now you won’t be able to get the song out of your head for the rest of the day. You’re welcome. 🙂

But back to the point.

We’ve all seen people rushing out of work at the end of a hard day, right?  On to dinner or the kid’s soccer practice or that favorite TV show or to the gym.  What if the work you do is so satisfying that you want to rush INTO work, too?  I truly believe that when you lead with the goal of mutually beneficial results, the job satisfaction will naturally flow to you.

Now please ponder this question for a moment:

What is it that you hope your clients/customers/participants/students/employees will be able to do, think, act, own, feel, behave or believe differently as a result of the work you do?

And the next logical question, of course, is: Given that my client/ customer/ participant/ student/ employee will be able to do X, what impact will that have on them as an individual? Or as a family? Or as a company/ team/ network/ organization?

Our impact is compounded when we seek to have an effect instead of simply being satisfied with the encounter. It is all about impact.  And impact is more likely when you develop a relationship that will lead to the desired outcome. How can what you do today build a relationship that will be beneficial for you AND your constituents into the future?  Call it what you want – customer service, service leadership, salesmanship. But if the goal is the relationship, the outcome will always be success.

Yeah, that’s hard. But it’s right, too, don’t you think? “Better at the other end” should always be our goal.  And that’s what we all really, really want!

Noses, Degrees, Percents

One percent; one nose; one degree

You may be wondering what each of these things has in common.

The answer is really very simple: It is all about the effort.  What if you were training for a race? Could you go one extra minute? One tenth of a mile faster or further? Most runners would say that they could.  And what if the runner did that over time? That extra effort will most certainly result in better results at the finish line, right?

by a nose
Turallure, left, is passed Court Vision at the finish line at the 2011 Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, and from recruitingblogs.com)

Jockeys know how it feels to win a horse race by a nose – or how it feels to lose by the same amount.  And so do those who bet on one of those horses, too.  One percent more effort in the training and in the moment of the race, may be all the difference in whether the horse wins first or second. Big payoff for the owner and jockey, or not so much of a payoff, can be reduced to a nose.

A third example is temperature. What makes water boil? Your high school science teacher told you that it is heat applied to water. But it is also one degree.  211 degrees, you have very hot water. 212 degrees and it’s boiling. Boiling water creates steam, which powers engines, makes electricity, creates motion, and, well, you get the idea.  There is a great video that explains the importance of that one degree. It is only 212 seconds (cute, huh) and worth your time: http://www.givemore.com/212-video/

So what if you applied that one extra degree or percent of effort this week, and next, and next?  One second, one percent, one degree is so insignificant – unremarkable, unnoticeable, really.  But in a year’s time, think what a difference it could make!  I know you can pay 1% more attention to your work this week.

And you know it, too.

So here is my challenge: Every day when you get to work, ask yourself, “What I could do better today than I did yesterday?” And then do it. (Ask it in your home life, too, by the way. It will work there, too.) I promise you will notice a difference. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but over time, certainly. And when you do, I hope you will share your 1% stories with me.

I leave you with this Quote from writer and photographer James Clear:  “Most of the significant things in life aren’t stand-alone events, but rather the sum of all the moments when we chose to do things 1 percent better or 1 percent worse.”

Decisions 101

Even though I have been in management for most of my professional career, I rarely write about such topics. Perhaps it is too close to home, or simply too much like work for me to enjoy writing about it on my blog. Today is different. I have been thinking of things that help organizations make better decisions and want to share them.

1. When you bring problems to you’re supervisor/manager/director be sure that you have also thought about potential solutions. Bursting in to the boss’s office with an urgent “the sky is falling” message is much better received if you have considered the problem from different angles and have some solutions or responses ready to suggest.

2. Do not hesitate to give your opinion about issues that arise in your work. Nothing riles me more than when I am trying to have a discussion with an employee and I get the silent, blank stare. What I want is opinions, ideas, information, even arguments. Ken Blanchard is famous for saying, and I am known for repeating, “All of us are smarter than some of us.” We almost always make better decisions when we make them together and employees often have the most important perspectives.

3. When faced with a crisis, problem, or tough decision, put on you asbestos britches and just get to work. No whining, no blaming, no procrastinating. Just do it. And never, ever try to hide it, whatever the ‘it’ is for you. If I know what I am dealing with I am much more inclined to be forgiving than when I have been blindsided because someone was afraid to speak up.

4. Nothing can be declared finished until the paperwork is done. The documentation, reports, publicity, thank you letters, financial accounting, etc. cannot be ignored. If you do, it always comes to haunt you – and it is always worse the second time around.

That’s my list. Call it accountability, call it follow through, call it common sense, or something else, but a person who heeds this advice will have great success.

What would you add to the list?

The Seven Deadly Sins

I was on my way to work this week, listening to NPR, as is my practice every morning. The local portion of the news came on, announcing yet another development in the Fen-Phen Case that has been captivating Kentucky for years. For the uninitiated, this was a class action suit brought by people who were harmed by the drug combination, fenfluramine/phentermine, usually called fen-phen. Fen-phen was an anti-obesity treatment that was popular for a time in the 1980s. At the time, many thought that this was the great magic cure for obesity. Trouble was, it was soon linked to heart problems and some people got sick, so a bunch of people sued.

Why has this case captivated Kentucky? Well, three Lexington attorneys joined together for a class action law suit, representing hundreds of victims, and achieved some humongous verdict on behalf of their clients. Trouble was, they decided not to tell the victims the magnitude of the settlement, and devised a plan to keep the money for themselves. Nice, huh? Well, they got caught, and a bunch of other folks were implicated, too, including a judge and a prominent attorney in Cincinnati. Two of the attorneys are now in jail, one is facing disbarment, the judge resigned, and maybe is in jail, too, I can’t remember.

Back to the radio story, though. The two attorneys are being required to turn over their homes to be sold to compensate the victims. They already had to sell their race horse (yeah, I know, right!), but now the court is seizing SOME of their other property in payment of an amazing $127 MILLION they owe in restitution. The list of property: six homes (who needs six houses?); seven (!) vehicles, and a dozen financial accounts. Hard to say whether this will satisfy the debt, but since they are in jail for a bunch of years, they certainly don’t need this stuff (nor deserve it, BTW). Presumably the victims do, since it was supposed to be theirs in the first place.

This whole piece, and the hundreds of stories I have heard in the five years this case has been proceeding through the courts, got me thinking about the Seven Deadly Sins. You remember them, don’t you: Lust, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, Pride, Gluttony.

At least half the items on this list figured into the Fen-Phen saga. Greed, obviously. (Six extra houses. Really?) Gluttony, of course, which created the demand for Fen-Phen in the first place. The victims, most of them anyway, simply could not stop eating and get moving to lose that weight, so they sought the easy, take-a-pill, route. Kinda relates to Sloth, too, doesn’t it. Envy certainly played a role, wanting what others had – houses, money, a thin body. That’s four of the seven.

So, I am going to look for the “seven deadlies” in my news browsing over the next several weeks. I bet I will find at least a couple in most news stories. I imagine if I look, I will find some version of them in misbehavin’ I witness, too. Do management problems have their root in the top seven? What about our nation’s political problems? Or our current economic mess? Worth exploring, so stay tuned.

Where are the statesmen?

This debt crisis thing has the Democrats and Republicans playing a very dangerous game of chicken with our economy and the future of our country. Neither wants to be the first to give in, and both think they can hold out the longest. That does not seem to be very sound thinking, when so much is at stake.

Apparently they have reached a deal, finally. In my experience, an eleventh hour decision is usually full of mistakes. That remains to be seen in this situation, but it does seem to be full of distrust for the other side. How have we descended to such depths!

What happened to civility? What happened to doing the right thing? What happened to compromise?

Where are the statesmen?

In times like these . . .

Just like many people around the nation, I am getting fed up with all the negativity, political one-up-manship, and – to use a phrase we have heard a lot this week – vitriol.  We don’t need people from the left blaming the right for the acts of a madman. We don’t need the right inflaming the left by labeling their agenda or leaders as job-killing, anti-American, or socialist.

What we need is a statesman – or several of them. It might seem odd to quote Mikhail Gorbachev in a post about what we need in the U.S. but he summed it up  quite well. He said, ” A statesman does what he believes is best for his country, a politician does what best gets him re-elected.”

We need our political leaders to view the country’s problems according to what is best for its citizens rather than what is best for their party or what is most likely to get them re-elected.  Sometimes leaders have to make unpopular, but wise, decisions that are simply the right thing to do.  Even if it hurts their friends (or contributors). Even if it gives their opponents good fodder for the next election cycle.

We’ve been talking a lot about corporate social responsibility in the last few years, and are doing a much better job of holding businesses responsible for being good citizens. Corporations are talking about being more environmentally friendly, more animal friendly, more socially conscious about the workers. We still need to do better with this, but we’ve come a long way.

Now if we could just get our politicians to do the same. Congress is talking about requiring all bills to have the constitutional reference included.  What about the socially conscious references?  What will their bill do to the health and well being of our citizens, our natural resources, our grandchildren?  And not just their friends, either. They need to be thinking about the people on “the other side of the track,” too.  What about them? Those invisible Americans that have no voice but who need one now more than ever.

Where are all the statesmen?

The more you know

“The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.” – Bertrand Russell

Have you ever known someone who was so very dumb, did very dumb things, acted just plain stupid, but yet THOUGHT they were so smart! Come to find out, and my experience bears this out, the dumber someone is, the smarter they think they are. Conversely,  the smarter one is, the less confidence they have in their intelligence.  They’ve even done some scientific studies that prove the point. and it has a name: The Dunning-Kruger Effect. Sufferers have what has been called illusory superiority, where people overestimate their positive qualities and underestimate their negative qualities relative to others. I guess the corollary is illusory inferiority.

What I would have labeled as false modesty for intelligent people, is actually a psychological fact. This has fascinated me since I first heard about Dunning and Kruger’s Cornell University study a decade ago. The theory has many applications beyond simple wisdom and ignorance.  Take ethics, for example.

Ethics and Ignorance

I have recently had a class on Leadership and Ethics through Gonzaga University’s Masters of Organizational Leadership program.  We talked a lot about Kant, various ethical theories, shadow and light – basically what you would expect from an ethics course.  But we also talked about Moral Imagination. I am simplifying, but basically, you have do develop your moral imagination in order to truly understand the ethical decision-making process well enough to make the right decisions. It’s kind of like exercising – but for one’s ethics muscles instead of the biceps. The various ethics theorists agree that ethical orientations develop along a continuum, from very basic understanding of a thing as right or wrong, to quite advanced reasoning and understanding.

And I find it very interesting that a person who is at a lower stage of ethical development cannot understand the reasoning of someone operating at much higher stages (one above and one below is the generally accepted rule of thumb). The same holds true for various stages of cognitive development in adults.  Lawrence Kohlberg came up with a theory of Adult Development, and made the same conclusions. It makes sense. You cannot relate to or understand something if you have not developed the imagination or cognitive experience that will open your mind to understand these different possibilities.

What does all this have to do with anything?  Well, nothing and everything.  If you want to relate to people you are trying to influence, whether it is employees, family members, or politicians, then you are wise to first understand their level of development. From there, you can craft your message to appeal to them at the level of development at which they are functioning, presumably with better results.

Maybe this is what our political leaders need to understand when trying to negotiate for peace. That, and the fact that they may not be as smart as they think they are.

Things I believe

I was reading the excellent blog of Bob Sutton recently, and in the left hand column, he had a list of 15 things he believes (about organizational life.)  His list is astute, but it got me thinking about things I believe – in general.  Here’s a start on my list.

1.  People are intrinsically good. They mean well, want to do right.  I have certainly witnessed many behaviors to the contrary, which I guess are the exceptions that prove the rule, but I believe that most people most of the time want to act morally and ethically.

2.  Positive thinking really works.  Henry Ford said, “whether you believe you can or not, you are right.” Or something like that.  The other thing about positive thinking is that it is much better than the opposite.  When I’m around negative people I feel the weight of all their negative energy dragging me down.  It’s easy to fall victim to that mentality, so I much prefer to surround myself with positive thinkers, people who believe in themselves and others.

good shepherd3.  It pays to be nice to Mother Nature. We owe it to our children and to our parents to respect the earth.  Recycle, even when it is a lot of trouble.  Plant a tree (or a flower).  Set a spider free. Feed the birds. Don’t kill honey bees, even if you are afraid they will sting you. Use less energy.  The list could go on forever, but you get the idea.

4.  Indolent is worse than stupid.  People can’t help the brains they were born with.  Well, maybe they can read more, study harder, apply themselves to improving the use of their brains, but basically either you’re smart or you aren’t.  But indolent is another thing all together.  In my 25 years or so of management, I have run across a lot of indolence – people just not caring about the quality of their work, their output, their attention to detail, their general usefulness to their employer.  That I cannot tolerate. Ignorance is understandable, indolence is not.

5. People should be more considerate of each other – friends and strangers alike.  It feels so good when someone lets you out in traffic, or when I see someone pick up trash in the street, or when the guy behind you in line gives you the nickel so you don’t have to break a $20.  As a society we do not pay enough attention to being considerate of our fellow citizens.  Being considerate of friends and family is definitely important, but  that is sort of expected.  But strangers?  No one expects us to be nice to strangers, really,  which makes it all the more special and important.