Impact

From a post on mentoring:

As a first-time father of a seven week old little girl I found your analogy helpful in a way I might not have two months ago. The lesson I am currently learning with my daughter, especially in these early stages, is that the first challenge in a mentoring relationship is learning how to communicate. Right now, she doesn’t know how to tell me what she needs so it’s up to me to observe her closely to learn what she might be saying unconsciously (rubbing her eyes means she’s tired, kicking her legs means check the diaper, etc.). As she gets older she will gain a wide array of communication tools that she can use to clearly let me know what she wants, the challenge will then be to get her to use them.

When we first begin mentoring someone in a professional context, especially someone who is new to the company or the position, they may not know what they need from us as a mentor. They may have no way telling us how we can help them to improve or grow because they aren’t familiar with us or with their environment. In this stage it is up to us to know the environment and what skills and attitudes are needed for successful growth. As the relationship develops and they are able to more clearly ask for specific help, the next challenge to ensure that they feel comfortable asking for that help. Maintaining an open attitude towards the people we mentor is vital to creating a sense of safety and well-being in them that will allow them to make full use of us as a resource.

Lastly, I would like to add another perspective to the subject of impacting the lives of others. While it is clear that deep investment over time is an extremely effective way of influencing others, it is also possible to impact people deeply with just one meeting. The analogy I like to use is geology. For centuries it was accepted by geologists that the physical landscape was primarily the result of eons of slow shifts in the earth’s tectonic plates. However, that perspective has changed in the past 20 years or so as we have gained a greater understanding about the effect of meteor strikes on the surface of the earth. Entire valleys in central Europe contain mineral deposits that are evidence of a massive meteor strike millenia ago. Siberia, Arizona and the ocean floors also show evidence of large meteor impacts that have had a makor influence on the earth’s landscape. Modern geologists accept that the shape of the earth is due to a blend of long, slow internal change mixed with sudden upheaval from external impacts.

Is there a speech, a seminar or a passage from a book that you still think about regularly even though you’ve never seen that person again? Perhaps you’ve had a fleeting introduction to someone you greatly admire and while they only said a couple of sentences to you, those words have stuck with you and inspired you for years? I know that I have.

The application is this: sometimes we don’t have the opportunity to invest in a long term mentoring relationship. In those cases it is up to us to always give our full attention and energy to the people we with whom we make contact. You never know the sudden impact you might have that could inspire them for the rest of their lives.

Who’s Next?

From a discussion on leadership succession:

I disagree with the comment that planning immediately for the next successor is a dangerous strategy. First, if it is the stated policy of an organization to manage its succession policy this way then there is no undermining message to be received. The decision to prepare for the next change is simply a matter of course. Second, CEO longevity is not guaranteed. Being prepared for an unexpected departure is simple common sense. We back up our hard drives and our files regularly and assign backups for job responsibilities not because we do not trust our hardware, our software or our staff but because accidents happen, people get sick and power surges are beyond our control. Surely it is better to be prepared than caught off guard.

Another area of concern in leadership succession is the matter of organizational culture. As businesses become less traditional in structure, environment and personality companies like Google and Apple must also consider how well a new CEO fits into the unique culture that is an integral part of both their public image and their financial success. In organizations such as these it is even more important for the current CEO to be involved in the selection and mentoring of future leaders in order to ensure that the values that drive the organization are effectively passed along.

Business Ethics in the ’10’s

The following two comments are from a blog on an optimistic view of the future of business. I’m kind of proud of the first one and cringe at one of my sentences in the second:

Thank you, Gill, for another thought-provoking essay. I have enjoyed reading your blog over the past few months, in particular the way that you continually remind that we cannot separate business from human-ness.

Your blog has stirred up something I have been thinking about for the past couple of days that I will try to sum up briefly. I read an article by George Will recently that he wrote in April, condemning the American Public for their love of jeans. At one point in the article he states with displeasure that “Jeans come prewashed and acid-treated to make them look like what they are not — authentic work clothes for horny-handed sons of toil and the soil.”

That statement got me thinking. I used to work construction and in that world there are two very distinct classes of people: those that wear jeans and those that don’t. I realize that “the working man” is an oft-glamourized archetype and that there is nothing romantic about a group generally given to drawing dirty pictures in Sharpie on a Port-o-let wall. However, I do know that when I was laboring every day and earning my money by the sweat of my brow, I didn’t have time to think about how I could leverage the pension fund. The guys that were good at their jobs and had proven by experience that they were experts in their field made the most money. If we were lackadaisical in our work, people could be seriously injured as a result, so we were careful and accountable for the effect our labor had on others. If we didn’t perform to customer’s expectations, we didn’t get paid until we had fixed it at our own expense.

I now work a desk job in the quotations department of a manufacturer. We have a very relaxed company culture and so jeans and t-shirts are the norm from the CEO on down. I’m glad that I still wear my jeans and work boots and pocket knife because they remind me that I am at work. I try to remind myself that just because the physical part of my job is much, much easier, I owe it to my employer and to my customers to work hard at what I do. My jeans remind me that promotions are best earned by achieving excellence and know-how not by politicking. My sweatshirt, full of holes from wearing it while welding, reminds me that if I have to stay late to fix a mistake, that is part of the job and I need to do it to earn my pay.

It is easy in the business world of suits and khakis to forget that work is not meant to be easy and that rewards (and bonuses) are meant to be earned, not expected. I think that the only way to re-establish credibility is for business leaders to actively go against the culture of greed and privilege that has gotten us to this miserable state. They need to hold other leaders accountable, publicly, to higher standards of ethics and to decry ridiculous and exploitative practices like handing millions of dollars to CEO’s who drive their businesses into the ground at the expense of others. They need to remind themselves and their management staff that get-rich-quick schemes are just as much a sham for big business as they are for any consumer. Lastly, they need to emphasize proven excellence and character in their promotion and hiring practices, rewarding those employees that display those attributes ahead of “shooting stars” who talk a good game but don’t really know what they are doing.

Put simply, in whatever industry or position we hold we need to “put our jeans on” and remember that diligence and hard work are virtues to be embraced not troublesome efforts to be avoided as often as possible and that a dollar quickly made is often twice as quickly lost.

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@SKEPTIC – In defense of Pollyanna, she certainly was a happy girl, wasn’t she? To paraphrase C. S. Lewis in The Silver Chair, “Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things…Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of your is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one…That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world…we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for [the play world]. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”

There is no guarantee that believing in and striving towards a brighter future will make it so. However, waiting for something better to arrive before believing in its existence guarantees a long wait. I would rather speak of the world as it could be in hope that it will become what I envision than to allow cynicism or despair to keep me silent.

@FRANCIS DE CRUZ – While I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiments, I am afraid that most stakeholders (specifically shareholders) would say that the thing they want most from a CEO is a high return on their investment. Part of what has set the stage for the recent economic crisis is the heavy participation in the real estate market and the stock market by laymen investors trying to make a quick buck. While banks and investing houses are certainly culpable for their part in underwriting bad loans and other shady dealings, we cannot completely hold ourselves guilt-free. If John and Jane Smith had not decided they were ready to be real estate moguls with no capital to invest and no training, they would not have no loan on which to default.

On Wall Street, the “consumerization” of the stock market via online trading services did wonders for stock values as more and more people became participants in the system. Unfortunately, many of these new investors are people who play the market like a slot machine with money they cannot afford to lose. The result is two-fold: an increase in market fluctuations (as more people participate for the sake of short-term gain) and an increase in emotional response to market fluctuations (since more people have more to lose when prices go down).

I believe that both of these trends are responses to effective marketing campaigns in the form of commercials, TV shows and infomercials that take advantage of our get-rich-without-hard-work culture. Investing gurus tell us that we can make thousands of extra dollars from the comfort of our own homes with no money down, wow! Rather than fault The Media, I say that those of us who believe that honest hard work will result in greater dividends in the long run need to be more vocal and more visible in order to change the culture. I wish I had great ideas as to how this can be done, but I believe that we need to use The Media to create a counter-cultural movement towards the future that we wish to see.

Anyone for Tea?

I posted this comment as something of a tangent (what?!) to a comment thread on an article about John Edwards and Sarah Palin:

@Mary (Washington State) – I think that there is some differentiation required between the people who are marketing (inciting, fomenting, profiting-from) the Tea Party movement and the people who are drawn to the message. I certainly do not agree with nor support the blindly oppositional rhetoric that the extremist poster children for the TP espouse, just as I do not support the equally unhelpful vitriol from extreme leftist propagandists. What I believe people are responding to is not a desire for anarchy or division, as TN60 proposes, but rather the profound sense that their government leaders care more about the raw exercise of power than about the people they are meant to serve. I think that this is a feeling shared by people on both sides of the political fence and these feelings are cynically used by people in both parties to make money, with the potential side advantage of garnering votes.

What people want is to remove the layer upon layer of insulation that exists between them and their leaders. Congress has become something of a cross between an exclusive private club and an elected noble class. They enjoy healthcare and retirement benefits most Americans can only dream of. They get to vote themselves pay raises! If they ever leave office, most of them have catered to the demands of enough special interest lobbies that they need not fear finding a job with a ridiculously high salary (which they don’t actually need thanks to their sweet pension plan that they gave themselves). Despite the slew of well-turned phrases streaming from the Capitol every day, the only thing most people are certain that Congress accomplishes is padding the wallets of their contributing lobbyists and making things harder for the rest of us.

As the rich get richer and the middle class get poorer (though I think if we are honest with ourselves it is not truly poverty we face but rather an inability to keep up with the lifestyle displayed in glorious color 24/7) the ethnic majority is finally feeling what it is like to be disenfranchised. People who have been raised with nary a care in the world are suddenly having a hard time making their mortgage payment. Middle class conservatives who profited from the Reagan years and had begun to feel like they were insiders to the world of the wealthy with their stock brokers and E*Trade accounts suddenly watched their 401K’s go up in a puff of smoke. The clay feet of the heroes of their corporate pantheon were suddenly and devastatingly shattered, leaving them with no one to worship. People who had supported a party that proclaimed the evils of a welfare state suddenly found themselves needing a helping hand.

What makes the Tea Party folks unique is not their tactics or rhetoric, it is their constituency. For the first time middle class white conservatives are feeling the same way that much of the constituency of the Democrat party has for decades. Let’s be frank, the Democrats have had their fair share of snake oil salesmen selling a bill of goods to people who feel “out of the loop” over the years (this is no means meant as a defense of Republican party ethics, they have simply used other methods to bilk the congregation) and public rallies where charismatic speakers decry the abuses of the empowered elite are not new to our political landscape. What is new is the branch of the populous to whom that message appeals.

If we can set aside our ingrained prejudices, I think we will find that most of us want the same thing: a financially responsible government led by people more concerned with the welfare of the nation than the balance of their bank account.

Executive Greed

From a Forbes.com article on Executive Optimism: (Credit to Gregg Easterbrook, among others, who introduced this idea to me)

Equally perilous will be Executive greed. One very simple way that CEO’s could manage expectations, keep their jobs and make a positive impact to their company’s bottom line is to make their salaries and bonuses directly proportional to the least-paid staff member in their organization. In this way they will benefit only when everyone in the organization feels the effects of positive change in the economy. When CEO’s who fail miserably are rewarded with multiple millions of dollars in bonuses and retention fees it should be no surprise that shareholders and workers are going to expect to see some tangible reward as well.

Forthright Leadership

This next post was in response to the question of whether or not Americans would be able to handle the bare truth of what’s needed to fix our federal debt.

Provide for the common defense. Promote the general welfare. Preserve the blessings of liberty.

Notice that “placate the constituencies” is not on that list. From a leadership standpoint, the role of public servants is to take action and make decisions in the best interest of the common good regardless of the cost in reduced approval rating numbers. When public servants begin to make legislative decisions based on their popularity they corrupt their role by placing the emphasis upon themselves rather than those whose trust they ought to guard.

Being responsible with public money, spending only what we have and making the necessary sacrifices to do so (many of which might adversely affect the services rendered to Congress more so than those rendered to the public anyway) is the only policy that makes sense in the long run. To wring our hands in fear of the response of the masses makes us no less cowardly than the parent who endangers their family’s future by charging up a storm every Christmas in order to make sure the kids don’t have a temper tantrum.

Anyone unwilling to do the right thing for the sake of pandering in order to maintain their position of power is no leader, regardless of their job title.

The Pledge

Occasionally I will take some time to jot down my thoughts in comments to other blogs or news sites.  Since I have this forum as well I figured I may as well copy those writings here to have a repository for the knick knacks that clutter up my attic.  Rather than waste a lot of space with the full posts to which I have replied, I’ll give a brief topic summary and a link to the original.

On the Pledge of Allegiance:

Taking a slight left at Albuquerque, while we’re talking about changing the Pledge of Allegiance why not change some of the other language as well?  Rather than pledging our unswerving loyalty to a flag and a Government, why don’t we pledge our allegiance to one another instead?  Enforcing a pledge of loyalty from its citizenry is a sign of insecurity in any government.  I would rather that Congress, the President and all public servants start their day with a Pledge of Allegiance to the individuals they are honored to serve than my daughter start her day blindly backing an often corrupt State.  I propose the following alternative pledge and encourage anyone required to start their day with their hand over their heart to give it a try:

I pledge commitment to my fellow man who walks with me in the journey of life and to the potential that we might reach, one nation formed of friends with liberty and justice for all.  (So say we all. grin.)
Perhaps our children might then be able to discuss their political views without shouting at each other.  Just a thought.