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Friday, March 26, 2010

Reasoning: Listen to Abe

Abraham Lincoln said, "When I'm getting ready to reason with a man, I spend 1/3 of my time thinking about myself and what I'm going to say, and 2/3 thinking about him and what he's going to say."

On the surface, he could have been referring merely to active listening. You know, to get the most out of a conversation, you need to set your ideas aside, keep your mouth shut and let the other person talk.

That answer is a fine one. I wonder, too, if we should focus on the word, "reasoning" to capitalize on President Lincoln's deeper point. I think he means "reasoning" in the sense of talking with or persuading another person logically and persuasively.

One might conclude that, in order to be the most successful in reasoning with another individual, we need to understand the ideas that the other person holds true. We need to endeavor to glean the point of view and be open to discussing it.

The way we can best do this is to actively listen and try to exhibit an empathetic spirit, even if (especially if) we don't agree with the point or points the other person is embracing.

How can we expect to persuade another to our point of view if we're not willing to be open to discussion and understanding? How can we be effective with our ideas if we don't understand the background and contexts? It can be extremely uncomfortable, yet very effective.

What do you think?

The worst evils

"The worst evils in the world aren't done by evil people. They're done by good people who don't know they're not doing good." ~ Reinhold Niebuhr

Let's think about that. There are countless examples of good people who've caused great damage to other human beings, to themselves, and to the world. Wars fit into this category. Things now thought of as "crazy" in the medical or scientific worlds, have done great damage. So much of the damage is caused by ignorant, good people.

Now, let's think about it again, but after filtering out people:

1. who we know of today, but who aren't close to us.
2. who lived before us and who we know about through history.

Who does that leave? It leaves us.

Now, since we're fallible humans, there's no way to ever rid ourselves of committing "the worst evils." They're going to happen.

What we can do is always try to think. We've got to think about our actions -- with our families, with our friends, with those at work (especially when we're leaders) -- and do our best to make thoughtful, instead of thoughtless decisions.

I think we can all agree that we don't want to commit one more of those worst evils if there's any way we can avoid it.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


What do you tolerate from yourself and those on your team?

So many leaders talk about how busy they are and how much work they have to do. They don't seem to be able to get ahead, working in crisis mode all the time.

Is it that there's too much to do? That's possible. Companies are asking bosses to do more with fewer bodies almost as a matter of course these days.

On the other hand, the problem could be that leaders are not effectively managing.

How about you, as the leader? Do you communicate well? Do those on your team know what's expected of them? Are each of your team members pulling their own weight? Is the work equitably distributed?

Are there some "weak sisters" on the team? If so, why are you tolerating less from them?

Why is that? Why do you tolerate some or all of your people getting by instead of fully contributing? Is it that:
  1. She's the owner's sister or daughter?
  2. He's scary and intimidating either physically or verbally?
  3. She "has something" on you that you don't want known?
  4. He is your friend...someone you grew up with or maybe even owe a favor to?
  5. You feel sorry for her because she has had a rough life and you just can't stand to be "mean"?
  6. No one else knows how to do what he does? Is it that he has successfully undermined your efforts to have anyone else learn how to perform his critical tasks?

Regardless, if you don't stand up and act like a leader, any of these situations can cripple your tenure as the boss and definitely keep you from being effective. Other than #1, above, where the owner may tell you the problem person is a friend or relative and consequently untouchable, you have a choice.

Do you tolerate poor performance like this from your people? MORE IMPORTANTLY, do you tolerate this poor leadership performance from yourself?

Think about it...and then act.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Passion for your work

I have a friend who once told me that she looked forward to going to work every day.

What?!? I thought she was crazy or just plain lying to me...

I had never felt anything like that. It's not that I haven't liked many of my jobs. I've had some pretty good ones over the years. Still, I can't ever remember looking forward to going to work.

I started a new job on March 1. It's unlike anything I've ever experienced. I feel so strongly aligned to that position and what it is designed to accomplish, that I feel really passionate about work for the first time in my life.

This is very strange for me. I was once an Army officer. I was very proud of what I did and extremely proud of serving with some really great people. I felt we were true public servants. Later in my careers, I had a job that provided the opportunity to help improve the physical quality of peoples' lives and that was very rewarding. I was happy to be a part of these organizations.

I didn't love going to work. I didn't look forward to it...even when I liked what I did.

Let me return to the idea of passion. From my current position, looking back, what I think has been missing is the sheer passion I now feel for what I'm doing and where I am.

I was speaking to a young man today who told me what he was passionate about and then said he wasn't sure he was going to follow that passion. I cautioned him to not end up like me, just finding my passion at the age of 50. I tried not to do that...I tried to keep my mouth shut and mind my own business. I just couldn't. I hope he didn't mind too much.

If you know what you're truly passionate about, don't let it pass you by. Don't waste years messing around. Grab on to your passion and make the most of it that you can.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Everybody has a story

I don't know if you remember the segment that reporter Steve Hartman used to have on the CBS Evening News called, "Everybody has a story". The segment was just that. "To prove his point, Hartman would toss a dart over his shoulder at a map of the United States, and then travel with his cameraman, Les Rose, to wherever the dart landed." Steve would then find a phonebook in that town and choose a name at random, hoping the person would share his or her "story" with him.

Sometimes Steve uncovered rare talent. Occasionally, he found out some pretty odd hobbies or habits. Other times Steve heard some sage words of wisdom. Always, he found out something interesting.

I've thought about that lately as I've had the opportunity to talk with a lot of new people in my life. Everybody has a story...if you just bother to ask and are interested enough to listen.

Think about the people at your work, in your social groups, in your places of worship, and ask yourself some questions. How well do you know those people? Do you have any idea about their "stories"?

If the answer is that you don't really know them and their stories, then maybe you might consider mustering up the interest and the inclination to try and find out. It could be very enlightening and very rewarding.

After all...everybody has a story.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


At the end of the book, "Monday Morning Leadership", there is a list of Synergy principles. One of the principles is The Principle of Optimism that states "Results improve in proportion to the self-esteem and attitude of the leader."

What do you think that means? I think it means that just like the idea that success breeds success so optimism breeds optimism.

One strong way to help your team act positive and optimistic is to exhibit a positive attitude about:

1. The mission -- you don't have to think the mission will be easy, but you're positive the team can make it happen.
2. The team -- everyone is of value and has something to contribute.
3. Yourself -- you are worthwhile as a team member and a leader.

We have to keep remembering that our team members are constantly watching us and they take their cues, both positive and negative, by what we do and say...and by what we don't do or say.