Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Tweet is NOT Sweet

-- Did you watch the President's address to Congress this week? If you watched the audience of Senators and Representatives closely you saw some of them thumbing away, tweeting to their followers.
-- And your point is?
-- That's just it. There are millions of folks out there who don't find this a problem. You see, millions of folks are delusional. There are two points in that delusion that hit a nerve with me.

First point: Despite those who claim otherwise, we do NOT multi-task. What the brain is actually doing is switching from task to task quickly so it seems to our conscious minds we're doing more than one thing at a time. Here's some proof for you -- if you drive and talk on the phone (even hands free) you have the same chance of crashing as if you were drunk or stoned.

Test it out for yourself -- no, I don't mean drink and drive -- I mean watch the news on your favorite channel. Have someone else in the room sitting with eyes closed just listening to the news. As the news goes on in the central panel, you start reading the crawl at the bottom of the page. If they have one of those places that marks the time or the stock ticker, watch that for a while. If they have one of those pop ups for another show, be sure to watch that. In other words, consciously watch the way you may do it every day. After about 15 minutes, compare notes with the 'listener' about the news stories in the central panel.

If your recall is as good as that of the listener, write and tell me. But it won't be.

Those folks who were tweeting during the president's presentation would not be able to pass a simple test and certainly missed the subtleties, the flow of concepts, the rhetorical flourishes, and body language subliminal signals.

Too bad. How can you make a political or intellectual judgement or analysis if you weren't fully present....Oh, you recorded it? Sorry, it ain't the same as being there.

Point two: What sort of narcissist are you to believe that your every stray thought must be communicated to the universe. And what sort of poverty of mind do you have if you follow some one's every stray thought?
Every one's mind strays, even during a compelling situation. But people with their brain cells functioning train themselves to focus on the important. Think of hero-pilot "Sully." What if he were busy tweeting his stray thoughts while trying to land an airliner in the Hudson River? No, "nothing like the aspect of being hanged in the morning to concentrate your mind."

The framers of the U.S. Constitution were not a lot different from most of us. They knew how easy it was to lose focus or be carried away by their own narcissistic impulses. When they put together their rules for the Convention in 1787, they made a special point of insisting that no one was to write notes, read a newspaper, or talk with his neighbor during their discussions. No multi-tasking allowed. Why? They were astute observers of human nature and knew we could not do it. Period. The End.

And look what they did as they tried to tame their human inclinations. They sat on wooden chairs in the Pennsylvania State House six days a week from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. with no formal breaks, no designer water bottles, no snacks, no working lunches, no coffee breaks, no tweeting, no phone calls, no ipods, no scrolling...They did this for 4 months in a stuffy, hot, humid room. They listened to everyone -- even the windbags. They focused, they argued, they went back over old territory and reexamined it, they postured, they made good and bad arguments, they pondered, they considered and reconsidered. They wrote a Constitution that has stood the test of time for over 200 years with few amendments.

They weren't perfect. They were very much like us. They understood how easy it is to lose focus, so they worked hard to do as good a job as they could, without giving in to their tendency to be distracted.

We sing the praises of the distracted, multi-tasking, type A personalities. Are we getting more done? Are we getting more important things done? Are we creating greater significance for our own lives, the lives of others or the planet?

One of the most successful leaders I interviewed for my new book, Greg Swienton, the CEO of Ryder System, talked to me about the importance of true balance in one's life. He talked about the discipline of making real time for family, faith, community, and refreshing the spirit.

We could all learn a lesson from Greg and the framers. Stop tweeting and start communicating. Stop tweeting and start listening. Stop tweeting and get a grip on your own place in the cosmos.
(c) Rebecca Staton-Reinstein

Read more about Greg Swienton and other contemporary and historic leaders in Conventional Wisdom: How Today's Leaders Plan, Perform, and Progress Like the Founding Fathers.

Friday, February 20, 2009

I'm saving the flamingos

Out in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania there are many manufacturing plants that are rollicking along as if there were no constant drumbeat of doom and gloom on TV. I visited two of them this week and it was a pleasant surprise. Both companies have added to their capacity and product diversity by buying up equipment from competitors who have given up. Both are looking for more and more creative ways to cut costs while they expand their offerings. Both are thriving.

One of these plants produces all sorts of gardening and lawn-related items; plant containers, hardware for window boxes, and numerous other things. But what really struck me were the flamingos. That's right, those neon pink birds you've seen perched in people's yards are alive and well. Those flamingos just might pull the company right through the recession and help keep profit rolling in.

The owner bought the injection molding equipment from a company that had shuttered its doors. He was confident that this was one item that he would not have to compete with China to produce cheaply in the U.S. You see, those flamingos are full of air, sort of like a hard plastic balloon. That makes them very bulky to ship in those giant containers you see on ships. You can't get enough in the container to make it profitable.

Now the owner is working on a new jig to be able to dip about 10 of those birds in the paint to get those cute little black and yellow beaks looking just right -- again saving money and time -- no more hand painting.

So what's my point? Pretty simple. As a friend of mine says, when everyone else is zigging, it's time for you to zag.

That's what the framers of the U.S. Constitution did in 1787 when they decided to save the Republic. Remember, at that time foreclosures were destroying farms and families, inflation was destroying every one's financial security, foreign countries were poised for invasion, the government was impotent...there were even pirates attacking our shipping off the cost of Africa.

Sound familiar? 222 years ago, our leaders were facing many of the same challenges as today. They 55 men who made up the Constitutional Convention had decided it was time to zag. Many so-called leaders in the 13 states didn't want to lose their political power and change the disastrous status quo. Even Patrick Henry refused to participate -- he said he smelled a rat!

So George Washington, James Madison, and others met, formulated a new Constitution, shepherded it through the ratification process, and then served in the new government. They took a bold new direction, they innovated, they refused to participate in the dyer predictions of the imminent downfall of America.

So, I'm following their lead and that of that innovative factory owner in Pennsylvania. How about you? What are you doing to zag and thrive in this economic climate?

I said to the factory owner, "I guess the flamingos will save you." "No," he said, "I'm saving the flamingos!"

(c)Rebecca Staton-Reinstein

Read more about this innovative plant owner in my new book, Conventional Wisdom: How Today's Leaders Plan, Perform, and Progress Like the Founding Fathers. It's available now in a special pre-publication offer.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

"I screwed up" or "Mistakes were made"...Your Choice

The news programs ran the video loops endlessly this morning as President Obama took responsibility for nominating people who hadn't paid their taxes. Most of the commenters seemed genuinely surprised to hear a leader say that he had made a mistake. He went on to say he would take the consequences and act to rectify his mistakes going forward.

I wasn't particularly surprised. Not because of some partisan political position but because I’ve been interviewing a large number of executives over the last few years for my new book and they do the same thing. It may not be common for politicians to fess up but strategic leaders everywhere know it is the only way to handle inevitable mistakes.

Consider the alternatives – the ubiquitous "mistakes were made" or outright denial. In 2007, I blogged about that nasty, weaseling-out phrase and quoted from some of my interviewees on the importance of admitting mistakes. ( No need to comment on denial…

Now, in my new book, Conventional Wisdom: How Today’s Leaders Plan, Perform, and Progress, I discuss in detail how even great leaders make big mistakes and, more importantly what they do when the mistake comes to light. These executives all told the same story, summed up in the words of one of them, "When you make a mistake, admit it, get out quickly, and fix it." Sound advice that many would do well to follow whether in public life, managing a department, or trying to lead a decent personal life.

Here is what I concluded in the book:

What Distinguishes Great Leaders?

* How does a leader handle the bad decision? Great leaders acknowledge their mistakes personally. They do not fall back on the passive “mistakes were made” formula. Instead, they say, "I made a mistake." They accept the consequences of that bad decision.

* What does a leader do? Great leaders take personal responsibility, usually without a lot of fanfare. They take the next right action, no matter what others say or do. They move quickly to fix their errors.

* How does a leader show his beliefs? Great leaders act on their beliefs and are courageous role models for their convictions.

* How does a leader use a mistake? Great leaders learn from their mistakes and act differently in the future. They discover the frames [psychological blinders] leading them to the bad decision in the first place. They get more diverse perspectives on their future decisions.

* How does a leader confront his or her frames? Great leaders understand their own perceptions of the situation can cloud their decision making. They seek other opinions. They recognize they are framed, and work to stand outside their own frames and doubt their own infallibility.

* How does a leader help others to admit and correct mistakes? Great leaders understand humans make mistakes. They encourage risk-taking and do not automatically punish mistakes. They make sure people have the opportunity to learn and grow from mistakes and confront their own limiting frames.

How do you stack up on the mistake-o-meter? As difficult as it is, do you admit you screwed up? Do you take full responsibility? Do you find the source of the mistake and correct it?
It's always so much easier to blame someone or something than to stand up and take your lumps. Little kids say, "I’m sorry," and hope that will make everything all better. But it doesn’t. Because the kid doesn’t have any PLAN to get better. As grown ups, as people who need to incorporate sound leadership into our lives, we have an obligation to admit, submit, and fix it.

(c) Rebecca Staton-Reinstein and Advantage Leadership, Inc.

Read some of the real-life examples of big screw-ups and what strategic leaders did to make it better. Go to and take advantage of special offers to get you copy of Conventional Wisdom: How Today’s Leaders Plan, Perform, and Progress Like the Founding Fathers. Then send me your feedback to this special address:

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Read a recent article on the importance of the Mission -- Be Careful What You Ask For: Getting the Mission Wrong

Monday, February 2, 2009

Would George Washington approve of the Super Bowl?

I don’t know about you but I was on the edge of my seat, enjoying my once-a-year treat of ribs, and rooting for the Cardinals while my husband cheered for the Steelers. I was on my feet screaming when Larry Fitzgerald dashed down the field leaving would-be tacklers in his wake. Then I sat stupefied, while my husband whooped as Santonio Holmes sailed through the air, caught the pass, and crashed out of bounds in a jumble with his tacklers. Anxious minutes, seeming like hours, ticked by. Were his toes on the turf of the end zone? Finally, the answer I didn’t want to hear. But it was a great game with lots of drama, some of the commercials were pure delights, and Springsteen is still The Boss.

But I wasn’t that happy at the end of that exciting game and it had nothing to do with who won or lost. (To tell the truth, I didn’t really care.) No, what alarmed me was the number of fouls and the general over-the-top rage and anger that some players displayed. Bad sportsmanship has become such a part of so many sports today that it goes by barely noticed by the bobble heads yammering about the plays and quoting obscure statistics.

But it shouldn’t. Of course, the players are emotional and of course, no one likes to make a mistake, feel a play was poorly called or lose the game. We are humans after all and react in some pretty predictable ways. But feelings, no matter how strong, positive or negative, do NOT have to be acted on; do not have to be translated into action. In fact, the grand-standing dances and gyrations some players insist on have become their ‘trademarks,’ simply fueling the notion that there’s no need to keep a lid on the id.

George Washington exemplified the ability to keep raging emotions in check. He is reported to have had a legendary temper but few people ever saw him let it rip. What was his secret? It started when he was a very young man; younger and less well educated than the professional football players on the field yesterday. He decided to mold his character himself; to set out self-consciously to become a person who was in his words, ‘restrained in tongue and pen.’

He did not simply bite his tongue or go home and throw beer cans at the TV in frustration. He worked to turn himself into a man of high character and self-discipline. Most of the time, he succeeded. This did not turn him into an up-tight party pooper. Not at all. He notes in his diaries his many social events. He loved to dance and drink tea with the ladies. He was a superb athlete and thought to be one of the best horsemen of his day.

But he would have been appalled at the displays of bad sportsmanship at the Super Bowl and most modern sporting events. He knew that it was possible to respond appropriately to adversity and not simply react in the heat of the moment. He faced disasters of greater magnitude than a game and most of the time emerged to demonstrate his strong character.

One of the CEOs I interviewed for my new book told me, “The higher you go, the less you can do. You don’t have a right to scream at people. You don’t have a right to behave badly.” Washington and the best contemporary leaders understand that. Legendary coach John Wooden, often paced the sideline during an exciting game but there were no histrionics, no screaming, no drama. He often carried a roll-up program in one hand and his expression was calm whether his team was winning or losing. One of the few reported times that he lost his equanimity was when he thought the players were not giving the best they were capable of.

Every leader can all learn from Washington and Wooden. We can willingly sacrifice the victory dance if it means leaving the tantrums behind. Now on to Super Bowl XLIV!

(c) Rebecca Staton-Reinstein, author
Conventional Wisdom: How Today’s Leaders Plan, Perform, and Progress Like the Founding FathersCheck out the special offers: