Sunday, July 17, 2016

                    Let's Ban "MISTAKES WERE MADE!"
   Mistakes were made...Every time I hear that phrase I cringe...How about you?
   Mistakes were made--so vague, so passive, so un-leaderlike.
   Yet, people keep using it. It screams out from the headlines and assaults our ears from the TV.
   Mistakes were made. At first it looks like the leader is taking responsibility for the mistakes. But study your English grammar a little more closely and another picture emerges.
   Mistakes were made. What does it really mean? 'Mistakes' is the subject of the sentence in this passive voice. But the object of the sentence--by whom--is implied. By whom? We don't know.
     Mistakes were made. What the leader is really saying is, "OK, folks, we tried to hide the mistakes but now you've got the evidence so we have to say something that sounds like we're on top of it and sounds like we're taking responsibility. It also buys us time to decide whom to sacrifice...whom to throw over the back of the troika to the wolves--the press, the public, or the employees? Maybe, while they're gnawing on those bones, we can think of something else to divert their attention."
     Mistakes were made, indeed! The first mistake is that we made a bad decision. But then we compound it by ignoring it, covering it up, blaming someone else or taking actions that are incorrect.  There is only one correct answer.
     "I made a mistake. I take responsibility. Here's what I'm doing to fix it." And on a personal note, "Here is what I've learned and how I will apply that in the future." And, by the way, "I will take the consequences."
     I interviewed a wide variety of leaders for my book on strategic leadership, Conventional Wisdom: How Today's Leaders Plan, Perform, and Progress Like the Founding Fathers. I chose them because they had a track record for translating their visions into reality and transforming their organizations. I asked each, "What was your worst business decision and what did you do about it?" They all had similar reports. These are typical:
     "There was a story in the newspapers about a major mistake that we made. You can make excuses for it or you can be transparent about what happened. I sat with the media and I walked them through it and they accurately described it to the public. I hope other companies who read the story will learn from it. But the key is to take an adverse incident like that and turn it into something that we can learn from so it doesn't happen again."
     "Mistakes? I've made some doozies! The ones I've always regretted were the ones where I reacted and said something I didn't mean or that was based on wrong information. One was very visible and I was confronted by a reporter with an email that I had sent. I learned a lot from by boss that day about what a great executive does. He told me to go immediately to everyone on the list and apologize and be humble. It was hard but I did it. The press kept going but all but one individual was satisfied. I learned a lot from that."
     How do you create that environment of responsibility for the entire company?  Listen to another CEO:
     "I want everyone to see our corporate values walking down the hall every day. Let's combine the mind and the heart. It's all about having a mission, and a culture. They've heard so much about making money, budget, and business plans. When we switched back to emphasizing the mission, the values and the culture, the metrics followed and we went from single digit returns to double digit returns."
     Nary a one of the CEOs I interviewed said 'mistakes were made' or any of its variants. Their message was clear. Real leadership, strategic leadership, is about taking responsibility every day for the decisions you make and living your values in your actions.
     I heard a story on the news some years ago that brought it all home in a different context. A high school student's parents were suing a teacher and the school system. The student, who had a good record, made a decision to turn in a class project late after a school trip. The teacher had made it plain that late projects would not be accepted so the student earned a failing mark. The student made the decision not to turn the project in before the trip. Now the parents are suing for the trauma to their daughter. Mistakes were made! What lesson is this young person learning? What lessons are we teaching our employees and colleagues?
     I have some advice: Let's ban that despicable phrase, 'Mistakes were made,' from the language. Let's take full responsibility for our bad decisions, learn from them AND take the consequences. Let's demonstrate our values 'walking down the hall.'
     What's the "mistakes" culture like in your organization? Are people rewarded for accepting full responsibility or are the thrown under the bus? Does every leader take responsibility for his or her mistakes? Or is blame the name of the game and "mistakes were made."

Learn more about your work environment and receive feedback about how it compares to other places. Take our survey, labeled the Whacky Workplace. You will also receive a copy of our comprehensive study when it is published next year.
© Rebecca Staton-Reinstein and Advantage Leadership

Read more about what successful strategic leaders do about handling their mistakes in Conventional Wisdom: How Today's Leaders Plan, Perform, and Progress Like the Founding Fathers.

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Rebecca Staton-Reinstein, President, Advantage Leadership, Inc.
320 S. Flamingo Road, Suite 291, Pembroke Pines, FL 33027

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Dirtiest Election Ever: Beyond Obscenity to Articulate a Vision

In the recent “presidential” debate, just when we thought it couldn’t get any lower, sure enough one of the candidates made a vulgar allusion. (Yes, you had to have a dirty mind to catch it.) Of course the media are all atwitter. (Can Twitter be atwitter?) They run the clip over and over, pretending to be offended, but they run it ad nauseam.

So what? Move off the networks and onto the cable channels and the Anglo-Saxonisms flow regularly across the airwaves. But looking back to the really nasty election of 1800 and its parallels with 2016, what is the story when it comes to salty language and attack words? At the time Thomas Jefferson and John Adams faced off in what historians cite as the dirtiest election ever, what was the state of public discourse? In some ways it was as coarse as today.

Today, as in 1800, there were words people thought too rude for public discourse. But behind the scenes? There folks weren't as gentlemanly as we like to think, especially when talking among themselves. Adams’ surrogates claimed Jefferson was an atheist who wanted to turn churches into brothels. Adams’ irascible personality and weight were always fair game for “His Rotundness.” 

George Washington had a towering temper he usually kept in check. When he let it rip he could toss the verbal bombs with the best of them. When delegates to the Constitutional Convention sat with their pipes and port after dinner, they often swapped bawdy stories. One of their favorite games was inventing wilder and wilder sexual puns about Gouverneur Morris' wooden leg and his way with the ladies. James Madison was infamous among his contemporaries for his dirty jokes.

It's true they didn't throw the F-Bomb but they certainly came close. John Adams was no fan of Alexander Hamilton and in an 1806 letter to Benjamin Rush hurled this diatribe against Hamilton for his remarks denigrating George Washington.

Although I read with tranquility and suffered to pass without animadversion in silent contempt the base insinuations of vanity and a hundred lies besides published in a pamphlet against me by an insolent coxcomb who rarely dined in good company, where there was good wine, without getting silly and vaporing about his administration like a young girl about her brilliants and trinkets, yet I lose all patience when I think of a bastard brat of a Scotch pedlar daring to threaten to undeceive the world in their judgment of Washington by writing an history of his battles and campaigns. This creature was in a delirium of ambition; he had been blown up with vanity by the tories, had fixed his eyes on the highest station in America, and he hated every man, young or old, who stood in his way or could in any manner eclipse his laurels or rival his pretensions. . .

Pretty strong stuff...but not as strong as these "gentlemen" wrote under pen names in the popular press skewering one another and accusing one another of the worst intentions and even treason. Generally they lambasted one another with innuendo as well as direct attacks. It can be a delicious pastime to dissect their elaborate language and watch as they slip the verbal knife between the ribs and give a fatal twist.

Today it's so easy go for the obvious obscenity rather than the creative cut. In the 2012 presidential race, George Will wondered why Candidate Mitt Romney was embracing Donald Trump, whom he called a “bloviating ignoramus,” certainly an arcane insult the founders could have appreciated in their own rough and tumble elections.

Is this what we want to hear from our leaders? Has reality become reality TV? Are there any Leadership Lessons in all this? Perhaps a few:

·  Leaders control themselves: George Washington was prickly, thin skinned, and took offence easily. Yet his advice to himself and others was to show restraint of "tongues and pens." He kept his temper in check most of the time. He knew "losing it" on a regular basis causes people to disengage.

·  Leaders cultivate creativity: "Bloviating" is such a yummy word, I'm sure folks scurried to google its meaning (synonym for blow hard.) In our general anti-intellectual climate, leaders encourage their people to think and grow and become more articulate, communicate better for collaboration, without reducing everything to the lowest common denominator.

·  Leaders do not condone crudity: Leaders know language can offend like the bawdy stories and sexist remarks disappearing from most workplaces. Leaders insist on better communication not to be "politically correct" but to be inclusive; they need everyone engaged. Leaders foster serious, passionate debate and discussion to unearth the best solutions.

Just because the founding fathers weren't saints doesn't mean we do not honor and respect them. We admire them because, like us, they were all too human, capable of pettiness and backbiting, and sometimes behaving badly. We learn from them precisely because they made mistakes and then triumphed over their human nature.
This doesn’t mean we want this dubious name-calling, sexual-innuendo tradition to continue. When I watch fired-up candidates yelling insults rather than debating issues and policies, I flash on our sons as teenagers sitting on the sofa hurling barbs and punching each other. Normal teenage malarkey...but not the vision of leadership, functioning on the global stage or wrestling with intractable conflicts and seeking resolutions and peace. I hope we deserve better.
Jefferson, Adams, and the other founders showed us real leadership in tough times. They rose above their character defects. Can we do the same as we select a world leader?
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What's your idea: Can we joust without bloviating?
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(c) Rebecca Staton-Reinstein and Advantage Leadership, Inc.

Want to know more about the tumultuous fights at the Constitutional Convention and the election of 1800? Check out Conventional Wisdom: How Today's Leaders Plan, Perform, and Progress Like the Founding Fathers

I started a companion video series during the 2012 elections that holds true today. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Let’s Monkey Around: Will the Year of the Monkey Improve or Thwart Productivity at your Workplace?

The Year of the Monkey has arrived in the lunar calendar bringing in wittiness, cleverness, intellectual curiosity, and, of course, fun and mischievousness.

The Buddha used Monkey as a vivid metaphor: “Just as a monkey, swinging through a forest wilderness, grabs a branch. Letting go of it, it grabs another branch. Letting go of that, it grabs another one...In the same way, what’s called ‘mind,’ ‘intellect,’ or ‘consciousness’ by day and by night arises as one thing and ceases as another.” (Samyutta Nikaya 12.61) BJ Gallagher pushes the destructive side of the metaphor further, describing our minds as “drunken monkeys, jumping around, screeching, chattering, carrying on endlessly.” (Buddha: How to Tame Your Monkey Mind in the Huffington Post.)

Monkey, therefore, is a great symbol for our distracted, do-more-with-less, fractured Whacky Workplaces. But Monkey has other alleged characteristics we can use to create a more productive environment; hard work, adaptable, fast learner, clever, intelligent, many interests, disciplined, creative, and fun.

Think about your current work environment. Which part of Monkey’s persona describes it best? Which Monkey comes out to play? Positive environments invite us to be creative and use our full spectrum of talents and brain power while negative ones simply drive us to distraction, suppressing our initiative and creativity.

Nine is a lucky numbers for Monkey. Here are 9 tips to keep those Naughty Monkeys at bay, free up our Ingenious Monkeys to counter the Whacky Workplace and create an environment where we can tap into all our positive traits.

Monkey works very hard: In a Whacky Workplace hard work is not rewarded. In fact, the boss often assigns more work because of poor delegation and management. We know we are supposed to work smarter. Hard-working Monkey knows the secret; work very hard on the most important tasks aimed at accomplishing objectives and getting necessary results.

Monkey adapts: In a Whacky Workplace the situation is always fluid and chaotic, lurching from crisis to crisis. Adaptable Monkey doesn’t waste time bemoaning the situation, gossiping, or supporting dysfunction. Adaptable Monkey focuses on objectives and results, figuring out HOW to get the job done.

Monkey is a fast learner: The Whacky Workplace lacks formal training and education and teaches the wrong lessons. Learning Monkey wants to learn and use every resource available to increase knowledge and skills. Learning Monkey is always proactive and never sits back waiting for the company to provide training.

Monkey is clever: The Whacky Workplace ignores ways to improve. Clever Monkey cannot resist seeking a better way to get the job done. Clever Monkey wants to improve efficiency AND effectiveness, asking, “How can I make this better for our customers and colleagues?”

Monkey is intelligent: The Whacky Workplace is DUMB, wasting time, money, people’s abilities, and everything else. Intelligent Monkey is too smart for that sort of nonsense. Intelligent Monkey harnesses brainpower to analyze the situation, finds the root cause, tries out solutions to solve the problem, and thinks ahead to prevent problems in the future.

Monkey has many interests: In a Whacky Workplace, only the Distracted Monkey is encouraged with endless incentives to multitask. But Interested Monkey knows neuroscience; the human brain cannot multitask but moves from task to task and back again, eliminating focus and flow. Interested Monkey focuses on the most important tasks, getting results and meeting goals before grabbing the next interest branch.

Monkey has discipline: In a Whacky Workplace, self-discipline goes out the window. In these environments being disciplined and focused is seen as a negative when everyone else acts like drunken monkeys. Disciplined Monkey creates an oasis in the chaos so important work can go on. Disciplined Monkeys and their teams keep on turning out results.   

Monkey is creative: In a Whacky Workplace, creativity is consumed in survival. Creative Monkey keeps creative intelligence focused on creating new goals, inventing new products, and anticipating customer needs. “Thrival” is Creative Monkey’s watchword.

Monkey has fun: In a Whacky Workplace, fun is off the menu. In fact, communication, relationship-building, and cohesion are frowned upon, while fear, cliques, and internal competition are promoted. Fun Monkey knows play releases our creative and intellectual powers. Fun Monkey focuses on building strong teams who enjoy working and playing hard together. Fun Monkey makes sure we celebrate milestones, holidays, birthdays, and exult in the pure joy of life.

Let all these great Monkeys loose in your workplace, your team, and your life. Monkey around a little and enjoy the results in greater productivity, better results, and happier team members.

Monkey Business is Good Business.
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Find out how your organizations compares to the Whacky Workplace. Take this short survey and discover where you score on the Whack-O-Meter (designed by Mischievous Monkey.)

Looking forward to your comments on the Year of the Monkey.