The right question:
“What’s working, and how can we do more of it?”
The wrong question:
“What’s broken, and how do we fix it?”
Look for the bright spots, the places where things are better — study them, copy them, spread the practices. This may be easier said than done, but it is absolutely critical to positive change.
Way back in my graduate school days, I was reading article after article in serious academic journals. I had great trouble understanding what I was reading. (Yes, some of my critics would say the same now). It was the first semester, actually the first couple of weeks, in a brand new discipline. I had gone from Theology to Rhetoric, and I felt lost. So I went to see one of my professors, and said – “I’m not getting it. Any of it.” Thankfully, he had heard it before, and told me that that was absolutely the common experience. He said something along these lines: “Keep reading, and it will just begin to all make sense.” He was right. I did, and it did.
I remembered those days, and those feelings, while reading: This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly by Carmen M. Reinhart & Kenneth S. Rogoff. I feel a little lost. It is written by serious economists, and though they are really trying to make it accessible to the non-economists among us, it is filled with charts and graphs and vocabulary that all stand outside my normal reading experience. But I have the distinct impression that this is an important book. The premise is clear from the title, “This Time is Different.” They are speaking of the great recent/current economic crisis/meltdown, which they label as “the Second Great Contraction.” And the meaning is this: “No, it’s not – this time is not different!” Here’s a key quote:
This time may seem different, but all too often a deeper look shows it is not. Encouragingly, history does point to warning signs that policy makers can look at to asses risk – if only they do not become too drunk with their credit bubble-fueled success and say, as their predecessors have for centuries, “This time is different.”
In other words, “we” (we = the economists, the decision makers of this era) think that we have put into place wiser and more workable and safer regulations, that we have better understandings, that we have understood the dangers and found better ways to avoid risks, so that we are now in a better position to handle the really big financial challenges. We are wrong. “This time is different” thinking is a recipe for disaster. Again from the book:
The most commonly repeated and most expensive investment advice ever given in the boom just before a financial crisis stems from the perception that “this time is different.” It isn’t different this time – it almost never is!
So, here is my current summary of the lessons from the book, which I think are accurately discerned from the book itself (but remember, I’m an outsider to this discipline):
1) We think we are smarter, wiser, more on top of things, than those who made mistakes in the past. We are just kidding ourselves.
2) What got them will get us, and the people who come after us. When will we ever learn?
3) When the problem is a banking crisis (and this one largely was), there is no nation immune from the dangers and the consequences for the crisis – neither wealthy nations or poor nations… and because it hit the United States, it went world-wide…
4) The problem is systemic, and requires major (government) action to survive the crisis – but that very government action carries its own dangers…
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You don’t get medals for common sense — but perhaps you should get a pat on the back.
Edwin van Calker, driver on the Dutch four-man bobsled team, told his coach that he would not pilot the bobsled down the icy, treacherous track at Whistler Sliding Centre at the Vancouver Olympic Games. His coach Tom de la Hunty said, “I’ve never seen someone get to a major event and not compete because they’re scared. You keep your inner fears to yourself and do it.”
Not van Calker. He had crashed on the track during the two-man bobsled competition and did not think he could safely pilot the much heavier four-man sled. And he didn’t blame the track, which has seen multiple crashes and the death of a Ukrainian luger at the start of the Games. “[J]ust my lack of confidence at the moment.”
Perhaps there is a lesson for leaders in van Calker’s admission. The mettle of a leader is tested by adversity; history lauds those leaders who take on the odds and win. But savvy leaders are those who also know when to say no. Unfortunately, we brand folks like that as quitters, when it may be more correct to say they have the guts to know when they’re licked.
So how do you evaluate whether you should take on that challenge, or back down? Here are some thoughts.
Know the odds. Assess what you are up against. You can often quantify a challenge through the metrics you employ to manage your business. Weigh the costs of going forward against the costs of holding back. Try not to undercount the costs on either side. Remember, this type of equation is often used to justify mergers and acquisitions, where two businesses come together to avoid competition that will tear them apart. Yet most mergers end in failure.
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To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Daily Alerts, please visit firstname.lastname@example.org.
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John Baldoni is a leadership consultant, coach, and speaker. He is the author of eight books, including Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up. See his archived blog at http://blogs.hbr.org/baldoni.
discourage: verb. To deprive of confidence, hope, or spirit.
encourage: verb. To inspire with hope, courage, or confidence; hearten.
I don’t remember the source, but years ago, I heard an interview with a laid off auto worker. His plant was being shut down. He said something like this: “I did everything right. I worked hard. I never missed a day of work. I was promoted. I did what they told me to do. And now…,” and then he trailed off.
He sounded… disheartened.
There really are forces beyond the control of many individual workers. And of all the things I sense about today’s work environment, fear is seemingly omnipresent, and growing greater. People are worried about their jobs, their careers, their futures, their mortgages, their children’s future… It is a tough time.
So, I thought about the terrific book I read and first presented years ago, Encouraging the Heart. But I did not just think of the content, though it is excellent. I thought of the title itself. I thought of the need of the hour – and I think that need is the need for encouragement. People are discouraged, disheartened. And they need to be heartened.
Whatever else a leader brings to his or her workers, encouragement needs to be at the top of the list.
Do you lead people? Are you encouraging them – or discouraging them?
Here’s how I worded it in my introduction for my presentation for Encouraging the Heart:
we all need to be encouraged to do our best. Literally — we need to be encouraged; we need to receive encouragement, in order to do our best.
And this much is clear — no leader should ever do any discouraging. There will be more than enough discouragement coming from other sources…
Bob Morris has interviewed Richard Tedlow, the author of Denial: Why Business Leaders Fail to Look Facts in the Face—and What to Do About It, here. Here is a quote from Tedlow, excerpted from the book in Business Week, Book Excerpt: Denial at Sears:
There appears to be a persistent belief in once-great companies that have lost their way that if you simply avoid speaking the blunt truth, all the problems will just go away. It is almost as if by telling the truth, you are endowing problems with a reality that they would not otherwise have. It is this brand of magical thinking that leads to shooting the messenger.
There is a long history of companies silencing the messengers. We have stronger and stronger “whistle blower laws,” but companies still find ways to punish, to silence, to “discredit” whistle blowers. And, yes, there are times that whistle blowers are on a personal vendetta, and want to hurt rather than help.
But not always.
When the warnings are clear, and grow louder, of problems around the bend, that is a pretty time to start listening.
For some reason, I think about Scripture more on the weekends, and if you have never read the book of Amos, it may be the purest “here is where things are bad, and we need to face up to this problem and do something about it” piece ever written.
In it is Dr. Martin Luther King’s most well-known quote from Scripture: “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:24). But the short, entire book is quite an “it’s time to get honest, and face the music, and make some changes” piece of writing.
So, this is a simple reminder – sometimes we need to hear painful truth. And when we choose not to listen, we are not being very smart.
Here is a lengthier excerpt than I usually provide but well worth your attention, from an article written by Lisa Barone and recently posted at copybogger.com. You can check out the complete article as well as all the other resources, and sign up by visiting http://www.copyblogger.com/belly-dancing-personal-branding/.
I’m learning to belly dance.
Okay, that’s totally overstating it. I’m wiggling to music in what is labeled a belly dancing class.
I’ve found that I enjoy the constant movement, manipulating my limbs and taking any excuse I can to be silly. But more fun than the belly dancing is the instructor.
She loves this stuff. Her eyes light up when she enters the room, her voice changes pitch, and she hops around throwing out euphemisms that make even the bravest people blush. She’s a complete fruit loop. And she’s loved for it. It’s her schtick.
Or, in marketing terms, it’s her personal brand.
Oh no, not another post about personal branding
We’ve been hearing about personal brands ad nauseum for the past year. Even if you’re not sure why you need one, you’re certain that you do. It’s like a 401k. Or a spouse.
The trouble is, most personal brands make everybody else want to jab forks straight into their eyes. They’re based on egos, false promises, and personalities so obnoxious that you’d never be friends with this person in real life.
But as my belly dancing instructor has taught me, you don’t have to build a personal brand on being an egomaniac. You can build your brand on simply being human. Or better yet, you can build your brand on being your favorite version of yourself.
How do you create a personal brand that will garner attention instead of hate? Here are some tips I’ve picked up from my experience on the Web.
And belly dancing.
Claim your niche
My belly dancing instructor doesn’t teach the hip hop class that takes place after her session. Nor does she teach the weekend kickboxing class. She’s limited herself to belly dancing because she knows that’s where she can offer the greatest value.
Trying to teach everything would undermine what she’s about and the tribe she’s looking to attract. She sticks to what she does better than anyone else.
Think niche. You can’t be known for everything. Pick what’s most important to what you do, break it down to its simplest core, and be it.
While Copyblogger has established itself as one of the Web’s top resources on content, Brian Clark has branded himself the master of headlines. It’s a tiny microcosm of the whole content creation space that he owns. It’s where he’s untouchable.
About the Author: Lisa Barone has the totally pompous title of Chief Branding Officer at SEO consulting firm Outspoken Media. She tries to make up for the title by blogging Important Stuff on the Outspoken Media blog and being amusing on Twitter at @lisabarone.
If you have not as yet read Linchpin, I urge you to do so ASAP. In my opinion, it is the most entertaining and most thought-provoking as well as the most valuable book that Godin has written…thus far.
A well respected management consultant and writer right here from the Dallas area, Bette Price, was quoted in The Daily Caller about President Obama’s role in the health care summit. From the article Chief Executive Obama runs a good meeting — even if it does run past schedule by Aleksandra Kulczuga, here are the opening paragraphs:
In one of President Obama’s highest-profile days as America’s chief executive, all eyes were on how well he managed what was at times an acrimonious debate on health care. The Daily Caller talked to business and management experts about how he did as the man at the head of the table during his marathon public meeting.
“He’s very much what we could call in academic circles a transformative leader,” said Drumm McNaughton, chairman and chief executive of the Washington-based Institute of Management Consultants. “When you have a political environment like ours that has become so difficult because of polarization, you can see he’s the right leader for the right time.”
“And that’s coming from a lifelong Republican.”
Many experts pointed out the president’s tactfulness today.
“I’m sure he has his own agenda, but he doesn’t express it heartily,” said Bette Price, chief executive of Price Group and a management consultant in the leadership development area for 25 years. “He’s very conciliatory and engaging, and tends to be open to other people.”
“The interesting thing that the president does is that he’s very paced in his delivery, and that tends to give off more of a calming effect,” Price said.
“With these kinds of meetings in Washington it’s difficult because people need to leave their egos at the door. What you see Obama doing by cutting his remarks short, he’s looking at the outcomes and not grandstanding,” McNaughton said.
So, here are a few takeaways:
1) Keep meetings moving.
2) As leader, be open to other people.
3) As leader, facilitate, don’t dominate.
The article had dissenting views on President Obama’s role, but this sounds like pretty wise counsel from Bette Price and Drumm McNaughton for anyone who has a meeting to run.
(Note: Bette Price has been a long-time participant and friend of the First Friday Book Synopsis).
I’m sitting down while I write this; You’re probably sitting down while you read this — We’re all Doomed
I’m trying to lose weight (again). I’m trying to get back into exercising (again). I am liking the challenge of blogging regularly. And now I read… this: Stand Up While You Read This! by Olivia Judson.
Here’s the intro:
Your chair is your enemy.
It doesn’t matter if you go running every morning, or you’re a regular at the gym. If you spend most of the rest of the day sitting — in your car, your office chair, on your sofa at home — you are putting yourself at increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, a variety of cancers and an early death. In other words, irrespective of whether you exercise vigorously, sitting for long periods is bad for you.
Here’s the picture of the ideal working environment for a “knowledge worker” in the article:
Don’t even ask me about sitting down to watch the Olympics…
Like I said. I’m sitting down while I write this. You’re probably sitting down while you read this… We’re all doomed.
(I’ll be back later – I’ve got to go walk around a few minutes)