The Stranger (Calvin Trager):
Dana, I’m what the world considers to be a phenomenally succesful man, and I’ve failed much more than I’ve succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, “Where are we going?” And it starts to get better…
I don’t even know what the hell Quo Vadimus means.
It means “Where are we going?”
(from the final episode of Sports Night. Calvin Trager buys Continental Corp, decides to keep Sports Night on the air — and then, alas, the show was cancelled. Quo Vadimus was the name of the fictional company founded by the “stranger.” Aaron Sorkin at his very best!)
What is wrong?
What will we do to fix it?
These are two important questions to ask – to always ask, and keep asking, continually.
I was reminded of these from a letter included in the February 20, 2012 Parkland Now newsletter, written by Tom Royer, MD, Interim CEO of Parkland Hospital in Dallas: Closing the Gap: Part II of our CMS journey. (from the physical copy of the newsletter; I could not find it on-line).
Things are not good at Parkland. Safety and quality have slipped – - badly. So, Dr. Royer is addressing the troops, and he includes these thoughts:
We must continue our efforts to implement every improvement plan and monitor them until they are hardwired into our clinical operations… (He refers to) a “gap analysis” identifying the gap for the challenges we have not fully addressed between “where we are” and “where we need to be” to assure we are guaranteeing a high quality and safe encounter for each patient.
His entire letter is a pretty good example of a call to the troops with thoughts like: “things are not what they need to be; we’ve got our work cut out for us, and we need everyone – every one! – to step up and do his/her part to close every gap, for every patient, every hour of every day.”
And if you study the history of Parkland, you know that they have had some golden years. What happened? Slippage happened. And slipping back, slipping behind, slipping in general, is so very easy to do, and so very easy to “miss.”
And, I’m pretty sure that every company or organization (yes, that means your organization, and mine!), has some gap analysis to perform.
Is anything wrong? What is wrong? What will we do to fix it?
And, most of all, where are we going?
The organizations that answer these questions well, and constantly, will have better futures than those who wait too long before they notice the slippage, and the oh-so-costly consequences of such slippage.
How and why our digital footprints and shadows “constitute our permanent imprint on the world”
As I began to read this book, I was again reminded of Oliver Wendell Holmes’ observation almost a century ago, “I wouldn’t give a fog for simplicity on this side of complexity but would give my life for simplicity on the other side of complexity.” That was true then and is even more relevant now in an age, at a time, when many (most?) of us frequently feel overwhelmed by the complexities in all areas of our lives. In this volume, Erik Qualman identifies, thoroughly explains, and strongly endorses five separate but related habits of digital leadership, and broadly defines “leadership” to include but by no means limited to one’s supervisory responsibilities in the business world. Probably for the first time in human history, a person’s private and public life are one and the same. This is what Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz had in mind when responding to a highly confidential executive memo that had been leaked: “Nothing is confidential. This is the new reality.”
Here are the STAMP habits. Qualman devotes a separate chapter to each:
SIMPLE: “Make everything as simple as possible but no simpler.” Albert Einstein
TRUE: Be true to your passion, with values and behavior in alignment
ACT: “Vision without execution is hallucination.” Thomas Edison
MAP: Know how to get from where you are to where you want to be
PEOPLE: The greatest success is achieved in collaboration
I especially appreciate Qualman’s skillful use of various reader-friendly devices that serve four very important functions: they highlight what is most important, they consolidate key points in context, they provide valuable supplementary information, and they facilitate, indeed accelerate frequent review later. These devices include “Digital Deeds Sidebars,” “Life Stamps,” and “a “Key Takeaways” section at the conclusion of each of five Sections.
In Chapter Nine of Section Three, for example, the Sidebar mini-commentaries include “Finding Your Passion,” “Wikipedia – Where Are You?” and Who Likes You Enough to Link?” Then in Chapters Thirteen and Fourteen, there are “Life Stamps” profiles of Oscar Morales (a software programmer in Columbia) and Ric Elias (a survivor of US Air Flight 1549), both exemplary digital leaders.
Throughout the narrative, Qualman takes a multi-dimensional approach to explaining how and why our digital footprints and shadows “constitute our permanent imprint on the world.” His ultimate objective is clear: He wants to help as many people as possible to ensure that their “digital stamp,” their legacy as a human being, is positive (i.e. principled) and productive (i.e. has had a beneficial impact on the lives of others). Of course, it remains for each reader to determine whether or not to become a digital leader, and if so, to what extent they committed to achieve that admirable but demanding goal.
As I finished reading this thoughtful and thought-provoking book, I was reminded of I was reminded of Rabbi Hillel the Elder’s questions, “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?”
Adam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided during an interview of Tracey Matura. She is the general manager for the Smart car unit at Mercedes-Benz USA. “If you’re going to tell me you’ve never failed,” she says of job candidates, “then it makes me wonder if you always hide your failures.”
Photo credit: Librado Romero/The New York Times
To read the complete interview as well as Bryant’s interviews of other executives, please click here.
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Can’t Acknowledge Failure? Don’t Apply
Bryant: What were some important leadership lessons for you?
Matura: I had a great mentor early on, so I asked a lot of questions, which doesn’t necessarily come easily because you want to show that you know it all. But I was not afraid to ask questions, and I watched the right type of managers and recognized the wrong type of managers. You can make a fatal mistake if you watch the person who you perceive as being the most successful, but you’re not necessarily watching the right leadership skills.
Bryant: Can you elaborate?
Matura: In one of my jobs, the people who seemed to be the most successful, in hindsight, were successful at the expense of other people. If you just looked from the outside, you would say that the person must be a fantastic manager, because they’ve built a great team, been successful, and they have a winning record. If you didn’t peel back the skin and look closely, you would have thought, “That’s who I should follow.” And I would have learned some inappropriate lessons.
I watched a lot of people, and then I started to realize that some people had their team behind them. So I started to notice those little things and then said, “O.K., what can I pick and choose from them that’s most important?” I think the one that bubbled up to me was that the people who took the most time with their team might not have had the greatest people, but they had the most passionate people or the people who were the most thought-provoking.
I’m thankful I recognized that. I’m an observer, which I think helped me. If I hadn’t been an observer, I probably would have followed the wrong path. I don’t know where that would have taken me, to be honest, but I probably would have developed into a not-so-nice leader with more of an authoritative, do-it-my-way style. Instead, I use a mix of a collaborative approach and letting people just fly on their own.
Bryant: Have you always been an observer?
Matura: I’m the youngest of four. The other three are very close in age, and then there’s a big gap to me. I never wanted to be the little sister who nobody wants to bring around, so I think it started there. I would watch them to figure out: “O.K., what do they do? How can I be a little bit more grown up so that I fit into their world?” So I’m naturally one who listens more and talks less. It was a plus in terms of watching people’s leadership skills.
Bryant: What other lessons?
Matura: I’ve learned the importance of building the right team, and I’ve also learned I have to open up about who I am, and understand how people on my team like to work. Some people need you to talk to them for the first five minutes of their day about what they did over the weekend, and you can’t undervalue how important that is. I make it a point now, which I probably didn’t do early on as a leader, to know what everybody’s about. Mary needs me to have the five-minute conversation, and Joe needs me to just let him run because he’s more like me — he’s been up since 6 a.m. and cleared out all his e-mails so that he can hit the ground running when he gets to the office.
I think I’ve developed that skill to let them know me, and for me to get to know them better. It doesn’t seem like you should have to be taught that or learn that, but we’re all human. So if I’m the kind of person who just hits the ground running, it’s not because I mean to be exclusionary or rude; it’s just that that’s kind of how I am. But as the leader, I need to understand how everybody else likes to work. So I think knowing your team and letting your team get to know you is really important.
For me, I’ve had to explain that if I’m running at 1,000 miles an hour, it doesn’t mean everybody has to run at 1,000 miles an hour. It’s just who I am, and people need to feel free to say to me, “Hey, can you slow down because I go at 100 miles an hour and you’re kind of driving me crazy?” And I’ve had those conversations. People have said: “Remember when you told me I could tell you things? I’m telling you now you need to slow down.”
Bryant: And you’ve said this to everybody?
Matura: At Smart, I built the team from the beginning, and I had that conversation with each new person who came on the team, and I reiterate it so that everybody understands me. I think sometimes leaders don’t explain themselves, and we don’t necessarily know that we should.
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Adam Bryant, deputy national editor of The New York Times, oversees coverage of education issues, military affairs, law, and works with reporters in many of the Times‘ domestic bureaus. He also conducts interviews with CEOs and other leaders for Corner Office, a weekly feature in the SundayBusiness section and on nytimes.com that he started in March 2009. In his new book, The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed, (Times Books), he analyzes the broader lessons that emerge from his interviews with more than 70 leaders. To read an excerpt, please click here. To contact him, please click here.