Commentary by Michael Wade on Leadership, Ethics, Management, and Life
Monday, April 30, 2007
That's Why They Call It Work
Because Stupidity is Timeless
Quote of the Day
A tablecloth restaurant is still one of the great rewards of civilization.
- Harry Golden
Sunday, April 29, 2007
Saturday, April 28, 2007
Eccentrics and the Slush Pile
Put me in a conference room filled with corporate types and I'll usually gravitate toward the people in the corners who are not on the fast track.
This is not always wise nor is it fair. The fast track usually has some pretty decent and thoughtful people and there are many self-styled eccentrics who embrace that term rather than a more accurate one: "jerk."
The gravitation, however, is driven by two forces: an aversion to smugness and a belief that organizations often consign some of their most interesting thinkers to the fringes. The talent market within organizations usually operates fairly efficiently but, like the market outside, it can sometimes miss by a wide margin. Most of us have heard of how Moby Dick was poorly received in the early years or how many times Animal Farm was rejected by publishers. One publisher advised mystery writer Tony Hillerman that his book proposal would make a good story if he'd just remove the stuff about Indians.
Most major book publishers no longer accept unsolicited manuscripts because it takes too much time for a junior editor to find decent material in what has been called the "slush pile." That task has been outsourced to literary agents and a writer without an agent is at a real disadvantage.
It is easy to understand that business decision. All in all, it's a wise one. But rather than placing such faith in that process, it might be even better to permit a slush pile that could be given a random and partial examination just to see how good a job the agents are doing.
Man versus Nature Top Five
Quote of the Day
The lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and then becomes a host, and then a master.
- Kahlil Gibran
Friday, April 27, 2007
Hitchcock on America
EEO Complaints Up
The Vermont Employment Law Letter provides analysis and some recommendations for employers.
On the Moneyed Midways, with its collection of posts from various business, management, and finance blogs, is up at Political Calculations.
Miscellaneous and Fast
The Dean of Admissions at M.I.T. has stepped down because she falsified her academic credentials. [HT: Instapundit ]
Portfolio reviews what the AOL-Time Warner merger taught Gerald Levin about fear.
This post from Teri Robnett of Teri's Brain confirmed my estrangement - despite the entire blogging thing - from the tech world. I'm shopping this afternoon for some papyrus.
Victor Davis Hanson on an unspoken truth about Iraq.
Overheard in Chicago reports a customer service conversation.
Great Moments in Advertising
Going Through the Motions: A Defense
We - They
We seek a reasonable return on our investment.
They want excessive profits.
We have allies in government.
They buy politicians.
We are retain attorneys.
They unleash junk yard dogs.
We employ investigators.
They hire private snoops.
We hold hearings.
They launch inquisitions.
We are pragmatic.
They are opportunistic.
We are eloquent.
They are smooth-talkers.
We are team-players.
They are a mindless mob.
We may on occasion tell a fib.
We are open-minded
They will fall for anything.
We are refreshingly informal.
They are vulgar.
We have a healthy skepticism.
They are cynical.
We are focused.
They are monomaniacal.
We are polite.
They are stand-offish.
We are objective.
They are detached.
We are friendly.
They are insincere.
Quote of the Day
Give up the feeling of responsibility, let go your hold, resign the care of your destiny to higher powers, be genuinely indifferent as to what becomes of it all, and you will find that you gain a perfect inward relief, but often also, in addition, the particular goods you sincerely thought you were renouncing.
- William James
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Book Review: I Didn't See It Coming
I Didn't See It Coming: The Only Book You'll Ever Need to Avoid Being Blindsided in Business
Authors: Nancy C. Widmann, Elaine J. Eisenman, and Amy Dorn Kopelan
I Didn't See It Coming is less about business than it is about office politics but its authors can draw on their own impressive experience for the lessons. To cite just some of their achievements, Widman was the first woman to serve as president of CBS, Inc., Eisenman is the Dean of Executive Education at Babson College, and Kopelan managed programming at "Good Morning America" for nine years.
Unfortunately, I found this book to be a very uneven read. For example, the section on developing an exit strategy has some creative and practical advice on getting a corporate pre-nup [But try that for a mid-management job!], creating your own personal board of directors, and leveraging your network. This is followed, however, by a chapter on taking the reins which is far weaker and repeats some old bromides such as knowing your strengths and looking the part. Once again though, another strong chapter surfaces with advice on how to maintain your perspective in a high corporate office, noting the danger of using a staff member as a confidante.
The strong parts emerge again at various points, especially with guidance on how to survive a new boss and managing upward, and yet the authors, who work as executive coaches, sometimes toss out observations that I'd expect to hear more from the coached than from the coach.
For example, they argue that "It's all about the money" and "In our experience, whenever anyone says, 'It's not about the money,' they really mean that it's all about the money.'" That may sound sophisticated, but I can counter with plenty of examples in which organizations make decisions that make no financial sense. They do so because of misplaced loyalty, fear of political repercussions, bigotry, and peer pressure. Many careers have been severely damaged because executives and managers thought that their ability to bring in the bucks would protect them against other concerns. Those unfortunates kept citing the bottom line all the way down the drain.
The authors also recommend that, as part of a strategy for dealing with consultants, weaknesses or worries about the strength of the team should never be admitted. Aside from the questionable ethics of that recommendation, it's dumb. Experienced consultants can quickly spot such evasions and the evader's credibility will immediately plummet.
They conclude that "management is building a case" whenever it brings in a consultant to help an executive or manager with conflict resolution. Certainly that is true in many cases, but you can probably find just as many others - and I've seen examples of both types - where management already had a strong basis for termination but brought in a consultant as a sincere effort to salvage a valued team member.
Does I Didn't See It Coming have valuable information for people who need advice on handling office politics? Certainly. But in my opinion it raises as many questions as it answers.
Communication Lesson: The Doctor's Office
I went in for an annual physical exam the other day and had a reminder of how environment can affect communication.
For several years, I went to a doctor at a world-renowned medical clinic. Great doctor. Great place. But since he retired and my insurance would not cover the clinic, I shifted to another office and another doctor.
Once again, the doctor is impressive and the entire place seems to be well-run. I didn't feel rushed by the staff in any way and the doctor took a lot of time to go over my medical history and get updated.
There was, however, a difference.
The examination rooms in the first clinic had a warmer, more congenial, feel. There was some wooden paneling. The doctor had his desk and computer in the examination room and next to it was a comfortable sofa where you can talk before and after the examination. There was a small room in which patients could disrobe, hang their clothing, and change into a robe.
Result: Stress was reduced. Conversation was more informal and, I'd suspect, more informative.
The examination room in the second office had a cold and sterile feel. There was not an adequate area to hang up clothing. The conversation between the doctor and the patients takes place while the patient is either standing or seated on the examination table.
Result: Enhanced stress. The patient can't wait to get out of there.
Both doctors had pleasant manners and were thoughtful and professional. I like my new doctor and will be going back to him.
But if putting the patient at ease in order to gain additional information is important, why are many medical examination rooms so "user-unfriendly?" Some veterinary clinics have examination rooms that are exactly the same as those for people.
Some readers may say, "But wait. Think of the cost! That first clinic had wooden paneling."
That is a point. I'm sure the first clinic's examination rooms cost more, but they didn't cost that much more. They were hardly opulent. And if open and thorough communication between doctor and patient is important, shouldn't greater attention be given to the surroundings?
The medical community is hardly alone when it comes to routine acceptance of poor environments for communication. You can find oral boards at workplaces and universities that are conducted in settings that look like prisoner of war interrogations. I've seen employee orientation sessions held in conference rooms that appeared to have been designed to induce depression.
If we plan a dinner party, we pay attention to the lighting, the arrangement of the room, and the overall setting. We strive to create a certain mood because we know it will contribute to the success of the event.
It might help to ask ourselves: What mood is created by our workplaces?
The Word Not Spoken
Quote of the Day
Americans are cowboys. All of them are cowboys. They might wear business suits, but they still act like cowboys. They aren't as smart or disciplined as we are, but they have an impressive ability to do what they set out to do.
- A fifty-year-old German man in a marketing focus group
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Refrigerator Tech: Instant Web Site
- Hired the best qualified applicant.
- Acted to prevent illegal discrimination.
- Elicited strong loyalty from their team.
- Had not lost any court cases.
- Trained staff members who were then promoted.
- Wore conservative suits.
- Wore flashy suits.
- Were too efficient.
- Used PowerPoint.
- Didn't use PowerPoint.
- Sent staff members to professional conferences.
- Had an accent.
- Were "too punctual."
- Were humorous.
- Said "y'all."
- Had "too much" job experience.
- Fended off political interference.
- Were kind.
- Were eloquent.
- Were courteous.
- Liked rodeo.
- Liked country and western music.
- Liked classical music.
- Were veterans.
- Had long hair.
If these appear to be irrational biases - and let me assure you that given the context they were irrational - that is beside the point. Critics don't require rationality; they just require a target.
One of my favorite training memories is of an evaluation from a workshop I conducted. A participant wrote that the class was substantive and well-presented and "people seemed to like it" but she didn't care for my tie. [The tie in question was a very conservative red one.] There was not a trace of humor in the rest of the evaluation so I assume she was serious.
I think of Bill Cosby every time I recall that tie.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Seth Godin Interview
For many of us, Seth Godin has been one of the most provocative - and readable - thinkers on marketing and ways to break through the mass of ads. [Think Purple Cow!]
Now comes a new book that is different from his earlier work in that it considers how to deal with set-backs.
He explains his approach in this interview with Rowan Manahan.
Office Space Starter
Putting the Future on the Table
Geek Humor: If Houses Were Like Software
Monday, April 23, 2007
You favored cutting my staff in half and removing funding for it.
You are trying to muddy the water with separate issues. You have never once heard me oppose the actual project.
But you also failed to distribute the supporting back-up material to the decision makers.
That was a regrettable oversight. Once again you are dodging the question. Have I ever made any statement opposing the project? You know the answer. Never. In fact, I'm a little insulted by your insinuation.
And you gave me the wrong time and meeting room when I was supposed to make my pitch to upper management. Why did you do that?
I was really busy that day. Haven't you ever made a mistake?
The same goals?
Yes, we are simply divided on the methods.
Risk Loving Business Starters? Not So.
If you are thinking of going into business, or have been in business and feel like you're spinning your wheels, check out this Brazen Careerist post on how you don't need to love risk to start your own business.
Great Firm: Why we are a
- We have really neat business cards with job titles like Production Wizard and CEO of Fun.
- Our stationery is recycled paper.
- Our firm's name is catchy.
- So is our slogan.
- The owners have like really interesting backgrounds.
- We do killer PowerPoint.
- Our office is done in a very impressive, cafe mocha motif with prints by street artists.
- We are always thinking outside the box.
- We also walk the talk.
- We are very nonjudgmental.
- We celebrate diversity so long as everyone feels the same way about things.
- We can like basically talk the same language as most of our customers. Basically.
- Every day is casual Friday.
- We don't have employees. We have colleagues.
- Each of us has a Blackberry.
- We are so into instant messaging.
- No firewalls!
- Our Colleague of the Year gets a trip to Belize unless, of course, they're from Belize, in which case they can go to some other place that's really exotic, like Detroit.
- As soon as we've been in business seven years we're going to have sabbaticals.
- Our annual retreats involve drums, a talking stick, and sharing personal stories.
- We have no inner circle. Some of our circles are just a little further out than others.
- We are pet-friendly.
- Since we are family, we don't fire people. We do, however, put some out for adoption.
- We have special "office party" days. Examples include Muffin Day, Colleagues Who Type Things Day, and Clean the Break Room Day.
- Our web site totally rocks!
Sunday, April 22, 2007
Weekend Precision Drill Break
Women in Fortune 500 CEO Jobs
In Praise of Frank People
Saturday, April 21, 2007
Offender Becomes "Victim?"
Earlier, with regard to the Don Imus story, I mentioned the usual stages of offense, indignation, and exploitation.
I forgot "litigation."
Imus has hired a lawyer.
Perry on History-Laden Tales
Novelist Anne Perry give her list of the top five tales "rooted in history."
I'd quickly add some others to the list:
Julian by Gore Vidal
Lincoln by Gore Vidal
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George
Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood
Pompeii by Robert Harris
You get knocked down, you jump right back up, right?
Who said you can't take some time out to recover and to sort out the pain?
We have national tragedies or outrages and within minutes the victims have a microphone thrust in their faces. If the press should muster the decency to leave people alone, should not we as individuals give ourselves the time and space to recover, to leave ourselves alone, without feeling a compulsion to rebound like a rubber ball?
Setbacks in the workplace that are short of termination are usually not traumatic, but that doesn't mean they don't deserve some recovery time. There are injuries to feelings and status in many work weeks and the inability to recover from them can eventually erode optimism and confidence.
But they require some time to recover.
There's much to be said for the wisdom from this John Dryden ballad:
"I am hurt, but I am not slain;
I'll lay me down and bleed a while,
And then I'll rise and fight again."
Quote of the Day
To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.
- Joseph Clinton Pearce
Friday, April 20, 2007
**More than one but not many
****More than I can recall
Sammy Glick from What Makes Sammy Run? ***
Ignatius Reilly from A Confederacy of Dunces *
Captain Queeg from The Caine Mutiny**
Luke from Cool Hand Luke***
Madame DeFarge from A Tale of Two Cities***
Johnny Rocco from Key Largo***
Classic Business Books
Entrepreneur.com has put together an evaluation of nine classic business books.
Any list attracts quibbling. Without getting into ones that I'd drop, I'll just add:
The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker
Leaders by Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus
Wooden On Leadership by John Wooden
Thinking about Management by Theodore Levitt
Logic and Experience: Excerpts from Conversations
Experience: Major items breeze. Minor items crawl. They'll devote prolonged debate to the minor issues because they think they know something about the topic.
Logic: It's a sensitive assignment. They'll want the best person for the job.
Experience: No, they'll want someone they can trust. Competence is optional.
Logic: Every possible point has been made. The committee will want to vote.
Experience: Dream on. A decision will not be made until everyone who cares to do so has commented on those points.
Logic: They'll want their employees to have information so a good decision can be made.
Experience: They'll want their employees to have their officially approved information so an officially approved decision will be assured.
Logic: They'll want justice.
Experience: They'll want victory.
Thursday, April 19, 2007
Business as Poetry
The mentor was a high-ranking executive in a large organization and Tom, being a well-educated and ambitious young manager in the same firm, had much in common with his advisor. They both were athletic and liked the outdoors and their personality similarities were in no way feigned. The word soon shot through the workplace grapevine: "Don't cross Tom. He has a protector."
I never saw any indication that the warning had merit - Tom's opponents in the arena of organizational politics encountered no retaliation - but the flip side of the warning seemed to have greater credibility. Tom's career began to take off.
Special assignments came up and Tom got them. These were jobs in which a person could demonstrate various management skills and Tom, to his credit, did well. He was conscientious and thoughtful and upper management was pleased with his work.
Outside of the inner circle, however, Tom had been labeled a golden boy and that perception devalued each of his achievements. It was so much easier to assume any evaluation of his work had been preordained and that no one would dare to give an honest assessment because of the long reach of the mentor. Some felt the mentor's weaknesses were reflected in Tom.
Tom didn't realize it, but he was acquiring a sizable group of passive enemies. These weren't enemies in the actively vicious sense; they wouldn't go out of their way to harm Tom. But neither would they attempt to help him. Many felt that Tom had cheated them out of some choice assignments and they looked forward to the moment when he would stumble.
And then one day the mentor unexpectedly died.
For a while, conditions didn't change. Tom continued in his job and his level of performance seemed steady. Within the year though, it was clear that the golden boy was no longer golden. The career-boosting assignments no longer arrived. People "forgot" to invite him to meetings. The word began to go around: "Tom was overrated all along. He really isn't as bright as we all thought."
And some of us wondered, "Is that true or is the sudden change because the mentor died?"
He left the organization two years later.
Quote of the Day
Every day, every week, every month, every year, get rid of 'the crap.' Simplify your clutter, simplify your finances, simplify the way you travel, simplify the number of remote controls that you have around. Get rid of the fresh pasta-making machine which you never use. Chaos brings us down. We are simple creatures. We crave simplicity in these busy lives we live.
- Nicholas Bate in JfDI!
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
The Crackdown on Employers of Illegal Immigrants
The California Employment Law Letter has an update on the federal government's raids on employers who have been hiring illegal immigrants and what that can mean for other businesses.
Short version: Don't hire illegal workers.
Click here for the story.
The Shield of Indifference
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Book Review: Success Built to Last
Success Built to Last: Creating a Life that Matters by Jerry Porras, Stewart Emery, and Mark Thompson mentions plenty of famous names but its main emphasis is on how ordinary people can do extraordinary things.
Although some of the book's findings are predictable (Successful people maintain a high level of passion for their calling), one of the book's strengths is its willingness to challenge conventional wisdom - they're not big on balance and love obsession - or give it some new twists, such as noting that if you don't love what you do you'll be at a competitive disadvantage to someone who does.
A listing of traps that can keep you from responding to your true career desire includes:
- Getting too practical.
- Letting things ("Bright Shiny Objects") own you.
- Being seduced by competence; i.e., beng simply good instead of great.
- Pleasing others instead of yourself and creating false choices ("ors") when you can have "ands."
Those are only sidelines. The main theme is the necessity to find a cause that will engage your passion and your efforts and, regardless of your personal charisma, provide you with the charisma of its mission and the self-esteem that comes from achievement. The cause is all. It gives you drive, sustains you when setbacks occur, and is far more realistic than mere positive thinking.
Persistence and a rock-solid determination not to act like a victim bolster the commitment to the cause. But so too is the pragmatic willingness to drop projects that are failures if they prove to be inadequate avenues to furthering the cause.
There were many times when I found myself arguing with Success Built to Last. "But what about this event?" and "There are exceptions to that!" came to mind more than once. I have to admit though, that the book's most powerful appeal is not the Big Hairy Audacious Goals (from Jim Collins's and Porras's Built to Last) or its interesting personal success stories.
It's the power of The Cause and how finding one can unleash creativity, strength, and energy that a quest for mere personal advancement will never unchain.
A Real Team
HR's Real Products: Talent and Trust
- Finding, keeping, and developing talent and;
- Maintaining trust in selection procedures and redress mechanisms.
- Not aggressively seeking talent;
- Finding talent and then not developing it;
- Finding talent and then not creating career paths so talented people can remain with the organization;
- Neither objectively seeking talent nor striving to retain it;
- Violating personnel procedures to please upper management;
- Not monitoring their own selection procedures;
- Adopting an adversarial tone with employees in order to please company lawyers;
- Failing to provide timely and substantive assistance to departments;
- Ignoring injustices; and
- Managing to the dysfunctional.
In order to avoid the mistakes cited above, HR professionals must be willing to take on their own upper management team whenever those executives threaten to harm the two main responsibilities of Human Resources. This is not easy and doing so can be risky.
But if HR is not going to speak up, who is?
And who guaranteed that you can live an ethical life without risking your job?
Unusual Employee Update
Quote of the Day
People who are brutally honest get more satisfaction out of the brutality than out of the honesty.
- Richard J. Needham
Monday, April 16, 2007
Behavior Bosses Hate Most
Take Your Own Advice
Celebrity Apologies: Between the Lines
(okay, all )
of you know,
(the media reports of)
my remarks last week have
resulted in no small amount of
I have been reflecting with family and friends
(as well as a dozen lawyers, publicists, and image makers)
on my words
(and all possible loopholes)
and their impact on
To all those who were
(stupid enough to be)
offended by my
comments, I offer
(grudgingly, but here it is)
(I sincerely want to get this over with)
I trust and pray
Quote of the Day
My favorite word is grace - whether it's amazing grace, saving grace, grace under fire, Grace Kelly,. How we live contributes to beauty - whether it's how we treat other people or the environment.
- Celeste Cooper
Sunday, April 15, 2007
Miscellaneous and Fast
Ask Uncle Bill blog has a revealing post on the stories about the negative savings rate.
Trizoko suggests one step for building trust.
Michael S. Malone looks at what has happened at Hewlett-Packard.
Part-fork, part-chop stick. Brilliant. Geekologie has the picture.
George F. Will remembers Jackie Robinson.
Holocaust Remembrance Day
Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Contentions, the blog of Commentary magazine, has posted links to several articles on the Holocaust.
Not My Table: Dangers of Compartmentalization
Compartmentalization of ethical concerns can be found where employees are reluctant to report or confront ethical problems or lapses in other departments or in work units headed by other supervisors. In extreme cases, it can encourage a level of deniability that can abet crimes.
The operation of the Holocaust is one of the most frightening examples of extreme compartmentalization. Each stage of the execution process was designed to give the operators an absolving excuse, false but soothing, for their involvement in murder. As a result, the people who rounded up Jews and put them on trains could say that they had never killed anyone; that part was not their responsibility. Similar alibis were provided at each stage along the line. Even the people who dropped in the poison gas could say they were just following orders. The clever design of this process and its occasional twisted jokes, such as having "Work will make you free" over the entrances to death camps and playing music as people marched to their final moments, make the Holocaust more evil than straightforward killing.
Workplaces, of course, provide far milder examples of compartmentalization sins. Many organizations would dissolve into chaos if reporting mild cases of incompetence became the norm. Reporting ethical problems, however, is a healthy form of disruption because the alternative is too risky.
It is leadership's job to spread the word that everyone has the responsibility to report ethical concerns, regardless of whether or not the problem is inside or outside of their work unit. While doing so, leaders might consider discussing the limits of compartmentalization.
Quote of the Day
Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.
- Helen Keller
Saturday, April 14, 2007
Top Scientific Books
Quote of the Day
Nothing is more difficult than to introduce a new order. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new.
- Niccolo Machiavelli
Friday, April 13, 2007
Wikis, Blogs, and Spys!
On the Shelf
I'll soon be posting reviews on both of those.
I've also been reading In the Company of Soldiers by Rick Atkinson. It gives an very interesting portrayal of General David Petraeus prior to his appointment to head the "surge" in Iraq. To call him an extremely impressive person is to make an understatement. Some tidbits: He has a PhD in International Relations from Princeton University and completed Ranger School. The Ranger School only gives three awards to its honor graduates in each class. Petraeus won all three.
Fantasy Break: Escape from Office Job
Resistance to Change
Bravo to Rowan Manahan for this story about resistance to change!
I'm only sorry that I didn't use the executive's technique a few hundred times.
Drawing The Line
I knew a man who fell into the mode of "crossing the street to get into a fight." In the name of "not pussyfooting around" and "telling it like it is." He created a large collection of unnecessary enemies. He was so eager to prove that he was tough he forgot to show he was wise. The pattern continued in job after job at employer after employer and it seriously limited what could have been a great career.
Perhaps, as with Margaret Thatcher, at one point and time that strategy was appropriate and the opponents needed to be flattened. But strategies and styles should be adjusted to fit the circumstances and the leader - or the follower - who fails to do so is making a huge mistake.
Quote of the Day
Madness is the exception in individuals but the rule in groups.
- Friedrich Nietzsche
Thursday, April 12, 2007
I stay away from so-called networking events because they're packed with people who are trying to sell to one another and with no one who's interested in buying.
[The best sessions, of course, are where I enter to great applause and the audience rushes as one to get my business card. I'll let you know as soon as I encounter one.]
The reason why so many of the events fail is they often resemble those dating services in which a small army of rats in heat/people descend on a restaurant and play the equivalent of musical chairs, only in this game the players switch tables and make a quick pitch. If it sounds hellish, it probably is. The emphasis is on the sale instead of the relationship.
Relationships take time. The sense of desperation that surrounds eager networkers dooms their efforts. By moving slowly, relationships build trust and respect. Accomplished relationship-builders follow a version of Spencer Tracy's old line about acting; i.e., that it is the easiest thing to do in the world, only don't ever let anyone catch you doing it.