Commentary by Michael Wade on Leadership, Ethics, Management, and Life
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Lunch with an old friend, a retired attorney. It is a friendship which grew from an argument many years ago. We quickly went from adversaries to allies and now can almost - almost - complete one another's sentences. Fortunately, we have enough divergent interests so the conversations are often unpredictable.
I came prepared to talk to him about his work as a docent at the art museum and we both rambled off into a discussion of how to market history, art, and science.
We've agreed that an annual lunch is insufficient. I'm sending him a note this afternoon to set up another one.
After a certain age, friends have a habit of disappearing. See them while you can.
Rock History Update
At The Telegraph: The very unusual story of Genesis.
No wonder I stuck with the more sedate groups like The Rolling Stones.
Language of Poor Leaders
Writers to Know
If the world were fair, these writers would be as famous and as widely read as Stephen King:
- Olivia Manning
- Wendell Berry
- Rose Tremain
- Patrick O'Brian
- Richard Price
- Jim Harrison
- Mark Helprin
- Paul Theroux
- Charles Portis
- Robert Hicks
- Howard Bahr
- Nick Hornby
- Mario Vargas Llosa
- Donald Westlake
- Ben Elton
- Jiri Weil
- Edwin O'Connor
- Louis de Bernieres
Need Some Help?
Look over the list at Cultural Offering.
Right on target.
While watching The Roosevelts series by Ken Burns, I was reminded of research that I did years ago on presidential management styles.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt's approach was highly pragmatic but it was also manipulative and chaotic. He sometimes assigned the same task to different members of his Cabinet just to see which one prevailed and he kept enormous amounts of responsibilities on his desk; in many cases jobs which clearly should have been delegated.
Although he was quite good about deferring to his generals when it came to the military conduct of the war - a practice in stark contrast to Hitler's - he hogged turf on the home front. By 1944 there were 47 war agencies directly reporting to him.
That is one reason why film footage of his last days shows an exhausted man. FDR was an extraordinary president who accomplished a great deal but he worked himself to death in the process.
Quote of the Day
Not geniuses but average men require profound stimulation, incentive towards creative effort, and the nurture of great hopes.
- John Collier
Monday, September 29, 2014
On this day, which is the Ninth day of November in the year 1683, a most singular thing has occurred.
- From Merivel: A Man of His Time by Rose Tremain
By The Book
From The New York Times interview with Clive James:
My best bad review, as it were, was a takedown of “Princess Daisy,” an appalling best-selling novel by the once-famous Judith Krantz, who clearly believed every word she wrote about sex, glamour and the higher levels of shopping. But I was careful to pay her the compliment of saying that I had found her book unputdownable, although I might have said the same about a pot of glue. My best good reviews were mainly about Philip Larkin; it was a privilege to be in a position to call him a great poet. After he died and he started to be denigrated as a racist and misogynist, I took several opportunities to say that his prejudices were a private matter and that he had never even dreamed of expressing them in public, least of all in his poetry. Spraying cold water on a witch hunt is one of the duties that a critic should be ready to perform.
Leadership Reading to Start Your Week
Wally Bock always assembles a fine collection of articles.
Relax. You don't need to read them all at once.
The Fast Track Route
I especially like the ones about the MBA and bashing a newspaper against a chair:
More sound advice from the ever-astute Nicholas Bate.
What is the Appeal?
If you are selling slow and good to someone who wants fast and cheap, you have a problem,. The same is the case if you think they want a high quality product and their standard is so low that any product will do. I've seen instances where efforts at keeping the price affordable are harmful because the prospect wants the bragging rights - bizarre though they may be - which come with a very expensive product or service. Snob appeal can beat content. You can also find cases where a low price makes people worry about quality. Recommendations by a friend can trump expensive advertising. A nudge by a trusted advisor, such as attorney to client, can give you a monopoly. Some people like dealing with a person who is accessible and down-to-earth and others prefer the cool operator in a pin-striped suit. Some want a lot of your time and others just want the decision off of their desk.
A few things to keep in mind: A lot of what we are selling is unseen. What they want is more important than what you want - don't sell rocky-road if they want vanilla - but the choice has to be on the menu. The customer is not always right. As Steve Jobs demonstrated, people may not know that they want a product until they receive it. You are not trying to "get something over" on the other person but are examining how - and if - you can be of service. Your goal is to create and maintain a relationship of mutual trust and mutual benefit.
Should have said thanks. Should have taken more time and not rushed. Should have listened to what was meant and not what was said. Should have avoided the default script in the back of my mind. Should have noticed the hesitation and the silence. Should have called. Should have resisted the temptation of a quick conclusion. Should have picked up on the signals.
When we are tired, egotistical, or hurried, we can get sloppy. When that happens, we can hurt others, far more than we realize.
Every day, we are running for the office of Better Person. And there are days when we don't want to see the poll results.
Quote of the Day
Don't accept your dog's admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful.
- Ann Landers
Sunday, September 28, 2014
Birth of a New World
A century ago today, Russian forces were beginning the 133-day siege of Przemyśl and the German army took Péronne. Meanwhile, in a Nottinghamshire farmhouse, a young man wrote a poem about a mariner who sails off the earth into the sky. The Voyage of Éarendel the Evening Star deserves its day in the spotlight alongside war commemorations. It was the founding moment of Middle-earth.
Read the rest of The Guardian article here.
Walk in the Park
Spend some time today at The Hammock Papers. You'll be surrounded by beautiful things.
Saturday, September 27, 2014
Saturday Night Piano
Tarek Refaat plays the theme from "Terms of Endearment."
Copland playing in background. Reading the Federal Register regulations regarding federal contractors and individuals with disabilities. Using the jeweler's eye on any changes from earlier definitions. Outlining a client fact sheet to translate the bureaucratese into plain language. It is beyond me how anyone in Congress could have supported the extraordinarily sloppy language in the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act. [I wonder how many bar napkins were needed for the first draft.] It's getting a tad cloudy outside. Rain? When I retrieved the newspapers this morning there was evidence of a slight sprinkle. I accidentally stepped on a snail and mourned briefly. Went out early and bought coffee. Will brew a pot now. Let's see: "The contractor, in making hiring decisions, should consider applicants who are known to have disabilities for all available positions for which they may be qualified when the position(s) applied for is unavailable." [Yes, you read that correctly.] Gee, that shouldn't create any complications. The Copland has played out. Time for some Gershwin. Also want to get through a leadership book today and to read some chapters on Wellington's campaign in Spain. Just took the dog out in the backyard. She stared at the sky and sniffed. Some water is coming.
Howard on When Humans Lose Control of Government
The Veterans Affairs scandal of falsified waiting lists is the latest of a never-ending stream of government ineptitude. Every season brings a new headline of failures: the botched roll-out of Obamacare involved 55 uncoordinated IT vendors; a White House report in February found that barely 3 percent of the $800 billion stimulus plan went to rebuild transportation infrastructure; and a March Washington Post report describes how federal pensions are processed by hand in a deep cave in Pennsylvania.
Read all of Philip Howard's essay in The Atlantic.
1965 - Paris
The Beatles singing "I Feel Fine."
What to Ask When Networking
Writing at Entrepreneur, Natalie Bounassar provides an important perspective on networking. An excerpt:
Ask not what your network can do for you. Yes, there are times when people need to reach out to others for advice, for a reference, for an introduction. But in building and maintaining relationships, this should not be the focus. The constant taking is what makes individuals feel dirty. The constant exploiting and taking -- that needs to take a back seat.
Political Calculations has a video on the bicycle that you can wrap around a post. An excerpt:
It could well be if you were concerned about the risk of having your new bike stolen. In fact, the fear of that risk motivated three Chilean design students to develop a bicycle frame with an integrated locking device - one where the bike would be rendered completely unrideable if it were ever cut.
What's So Damn Funny?
Sometimes a joke will offer no hint of violation whatsoever, but will instead be a story with an amusing ending. The conductor of a great symphony has a heart attack an hour before performance. The assistant director is on sabbatical. The artistic director asks if there is anyone in the orchestra who has any experience conducting. A modest man from the viola section steps up to say that he had some minor experience conducting a student orchestra in Vienna. He’ll have to do. That night he conducts and at the end his performance is greeted with a 20-minute standing ovation and raves in the next day’s press. He conducts again the next night and the night after to similar acclaim, and takes over the job. Only at the close of the season does the regular conductor, now recovered from his heart attack, resume the podium. The violist returns to his old seat in the viola section. “Good to see you,” the violist seated next to him says. “Where’ve you been?” Nothing violative here in this joke about overrating the importance of symphonic conductors.
Read all of Joseph Epstein's essay in Commentary.
The Bucket Story
You're heard the story. If you think you are indispensable, just stick your hand in a bucket of water, remove it, and then see what a difference you made.
As I've written before, I believe that story is both vile and stupid.
You can refill positions but you never replace people. The world might well have been dragged into a new Dark Ages if Winston Churchill had not been prime minister of Great Britain during the Second World War.
Ah, the Bucket People say, but if Churchill had not been there some series of events would have produced a similar result. Magically, of course. I assume they say that before running off to search for unicorns.
Sure, there are times when there is not a huge or even discernible difference when one person is replaced by another. That, however, does not mean there are no indispensable people. There are many situations where organizations are harmed for years by the loss of one person. The bucket story downplays the importance of people who make a huge difference. The next time you hear that story, think of Churchill, Washington, Lincoln, de Gaulle, and Mandela.
Quote of the Day
The sweaty players in the game of life always have more fun than the supercilious spectators.
- William Feather
Friday, September 26, 2014
Song for Pets (and Children)
Lately, I've been singing the chorus of this song to my dog.
So far, the message hasn't gotten through.
Is Leadership for You?
Read Wally Bock's excellent post. Remember that everyone, regardless of job title, can be a leader.
Story of a London Cabbie
Read the rest here.
Back By Popular Demand
A reminder of the brilliance of Buster Keaton: The motorcycle scene from "Sherlock, Jr."
Special Report: No News
The news is there's no news.
It took me far too long to learn that clients want to be updated even when there is nothing new happening. They want to know that their project has not been forgotten. They want a status report even if the status is No Change.
Obviously, they don't want the project to drag but most of them understand that things take time and that there can be any number of good reasons for a delay.
They know that. But never let them feel neglected.
An Alarm Bell Rings
It will be a good sign when we start hearing young people using words such as humbug, mollycoddle, loafer, pussyfoot, hornswoggle, barnstorm, rogue, villain, and abode.
Art Break: Michalek
Art Contrarian looks at the work of Santiago Michalek.
Instant Gratification Society
FutureLawyer has the cartoon.
[Have you ever completed a 10K just to get a really neat t-shirt?]
The Fear Culture
The fear led to rapidly-set goals resulting in frantic activity and micromanagement and multiple committee meetings and a reluctance to set boundaries on unreasonable demands which produced increased fatigue and burn-out and high turn-over and more micromanagement and more meetings and more fear which led to additional rapidly-set goals resulting in frantic activity and micromanagement and multiple committee meetings and a reluctance to set boundaries on unreasonable demands which produced increased fatigue and burn-out and high turn-over and more micromanagement and more meetings and more fear which led to. . . .
Quote of the Day
There is a new American disease that strings two or three nouns together where one noun - or better yet, one verb - will do. Nobody goes broke now; we have money problem areas. it no longer rains; we have precipitation activity or a thunderstorm probability situation. Please, let it rain.
- William Zinsser
Thursday, September 25, 2014
The Lazy Person's Ifs
- If I can find a quick explanation then I can stop thinking.
- If I can label the person, place or thing then I've got them tagged for life.
- If I can get spoon-fed opinions from journalists then I don't have to worry about developing my own thoughts.
- If I attach myself to a charismatic leader then I'll have someone to blame if things go wrong.
- If I adopt the biases and opinions of the "in" group, they will always have my back and I'll be automatically regarded as a person of discernment.
- If I parrot the results of studies, no matter how dubious, I can utter the magical words, "Research shows."
- If I can avoid seriously considering the opinions of the other side, then I can rest assured that my own are always correct.
Art Break: Falter
Art Contrarian looks at the work of John Falter.
Tips from the Movies
A good day starts with the proper attitude.
Quote of the Day
The day [Mikhail] Gorbachev said to the masses in Moscow: do not be afraid of the KGB, I took a deep breath. This man is a real genius, I said. . . . He is sitting on top of a terror machine that holds the damn pile together, and he says: do not be afraid. He must have a tremendous formula to democratize. Until I met him, and I found him completely bewildered by what was happening around him. He had jumped into the deep end of the pool without learning how to swim.
- Lee Kuan Yew
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Life Without The Squirrel
Cianci may be in good shape—he insists that doctors have given him a clean bill of health, despite his battling colon cancer—but he looks a little frailer than the last time he ran for mayor, back in 1998. Gone is Cianci’s famous toupee, the “squirrel.” (He was forced to lose it when he went to prison, a traumatic experience—losing the toupee, that is—though he recently told the New York Times that he “enjoys life without the squirrel.”) Instead, he now frequently sports eyeglasses; squint, and he almost looks distinguished. The epicurean ex-officeholder is now considerably skinnier than the last time around, as well. (That’s not to say Cianci’s taking care of his health, exactly—he maintains his decades-long Marlboro habit.) He is, he says, “a little older, a little wiser, a little more mellow.”
Read rest at The Weekly Standard.
70 Sites to Save
Eclecticity Light has a list of 70 of the "most useful" sites on the Internet.
The Harry Potter Rule
Cultural Offering explores the secret of getting children to enjoy reading. An excerpt:
I asked a teacher friend of mine about today’s children’s books. “Pandering and completely void in the essential work required…I’m reading Moby Dick aloud to my classes right now.”
What is Your Job?
Most jobs contain a multitude of other jobs.
I meet with managers who have far too narrow a view of what their job requires. There is a tendency to continue to do the comfortable and the comfortable often includes responsibilities better handled by a specialist or ones which have become outdated.
External influences can also skew matters. Lean organizations and tight budgets nudge leaders toward short-term thinking and away from defining the big picture. Hectic work schedules discourage meetings at the very time when frequent communication is vital.
The old question - What is your job? - is more important than ever. The ability to shift between responsibilities and quickly change plans to meet reality can be the difference between success and failure.
The self-confidence required to be nimble is impossible unless you know what your job is.
We keep getting back to the basics. What is your job?
Quote of the Day
He who picks his own doctor from an array of competing doctors is in a real sense his own doctor.
- Paul Samuelson
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Modern Life: Decisions, Decisions
Car Style: Still Looking Good
Car Style Critic looks at the cascading curves of the 1949 Buick.
Your Desk On The Internet
FutureLawyer has an intriguing demonstration on what the Internet has done to our desks.
That is, to some of our desks.
If we can be too tired to fall asleep, can we be too smart to think? After all of the various special group "studies" programs at universities, it is high time to have Departments of Success Studies. We long for home runs but win with base hits. The smell of Camel cigarettes immediately transports me onto an Army post. Beware of action for action's sake. Doing nothing is also doing something. Given sleeping patterns, could it be that older people are better suited for the night shift? Dogs and their owners spend a great deal of time watching one another. I have never lived in a house that had enough book shelves. Leaders need to give themselves time to think. So do followers. Some people seldom talk about themselves and others do little but that. One of the greatest assets which can be acquired by education and experience is the knowledge of what is knowledge. People who think that businesses just rake in money have never been in business. It is much easier to spot how something won't work than to craft a design which will. There is a certain sense of security when your car has a full tank of gas. If you work like a maniac for three hours you will have surpassed most people who work off and on for eight. Generally speaking, there is nothing wrong with generally speaking. I wonder if anyone was conducting change management seminars in 1914 or 1939. Working and trying very hard while not producing results may impress your parents but it won't impress your boss. If I could pick a traveling companion from a pool of famous people I'd choose Mark Twain. Even when I was in extremely good physical condition I still felt out of shape. The major religions have missed something by not including chocolate in their rituals. At some point in life everyone deserves a sports car and a Jeep. The best ideas tend to arrive without reservations. Each day is a voyage. We need to grab the helm and watch for pirates and typhoons.
Quote of the Day
"I swear I won't punish you," said Lieutenant Scheisskopf. "I'll be grateful to the man who tells me the truth."
"He'll hate you," said Yossarian. "To his dying day he'll hate you."
- From Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Monday, September 22, 2014
Miscellaneous and Fast
Wally Bock: Leadership reading to start your week.
The Guardian: A very ugly side to Hilary Mantel.
Anderson Layman's Blog has one very wise fortune cookie.
Ezra Klein: Policy-making has a liberal bias.
Amity Shales reviews "The Roosevelts."
Eclecticity Light: Where does he find this stuff?
Entrepreneur: Richard Branson on finding the right path.
Where to rate your boss: The website.
Michael Barone: Which US party is weaker?
Great Moments in Style
Art Contrarian looks at the zoot suit.
I don't know how, but David Kanigan got a film of one of my presentations when I was in high school. [Even then, you could see the makings of greatness.]
Be Careful Out There
FutureLawyer points to the anti-hacker ten commandments.
- Teenage and younger: You're immortal and people who are 30 are flat-out old.
- Twenties: You're just starting out. Still partying and looking good.
- Thirties: You are not old but you can't stay out all night without feeling it.
- Forties: You are too busy to worry about health because you are too worried about your family and career. You dream about promotions and Jaguars.
- Fifties: You certainly don't drink as much as you did in your twenties but you could stand to lose 20 pounds. You drive an SUV or a van.
- Sixties: You read the obits a lot more carefully and could stand to lose 30 pounds. You try to avoid mirrors. Sleep becomes a subject of intense interest.
- Seventies: Hmm. If a lifetime is a week, you are far into the weekend. Your doctors seem smug and young.
- Eighties: You must have been doing something right. Have some more pie.
- Nineties: Where did everybody go?
Top 5 Organized Crime Groups
Fortune magazine provides a list.
Key Questions to Consider
Quote of the Day
If you enjoy something in the world without saying a blessing, it is as if you stole it.
- The Talmud
Sunday, September 21, 2014
Saturday, September 20, 2014
Every author, I suppose, has in mind a setting in which readers of his or her work could benefit from having read it. Mine is the proverbial office water-cooler, where opinions are shared and gossip is exchanged. I hope to enrich the vocabulary that people use when they talk about the judgments and choices of others, the company's new policies, or a colleague's investment decisions. Why be concerned with gossip? Because it is much easier, as well as far more enjoyable, to identify and label the mistakes of others than to recognize our own. Questioning what we believe and want is difficult at the best of times, and especially difficult when we most need to do it, but we can benefit from the informed opinions of others. Many of us spontaneously anticipate how friends and colleagues will evaluate our choices; the quality and content of these anticipated judgments therefore matters. The expectation of intelligent gossip is a powerful motive for serious self-criticism, more powerful than New Year resolutions to improve one's decision making at work and at home.
- From Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza:" Some Enchanted Evening"
"The Discovery of Middle Age"
Read the rest of Rod Dreher here.
Return to Life
Courtesy of Cultural Offering, who attests to its veracity.
Why They Held Out
I'm in the process of finishing Ian Kershaw's The End, a history of the final days of Nazi Germany. Although that subject has been covered elsewhere by Kershaw as well as many other historians, this fascinating book explores the question of why the Germans, when it was clear that the war was lost, continued to fight.
The brutality of Hitler's regime was a key reason. [People were being hanged for treason hours before the collapse.] Another reason was fear of Soviet retribution and occupation. Another was the rumor that the military had some miraculous new weapons which would turn the tide. Still another was the automatic loyalty of the generals to the government. There was also, of course, the belief that Hitler was some sort of super-hero who would ultimately produce victory.
One aspect which I have found to be especially interesting was the tendency of people to focus on their immediate responsibilities while the world was crashing around them. There were civil servants in Berlin who remained at their desks as Russian artillery shells were falling in the government district. The bureaucracy was operating almost to the end. German industrialists, who knew the war was lost and had an eye on post-war Germany, were scrambling to save factories from both the Allies and Hitler's scorched earth policy.
It was a nation held by a cult, not a standard-issue government, so rational behavior could not be expected. Those last days illustrate what can happen when fantasy weds power.
Leadership: Some Physical Advantages
Quote of the Day
One thing I needed to be particularly mindful of was the effect success was having on the players. Success tends to distort reality and make everybody, coaches as well as players, forget their shortcomings and exaggerate their contributions. Soon they begin to lose sight of what made them successful in the first place: their connection with each other as a team. As Michael Jordan puts it, "Success turns we's back into me's."
- Phil Jackson
Friday, September 19, 2014
Comments from the Internet
A no doubt tongue-in-cheek comment by Coolface at The Daily Beast:
Take your nuanced reasoning, your evenhanded treatment of the facts, your ability to find fault with someone you generally respect, and your dispassionate conclusion and get the hell out of here.
Great Moments in Advertising
From Arrested Development: The ad for Bob Loblaw.
If some people had a warning label, it would read: "Tell me your dreams so I can stomp on them."
Nicholas Bate has a point about "dream drag." We need to be cautious about sharing our dreams. The timing and audience may be wrong and it is surprising how many people want us to stay just right where we are. Those of us who celebrate the success of others can be baffled by those who mourn such successes.
But they are out there.
3 Things and More
Wally Bock tackles the topic of "three things I wish I'd learned sooner." He provides a great list.
My own would be longer and would include:
- Take more time to schmooze.
- Don't postpone confronting problem employees.
- Examine the management system more than any of its personalities.
- Consider the other person's reality.
- Don't rush to overrule your intuition.
- Talk about values.
- Expand your circle of advisors.
Public Service Announcement
This is Talk Like a Pirate Day. Alert the receptionist.
Bach Again: Crank It Up
I've posted this before and will do so again and again because it is marvelous.
The Best Tablet in the World?
FutureLawyer is gushing over the Galaxy S 10.5. A revealing excerpt:
Quite simply, this tablet blows me away. The Super AMOLED screen is the best I have ever seen. Put this puppy side by side with the iPad and you will convert on the spot. It has a fast processor, the latest version of Android KitKat, and 2,560×1,600 resolution, an 8 MP rear camera, a 2.1 MP front-facing snapper, 16GB of built-in storage, and a microSD card slot for expansion.
Writing in The Weekly Standard, Andrew Ferguson takes on bold declarations on the nature of the millennials. An excerpt:
Yes! That’s the wonderful thing about the millennial generation. They are nature’s gift to “generational analysts,” those big thinkers who are able to grasp entire national cohorts in their meaty arms, lift them up, turn them upside down, and shake them till every last cultural insight falls from their pockets. Generational analysts can make any assertion they want about the 80 million people they identify as millennials and then dare somebody to disprove it, though hardly anyone ever tries. Since the Times story on Generation Nice, I’ve thrashed my way through much of their work. In a single morning the other day I read that “millennials would dump a friend to get ahead at work,” that they have a “deep sense of entitlement,” and that they “will take credit for other people’s work”—three assertions from three articles based on three different social science studies. I learned that bad millennial behavior arises from their “selfishness” and “narcissism,” which also causes them to overestimate their own “specialness” and “uniqueness.” Generation Not Nice! At All!
When The World Closes In
Work. Count your blessings. Pray. Break tasks into small portions. Seek help. Delay the unessential. Reduce your appointments. Focus on little pleasures. Sleep. Shine your shoes. Drink more water. Take a walk. Take a bath. Ride a bicycle. Memorize a poem. Slow down. Savor the elements. Turn off the news. Watch a funny movie. Make a great cup of coffee. Visit a dog. Vacuum a room. Call a friend. Paint a picture. Write a thank you note. Get out of town. Watch the birds. Find a quiet spot. Complete a task which has been gnawing at you. Study the sky. Slowly read a great novel. Go to a park. Rein in your imagination. Sit quietly and let every muscle relax, Listen to life. Know that you mean a great deal to others. Breathe deeply. Be mindful. Help someone.