Enlightened Conflict

questionable civil discourse, calm the rhetoric … and leading

June 14th, 2017

obama sad thoughtful tough

 

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“We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us. I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.”

 

—-

Barack Obama on January 12th 2011

 

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On a day which we are faced with someone who decided to take a gun and shoot words rememberpoliticians … and appear to target politicians … I am reminded of several things.

 

The first thing is the rhetoric.

The rhetoric of the citizenry but mostly the rhetoric of our elected leaders. I say that because words have repercussions.

 

Yes.

 

I do believe in personal responsibility and choices are made by individuals.

 

But I also believe leaders lead with words <because most of us cannot view their actions>.

 

And if our elected leaders treat their words as if we will not remember them forever.

 

And if our elected leaders treat each other as if they are truly enemies <and even use that word on occasion>.

 

And if our elected leaders treat each other as if the opposite’s behavior is unfathomable behavior for sane, moral people.

 

And if our elected officials treat each other with verbal hyperbole as the standard rhetoric discourse … and the highest of the elected leaders, the president, tosses out the word ‘unity’ on occasion but 99% of the time does nothing verbally or behavior wise to unite … well … the electors will be tempted to do as leaders do.

 

We need to calm our rhetoric. We need to remind ourselves what we teach our children … that you don’t always get what you want and that most progress sis made in mutual effort.

 

We all need to be speaking more calmly and acting more civilly but we should be demanding our elected leaders do so. I get angry with how they act and what they say because it suggests to people that is behavior we should all embrace — and it is not.  Stop, and stop it now.

 

speechless

 

The second thing I am reminded of is one of the best speeches President Obama ever made.

 

To share my thoughts I will borrow <steal> liberally from a NY Times article written by Helene Cooper and Jeff Zelenyjan. The article was Obama Calls for a New Era of Civility in U.S. Politics and it shares the speech Obama gave on January 12th 2011 in Tucson after the shooting of a US Congresswoman and the deaths of 6 other people.

 

Apparently Obama wrote much of the speech himself the day before.

 

I suggest everyone read the speech but today I will share highlights because it is a nice reminder on a day on which we need some reminders.

 

 

President Obama offered the nation’s condolences on Wednesday to the victims of the shootings here, calling on Americans to draw a lesson from the lives of the fallen and the actions of the heroes, and to usher in a new era of civility in their honor.

 

The president directly confronted the political debate that erupted after the rampage, urging people of all beliefs not to use the tragedy to turn on one another. He did not cast blame on Republicans or Democrats, but asked people to “sharpen our instincts for empathy.”

 

It was one of the more powerful addresses that Mr. Obama has delivered as president, harnessing the emotion generated by the shock and loss from Saturday’s shootings to urge Americans “to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully” and to “remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together.”

 

“At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized, at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do,” he said, “it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.”

 

The president led an overflow crowd at the evening service at the University of Arizona in eulogizing the six people who died on Saturday and asking for prayers for the wounded, including Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who the authorities said was the target of an assassination attempt.

 

He warned against “simple explanations” and spoke of the unknowability of the thoughts that “lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man’s mind.”

He suggested that the events should force individuals to look inward, but also that they should prompt a collective response against reflexive ideological and social conflict.

 

While the tone and content were distinctly nonpolitical, there were clear political ramifications to the speech, giving Mr. Obama a chance, for an evening at least, to try to occupy a space outside of partisanship or agenda.

 

“If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost,” Mr. Obama said. “Let’s make sure it’s not on the usual plane of politics and point scoring and pettiness that drifts away with the next news cycle.”

 

suicide losing care“If, as has been discussed in recent days, their deaths help usher in more civility in our public discourse,” Mr. Obama said, let us remember that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy — it did not — but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation, in a way that would make them proud.”

 

In the end.

No, I do not believe we will learn anything from today’s event <or the other shooting events that cost people’s lives today> but maybe, just maybe, we can start talking to each other like we don’t want to shoot the other person if given an opportunity. That is a good start.

organizational exhaustion

May 12th, 2017

exhausted organization puppy tie

 

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“I prefer physical exhaustion over mental fatigue any day.”

—-

Clotilde Hesme

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“There is a construct in computer programming called ‘the infinite loop’ which enables a computer to do what no other physical machine can do – to operate in perpetuity without tiring.

 

In the same way it doesn’t know exhaustion, it doesn’t know when it’s wrong and it can keep doing the wrong thing over and over without tiring.”

 

—–

John Maeda

 

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So.

 

ideas within organizationLeading an organization is not like running a race … well … at least it is not like running a sprint.

 

Okay.

I am being stupid.

 

It’s not like running a race.

Nothing like it.

 

It is more like managing the health of a body in which you do want some exercise and you do want some healthy eating and you do want to insure proper amount of sleep.

Suggesting you want to run a business like you are in some marathon is silly and misguided.

 

It is just as misguided to think about an organization like a machine with gears and moving parts and keeping it well-oiled and full of gas and shit like that.

 

I say all of that to talk about organizational exhaustion.

 

If you stay away from silly metaphors about what an organization is, or is not, simplistically you are trying to insure your organization is putting forth a proper amount of effort against the efforts you want it, and need it, to be working against. This is a daily, weekly, monthly and annual leadership objective.

 

Different leaders have different styles working against this objective but, simplistically, that is the objective.

 

Now.

HOW you meet this objective typically takes some experience.

What do I mean?

 

I assume most leaders do not inherently know exactly how to do this … pacing an organization takes some experience and some practice, some mistakes and some successes and then you zero in on how to do it well <or just keep getting better at it>.

 

Using me as an example … I liked a hard charging group when I got to a eat sleep work organizational exhaustionteam/group management level. And I, personally, would be ecstatic if I didn’t have to sleep and I could go 24/7.

And, in the beginning, that was my vision for my groups.

 

By the way … in general … good intentions … bad idea.

 

But what that meant was that I probably learned this lesson, pacing and applying effort appropriately, too slowly <and I most likely will have a bunch of past team members chuckling painfully in agreement>. Going hard charging all the time is not sustainable — you juts have a constantly exhausted group.

Effective hard charging doesn’t mean 24/7 it means picking your moments and going hard.

 

That said… in desiring to have hard charging organizations there were certainly some lessons anyone would learn to limit needless organizational exhaustion.

Here are a couple I learned along the way:

 

  • I had to be consistent.

 

It doesn’t get discussed often enough but expectations go both ways. As a leader setting clear expectations is certainly expected <and I will mention that in my second learning> but it really helps an organization if you establish clearly what people can expect of you – behaviorally and attitudinally.

 

Words surely matter.

Setting expectations surely matter.

Actions surely matter.

But consistency matters above all. No leader is perfect and no leader will make the perfect decisions, let alone good decisions, all the time. Therefore it becomes incredibly important to just be consistent. Your organization, and specifically people, will become better accustomed to where you will be really really good and where you may be slightly off <and they will naturally accommodate both>.

 

In other words … your consistency actually offers your employees some direction for what they should do. Your best people will assess situations and know where you are consistently most likely right on, know the things you consistently overlook and know where you consistently leave some spaces for them to ‘do their thing.’

 

  • Keep some strong threads of consistency.

 

Threads of consistency permit an organization to not have to think about some things.

There were some really simple tactical things that I could control.

 

  • What do you mean <clarity in articulation>
  • Where are we going <set a visible North Star>
  • What do you want me to do <pragmatic expectations>

 

organize fish

If you could keep these three things solid and not have people milling about talking amongst themselves on these three questions you were staying ahead of the game.

 

It permits your organization to progress and not be stagnant. It permits your organization  to not invest unnecessary energy against those things and apply energy against doing shit.

 

 

Of course, a leader doesn’t have to do these things.

 

Of course, a leader doesn’t do these things at their own peril.

The peril? Exhaustion. frustration. Waste energy.

 

Not doing these things has an expense to an organization and mostly that is defined by two things – time & energy. I would point out that both of those things are not infinite resources to an organization. I point t out because if they are finite than you better have them available to you when you actually need them.

And that is why I chose to not use an organization as a race metaphor at the beginning but rather an organization as a body metaphor.

 

Look.

 

As a leader of larger organization you can hide your misjudgments or poor decisions in a variety of creative ways … mostly by shifting resources from one group to another or have another department assume some different responsibilities or by shifting some people into the work gaps or to buttress the best people who are flagging with some support.

 

But that is also not sustainable.

 

organizational exhaustion battery

The organization gets exhausted doing all that maneuvering … in addition … they get exhausted by you doing that.

 

I will admit that I got better at this as I moved up in responsibility. And, I will admit, I partially got better at it simply because I had more moving parts, departments and groups to manage. That is because I loved working 24/7 and I thrived with the energy of solving problems and … well … just energy. In a larger organization there is always something going on, some project or problem or initiative somewhere within an organization that needs attention or needs a little ‘push.’ This naturally permitted me to let one part of the organization ‘rest’ while another part of the organization ‘ran.’

 

Oh.

Think about that a second or two if you will.

 

What I just suggested is that an organization as a well-rounded circle or the classical myth of a ‘well rounded person’ is … well … simply a myth. In fact … the idea of it creates a false narrative in our heads.  As an organization learns and thinks and gains experience it does not expand smoothly but, rather, raggedly. Day after day, despite the fact it may feel like business is a grind or it may even feel too fast <or too slow>  an organization is constantly running toward some thought and experience … or … leaping from danger or something  disagreeable or some problem or some success and … well … suffice it to say it is anything but balanced.

And it is certainly not creating any smooth well rounded growth.

 

My main point?

 

exhausted all possibilities tried everythingThere is no such thing as a well-rounded person and there is no such thing as a well rounded organization. A leader may certainly aspire to create a well-rounded organization but, even at your best, the organization at any given point in time is some shape other than a circle.

The good news is that this means organizations also naturally get excited to explore the edged forays into interesting things and, in parallel, get snagged on the ragged edges of unexplored thoughts or even second guesses with regard to the lack of smoothness in what is happening in departments, groups and efforts … as well as thoughts and growth.

 

Yes.

I will point out that this is why an organization can feel slightly uncomfortable on occasion as employees, departments and groups wrestle with this discomfort, as well as dealing with the ragged edges constantly poking at everyone, but I will also point out that is why the things I mentioned earlier become even more important –the consistency, the clarity and the lack of chaos.

I will also point out that his kind of ‘uncomfortable’ is okay. Ito a leader it is actually a sign that things are going okay and the organization is not stagnant <and good leaders know how to point out good non-stagnancy to calm uncomfortable>.

 

All that said.

 

I can unequivocally state that no organization is successful when needlessly exhausted. They can be tired at the end of the day but exhaustion is a symptom not of ‘a good day’s work’ but rather unnecessary mental stress trying to get things going, understand what to do and what to say and kibitzing over why it is so hard to get what seems like normal shit done.

 

When an organization is running well … whether the 350 million, 350 or the 35 organizational exhaustion balancing workrecognize it … there are many days when the 1, the leader, leaves the office exhausted.

And the one is exhausted despite the fact that 349,999,900 people, 341 people or 34 people went to sleep that day feeling pretty good about their day and their needs & wants & hopes took one step forward that day … and they are a good tired … not needlessly exhausted.

 

Oh.

Despite the fact the one went to bed exhausted that one will arise the next day fresh because the organization is ready to go again the next day … and not organizationally exhausted.

 

I will end by pointing out that an exhausted group, an exhausted department or an exhausted organization is the sign of poor leadership. And, most importantly, it is a precursor to signs of inefficiencies and declines in measured productivity.

 

what the American presidential campaigns remind us about business leadership

February 9th, 2016

leading young direction

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“The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels.

 

For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.”

 

 

H. L. Mencken

 

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Ok.

 
Presidential elections most often remind me about one thing with regard to business – amateurs.

 

 

Amateurs are the kiss of death, more often than not, in business. From the outside in … many people <amateurs> mistakenly believe they can do, sometimes as well as, what another person is doing. Therefore “outsiders” end up making their play to be involved with some misguided thinking, perilous rhetoric any intelligent fooland, ultimately, some glaring leadership gaps they gloss over with generalities.

 

Amateurs are the scoundrels of business.

 

This never becomes more obvious as when leadership of a business is at play.

 

 

Mostly because an amateur can only play the game while a professional understands it isn’t a game. It isn’t superficial theoretical programs and soundbites but rather a complex, nuanced, intertwined actions of push, pull, adapting & consistency.

 

 

Suffice it to say Amateurs create acid indigestion.

 

 

And while the presidential election reminds me of this <senators & representatives & no political governmental leadership experience> I could also throw into this group a lot of young people with minimal business experience, 1st <and sometimes 2nd> time start up entrepreneurs, 50% of consultants <who deal in theoretical mumbo jumbo> and untrained marketing & advertising people.

 

 

They are amateurs who, at their worst, believe they are as good as the best of the professionals in the industry, or responsibility level, they want to compete with despite having no real training or practical experience.

 

 

Let me tell you four business aspects in which amateurs are not only a huge pain in the ass but create acid indigestion:

 

 

– rhetoric

 

– rules of engagement

 

– leadership

 

 

– results focus

 

 

Here you go.

 

 

– rhetoric.

 

lies we tell unraveling

I was tempted to call this pandering but that is just one aspect.

 

 

All leaders recognize that what they say matters. They also recognize that there are certain “phrases that pay.”

 

You say something and an uninterested audience all of a sudden locks in. but almost all good leaders understand that while vision is what permits people to be inspired and think big thoughts they also understand that pragmatism maintains belief in the vision. It is always a balancing act of which the leader has to inspire enough tangible near term activity in order to maintain the future vision appeal.

 

 

Amateurs inherently get the balance wrong. And while I personally feel the burning in my stomach when I hear the obviously misguided rhetoric the real acid indigestion occurs when some amateur actually gets into the business. the business either gets ground down on uninspired ‘results based actions’ initiatives or flounders behind some grandiose vision which becomes obviously a futuristic ideal – seemingly out of reach for many people/employees who don’t want to think beyond a couple of years because they are already planning their own personal next steps.

 

 

Idealistic rhetoric is the scoundrel’s tool. The amateur’s tool. It feels and often even sounds great. It does so because it most likely taps into the hearts of the audience but inevitably leads the employees on a fool’s errand … and no one likes feeling like a fool.

 

 

The amateur’s rhetoric most often simplistically taps into some emotion – fear, anger, frustration, disappointment

 

The professional’s rhetoric first and foremost taps into behavior … and THEN provides affirmation it is attitudinally and emotionally the right thing to do <but the best can leave that unsaid and let people arrive at that conclusion all on their own>.

 

 

That is why I often like governors in a presidential race <or a cabinet member>.

 

There is a pragmatic aspect of their experience that tempers their rhetoric in reality. Amateurs can only conceptually dip into the pragmatism which often means they float on the superficial surface of reality. Professionals realize you cannot float … you have to swim.

 

 

– Rules of engagement.

 

 

This can actually come to life in mainly one of two ways.

 

The first one is because they have no, or little, experience they define how a business should do business. This is more often than not theoretical management put in practice <because they do not have the practical experience>. Think of the “this seems like common sense” type leadership style.

 

It’s kind of like the amateur suggests you have been doing it all wrong and now here is the right way <and it is common sense from the outside looking in>.

 

 

Well.

 

They are wrong.

 

 

Simplistically there are ideas and then there is infrastructure <or the institution in which the idea is implemented>. No idea is worth a shit if the infrastructure cannot accommodate the idea.

 

That is the practical truth of any business.

 

An infrastructure, whether you like it or not, can dictate an idea. And that is where an amateur absolutely can kill you. They do not understand how difficult it is to change infrastructure. It is rarely as easy as they make it sound or wish it could be.

 

 

I can’t eliminate a department tomorrow.

 

I can’t change my whole distribution system next week.

 

I can’t … well … suffice it to say an amateur always neglects to consider time it takes to do shit. And even worse … they neglect to consider the effect that time to change shit has on employees and perceptions and attitudes.

 

 

The second one is because they have no, or little, experience they define how a business should do business by competitors’ rules of engagement. In other words … if they behead their customers than, by golly, we can too.

 

This may be the most dangerous amateur.

 

To them moral and ethical behavior is dictated by what the other guys are doing.

 

 

This simply becomes a race to the bottom. This amateur simplistically suggests that to effectively compete you need to play by the rules established by the competition.

 

 

This is scoundrel logic.

 

 

 

 

– Leadership and leading

thin line professional

 

 

In general, freedom to lead is an under discussed topic.

 

This isn’t about getting elected … this is about having the freedom to implement what you want done in your business.

 

Yup.

 

You have to have freedom.

 

Having been a leader of an organization I can clearly state that acquiring a title does not guarantee a freedom to lead.

 

Amateurs don’t see it that way. An amateur sees a title as an entitlement to … well … everything … but mostly leadership.

 

 

And this title entitlement undercuts what research suggests is the most important leader attribute – character.

 

A social scientist, James Q. Wilson, stressed the central importance of character and virtue in a culture. When he wrote about character and virtue, he focused on the basics—decency, cooperation and that action always have long-term consequences. Wilson once wrote that, “It is as if it were a mark of sophistication for us to shun the language of morality in discussing the problems of mankind.”

 

 

Simplistically he suggested that virtue for people becomes a habit when they practice good manners, are dependable, punctual and responsible every day.

 

In The Moral Sense he wrote, “Order exists because a system of beliefs and sentiments held by members of a society sets limits to what those members can do.”

 

 

 

Amateurs completely underestimate the concept of freedom to lead.

 

 

 

– results <and money>.

 

While amateurs can absolutely veer into the intangible ‘feel good’ aspects of a business, more often than not in today’s business world they dive into the results, money & short term milestones pond headfirst.

 

 

Amateurs are more likely to not recognize results, and money, is a double edged motivation sword. It can motivate ambition & focus but it can also motivate ‘cutting corners’ to get to what you want.

 

Amateurs have a tendency to either unhealthily focus on sheer results <winning is all that matters> or conversely focus solely on money <ROI>.

 

 

Amateurs not only ignore the phenomenon of “putting profits before people” but actually suggest simplistically that “if we gain profits everything else will be taken care of.”

 

Amateurs take on the most simplistic view of capitalism and job growth and economy.

 

Capitalism is good and therefore if we simply encourage entrepreneurship and enable businesses to prosper everyone will benefit.

 

 

Even the penultimate capitalism professional Adam Smith understood the link between markets and morality. Contrary to his common portrayal, he did not believe that a successful economy could arise from the raw, unbridled pursuit of self-interest. He maintained that self-interest could fuel a successful economy only if it were narrowed by the constraints of traditional morality.

 

Amateurs ignore that.

 

 

Lastly.

enlightened conflict sand less

 

Amateurs are more difficult to debate than you would think. Their simplistic views with regard to what should be done or how to think about things maintains an aura of simplistic common sense which seemingly deflect professional smarts by suggesting they are complicating things.

 

 

Yes.

 

Professionals can overthink. There is no doubt about that. The main danger of that are missed opportunities … but not complete failure.

 

And it can be managed.

 

 

Amateurs consistently under think. And that is difficult to manage because the core knowledge doesn’t exist. To ‘manage up’ actually increases the odds of indecision, or worse, bad decision.

 

 

Amateurs absolutely can play a role in new ideation and fresh thinking … just not in the most important leadership roles. Basically … amateurs are unenlightened business people. We do not want to have them become enlightened on the job.

 

Enlightened Conflict