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Archive for April, 2009

Leadership's Future: National Honesty Day

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

Today is National Honesty Day. Look it up and you’ll find lot of talk about being honest today.

You’d think people could manage one honest day a year, but it’s doubtful they actually will.

These days honesty seems to be more a matter of convenience, i.e., telling the truth when it doesn’t get in the way to whatever the agenda is, or bending the truth to further whatever—and it gets more acceptable every day.

In schools, honesty is considered quaint.

And it’s a global problem, “A 2006 study of cheating among US graduates, published in the journal Academy of Management Learning & Education, found that 56% of all MBA students cheated regularly – more than in any other discipline.”

Carolyn Y. Woo, Dean of Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business says, “I believe that our current crisis is caused by a failure of values fuelled by perverse incentives, which trumped sound judgment and overwhelmed regulatory enforcements.”

At all ages and all levels it seems to boil down to ‘dishonesty pays’.

Of course, I could be out of touch and cheating has been exempted from dishonesty and moved to a category all its own, but I think I would have read about that. But even if it has there’s plenty of other dishonesty going around these days.

Back to today’s holiday.

Even if every person on the planet was totally honest today it wouldn’t solve anything.

We don’t need one day of honesty and 364 days of the other stuff, so here’s my idea.

Let’s cancel National Honesty Day and starting in 2010 celebrate National Dishonesty Day instead.

That way, we can all be honest 364 days of the year and lie, cheat and steal to our hearts content every April 30.

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Image credit: MissTurner on flickr

Book Give-Away: The Connected and Committed Leader: Lessons from Home, Results at Work

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

Do you understand what I write?

A few weeks ago I read that you should never use a thesaurus and always write using the simplest words possible. The object being that your readers never had to look up a word or think about your meaning.

I didn’t comment at the time because I was too annoyed (good rule not to comment when you’re seething; that way you don’t regret it later), then my system crashed and I lost the link.

Before the crash, out of curiosity I had checked and the post scored 7.2 on the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level indicator

That fits with what I’ve always heard about newspapers and other media writing for a seventh grade reading level.

To me, this attitude is a major contributor the dumbing down of our population. I see it daily in the glaring difference between the articles in the NY Times and the locally written articles in my own newspaper.

In writing both my blogs I use my normal vocabulary developed from years of reading—mysteries (not thrillers), F&SF, biographies, business, and a lot of other stuff along the way. My posts typically score between 10.x and 12.x, so I’m curious.

Do you find them difficult to read or understand?

Do you really prefer writing at the 7.x level? (This post is 7.9)

Please take a moment and tell me what you think.

All comments through May 15 go in the hat for a random drawing. The winner will receive a copy of The Connected and Committed Leader: Lessons from Home, Results at Work by Laura Lopez.

Image credit: karindalziel on flickr

Wordless Wednesday: Wisdom For Life

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Here’s all you need to apply it.

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Image credit: SharonaGott on flickr

Wordless Wednesday: The Most Important Thing You Do For Yourself

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Learn the secret of life

Image credit: dizznbonn on flickr

Ducks In A Row: Changing Office Attitudes

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

A few days ago Kiva left this comment on a post talking about diversity of thought as opposed to visual diversity, “My office engages in some diversity of sex and skin color, but they’re stuck at only truly valuing rank and position. Any way to get them beyond that when they don’t seem to even see others?”

I felt that the subject would be of interest to many of you and said I would respond this week in a full post.

There’s no simple one-size-fits-all answer to this because the cause depends on the circumstances and people involved.

So let’s look at four basic scenarios of what may be going on and what you can do.

Scenario 1: The most common assumption is that the TD (top dog) from whom the company/department/team’s culture flows is a jerk. This is also the cause that many people prefer, since it takes all responsibility off their shoulders, leaves them free to complain, solicit sympathy from friends or wallow in self-pity.

It’s not the most common cause, but if you’re absolutely sure of your appraisal the solution is simple—polish your resume and get out. Until you can leave do the best work you’re capable of doing, learn everything possible and cultivate senior colleagues who can serve as references in the future.

Scenario 2: The TD doesn’t realize it’s happening. Actually, it’s easier than you think for this attitude to invade a culture and grow into something that is highly demotivating for “the rest.” Discuss your perceptions with an ‘insider’ whom you trust to consider it openly and speak honestly with you.

I’ve found that a conscious effort by some of those in the ‘in-group’ to seek out and publicly laud unrecognized talent based on pure achievement can wake up an oblivious TD. Of course, high turnover of those outside the magic circle will do the same thing, but it’s a tougher road. Just don’t be upset if you’re not one of those recognized.

This brings us to the next two scenarios, both of which respond to the same corrective measures

Scenario 3: The problem is one of perception (yours) as opposed to more objective fact. This frequently happens when workers feel they are contributing at same level and quality as those being recognized.

Scenario 4: An enormous number of Millennials were raised on praise. When employees look for recognition for doing what they were hired to do adequately as opposed to doing more or doing it better they can be disappointed.

For both three and four, start with a non-partisan discussion with someone knowledgeable of the situation who will be objective can tell you if you need to rethink your own actions and/or attitudes, since

None of this is very comfortable, but the second two are actually easier to correct than the first two, since you have far more control over yourself than you do over others.

Have you faced similar situations? How did you handle them?

I hope you’ll take a moment to share your experiences with the rest of us.

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Image credit: ZedBee|Zoë Power on flickr

Barrett’s Briefing: Shaking the Globe And Meltdown

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

Among the annual flood of business and economics books, two recent ones caught my attention.

Shaking the Globe: Courageous Decision-Making in a Changing World by Blythe McGarvie (230 pages, John Wiley & Sons, 2009) addresses the fragmented, multi-polar world of global business.

In this book, targeted to execs at mid-to-large businesses, Ms. McGarvie surveys the plethora of challenges and opportunities that companies face in the new century. She details the diversity in three major areas: cultures, nations, and generations.

Simply put, companies no longer have the luxury of ignoring any of these diverse constituencies. Even if a company is not competing internationally, then it is defending its domestic market against a multi-national competitor.

Likewise for multi-generational workforces and multi-generational customer bases. For the first time ever, many companies have up to four generations in their workforces, and possibly four or even five generations in their customer bases. Illustrating this trend, a recent survey identified the fastest growing age-group of employees in the US as people in their seventies.

The book amply documents the simultaneous interconnection and fragmentation of businesses, people and markets across the globe.  It identifies various segments and constituencies in each major area, providing a good overview for readers wanting an introduction to the topic. The book concludes with three key messages:

“First, we need to understand how the world is interconnected and that all people in it are interdependent… We need to transcend our nationality.

Second, we must face the financial realities that created this need for going global.

Third, we should become aware of the six forces shaping personal courage if we are to go global. Namely, we experience different cultural norms as evident through beliefs, family, and time horizons; communicate with youth in new ways; tap into the talents of women; understand shareholder interests; capture the entrepreneurial drive for innovation; and respect individuals’ value systems.”

Most interesting are the personal vignettes which Ms. McGarvie uses to illustrate particular topics.

As a reader, I look forward to another book by the author, possibly in a case study format, in which she explores specific situations in much more depth, based on her personal experience.

Meltdown: A Free-Market Look at Why the Stock Market Collapsed, the Economy Tanked, and Government Bailouts Will Make Things Worse by Tom Woods (194 pages, 2009, Regnery Publishing, Inc.) is a timely analysis of the underlying causes of the current recession. Although the style is light, the analysis is thorough and detailed. Mr. Woods explores and debunks a number of myths about the current recession.

“In both cases [the Great Depression and the current recession] an inflationary credit boom brought about by the Fed’s lowering of interest rates led to massive resource misallocation and a distorted capital structure. The Fed tried in vain to inflate each of these booms back into existence, and grew frustrated with banks that refused to lend out the new money it was pumping into the banking system. In both cases the federal government sought to prop up prices… rather than allowing them to fall to a level that made sense [in the market].”

Comparing this recession to the Great Depression and many other recessions in the 1800’s, the book identifies the common culprit in the boom/bust business cycles – government manipulation of the currency. Although this conclusion is no great surprise, the compelling analysis makes for good reading. He defends free markets, pointing out that the money supply is not a free market, but a government-controlled monopoly.

Mr. Woods makes a damning case against the Federal Reserve, condemning it for hidden dealings, a bias toward inflation, and backroom collusion with banks. His analysis demonstrates that government action not only causes the booms and busts, but that same government action significantly delays and cripples the eventual recovery.

As if on cue, in December the Fed strong-armed Bank of America to complete its acquisition of Merrill Lynch even when that purchase significantly weakened the bank and increased the risk to the economy. Of course these machinations occurred in secret, with no disclosure and no transparency for investors, customers, and employees of either company.

In his conclusion, Mr. Woods calls for the abolition of the Fed, proving that he is an incurable optimist. Failing that, Mr. Woods predicts significant inflation ahead, due to government debasement of the currency. Government tampering with money is not just a recent phenomenon, as the author illustrates with examples as early as the tenth century, of governments (then kings) cheating their subjects by debasing the currency.

Even in the age of the internet and electronic commerce, some things have not changed.

Image credit: Amazon

A Four-Part Motivation Mantra For Success

Monday, April 27th, 2009

As a boss (whether CEO, team leader or any level in-between) you need to accomplish many things within your organization (whether company or team) to be successful, especially in the current economic situation.

Near the top of the list is the need to

  • motivate your people (without breaking the bank);
  • strengthen and diversify your workforce (often without adding headcount); and
  • innovate (products and processes; internally and externally; large and small)

Big order, but here’s how to make it happen.

Start by looking inwards to be sure your MAP supports the program.

Next, keep this mantra playing in your head

  • Read it.
  • Hear it.
  • Do it.
  • Teach it.

Then implement it by

  • building a useful library, both hard copy (used books are very inexpensive) and online, that includes classic and current information and runs the gamut from traditional to controversial to off-the-wall. Encourage your people to read up on subjects that interest them, whether or not it directly applies to their expertise;
  • choosing “topics of the month” based on both need and interest, then encourage free-wheeling discussions on a regular basis;
  • modify assignments as much as possible, so people can start to use, and become proficient in, the new skills about which they are reading, learning and talking; and
  • supporting brown-bag classes (buy lunch if possible) in which they may teach both their new and original skills to others. Add cross-working assignments to ensure cross-training.

Remember, it’s a long-term fix, because there are no short-term fixes and the only thing you have that’s even close to a silver bullet is your MAP!

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Image credit: Felipe Venâncio on flickr

Vacations Redux

Monday, April 27th, 2009

We’re coming up on that time of the year and considering the economic climate I thought this post from 2006 especially apropos.

Do you work hard? Did you, or will you, take a vacation this year? A real live vacation during which you actually disconnected from your office/business/work?

If your answer is no, you have a lot of company. The attitude/action even has a name, it’s called “shrinking-vacation syndrome” and it’s prevalent.

Smart bosses know that people need to get away, not just to recharge their batteries and creativity, but to reduce stress and rebuild coping skills. Taking the office along defeats the purpose—especially in these days of ‘staycations’.

Smart people know that cramming everything possible into the available time (especially when kids are involved) leaves them more frazzled than they were at the start.

But if you’re not PricewaterhouseCoopers, which has taken to shutting down its entire national operation twice a year to ensure that people stop working, what can you do?

Several things…

If your company offers paid vacations insist that your employees use them. Not by taking them away when not used, but by including “staff taking vacations” as a line item in every manager’s review.

If you’re a small biz that can’t offer paid vacations consider allowing your employees to trade paid holidays for different days they want, e.g., working July Fourth and Thanksgiving in trade for a Friday and the following Monday off.

Small biz owners should also consider closing one Friday with pay at least once, preferably twice, a year, e.g., the Friday after Thanksgiving (or a similar day). Consider it an investment as the ROI in increased productivity and retention will surprise you.

If you’re one of the many managers, found at all levels and in all sizes of companies, who don’t believe in vacations and intimidate your people so they don’t take one, or insist that they “deal with stuff” while gone, I sincerely hope you have few personal expectations and excellent hiring skills, since you can look forward to low productivity, high turnover, and poor reviews no matter where you work!

Image credit: sjtoh on sxc.hu and s’nimm on flickr

mY generation: Surprise?

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

See all mY generation posts here.

Be sure to stop by Leadership Turn to see Miki’s birthday rhyme.

Quotable Quotes: It's My Birthday!

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

Happy birthday to me; happy birthday to me, etc. etc. etc.

I thought I’d write a rhyme in honor of the anniversary of my birth and share it with you. Not a poem, I can’t write poetry, but I do write rhymes (some better than others:) So without more ado…

It’s my birthday and I’m not shy
shouting the news to the birds in the sky.
That’s the way I approach my life
because increasing years should not add strife!

I wouldn’t go back as an awkward teen,
with raging hormones and pimples seen;
back then I believed I could take wing
because I knew most everything.

I entered my twenties with more of the same,
but as time went by I started to tame
lots of the actions that created a stink;
I listened and learned and started to think!

Over the decades I made sure I kept growing
and the people I met kept new ideas flowing.

These days I coach and I write—a living I’m earning—
but nothing has changed I’m still talking and learning.
My picture is old and won’t be changed soon
and no matter what I’ll never carry a tune.

But life goes on and that’s a cert
even though today I am older than dirt.

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Image credit: runrunrun on flickr

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