The Normalization of Violent Public Discourse

The Normalization of Violent Public Discourse

You’ve probably noticed that in recent years public discourse has become increasingly violent. I am not simply talking about the time frame since the 2016 elections. The tone of public discourse has taken turn towards the violent ever since we normalized the use of terms like “Liberal”, “Left Wing”, “Conservative” and “Right Wing.” Upon first glance it may appear that these terms are benign enough but if you are honest you will admit that these are labels that dehumanize the labeled, that is their purpose. The normalization of these terms into everyday use has become a convention when used to justify the treatment of others, those so labeled, with less than the respect they would be due if we acknowledged the humanity of the other.

Use the terms enough in the news media, television, twitter-sphere, etc. and it is a short jump to the use of more blatant name calling that has become rampant at the national level since the 2016 elections. But make no mistake, the bar was lowered well before 2016. 

Our increased insensitivity to violent and disrespectful language is what makes the recent memo from Reed Hastings, Netflix CEO, to his employees commenting on the firing of his chief communications executive for twice using the “N-word” in working situations all the more encouraging. It is imperative that leaders, in business religion and politics recognize the civic dilemma that has been created with our culture over the past many years. 

 

I cannot pinpoint where it became acceptable to publicly treat adversaries as objects of derision but when a business leader like Reed Hastings steps up and takes action that so clearly says that some values are more important that profit or winning or who is saved and who is not, it creates room for others with similar platforms to do the same. There is a lot riding on turning us into the culture we have always said we aspire to be.http://bit.ly/2J6OtJQ

Learning from Failure, A Rare Opportunity

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During my professional career as a management and performance coach I have worked with a wide variety of people at all levels in organizational life. Nurses, doctors, PhD scientists, CEO’s of multi-billion-dollar corporations, first-line supervisors, front line employees, you name it, I have worked with them all. Without question, my current arrangement, working with owners and CEO’s of privately held small to mid-size companies is my favorite and most rewarding.

There is something about being associated with people who are playing the game with their own money that is both exhilarating ad satisfying. Smaller businesses are the life blood of our economy. That’s not just a saying, that’s the truth. Every business, regardless of size was at one time a small enterprise that began as a dream in someone’s mind. 

 All businesses are not destined to become large, eventual growth depends on a lot of factors. There is, however, one factor in particular that makes as much or more difference than all others, the owner or business leader’s tolerance for failure. 

 You might think business success depends on the desire for success or some other appetite, but you’d only be partially correct. It takes a willingness to tolerate risk to even start a business, it takes even more of that same willingness to sustain a failure, recover and decide to continue to risk. I do not have a single business leader in my group who has not failed in some way and from that failure profited in a most surprising manner. They have learned that they can survive failure, gained strength and humility from the experience and continue to pursue their dream.

 Sometimes I hear a business leader spout, “Failure is not an option!” Honestly, I cannot think of anything that speaks more to ignorance about life or business in general, unless we are only taking on things where we know going in that we are going to win. Those are generally pretty small games that do not interest the best players. And certainly, there is little to learn from someone who only plays games they know they can win.

Yes, we celebrate winners in our culture and rightly so, without winning sometimes there would be not future to build on. But the business leaders I know who are honest with themselves will tell you they have had their butts kicked. Their own failures and subsequent survivals along with the learning that goes with them is what allows a smaller business leader to reaffirm their commitment to their dream and choose to continue to grow, risk, play the game and create opportunity for others to play.

 The person who begins a business and experiences failure, learns from it and continues to play also develops another muscle, being able to tolerate the failure of others. This is ultimately the key to business growth and also very likely why, so few people actually start a business because it is not just that failure is an option, it is a real and likely possibility, especially if you get other people involved. In any given pursuit where risk is involved the probability of something not happening is likely far greater than it will. If you add in more people you introduce the probability of even more failure. Since the beginning of reason, we have intuitively known this, and we get Shakespeare in the 1600’s reminding us, in is play, Macbeth, that…

“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,

To the last syllable of recorded time; …

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

 And so it goes for many people. Yet for those few willing to look into the face of failure and learn from it we have the counter message from George Bernard Shaw in 1903…

 “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

Thank goodness for the unreasonable man or woman who ventures to start a business and learn from their failures.

I’ll finish today with words, circa 2017, from someone for whom you likely already have high regard …  

“Pass on what you have learned. Strength, mastery. But weakness, folly, failure also. Yes, failure most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is. Luke, we are what we grow beyond. That is the true burden of a master.” —Master Yoda, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

 

The Future Belongs to the Curious

   
  
    
  
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I am not sure if it is unique to me or maybe a function of my 71 years, I seem to be more able at this time in my life to accept my limitations. In discussing limitations, I am not referring to height or the fact that I long ago lost all my hair, those are basic facts of life that given my heredity I was fully prepared to accept early on. My father and my father’s father were both bald by their early thirties so that was a fait accompli well before occurring in my life. My height, that was a bit of a struggle.

When I shot up to 5’8” by the time I was in eighth grade it seemed logical that I begin practicing my hook shot in the driveway every evening., certainly I would continue to grow and that would allow me to play either Forward or Center on a basketball team. Only growing one inch later by high school, I accepted the fact that I was going to be playing Guard if I wanted to continue to play competitive basketball. My comfort with my very average stature was a bit difficult but high school behind me I muddled on. Though, to be perfectly honest the fact that all three of my sons are well over six feet tall has been a bitter pill, made only more so by their limited interest in basketball. After all, what is height for if not to reach and jump higher?

These physical challenges have seemingly not limited me in any way throughout my life, my profession does not depend on either characteristic nor has my choice of life partner or hobbies been in anyway shaped by them. So, all in all it has been a pretty good life despite being bald and short. But I am finding out later in life that these issues were not the whole story.

Of late, and by this, I mean the past year I have noticed two areas in particular where I am feeling constrained, sort of “out of it” if I can say it that way. On the one hand I have been blessed with above average intelligence, that gift, for which I can take no credit has allowed me to choose my own profession and make an above average income for most of my adult life. However, there has always been a sense that I was in some way different from many of the people that I enjoy spending time with. This sense of “dis-ease” can be traced back to the advent of the internet. Honestly, I missed the implications of the creation of personal computers, but I lived with that oversight for a decade without significant pain. I did not have keyboard skills, typing, etc., but there was always someone around to do that for me if I was willing to pay for it. But then I went off to work on my own about ten years ago.

Ten years after the internet entered our lives, twenty years after personal computers, I had to come to grips with the fact that I was ill suited in many ways to participate in business effectively. Personal Computers always looked like “fun” to me, a way to entertain myself if I wanted to play a game or two, certainly not essential. Though to be honest I was prescient enough to tell all my children that learning to type was probably the most valuable skill they could pick up in high school.

Little did I know that advances in technology would eventually begin to catch up with me and by stalling the adoption of the necessary skills I was, whether realized or not, limiting my prospects for the future.

So where am I going with this meandering piece? Cutting to the chase, as they say, I am at this point realizing that I am something of a handicapped being in this world of rapidly changing requirements for economic viability. Though intelligent, I am neither ambitious nor curios. In other words, I have nothing driving me to learn. What I am recognizing is that smartness, raw intelligence, is no longer sufficient for economic viability. (Pause for reflective impact!)

To be sure, intelligence is and will always be important, however, I am beginning to believe that the other two components, ambition and curiosity are equally or possibly more important for success in the future. Leaving aside ambition for another time, I am rapidly concluding that curiosity is as important as the other factors combined.

I was struck by a single sentence I read yesterday, in an article about blockchain technology, “If people can’t understand, they cannot participate.”

Many people, if not the majority of our current workforce lack curiosity. That’s a real problem destined to cause people to fall further and further behind. Also, if this condition is unidentified there will be an increasing tendency for the uncurious to become embittered as their condition leaves them less and less likely to keep up. Is there a cure, I am not certain? Personally, I am addressing my own curiosity shortage by forcing myself to spend more time reading to learn rather than reading for entertainment, which is my habit. Is there any hope for me? I think so as I have recognized and am beginning my responsibility for becoming curios.

What can you do with you and your own workforce? Well, you are the one with the need so it’s of on you decide what to do about your own learning and that of your workforce. Here’s a couple of place to start that you may find surprising and inexpensive, but you’ll have to provide the initiative and that will be the toughest part…

Three Hundred Free Ivy League Course You Can Take On-line

Six Hundred Free On-Line Courses from 200 Colleges

Welcome to Geezer World! The Talent is Out There, Where are you Looking?

“Those who never change their mind never change anything!” Winston Churchill

 My wife turned 75 on December 22, she retired December 31. Somebody heard about her retirement and offered her a new position starting February 1. What are you gonna do, when people know you have the talent they are looking for they find a way to work you in, or so it seems.

 

Reality: According to one survey, two-thirds of baby boomers will continue to work after age 65.

Now here is a question; if you are an employer in the market for talent are you aware of this reality? Would you have considered my wife for a position in your company, never mind the position, just consider here age, and answer the question? All things considered, very likely you would have passed her by, understandably so. Yet, it may be time to reconsider not only your views on the age of potential employees but also your other conditions of employment. As Mr. Churchill says here at the outset, it may be time to change your mind.

In a recent article, ‘Our Aging Population Needs Workplace Adjustments’ Dr. Ally Day argues persuasively on behalf of our aging population that employers could be making accommodations for many of our physical and psychological limitations. I say “our” limitations because like my wife, I am in my 70’s. Dr. Ally suggests that we geezers bring some special qualities to work, in addition to needing to use the bathroom frequently! …

“There are indeed ways in which older workers contribute invaluably to the workplace—their institutional memory and long-term commitment being just two examples…”

As it happens, Dr. Ally is herself a member of the Millennial Generation and I think it is sweet that she is taking up for those of us old enough to be her grandparents but thinking of us as in some way disabled, perhaps in need of legislative support may in fact discount the type of work that many of us are best suited to, and often it isn’t physical.Yes, some accommodation is probably in order but as importantly, many of us need to be attracted, not merely accommodated.

We may hurt all over when we wake up in the morning but our minds are sharp. Challenged, yes definitely. I admit that adjusting to two new hips over the past year has been anything but a piece of cake. Nonetheless, I continue to teach at a local university and coach business owners and I still have room to make an even larger contribution, if offered the right opportunity.  

These days most mornings I am usually up between 7 and 8 unless it is the weekend and then I’ll sleep in until 9. I get up, head downstairs, feed the black cat, heat the water for coffee, uncover the parrot and scratch his head. Gotta scratch his head or he starts yelling!

Once the water gets hot I make a cup of coffee for myself and a cup of decaf for my wife, go out to the garage to bring in the other cat, (he has night terrors!) and get his breakfast, then take the decaf upstairs to my wife where she has usually started her work day on her laptop while still in bed. (We both prefer working from home.)

By about 9AM I’ve had a second cup of coffee and have begun the process of sorting through the email that has arrived by now. Usually there are about 25 new entries, most from various professional sites that I subscribe to, Inc., Fast Company, Forbes, Chief Learning Officer and others. I scan the subject lines quickly deleting the majority and saving the ones I’ll spend time with for later in the day. I handle the various notes from clients asking for meetings and sometimes I get inquiries to see if I am able to accept any new clients. With all this putzing around I still have a good four hours at least three days a week that could be used for a higher purpose.

I understand there are more and more people spending their days like I do. The statistics I found on the internet stated that beginning in 2010 we were entering a ten-year period where 70 million US workers were going to reach retirement age and only 40 million new workers are going to enter the workforce. That, for an economy that has reached full employment, is a real dilemma. Of course, that assumes that those of us who could be leaving the workforce are being replaced by people with equal talent and skills. The newer folks won’t have as much experience of course but eventually they’ll catch on, don’t ya just hope!

I still like a good professional challenge, but honestly, I am not interested in full time work or showing up anyplace from 8AM-5PM five to six days a week. I don’t have to earn what I once did but I would like to be paid a respectful amount, something that reflects the value I can bring to a workplace. Often times I wonder whether an employer might be interested in having me as part of their team. I’ve asked around but find that more often than not employers are more interested in control of my time than they are in my productivity, even though I could probably produce in three days a week what some of their new people produce in a week.

I don’t need a job, I’d just like to do some interesting work and that’s a problem for most companies, I don’t fit. I told an HR manager recently that I thought I be interested in working in some capacity for at least the next five years. She wanted to know how she would sell me to her CEO if I was only going to be around for five years. I said, “Ask your CEO, him or her, how long they are going to be around!”

Look, I know the idea of hiring a bunch of people my age has its challenges, but you know what, … so does hiring people at any age. Be honest with yourself, is your company strapped for talent these days? And I mean talent, not just filling your vacancies. If the answer is “yes” you might want to consider the non-traditional workforce all around you. While you are at it, think about attracting us as much as accommodating us.

I know I am not alone, the pool of people like me is growing daily and the opportunity is there for the companies with vision. The advantages should be obvious. The folks in my age group, call them geezers if you will, are often not looking for full time employment, most don’t need benefits, we probably don’t need to be managed, we’ll do what we say we’ll do it when it needs to be done, we have organizational savvy and skills and respect is probably more important to us than money so we’ll be less expensive in the long run. Oh, yes, and we don’t have the ego needs of the younger people either. Yes, there is the bathroom thing, but you can live with that!

Your job, as an employer, is to figure out how to utilize our talents when we don’t give a hoot about your pay grades, vacation policies or work hours. If you can deal with that, we might be able to strike a deal, and I am betting you would be the winner in the end.

 

 

 

Poor Management Brings Suffering to Your Workplace

Poor Managers Bring Suffering to Your Workplace

 

Do you manage, ever thought about being a manager…I mean as a choice of profession, not as an accident? All too often I fear that managers “wind up” or “end up” being managers without a great deal of forethought, simply because where they worked had an opening for a manager, they happened to be there at the time, had impressed someone with their sense of responsibility or technical acumen and then also they saw an opportunity to make a little more money. Actually, the “wind up” or “ended up” theory likely coincides with what the Gallup organization has to say about the organizational decision to make someone a manager. Gallup has found that one of the most important decisions companies make is simply whom they name manager. Yet Gallup’s analysis suggests that organizations usually get it wrong. In fact, Gallup finds that companies fail to choose the candidate with the right talent for the job 82% of the time. Maybe people with management potential really are that hard to find?

The importance of the numbers cited here becomes even more obvious when you consider that the local unemployment rate stands at around 4.7%. Every business owner I speak to agrees that “good people” are getting harder and harder to find and Gallup reports that 70% of the variance in employee engagement across and organization is accounted for by the quality of management alone. The #1 reason why employees leave their jobs for new ones is the quality of the working relationship with a manager. And, and, and…organizations consistently fail to see or are unwilling to invest in the development of managers when “naturals” are like hen’s teeth. By Gallup’s estimate one in ten people possess naturally the qualities that make up a good manager…

·      They motivate every single employee to take action and engage them with a compelling mission and vision.

·      They have the assertiveness to drive outcomes and the ability to overcome adversity and resistance.

·      They create a culture of clear accountability.

·      They build relationships that create trust, open dialogue, and full transparency.

·      They make decisions that are based on productivity, not politics.

Yes, these people are that hard to find…

If the Gallup organization’s number are to be trusted, and why not, and a full 82% of the time businesses select the wrong people to become managers, I think we could call that getting off to a bad start. And then we get the thoughtlessness and meanness that are generally a sign of incompetence and we are back to development again. We work, work, work to find the right people and then turn them over to the wrong people to be managed

Beyond this, as I have already mentioned, businesses, especially smaller businesses do not invest in professional development for the people they promote into management. Maybe the new manager gets sent to a safety training or two, a sexual harassment seminar might be thrown in for good measure. In larger companies, we might find a corporate “University”, that conducts three day or week-long sessions that are kind of like running your manager through a car wash to clean off the grit and grime, maybe a fresh coat of wax to boot. These are often taught by people who have never managed.

Here’s the ugly truth, there was an old commercial on television about automobile maintenance that finished with the punch line, “You can pay me now or you can pay me later, but you will pay me.” This is a pretty stark reality. This means that despite solid compensation, good benefits, nice working conditions etc., a manager that doesn’t know what he or she is doing, who has little or no emotional intelligence and isn’t getting decent ongoing coaching can undermine an organization’s best attempts to create a positive and productive working environment.

 

Having spent nearly thirty years working on this issue I can attest that we still have a long way to go.That’s one of the main reasons I wrote, ‘Thriving in the Middle: Why Managers Need to Be Coaching Each Other.’  Work can be hard and challenging, there is no need for there to be suffering as well. Managing is a sacred profession as I see it, people, men and women take on the responsibility for not only the work getting done but the employees getting developed. The least you can do as an employer or chooser of managers is do them the honor or respecting the charge they have accepted and seeing to it that they have a reliable practice to draw on when they are in need of support.