Patti Davis: The Virtue of Silence

“Years ago, someone asked me what I would say to my younger self if I could. Without hesitating I answered: ‘That’s easy. I’d have said, ‘Be quiet.’ Not forever. But until I could stand back and look at things through a wider lens.”

This comment is from Patti Davis, daughter of the late President Ronald Reagan, in an op-ed for the New York Times reflecting on the decision of Britain’s Prince Harry to publish his memoir. Davis had done the same years earlier. Her tome addressed her dysfunctional relationship with her mother, Nancy, and her father.

Davis used the book to explain herself and, by doing so, to get more understanding from those around her. A worthy ambition, undoubtedly, but perhaps too revelatory at the time. Davis writes, “Not every truth has to be told to the entire world, even about famous families.” She adds, “But not everything needs to be shared, a truth that silence can teach.”

Nature of Truth

Reflection leads to introspection and, in turn, a thought about the nature of truth. “There isn’t just one truth, our truth — the other people who inhabit our story have their truths as well,” says Davis.

Our self-awareness evolves over time; we see our shortcomings. For example, what adult does not regret saying something to their parents in the heat of the moment? Yet, years later, with the benefit of hindsight, we recognize not that we were untruthful or hurtful but that we were ignorant of another person’s perspective. 

Value and virtue

There is grace in silence. “When I am liberated by silence, when I am no longer involved in the measurement of life, but in the living of it, I can discover a form of prayer in which there is effectively no distraction. My whole life becomes a prayer. My whole silence is full of prayer. The world of silence in which I am immersed contributes to my prayer.” Those are the words of the Trappist monk Thomas Merton

Our self-righteous perceptions of truth can get the better of us if we are not careful. Harry Truman used to write angry letters, then place them into a drawer and never send them. Abraham Lincoln did the same. One executive I know advises others irritated with a colleague or a situation to vent their feelings in a draft email. Then, set the draft aside to revise later when passions cool or delete it entirely. 

In our world of “gotcha comments” – that permeate our social discourse – how refreshing it is to stand back and disengage. Some call this digital detoxification. Whatever you call it, silence, like patience, gives us a measure of self-discipline. We cannot control events, only how we react to them.

One caveat. There should not be silence about the abuse. So often, those who reveal it unburden themselves from the unjustified shame they have been harboring. Silence must not be used as a tool of suppression; it must be offered willingly to see ourselves with greater clarity.

So yes, silence can work for us if we open ourselves to the experience. “Silence gives you room, it gives you distance,” writes Ms. Davis, “and it lets you look at your experiences more completely, without the temptation to even the score.” That is good advice for all.

First posted on Forbes.com on 1.08.2023

What You See May Not Be What You Get

Directing a film is like managing a small team. As such, it demands more than organizational skills; it requires reading people. Take it from Steven Spielberg, one of the giants of modern cinema.

“What looks subtle to the eye when I’m standing next to the camera and watching actors engaging in scene study as the cameras are turning, and what you see as the – with your eye, and you think it’s subtle, and you think it’s perfect, when you see it back on film, everything is louder and bigger than life on the screen,” said Steven Spielberg in an interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air

“I learned from a very early age directing television… and I made a lot of mistakes by just trusting my evaluation of performance on a set and then realizing that, oh my goodness, I let my actors all go too far. How come it’s louder on the screen when it seemed perfectly natural on the day?” Spielberg confessed that it took him “years to figure out how to modulate performances so the actors would be at a level that I was seeking.”

What to observe

The lesson to take from Spielberg is two-fold, keep a close watch on the action, but don’t trust your own eyes. You have to be willing to do your own after-action review to see if what you thought was going well was going well. Here are some suggestions that may help.

Prepare. Getting a project off the ground is like a film. First, you marshal the resources and gather the team.

Engage. Let the team do its work after you set the parameters. Then, allow them to improvise as a means of achieving better results.

Evaluate. Initial results can be encouraging, but they can be misleading. Have the guts to see that what you see first will complete the mission.

Revise. Keep an open mind so that you can work with your team to improve processes and outcomes as you go along.

Gain perspective

There is something else necessary: experience. Spielberg cut his teeth beginning at age 22, directing episodic television. He had the experience of working with first-rate actors as a young man. A lesson he learned was as talented as they were, he was the director. It was his job to put the pieces together. In short, even though he was the kid, he was the boss.

Leading a team is much the same process. You respect the talents of your people by providing them with the resources necessary to do their jobs well. And you let them do it. But you need to follow the action to make sure they are adhering to schedule and budget and giving them the freedom to do their best work. In short, it’s a balancing act. It is not something you learn from a book; you gain by studying leaders around you and then making your own choices.

“Your film is like your children,” says the German director Werner Herzog. “You might want a child with certain qualities, but you are never going to get the exact specification right. The film has a privilege to live its own life and develop its own character. To suppress this is dangerous. It is an approach that works the other way, too: sometimes the footage has amazing qualities that you did not expect.” 

The same sentiment can be applied to leadership. Those you lead can amaze you.

First posted on Smartbrief.com 12/18/2022

What’s Behind Every Successful Leader? The Team. The Team. The Team.

“All leadership writing depends on the dubious premise that an entity was successful because a person was in charge, rather than while they were in charge. The ‘halo effect’ is the name given to the tendency for a positive impression in one area to lead to a positive impression in another.”

That observation is from a recent column by Bartleby in The Economist about what lessons we can learn from the manager of the team that wins this year’s World Cup. Bartleby notes the standard concepts – “team spirit, data, purpose, and stars” – contribute to the goal of winning the golden trophy. As Bartleby notes, only one manager, Vittorio Pozzo of Italy, has ever won back-to-back Cup titles. So what role does the manager play?

Success?

Whether they are called managers or coaches depending upon their sport, those who succeed are leaders first and foremost. Yes, they manage the details, but more importantly, they get players to believe in themselves. Such cohesion is essential in international competitions where players come from different pro teams. What we can learn from winning managers in sports – as well as in for-profit and nonprofit enterprises – is that confidence matters.

Good leaders get the players to believe in themselves as individuals and teammates. When that occurs, people pull together – not because the boss says so, but because they want to. It may be hard to keep them from work. What unites them is team purpose, a belief in the mission, and confidence in their ability to perform as a unit.

Pulling together

The benefits of such cohesion are not simply results but positive behavior change. Work is hard and can be dreary, but when employees are engaged (to use an old buzzword), they want to come to work. Why? Because they want to participate with their colleagues in something greater than themselves.

Mistakes will occur, but when people pull together as a unit, there is a collective disposition that addresses problems not in a “gotcha” manner but in a “teach me” manner. 

As Patrick Lencioni writes in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, “Great teams do not hold back with one another. They are unafraid to air their dirty laundry. They admit their mistakes, their weaknesses, and their concerns without fear of reprisal.” Such a sentiment is the core concept of psychological safety, an idea pioneered by Amy Edmondson that dictates that people can contribute when they feel valued.

Yes, the leader matters, of course, but as Bartley argues – and common sense dictates – it is the team’s performance that matters more. This approach may be why well-liked managers do not always succeed. What matters more is respect. That emotion comes from the feeling that what we do matters and that we can achieve our intended results as individuals and as a team. 

Leaders enkindle a spirit within their followers that pushes them to want to achieve, not simply for themselves but for the team’s good. When that occurs, the organization achieves its mission. 

Note: The phrase, “the team, the team, the team,” was a favorite of Bo Schembechler who coached Michigan football from 1969 to 1989.

First posted on SmartBrief.com 12.13.2022

Trevor Noah Says Farewell with Humor (and Grace)

Usually when an entertainer leaves a live show for which he has been host, there are the usual thank you’s to staff and crew, a sprinkling of hosannas to special guests, and plenty of humor. Trevor Noah’s leave-taking of the Daily Show, his television home for the past seven years, was all of that, and more.

At the top of the finale, Noah opened with characteristic humor. “When I started the show, “I had three clear goals: ‘I’m going to make sure Hilary gets elected, I’m going to make sure I prevent a global pandemic from starting and I’m going to become best friends with Kanye West.’ I think it’s time to move on.”

In many ways you can look at Noah’s tenure as a love letter to America. Noah, after all, is from South Africa. He is biracial, son of a Xhosa mother and Swiss father. His memoir, Born a Crime, tells that story in ways that show from whence his comedy as well as his deep understanding of the human condition stems. In fact, it is the latter that gives such measure to the former. 

Lessons learned

In his final monologue from his desk, Noah said he learned three lessons doing the show. Lesson one, “issues are real, but politics are just an invented way to solve those issues … It’s not a binary. There are not just two ways to solve any problem.”

Noah opined that “politics is transformed into a giant game of football. And like football it turns everybody’s brains into mush.” Better, he advises to think of the issues facing individuals and the country through a human lens rather than a partisan lens. 

Lesson two, “never forget how much context matters… We have a lot of information but we don’t have the context to process that information.”Noah noted that we respond to news we see through our own biases. The wider context of what we are seeing and hearing is lost.

People are “a lot friendlier than they would have you believe.” Social media may tempt us to think of the polarity between people. But for Noah, his travels throughout the country enabled him to see the better side of people, even those who may disagree with him politically.

Lesson three, said Noah, was that doing the show “taught me to be grateful foreverything that I have, that I don’t even realize I have… Grateful to the wonderful people who helped me make every single episode.”

Special mention

One group who taught Noah received special mention. “I’ve often been credited with having these grand ideas. Who do you think teaches me, who do you think has shaped me, nourished me, informed me? From my mom, my gran, my aunts, all these black women in my life but then in America as well. I always tell people if you truly want to learn about America, talk to Black women. Because unlike everybody else Black women can’t afford to f—- around and find out. Black people understand how hard it is when things go bad.”

Context matters and so does heart. Trevor Noah is only 38 and he will be entertaining and yes educating us for decades more to come. His departure from the Daily Show was less a goodbye than a closing of one chapter and the opening of another. All done with style and grace.

First posted on Forbes.com 12.12.2022

The Detroit Lions: Playing Hard, Winning, and Maybe

One second on the clock.

The New York Jets tumbled into formation for a 58-yard field goal attempt. A long shot for sure, but fans of the team on the other side of the ball, the Detroit Lions, were conditioned for the worst.

After all, the Lions had lost games at least three times on late 55-yard-plus field goals. And so often in their history, the Lions had lost games in the final minute, snatching defeat from the jaws of certain victory.

The kick was up and SHORT.

The Lions win. And now boast an even 7-7 record. 

Ordinarily a .500 record is nothing to brag about, but you take what you get when you are the Lions. The team began the season with high hopes, even appearing on the HBO Series Hard Knocks. Then in true Lions fashion, they stumbled out of the gate. Badly. Going 1-6 in their first seven games. 

Same old Lions, as fans are wont to say, because they have lived it. For 65 years. The team has won a single playoff game since 1957. They even went 0-16, the same year they started a quarterback with a broken arm. Really. (Of course, it wasn’t his throwing arm, but still.)

What the Lions teach

The Lions are a lesson for any team, department, or organization that becomes accustomed to underperforming. So how do you right the ship? Well, you get the right people on board and let them go.

The Lions have a coach, Dan Campbell, who has gotten his team — many of them rookies or second and third-year players — to believe in themselves. Getting the team to believe in itself, mainly when its history is one of defeat and defeatism, takes work. Campbell has been a target of fan vitriol for bone-headed calls and more, but one thing since he was hired, his team has not quit on him. They play through the whistle, as football players like to say.

“As the head coach, Campbell is the Lions’ CEO,” writes Justin Rogers of The Detroit News. “He’s responsible for setting and adjusting the tone of the culture. And, when it comes to calming guys’ nerves, he’s the perfect man for the job. He’s demanding, yet doesn’t take himself too seriously. And that may be an understatement. He doesn’t sweat being perceived as the dumb jock or giving a corny speech in a team meeting. He’s beyond comfortable in his own skin, and if a team is supposed to take on the persona of its head coach, getting them to get back to playing loose won’t be an issue.”

What coach Dan Campbell has done applies to non-sports teams. He has lived by the dictum of legendary Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. “If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, we did it. If anything goes real good, then you did it. That’s all it takes to get people to win football games for you.”

Another factor is their quarterback, Jared Goff. He led his previous team, the Los Angeles Rams, to the Super Bowl, then was summarily traded to the Detroit Lions for long-suffering quarterback Matthew Stafford. Goff was, in essence, sent into the equivalent of NFL Siberia. Not once did he complain in public. Instead, he handled himself with poise and professionalism. His fellow players saw in him a quarterback who could lead them.

The Lions boast a defensive line with a young rookie from Michigan, Aidan Hutchinson, who has racked up seven sacks this season. A friend who played college ball says that Hutchinson’s motor is always running. That is football speaks for a player’s drive, determination, and mobility.

On the right path

As the playoffs loom, the Lions have shifted from being doormats to the team that no one wants to play because they are playing well and upsetting the oddsmakers.

Being realistic, the Lions’ chances for the playoffs remain slim. And the Lions being the Lions, the next door they open could be a trap. Their history is one of the pratfalls. But this team seems different, and having rallied from a 1-6 – a mark that in the past would have spelled collapse – to winning six of their past seven games means they are doing something right. And that gives Lions fans something to believe in and for managers and teams facing long odds to find comfort.

One more quote from Bear Bryant that may apply to the Lions and every struggling team is, “It’s awfully important to win with humility. It’s also important to lose. I hate to lose worse than anyone, but if you never lose you won’t know how to act. If you lose with humility, then you can come back.” And so maybe that’s the secret to the Lions’ turnaround; they have been humbled and have not quit.

First posted on Forbes.com 12.19.2022


How Do You Define Retirement?

If you are contemplating retirement, you should ask two legends of Hollywood how they manage it. And that’s what Steve Lopez did when he interviewed Norman Lear and Mel Brooks, both in their nineties. Lear, who recently turned 100, is still active and advised Lopez, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, to keep doing what he was doing because his work mattered. 

Mel Brooks said something similar, advising Steve to find ways to explore new ideas by working less in his regular job as a columnist. As Lopez told me in an interview, “Mel Brooks is the guy who became sort of my life coach because I followed his advice. What he said was, ‘Look, what I’m hearing you say is [that] you love what you do.You feel lucky to be able to go out into the world.’”

The interview recounted a new book, Independence Day: What I Learned about Retirement from Some Who’ve Done It and Some Who Never Will. The lesson is preparation, not merely financially but mentally. Lopez advises folks, even Millennials, to think about how they want to spend the last quarter of their life. 

Planning ahead

Planning, according to Lopez, involves at least two concepts. First, find structure. If you suddenly find yourself not going to work, how will you spend your time? Lopez found many folks deepened their existing interests. For example, one woman who loved art became a museum docent. Others pursue their leisure activities more vigorously. “People who did things during their working life that they enjoyed found ways to continue that enjoyment with a deeper commitment that they found very fulfilling,” says Lopez.

Second, deal with ambiguity. The certainty of occupation is gone, and so there is a void you need to feel. Lopez says, “You embrace ambiguity in, in retirement, because it’s never gonna be exactly clear what you need to do next.” And in retirement, just as in life, you will have surprises, you will have disappointments, you will have a loss, and you will have days when you’ve got a big smile on your face.” So be prepared for the unexpected; it might be something challenging, such as a health crisis, or something rewarding, like the birth of a new grandchild, meeting a new group of people, or even the opportunity to work again.

Spousal connection is critical. People who have lived together but worked apart are now in the same house at the same time. The pandemic gave many a glimpse of the future, including Steve and his wife, Alison Shore, a writer herself. He credits her with the best line in his book, “If [the pandemic] is a preview, I do not want to see the movie.” 

Ask yourself what matters.

Putting what Lopez has written in context with many folks in my age group, let me offer a few key questions to consider:

What gets you up in the morning? Yes, this question is often related to work activities, but it may be all the more important in retirement. You may need to reinvent your purpose. Find the passion you have for what is important to you. Family and friends, yes. But what about hobbies?

How will you adapt to new challenges? Health is not a given. How will you adjust to physical limitations?

How do you want to be remembered? There is still time to pursue something new and different. It could be employment, but for many, it somehow gives back somehow.

Lopez noted that what is important is finding out how you matter to others. Sometimes that sense of relevance can be as big as serving on board of a nonprofit or as simple as walking your dog who depends upon you. Meaning is how we define it. Big or small.

Not all retirements are joyful. Lopez relates the story of a man who retired very early, then, during a fiscal crisis, lost most of his savings and had to start applying for jobs in his sixties. Lopez caught up with him in his mid-seventies. He was working in a big box store near Disneyland, a happy place for many, but not for this fellow who was down on his luck at the end of his life.

Of course, many like Norman Lear and Mel Brooks mentioned above will always remain. Their work is their life; it is their source of joy. Lopez related the story of Father Greg Boyle, who founded Homeboy Industries, the largest gang intervention program in the world. Boyle and Lopez are about the same age, and when asked about retirement, Father Greg quipped that “Jesuit priests retire in the graveyard.” Working with disenfranchised young men and women gives Father Greg a connection to God and the community he seeks and needs. It’s not work; it is love in action.

Macron’s Moment of Grace

There was a moment in Emmanuel Macron’s recent state visit to the United States that went largely unnoticed.

The French President met five veterans of the Second World War who had served in France. Macron calledthem the “soldiers of freedom who left everything behind, risked everything, to liberate France and the world.”Then he greeted each veteran with a warm two-handed handshake and kiss on both cheeks. Macron also bestowed upon two of the veterans France’s highest form of recognition, the Legion of Honor.

Personal connection

It was a moment of warm connection, a sign of empathy from a national leader to men whose service enabled his fellow citizens to throw off the yoke of Nazi occupation. This moment produces the “catch in the throat, something in my eye” kind of reaction. We are moved by the sincerity of a leader who recognizes the bravery and service of others.

Such moments may not be so common on national news, but they occur daily in our world. They are moments of grace where pretense is gone, and there is genuine human connection. For example, one of the most inspirational leaders I have ever encountered, Skip LeFauve, the President of Saturn Company, a company started by General Motors to compete with Japanese automakers in terms of quality, efficiency, and service. 

I recall speaking to Saturn employees about LeFauve’s leadership after he was no longer in charge. To a person, they revered him. Why? Because when he met them, he listened, and in doing so, he made them feel as if they were the most important person in the world. Like Macron did with the American veterans.

Make the effort count

It is always challenging to be the top person in your shop. You are besieged with questions, queries, and demands. Everyone wants you, needs you, to make a decision about this program, this idea, and this suggestion. Now!

No need to get out your handkerchief. Senior executives ask for this responsibility. And they are paid handsomely. At the same time, they are human (mostly), and there is a tendency to move efficiently and quickly to get things done. Management, by definition, is about administration – making the system go. It is necessary, but it is not enough. We value the personal connection. 

Leadership, by contrast, is about aspiration – about dreaming of something better. And when the leader acknowledges the effort of others, they make it known that management without empathy may be efficient, but it is not practical. Recognizing others’ efforts transforms what they did into a contribution, one for the greater good of the whole.

That sentiment is good for the individual and the leader, but it is better for everyone in the long run. It makes recognition part of the culture, and people will do their best when they feel valued.

First posted on Forbes.com 12.06.2022


What the Civil Rights Movement Teaches Us about Strategy

The Civil Rights Movement in the United States focused on creating equality in justice, economics, and human rights for Blacks who had been denied such since 1619 when the first enslaved people were “imported” from West Africa.

The Movement, taking a cue from Gandhi’s lessons in gaining independence from Britain, was rooted in peaceful and nonviolent protest. But unfortunately, no matter how peaceful the demonstrations were, violence was inflicted in ways that injured, maimed and killed, but did not deter its leaders and its followers.

The secret ingredient

One reason was that the Movement was well-disciplined, trained, and organized. Much like a military would do. That is precisely the theme of Waging a Good War: A Military History of the Civil Rights Movement, 1954 to 1968. The lessons that author Tom Ricks, called the “dean of military correspondents” for his coverage of multiple wars, notably Iraq, draws are startling and as well as applicable to any organization facing overwhelming odds. In an interview, Ricks said, “People talk about passive resistance, which is totally the wrong term. The Civil Rights movement was built on confrontational nonviolence and aggressive, repetitive, sustained use of nonviolent pressure to bring about social change. In fact, I think probably the best model I know of how to change a society relatively quickly and nonviolently.”

Ricks argues that the Movement was strategic. It took the lessons of Gandhi’s Movement for Indian independence but focused on the justice of the cause. “What they really understood, what I think the fundamental sort of foundation for them was these strategic discussions they had, as Diane Nash, one of the key leaders put it, they said to themselves, ‘Who are we? Is the first question of strategy? Who are we, and what are we trying to do?’”

The Montgomery Bus Boycott from December 1955 to the following December was the first organized attempt at desegregation. But, as Rick notes, it was a cause rooted in the denial of patronage. Blacks would not ride on buses that treated them as second-class citizens. The response was organized resistance centered around Black churches. Nevertheless, the organizers knew their goal and mobilized to provide rides for bus patrons, and they did it for over a year.

Building momentum

The next major initiative occurred in 1960. Students in Nashville organized to integrate the lunch counters. The students trained like an army would. They conducted role-play sessions where they were spat upon and called nasty names. And it worked. The lunch counters were desegregated. 

A bold next step was the Freedom Rides. Black students, with White supporters, rode buses throughout the South. They were met with taunts, epithets, and violence in the form of beatings and even a bus burning. However, their training steeled the protestors, and there was no violent retaliation. 

The same occurred the following year in Mississippi during Freedom Summer. It was long, brutal, and violent, resulting in the deaths of civil rights organizers. Nevertheless, it opened the doors to Black voters, raising the registration rate to nearly 60%. 

One young man who benefitted directly was Bennie Thompson, a teenager that summer. As an adult, Thompson was elected mayor of Jackson and later to Congress. Today Thompson is chairman of the bipartisan House Committee investigating the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The Movement’s strategic brilliance was that it continually sought new opportunities to build upon itself. The most notorious civil rights confrontation occurred in Birmingham in 1963. After World War II, Atlanta and Birmingham were vying for notice as Southern cities of the future. But, as has been said, Atlanta got the airport, and Birmingham got Bull Connor, an unrepentant segregationist, Klan supporter, and virulent racist. When demonstrations began, Connor had his cops sic dogs on marchers and turn fire hoses on child marchers – all of which was filmed and made national television news. 

“Until that point, white America really saw the Civil Rights movement as a regional thing that they weren’t paying much attention to,” says Ricks. “With Birmingham, the Civil rights movement became something of national attention. It rose to number one for the first time in polls of what is the most crucial issue faced in the country.” That was only the beginning. Kennedy strongly supported behind Civil Rights initiative, and in August of 1963, there was the March on Washington. As Ricks notes, “And so this brilliant presentation at the end of that day by Martin Luther King, he says, ‘Okay, you’ve seen Bill Connor’s nightmare. Here’s my dream.'” 

Exacting a human cost

The Civil Rights Movement exacted a personal toll on its organizers. Some of its leaders suffered mental breakdowns, not unlike soldiers in combat. Ricks tells the story of a Hollywood producer who was following Martin Luther King and one day asked about the end of the story. King replies, “’I know how it ends. I get killed,” says Ricks. “King understood he had committed his life as many people had to this movement, and he was unlikely to survive it.” 

The Kennedy Administration warned Diane Nash that she might be killed. Nash calmly explained that, of course, she knew it. And it was why every volunteer on the Freedom Rides was asked to sign a will. Subsequently, many leaders, not unlike heavy combat veterans of World War II, did not live long lives, many dying in their fifties and sixties.

Measuring success

Despite the terrible toll, Ricks says, “The great victory of the Civil Rights movement made America a genuine democracy. For the first time until 1968, a big chunk of the American population was denied the basic right to vote. After that, black people began voting without suffering, losing their jobs, or being attacked. And a couple of years ago, for the first time, there was a proportionality, which just to say that the Black representation of the U.S. Congress roughly equaled the Black population of the country. [That is] A rough measure of progress.”

The Civil Rights Movement, as Ricks describes, was strategic, coordinated, organized, and brave. That is a lesson for any organization facing long odds. And reading Waging a Good War is a great way to learn from a movement that changed the world for the better. 

Note: The full interview I conducted with Tom Ricks on my LinkedIn Live show, “GRACE under pressure,” is available here.

First posted on Forbes.com 00.00.2022

How to Concede Gracefully

A concession speech is an act of leadership. It is an admission that you have not won and an acknowledgment of the electorate’s power. Giving a concession speech was a right of passage and presumed always to occur. Of late, however, political rancor has corrupted electoral comity, so not every losing candidate delivers one.

This year, however, the concession speech made a triumphant return. Here are some examples as collected by the Washington Post.

Tim Ryan, who lost his Senate race in Ohio

“I had the privilege to concede this race to J.D. Vance. Because the way this country operates is that you lose an election, you concede. You respect the will of the people. We can’t have a system where if you win, it’s a legitimate election, and if you lose, someone stole it. That is not how we can move forward in the United States. …

Vesli Vega, who lost her House race in Virginia

“We gave it our all but came up a little short last night. … I want to congratulate the Congresswoman on a hard-fought win.”

Mehmet Oz, who lost his Senate race in Pennsylvania

“This morning, I called John Fetterman and congratulated him. I wish him and his family all the best, both personally and as our next United States Senator. …

“We are facing big problems as a country, and we need everyone to put down their partisan swords and focus on getting the job done.”

Stacy Abrams, who lost her gubernatorial race in Georgia

“It is good to be here in this moment, surrounded by your love and support. And let me begin by offering congratulations to Gov. Brian Kemp. …

“And tonight we must be honest. Even though my fight, our fight, for the Governor’s Mansion may have come up short, I’m pretty tall. This is a moment where despite every obstacle, we are still standing strong and standing tall, and standing resolute, and standing in our values.”

A good speech

The best concession speeches do four things:

One, they admit defeat. Good concession speeches address the facts. The candidates make no excuses; they deal with the reality of the moment.

Two, they acknowledge the hard work of their supporters. The candidate is the face of the campaign, but campaigns are nothing without the hard work of the field staff, the women and men who put their lives on hold to support a candidate in whom they believe.

Three, they affirm the values of the campaign. Such speeches underscore the principles for which the candidate fought.

Four, they express unity that will transcend partisan politics. Good concessions acknowledge that cooperation is more important than partisanship. These days such comity is hard to find, but it does exist and should be expected of every candidate.

Leaders far from the political fray would do well to keep the idea of knowing when to cease an effort or even to walk away from a leadership role. Leaders demonstrate grace when they recognize reality, express support for staff, affirm their values, and wish organization well.

Revealing the true candidate

Chris Matthews, the former host of MSBNC’s Hardball and author of books on the Kennedys, used to say that it was in concession speeches that voters got an inside look at what a candidate was really thinking. Most memorable might have been Richard Nixon’s concession speech after losing the race for California governor to Pat Brown in 1962. This defeat, the second in a row after a loss in the 1960 presidential campaign, stung, and Nixon let it all hang out, saying to the media:

“I leave you gentlemen now, and you will write it. You will interpret. That’s your right. But as I leave you I want you to know—just think how much you’re going to be missing. You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore, because gentlemen, this is my last press conference, and it will be the one in which I have welcomed the opportunity to test wits with you. I have always respected you. I have sometimes disagreed with you. But unlike some people, I’ve never canceled a subscription to a paper, and also I never will.”

That, of course, proved not to be true. Six years later, Nixon was elected president and re-elected four years later. Concession speeches may reveal the inner thoughts of the candidate, but they do not close the door on the future.

First posted on Forbes.com 11.15.2022

Going Back to the Office? Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself

As we head into Fall post-Labor Day, there is a rise in the number of stories about employees returning to the office, some full-time. As we migrate to more familiar work patterns, let’s not forget what we learned during the pandemic.

Bartleby, the workplace columnist for The Economist,  writes about the virtue of commuting, partly because it provides separation from home and work,which is hard to achieve if, as she writes, your office is your kitchen table. In addition, she likes the concept, as many do, of using the commute a means of planning your day.

So what can you do plan your day, whether you work in an office or from a non-office location?

Get Your Day Organized

Shorten your hours. Planning your day means being mindful of your schedule. “It’s time for us all to take back control and take a step back from the back-to-back meeting culture we’ve created,” says Morag Barrett, CEO of SkyTeam and co-author of You, Me, We: Why We All Need a Friend at Work (and How to Show Up as One). “Set your calendar link to schedule the start time at five past the hour and finish at ten minutes to the hour,” she says. “That way we all have a few minutes to transition between calls.”

Expect to be interrupted. Know what you are doing, and do it as best you can—working off-site presents fewer interruptions unless you work in a coffee shop or poolside. Still, interruptions will occur. Knowing they will happen will enable you to adjust accordingly without being overly frustrated by them.

Interrupt your day. Morag Barrett developed a habit during isolation of taking a walk around her neighborhood. It was not a formal exercise, more a mental break. Today she continues the concept by “blocking a lunchtime break where I make it a point to leave my desk and don’t sit and work.” 

Exercise your mind. Read, reflect, recharge. Donald Altman, a psychotherapist, lecturer, and prolific author on mindfulness, advises taking regular pauses during the day. A pause can be as involved as walking outside or as simple as taking a moment to look out the window. Stand up when you can. Keep the blood flowing.

Exercise your body. Make time to exercise when you can. Do it regularly. During my career, I have begun my workday with an exercise regimen. It creates separation for me from home to work. You can also fit in exercise with walk-and-talk phone calls, something Morag also advises.

Keep your mind tuned

Keeping fresh is essential for any employee. Work can be drudgery at times. The challenge is to keep your mind fresh so you can accomplish the little things to tackle the big projects. 

Here’s a musical analogy. Musicians practice scales daily to keep their fingers and sense harmony in tune. Practicing scales – at least for this amateur pianist – is not joyful, but I do it so I keep my fingers flexible and my musical mind nimble. Doing so allows me to sight read more effectively and play familiar pieces more adeptly.

“Getting ready to leave for work in the morning involves an element of planning—sometimes even anticipation,” writes Bartleby. “Stepping out of your home, and your comfort zone, you feel more alive by default.” Good advice, and one you can practice – withbreaks, exercise, and reflect — even if you are working from your kitchen table.

First posted on Forbes.com 9.7.2022