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 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 9.7.2022

How to Be the One Everyone Wants to Work With

You will be lucky to work with her. She is a gem.

You will love his work. He’s a total professional.

You can trust her. She’s the very best.

These are the types of off-hand comments we hear about colleagues or friends. These informal endorsements are worth their weight in platinum. These statements affirm the value of an individual and position them as resources you can trust.

We all want people to say such things about us. So how do we do it?

Do the work. Perform the task you are asked. On-time and within budget. Listen well. Be responsive to change and flexible in your work attitude. That is, flex to the organization’s needs as long as it meets your capacity to do the work well. 

Do more than the work. Go above and beyond what is required. Look at the job as a springboard to innovate, creating additional value.

Affirm your value. This statement might strike one as odd. It is not bragging per se, but it is letting others know what you have done and why. It is also your opportunity to include others. Mention what they have accomplished and pointed out the value of what they have done. We call this being a team player.

Three factors to build trust

All of these come down to three factors I have written about: competence, credibility, and confidence. Competence means you can do the job. Credibility means others believe you can do the job. And confidence implies others have faith in you to do a good job.

What all of these add up to is trust. It is the bedrock of any relationship, personal or professional. Stephen M. R. Covey writes in his book, The Speed of Trust, “There are no moral shortcuts in the game of business—or life. There are three kinds of people: the unsuccessful, the temporarily successful, and those who become and remain successful. The difference is character.” 

The root of character is trust. As Covey writes, “Trust is equal parts character and competence… You can look at any leadership failure, and it’s always a failure of one or the other.” 

Sense of belonging

Working with others is essential to any endeavor, and people feel something powerful: a sense of belonging when there is trust. The bedrock of belonging is the feeling of psychological safety, knowing that you can contribute not merely by going along to get along but by adding to the whole, even when it means going against the tide. Innovation thrives from such dissonance. However, dissonance can only be productive when it is regarded as a contribution, not a threat. When people feel safe to voice alternative ideas, they think they belong. 

People will want to work with you when you are perceived as competent, credible, and confident. And along the way, they will even say good things about you.

First posted on 00.00.22

Finding Your Own Tune

A senior HR director, now retired, once told me that if there were one proven business model, everyone would use it. If so, there would likely be little need for strategy consultants because companies would be able to implement the same model. Unfortunately, upon reflection, we can say that state-controlled economies have one model, and as a result, most, if not all, fail.

There are also work style models, that is, how we do our work and approach it. For example, recently, I found a novel model borrowed from a book written for guitarists by Don Brown, a consultant author and guitarist. The book is titled, Travels with Uwe. The title refers to Uwe Kruger, a German-born, Swiss-raised immigrant to the U.S. now based in North Carolina who performs widely with brother Jens and teaches prolifically. Brown himself is a student.

After spending his first session with Uwe, Brown told me in an email interview, “I was so transformed in so many ways I’d never expected that I just wanted to get the word out. I went for a musical experience; I left transformed in music and life!” The following model is a result of Brown’s “awakening.”

Play – finding joy in the music you produce;

Practice – sharpening your skills so you can bring out the best of your talents;

Create – Learn to experiment, innovate to develop your content and style; and

Perform – get on stage and show us what you can do.

Lessons for non-musicians

The application to work off-stage and away from a guitar or musical instrument is solid. “Even non-musicians attending the Academies over the years experienced the same transformations as their musician partners and left with the same burning desire to better seize their day. Every day.”

Let me explain how it applies to managing teams.

Play at work. A manager wants his team engaged, and they do it by creating conditions for them to succeed, chiefly by providing resources, training, and support. This approach enables the team to “play together” in harmony.

Practice together. Work is work. Application of skill to task requires training and practice.

Create your style. Each of us is different. A savvy manager understands the talents and skills of those on his team. It is up to the manager to enable the employee to do the work in ways that facilitate how well they add to the task and contribute to the mission.

Performance is production. Output is product or service delivered. It is essential to do it on time, within budget, and in ways that delight the customer.

Building confidence

Teams that perform build upon the skills of one another. They learn to coordinate resources and collaborate to create better results. The net outcome is the team builds confidence.

Or ask Uwe Kruger would say, “To perform, you have to have a certain confidence, and you have to gain that confidence in front of an audience… every time.” Sounds like good advice for any manager, any leader, anywhere. And Don Brown adds, “A path to being happy ‘now’ is through the power of music in life.”

First posted on 10.05.2022

David Gergen: Heart for Leadership

There is a story that David Gergen tells in his newest book, Hearts Touched by Fire, about having to let people go. Now that layoffs are occurring, it is an apt story for today. Mort Zuckerman had bought U.S. News and World Report and installed Gergen as editor in chief. Zuckerman wanted to clean house, and he instructed Gergen to begin the layoffs. It was not a job Gergen relished or rushed into. 

Gergen got to know the reporters first; then, he had his conversation with those about to be let go. “I am afraid we have to end our relationship, but we also need to protect your reputation. It will not be helpful to you in finding a new job if word gets out that you were fired. So here’s what I propose: We keep this secret between the two of us. You spend the next ninety days quietly looking for another job. When you find one, we will announce that you have decided to accept a new post at a different publication, and we will have a big, festive going-away party.” 

Gergen notes that nearly everyone found a new job and left with pride intact. It was a win for the publication, which today remains profitable, and for the individuals. Gergen, as a leader, exemplified the title of his book, a heart touched with fire.

A familiar to presidents

My favorite anecdote about David Gergen comes from one of his old bosses, Ronald Reagan. On a return trip to Washington, Reagan said his plane swooped over the monuments and famous sites, and there in the White House, he could see one of those monuments—David Gergen, still working in the White House. 

Gergen, as is well-known, worked for three additional presidents, Nixon, Ford, and Clinton. In short, Gergen has been a close observer of presidential power, a topic of his first book, Eyewitness to PowerHearts Touched by Fire casts a broader lens on leadership. It can be read by those just cutting their leadership chops, those in leadership positions now, or even those like me who have made the topic our chosen field of exploration. 

There is an instructive story about how James Baker, an outsider, became the Reagan’s chief of staff and eventually the first among equals along with longtime Reagan associates Michael Deaver and Ed Meese. Baker was known as “the velvet hammer” because he maintained organizational discipline by gaining Reagan’s trust, “consolidating power,” and building a strong team that could execute. Baker was a master at leading up, around and with others.

Gergen, a former communications director, journalist and commentator, has an easy way of telling stories. Each of his points is accented with personal observations or as likely by women and men whose examples of leadership are worthy of exploration. Familiar names include Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Nelson Mandela, and Katharine Graham and Greta Thunberg. In addition, there are cautionary tales of leaders who overstepped boundaries, including Richard Nixon and Raj Gupta of McKinsey.

Teachable moments

What enhances this book is Gergen’s work as a professor at the Harvard School of Public Policy, a role he has fulfilled for more than two decades. There are sections on personal development, peer-to-peer leadership, leading up, and what it takes to lead in times of crisis. Gergen has a knack for imparting what people need to know about leadership in ways that make the lessons accessible and actionable. Gergen cites the works of leadership theorists Jim Collins and Warren Bennis, framing their research alongside readings from historians such as Doris Kearns Godwin and David McCullough as examples of what those who study leadership can teach us.

Reading Hearts Touched by Fire is an exercise in what it takes to lead in challenging times and a thoughtful look at how leaders accomplish their goals by bringing people together for a common cause. The book’s prologue concludes with a quote from Martin Luther King. “Everybody can be great… because anybody can serve.” King adds, “You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” Indeed the best leaders serve because they are focused on service to others and a cause greater than themselves.

First posted on 00.00.2022