When things go wrong, blame – and solutions as well — begin with people at the very top.
Such is the case with the water supply for the city of Flint, Michigan. It is undrinkable because of high lead levels. How it happened is a study in expediency as well as arrogance.
Governor Rick Snyder appointed an emergency manager in an attempt to revive the city’s finances. In April 2014, the emergency manager, decided to replace the city’s drinking water which came from Detroit with water from the Flint River.
River water was cheaper but far more corrosive and as a result the harsh water damaged the city pipes allowing lead to leach into the water supply. Damage done to the pipes was discovered but it was ignored for months allowing Flint citizens to continue to use it.
I play piano for fun and sometimes when I play, especially for a new audience, I get a bit nervous.
And so I turned to Dr. Julie Jaffee Nagel, who in addition to being a licensed clinical psychologist is a former concert pianist. Julie specializes in performance anxiety. What she advised changed my perspective.
“Focus on sharing rather than proving,” Dr. Julie said. When you focus on giving rather than impressing you become more relaxed and more calm.
Sharing is rooted in respect for others and in the joy that comes from meaningful collaborations.
Satchel Paige once said, “Don’t eat fried food, it angries up the blood.”
I would adapt that advice to Republican voters seeking to choose their nominee for president. If you want to stay calm, don’t watch the presidential debates.
The most recent debate, held in Charleston, South Carolina, was a festival of vitriol. Ted Cruz spoke like a vengeful Old Testament character threatening hellfire and brimstone on the enemies he sees everywhere. Marco Rubio hurled his talking points like daggers, sharp and cutting to everything that stands in his way. And Donald Trump prided himself on the “mantle of anger” he wears as a complement to his mission.
… Being reasonable requires self-discipline and for that reason the example of Satchel Paige merits more consideration. Paige knew something about anger since it was prejudice of the times toward him as a black man that prevented him from playing in the major leagues until he was way past his prime. “They said I was the greatest pitcher they ever saw…I couldn’t understand why they couldn’t give me no justice.”
Doubt, while annoying and irritating, can be a leader’s best friend.
When a leader hesitates, pausing to consider the assumptions as well as the options, she is doing what the organization needs.
How a leader responds to the second-guessing is a measure of his ability to withstand pressure. Knowing in your heart that you made the best call you could make at the time forms a foundation for going forward.
The leader has only her gut to trust. And when she can look into the mirror and say she made the best decision possible at the time then that is all you can ask.
This HR adage has been around sometime and while certainly valid, it does not address the entire picture when applied to an executive on the rise. Certainly the individual must have smarts, a combination of old-fashioned “book-learnin’” and business acumen. Additionally, the executive must possess the ability to maintain an emotional equilibrium with self and with others.
Truly successful executives must possess more. According to my colleague, Kevin Butler, former chief human resource officer at Delphi, these executives combine two elements in their leadership. They are socially aware; they understand people’s needs, wants and differences. They socially manage; they know how to leverage differences as well as likenesses in order to bring people together for common cause.
Awareness plus management is crucial. It’s one thing to be able to understand people, but, as Kevin points out, you also need to be able to get aligned toward common goals. This requires true leadership.
Understanding people goes beyond knowing their work or even their personal history. It requires the ability to observe dispassionately so that you know how they work best and why. From a management perspective, you put such people into positions where they can excel. Such talents, coupled with skills, makes them a good fit for some jobs but not others. Too often, talented people are put into positions for which they are not suited, and they flounder.
There is one advantage that quiet people have over those of us who like to hear the sounds of our own voices. They are good observers.
This is a point that actor Liev Schreiber made about the title character he plays on Showtime’s “Ray Donovan.” During an interview on NPR’s “Fresh Air,” Schreiber said that Donovan’s character, who in Dave Davies’ words “doesn’t say much,” instead spends time taking things in. That is, he listens to what people tell him.
A quiet leader is one who values his own strengths but also has the ability to see the world as others do for one simple reason. Such leaders listen. Knowing how another thinks is essential to persuasion.
Speaking less and listening more is a good exercise for any leaders. It’s an advantage that introverts may have but it is a learned behavior that extroverts can make it work for them.
A good man died the other day. His name was Tibor Rubin.
A Jew born in Hungary, Tibor was sent by his father in 1944 to live in Switzerland to escape Nazi occupation. He did not make it to the border and was arrested. Tibor was sent to Mauthausen concentration camp. He was fourteen. His father was sent to Buchenwald; his mother and younger sister to Auschwitz. None survived. In the spring of 1945 Tibor’s camp was liberated by American troops.
Three years later Tibor entered the U.S. and sought to join the Army; he was deferred until he improved his English. In 1950 he asked to be sent to Korean. His commander advised him against it since he was not yet a citizen. To which Tibor replied, “Well what about the others (soldiers)? I cannot leave my fellow brothers.”
According to his New York Times obituary, Rubin, now promoted to corporal, had more than enemy troops to worry about in Korea. His sergeant was a virulent anti-Semite and routinely sought to put Rubin in the heaviest of fighting. He was a brave solider, once “single-handedly held off a wave of North Korean soldiers for 24 hours” enabling his fellow soldiers to retreat. He was not so fortunate.
Badly wounded, Corporal Rubin was captured and interned in a Chinese Communist POW camp. The Chinese knew he was from Hungary, a fellow communist nation, and offered to repatriate him to his homeland. Rubin refused again choosing to stay with his mates.
As his obit notes, Rubin knew and understood how to cope with prison camp deprivation so he took it upon himself to care for the other men. He risked his life repeatedly to escape the camp confines to scrounge for food and supplies, always returning to share what he had stolen. He also served as nurse to the sick.
That was some advice an executive I know shared with one of his direct reports. The executive was not being flippant, he was letting his more junior colleague know that he wanted him to come with well-thought out plans of action.
He was delegating decision making to his subordinate and wanted this individual to pick up the ball and run with it.
Such advice is the opposite of micro-management; call it “I trust you” management. It is something that every executive needs to instill in his or her people.
By permitting employees to think and do for themselves, you prepare them for greater levels of responsibility.
Everyone says self-awareness is essential to effective leadership. It is, but there is another aspect to awareness that may be equally compelling and sadly overlooked. It’s self-management.
It’s one thing to know yourself. We know what we do well. Yay! That’s why we are so good at what we do. We may even know what we are not so good at it so we ignore it. Boo! That can hurt us.
Enter self-management. Self-management is a form of self-control. We do not control events; we merely control how we respond to them. For instance, I know I have a tendency to become short with customer service agents who, let’s face it, have the thankless job of dealing with people like me who think we have better things to do with our time than waste it with people like them.
So after much trial and error, I have taught myself to be more polite. Not just polite but overly polite. I engage the agents in conversation. I act grateful. And I thank them for “making time for me.” Overkill? Perhaps! but it keeps me from flying off the handle.
The trigger itself is neutral; our reaction to it can be positive or negative. How we manage that reaction is critical to our ability to function as well as to excel.