The corruption of the Olympics is pretty staggering but it’s not the most interesting story from the games. The real question remains: Why do elite athletes do this to themselves?
I’m not trying to be glib here, either.
Getting into the top percentile of anything — especially sports — is difficult, but not impossible, for almost anybody. You can become one of the greatest in your field or your sport.
But becoming the greatest, even for a snapshot of time? That’s damn near impossible.
So this year at the Olympics, you had 11,000+ athletes going for 306 gold medals. Yet, for almost every one of those athletes, they had to beat incredible odds just to get there. Hundreds of thousands of potential Olympians were left at home. And millions compete in all the sports, and some even number the billions.
The storylines were fascinating to me. In the context of the Olympic games, the term “failure” is something that shouldn’t be uttered about any of the athletes that somehow make it to the games.
Even the term “disappointment,” which was used about many of the athletes who didn’t live up to — in any other situation — expectations of truly unbelievable proportions, seems strange. So instead of placing first in a sport, they placed fifth? Or 12th? Or 23rd? But they still made it to the Olympics. Any of their contemporaries at home would probably give anything to have the chance to compete for the last spot.
I get it the competition factor. If you’re an elite athlete, you want the chance to prove you’re the best. But being the best is also a matter of things outside of an athlete’s span of control. Everything from body type to timing of when you’re in peak physical shape relative to the Olympics is out of even the best athletes hands.
Then you have every sprinter that has had to line up beside Usain Bolt for a race these past three Olympics. Should getting second place against a once-in-a-lifetime force give you any other emotion other than extreme accomplishment? You couldn’t beat Bolt? Join the 7 billion+ people who couldn’t either. And by the way, you beat all of those people, too.
Not too many Olympians will admit to just being happy to be at the Olympics, especially right after the sting of an earlier-than-expected defeat. In the moment of victory, all eyes are upon the greatest — or maybe a 6–12 hours later if you’re watching NBC’s coverage.
But this week and in the years that pass, every person that didn’t medal at the Olympics still probably put the Olympics as a highlight of their life and a pinnacle of all they worked toward accomplishing.
To me, the best thing about the Olympics is celebrating all of those amazing athletes. It’s a reminder that greatness is almost always within reach, whether you want to be a great athlete or just a great dad.
Being the greatest is special and it’s something worth celebrating, too. But I do wonder if we lose something by not acknowledging the feat of simply being there is enough? It seems antithetical to being American, where we take home more gold than anyone. But in this case, I’ll take that.
Phil Jackson had some things to say about how the New York Knicks have been playing.
Unfortunately, he told the world about it on Twitter, like someone complaining about bad dinner service at a hotel restaurant (via NY Daily News):
Phil Jackson’s moves and Carmelo Anthony’s injury have left the Knicks without much of a chance to win many games for the remainder of the season, but that didn’t stop the Zen Master from expressing his displeasure following Sunday’s 101–83 loss to the Cavaliers.
“Each NBA game is an opportunity for players to show their “best” nature and please the basketball gods…and those who know what “It takes,”” Jackson tweeted Sunday night on his @philjackson11 account. “Today’s game vs Cavs gave bb gods heartburn and those that know what “it” takes/means a smh.”
The Knicks are a bad basketball team, approximately a lifetime away from .500, and one of the worst teams in a league where the Philadelphia 76ers look like some of the NBA Summer League rosters we saw in Vegas.
Of course, Jackson knows this. He’s the president of the Knicks and has been instrumental in ensuring that this would be a miserable season for the Madison Square Garden faithful. It may be with a plan in mind — after all, the Knicks weren’t title-bound before Jackson showed up — but they were going to be a bad team that is going to occasionally show some flashes of listlessness. An 82 game grind of a season on a crappy team will do that to even some of the most professional players.
Maybe Jackson expects better energy from the players on his team. Maybe he is trying to get in somebody’s head. Either way, the choice of venue for his comments are distracting for a team and reminds me of some of the young managers I’ve dealt with who didn’t know how and when to criticize their employees. One of them made it a habit of doing it at a regular Monday meeting in front of everyone. There wasn’t enough coffee in the world to deal with a Monday like that.
For Phil Jackson truthers and believers, they’ll tell us, “He knows what he is doing. He knows how to motivate people. He knows when to take something public and when to keep it in house.”
To that, I say okay. Great. But just because it worked for Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant doesn’t mean it’ll work for this band of not so great players (and a currently shut down Carmelo Anthony).
If you’ve read any business blogs over the past few years, you’ve probably seen some sort of stock “Leadership is better than management” post. It always seems to be an either/or proposition, too.
In that post, you’ll invariably read the author extol the power that leadership brings to typical management challenges: workers who don’t perform well, don’t always do what you ask them to do, or engage in behaviors that discourage their colleagues. Becoming a better leader, they say, will help you avoid these challenges more easily because people will be inspired to do what you ask them without you have to be a big bad boss. And who likes bosses, right? We like leaders.
Of course, I’ve never written about that. Not because I don’t think leadership skills have value (indeed, they do) but because rarely have the people I have seen manage employees exhibit one trait or the other singularly. The pure leader and the pure manager are as common as a unicorn.
Thank goodness, too.
Can we admit to ourselves that the great recognized leaders of our time also had some fantastic management skills as well? Can we also admit that had they chosen to shun management for pure leadership, they would have been seen as abject failures?
Okay, probably not. Yet.
If you take an example from the sports world, coaches have to be good at both leadership and management to be successful in their field. If you’re in a basketball game with the game on the line with the final possession, you have to both inspire your team to be great (even after a brutally long game) and know that you have the right game plan that your players will follow to the end.
Basketball players, even great ones, question their coaches (even, yes, great ones). With limited time to brainstorm possibilities with your team though, the coach is the focal point of drawing up this final play. Whether or not you question the coach on his decision, you are going to follow through on it because you know there are consequences for not doing so.
That final play outcome is going to be driven by authority and by good management. If a coach can’t do that, they aren’t going to win consistently.
Take an example from politics. A president can be great at leading and inspiring people without being super effective at their job because they seem unwilling (or unable) to drive results through authority and managing people and results. Is that an unfair jab at President Obama? A bit, sure. But every time I hear about our obstructionist Congress (which, they are), I hear about it from someone who doesn’t want the President to do the same things his predecessors did to drive their agendas.
The point is: you need leadership and management. The best leaders, the ones we laud, do both.
It was my friend Chad Kreutz. We’ve known each other for five and a half years, been good friends for most of that time and he recently moved down to Portland to take a job. We started working at the same company, QualitySmith (then RBS Interactive), within a couple of days of each other back in 2005.
I had just dropped off my wife at work and was heading back home. I had messaged him about some Blazers tickets earlier that week so I had suspected it might be about that.
“I have some sad news out of Walla Walla today. Are you sitting down?”
Am I sitting down? This call wasn’t about Blazer tickets.
“Rob passed away yesterday.”
* * * * *
I had known about Walla Walla for most of my life. My dad and step-mom were both born and raised there. My grandparents were from there too. My dad relocated to the Portland area in high school but after my parents divorce in the late 80’s, he went back to Walla Walla in 1993.
The place was a hick town in my teenage estimation and forced summers there in triple digit heat didn’t help that at all. After a few years though, I figured that my Dad wasn’t going to be coming back to Portland and learned to appreciate the town for what it was: fine for a visit or even an extended stay, but not more.
After high school, I chose to go to college about two hours from there in another small hick town with far too much snow and summer for my Portland blood. When I moved back to Portland after graduation, I had a retail management position that was very unfulfilling.
After the busy holidays, I started looking around for HR positions and saw that a company out of Walla Walla was hiring a recruiter. I had never heard of RBS Interactive and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to live in Walla Walla (much less my fiancee). I applied though, got a call, drove the 254 miles to Walla Walla, and got hired.
* * * * *
“I’m tired of walking.”
The words escaped my lips and we both kind of laughed. It was my fourth month on the job and Rob Schmidt, the President of RBS Interactive, and I had just completed what had to be dozens of laps around the building over the last 90 minutes. We had talked, argued and gotten animated about who knows what. I finally convinced him that we needed to go get some coffee otherwise I was going to crash at my desk this afternoon.
Rob got it. Who knows how much money he spent at the Starbucks that was a brisk one minute walk from his desk to the counter but it was enough that everyone knew him there and knew what he wanted.
I knew entrepreneurs had different personalities but Rob’s energy was as exhilarating as it was exhausting, even for a guy that considers himself pretty good at this stuff.
His boundless energy, competitiveness and curiosity caused numerous “problems”: tangential meetings, interviews gone horribly wrong, poor feedback to employees and ever shifting priorities depending on where his mind was wandering that day. But those problems also caused him to take risks in a critical area to me: staffing. Walla Walla wasn’t the most desirable place to attract candidates so he signed off on risky hires in order to make it work.
And risky they were. My own hire was risky (my experience level wasn’t there) but I had other things going for me (ties to the area and the willingness and ability to put in major time). It fit with how I thought HR and recruiting could be run: flexible, risk taking and ultimately rewarding.
* * * * *
We were opening gifts at my Dad’s house on Christmas morning and I kept thinking how weird it was that we were up there. We decided to stay home for Christmas because the fall was brutal work wise. Jen had worked her first harvest at a local winery and it was busy at QualitySmith (RBS Interactive changed their name halfway through my tenure). Home was now officially Walla Walla. I was closer to my Dad than ever before, I had made new friends and I was enjoying work. I had learned to love a place I previously doubted I could stand a week.
Was Rob directly responsible for any of this? Both directly and indirectly. We had a great working relationship and he was fun (and challenging) to work for but the people he put into place and the ideas he dreamed up changed my life. We worked hard for him when we believed in his vision and we worked hard for him when we didn’t quite see it because you always wanted to give your best for him and you always thought you’d warm up to it. Countless days after everyone had gone home, I sat in Rhonda Donnelly’s office (our VP of Operations) and we would just half laugh, half shake our heads at some of the crazy ideas he would come up with.
Ultimately though, his team would put together a plan to try to bring his ideas to fruition. That gamble in staffing paid off at times and led to some amazing things. Other times, we had mud on our face and we got a bad beat. That was reality. I can’t tell you the number of times I said sorry to him. He wouldn’t allow it though. There wasn’t enough time to Monday Morning Quarterback.
When he called my cell phone at nights and on weekends, I paced with him. I tried to keep up with his frantic vocal pace. Somewhere along the line, I would figure out I was the third or fourth person he was calling about a particular idea. It was my turn to poke at it with my stick and see if I could find any holes.
I wouldn’t have changed it though. Not the location nor the people I was working with. And even when I go back to see my dumpy little rental house on 822 St. John Street or the offices we moved out of on Main Street, I feel nostalgic. This was home. At least for a while.
* * * * *
My phone rang and I saw the picture of my wife come up on the caller ID.
“I got the job in Portland.”
My wife had interviewed for a job in Portland. She was also looking for a job locally too and had only interviewed for one job in Portland. She got it and she wanted it. Saying no wasn’t an option.
People at work understood. Rob understood. They even worked with me and let me work my HR job remotely for six months. The company grew quite a bit while I was there (from 32 people when I started to over 160 at one point) but it wasn’t all fun and games. When we had our second sets of layoffs, I was working remotely. It would have made sense to cut me (Rhonda had most of my skill set, just limited time). I flew up there though and assisted with that. We closed two remote offices as well while I was working for them.
It wasn’t tougher on anyone more than Rob. It would have been crass at the time to mention to the people being laid off how much personal money he invested to give them another couple of months hoping for some business turn around. He’d pace, he’d stress and he’d ask for who we’re looking at again to dismiss.
When it finally came time for me to leave, it was tough. But every time I came to visit, he always had time to talk. He wanted to talk about QualitySmith, flying, farming and his family. He wanted to know how I was doing and would always ask me when I was moving back to Walla Walla. It wasn’t ever “if” I was going to move back, it was “when.”
* * * * *
A couple days after Chad called me to tell me Rob died, my step-mom e-mailed me an article from the local paper. His death had been ruled a suicide. That was the first time I cried about it. The shock had warn off and I was now just beyond sad about the whole situation.
I think a natural instinct is to ask yourself what you could have done differently. I just wish it were as simple as that. I had stayed in semi-regular contact with him. When I left QualitySmith, we had a great talk about how much I admired him and was thankful for everything.
Then I remembered that Rob didn’t allow us to spend too much time discussing hindsight observations. So I started thinking about the legacy Rob will leave. I was overwhelmed with how big of a swath of influence he left behind. Then I remembered a post I received on my Facebook wall a few months ago:
“Hey Lance, just wanted to say THANK YOU for hiring me 5 years ago. Today is my 5th anniversary at QualitySmith :-)”
It was one of my first risky hires. In a less risky environment, one without him setting the pace, I don’t know that we would have hired her. We took a chance though and it made a difference for her, her family and us.
We always think about legacies after people retire or die. The final lesson Rob Schmidt taught me is that when you involve your life with people, your legacy is right now. When you’re in the employment game, you make business decisions with very personal consequences. His impact on me was immediate, cumulative and will last for the rest of my life. He had an impact on hundreds of lives directly and thousands of lives indirectly because he put his money where is mouth was consistently when it came to business. He made those decisions one by one and he’s one of the few people that understood the gravity of every situation.
Whenever I start to get involved in debates about interviewing techniques, risk assessments, performance review calendars or benefits brokers, a little voice inside me whispers me back to reality. Focus on the people and take the business personally.
You’ve heard it before either in the board room, an industry conference or webinar: someone heard from their legal team that they shouldn’t be engaging in some sort of new business activity. The latest version of this has been social media but it has come through the years with various regulatory and technological changes. We heard there were some pretty strong statements made about social media at the SHRM Legislative Conference and this should surprise nobody paying attention. The annual conference SHRM puts on has all of three sessions by my count on social media with only one of those being a progressive use of social media for internal purposes (kudos to Briana Marrah of Parker LePla for that one).
Still, something doesn’t strike me right about blaming the lawyers for this one. It is the easy route. Saying your legal team won’t let you do it is the biggest business cop-out you can give. And honestly, it isn’t an excuse I am willing to accept anymore.
Understanding A Lawyer’s Role
A good lawyer will help you evaluate one thing: the legal risk of a given business action. They can research past case precedents, key decisions and give you the skinny on what has happened in similar situations. They can tell you how you can help yourself setup the best possible legal case for what you want to try to do. This is useful and good.
Now this may be just the lawyers I’ve worked with but I’ve never had a lawyer help me evaluate the business risks associated with a certain decision. So for example, if I’ve had a lawyer look at potentially using Facebook as a recruiting tool, they’ve told me about the risks associated with possible EEO issues but they’ve never told me the risk of having a competitor use Facebook and get higher level talent at a much more reasonable cost.
That’s a serious business risk. One that needs to be weighed against other risks that you’re taking (including the legal ones).
Abdicating The Power Of Decision
So when the lawyer comes back and says that social media is risky to be involved with, business leaders will often abandon their power of discretion and risk evaluation and say it was outlawed by legal. Progressive business people cry foul at the fear mongering lawyers who have set in motion social media bans and have frustrated the lives of many Gen Y employees. Meanwhile, the true danger of such actions are swept under the rug:
Company leadership is often abandoning decision making and are instead adopting the least risky moves suggested by their legal, HR, marketing, accounting and IT teams.
Now all of these departments mean for the best I am sure but business leaders simply aren’t using them correctly. Yes, when you’re accountant says you might have a cash flow problem if you make a business purchase, you should listen. That being said, if it is the right decision to make, you find a way to mortgage some of your future for a chance to make the right decision. When HR says hiring 30 people in two months is going to be next to impossible, you should listen. But if you absolutely need those people, you lean on them and make the impossible happen.
That’s what real leadership is: it is understanding the risks and challenges from different perspectives and pushing forward on the correct broad strategy for your company with those challenges and risks in hand.
A Delay On Killing All Lawyers
When we resort to throwing lawyers under the bus for decisions that company leadership have made, we hold the wrong people responsible for some of the awful business decisions that happen. Of course various teams in your organization are going to tell you about the risks from their interest areas.
Leadership is about defending the lawyers and owning your decisions. It is easy to blame lawyers for a 10 page social media policy but much more difficult to target the people who signed off on the policy at the top (or who earlier abdicated policy generation to their legal team entirely).
So you are Mr. or Ms. Big Shot. Okay, more than likely you are Mr. or Ms. Thinks They Are A Big Shot. Maybe you have a book or a TV show or a podcast or a popular blog or a big company or a big position or a fancy car. Maybe you are known. Maybe you are actually a big deal.
Get over yourself.
You know who was the worst about this for a while? Me.
It wasn’t even over anything big. My blog was gaining popularity and I started to receive many comments and e-mails a day. So what did I do? Acted like a diva about it of course. I started setting arbitrary rules as to what sort of e-mails I would respond to. I reduced my Google reader down to about ten sources. I started reading what some other nice people thought about me and actually believed it. I truly believed I was brilliant and knew more than everybody (at least in this crazy, niche’d up world).
Of course, the pressure of this new life was killer. I complained to someone about this new life circumstance and they kindly but firmly said:
Get over yourself.
When I sat down and embraced this philosophy, it was actually very freeing. I was free to not act like an insufferable prick to every wayward PR person who happened to track down my phone number. I was free to respond to e-mails in less than a month’s time (I am still terrible at e-mail for non-big shot reasons). I was free to write some of my best writing to date because I didn’t have to worry about whether this big shot would keep his rep. I was free to make connections with non-big shots who actually turned out to be better than me in almost every way.
I know a lot of real life big shots who got this lesson early on. You are never too big to act like a human being to people that like you and have allowed you to influence their lives.
Get over yourself.
Why did I think about this today? Someone e-mailed me asking for assistance about starting a blog. The e-mail assumed I was super busy and probably not interested but it was worth a shot since they’ve been reading my blog for 18 months. Wait, they read me for 18 months and thought I may not be interested in helping them out?
They were probably just being polite about taking up time but let me say this once and for all: I am busy but I am always happy to help if I am able. And if I am not able, I am happy to help guide you in the right direction.
Me? A big shot who is too busy to help out someone who has read this blog for 18 months? I got over myself a long time ago. Let’s help each other become less dumb together.
“Unthinking Respect for Authority is the Greatest Enemy of Truth” — Albert Einstein
What’s fun about having your own blog is that you can juxtapose a topic like bucking authority with a quote from an authority on bucking authority. Quotes, of course, are an indicator of authority. So if Albert Einstein says we shouldn’t unquestionably respect authority, I agree with him. Wait…
I could spend the rest of the time talking about how great Gen Y is because we’ve figured that out but that would be completely untrue. Generalizations about other generation’s relative success or failures in this light would be untrue as well. The fact is every generation deals with figuring out how to respect authority properly while still making smart decisions. More importantly, individuals still make poor decisions. It is the reason why you see “Stripping Grandmas Go Wild” on The Jerry Springer Show. If experience and authority ultimately bought competency, you shouldn’t see that. We shouldn’t see it anyway bit that’s really beside the point.
Now I am trying to get that image out of my head.
We’ve seen this in history before too. Citizens become blindingly loyal to a particular political leader for a variety of reasons but some do this simply because the leader is the leader. That’s not a good enough reason. We should be looking at results. We should be looking at how they handled challenges. We should be looking at what they do not what they say.
It happens all of the time with authority.
“He’s been in accounting for 25 years. I am sure he is right.”
“She’s the president of the company. We need to support it.”
“He’s saved three companies before ours. We should take his recs.”
It is a total cop out. Instead of reasoning, instead of explaining, you simply say this person knows what they are doing because they are an authority. And people in authority eat that up, especially when they aren’t confident in their own abilities. They don’t need your pesky challenges.
Of course, great leaders know that results today are infinitely more important than results yesterday. They don’t need someone defending their years of experience. They understand that the plan is bigger than the man (or woman). If the plan works, then your age doesn’t matter. If the plan fails, then your age doesn’t matter. Depending on the results, someone might say your age explains why you succeeded or failed but that’s really an after-thought.
When I see older folks relying more on their years of experience than monitoring and improving results or younger folks relying on their ability to generate new ideas without concern for results, I see two groups of people that simply don’t get it. If they find success, it will be in spite of themselves.
That’s why I am leery of authority that is built on years of experience rather than results. It is also the reason why I don’t write everything that comes to my mind (or I am careful about how I present it). If I am just throwing an idea out there, that’s one thing but if I am going to make a recommendation, it is going to be based on results. And I wouldn’t buy any authority that doesn’t rely on the same standards.
I consider myself a refugee. You see, I once thought the glass ceiling didn’t exist.
At least, it didn’t anymore. How could it? There were different genders, races and religions at every level in American business. We were dealing with a labor shortage too so even if companies wanted to be picky, they couldn’t afford to do it. They needed skilled people at all levels and increasingly, those were coming outside of the once prototypical business person (white, male…you know, also known as me). Good thing too since I believe that competition is the essence of success.
Now I haven’t been too political on my blog but people that follow me closely probably think I lean conservative (of the freer market, smaller government variety). Luckily I have friends and colleagues who are all over the map. Living in Portland will do that to you.
So it surprised a couple people I know when I started arguing that the biggest impact that the recession will have is that the glass ceiling will not only still be there but it will be thicker then it has been in the past decade. It also surprised people in some of the HR circles I run so I absolutely had to post my argument.
Forget The Boomers And The Gen Y’ers
When layoff time comes, HR focuses on young versus old. I can understand it some, there are some pretty significant laws that protect older workers including the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and a crapload of other state laws to take into account too. Also, it seems that some are either celebrating that Gen Y will be brought down to Earth by layoffs or that they will succeed beyond all possible odds. Cue the Rocky soundtrack. Wait, that doesn’t really work for most of Gen Y.
Anyway, who cares about Gen Y? I speak to this point as a Gen Y’er. We’ll probably get cut at a disproportionate rate but most of us can afford to take the cut. With decades until retirement, no college aged children, very few of us with other commitments such as houses and deferments available on student loan balances, we’ll be fine.
Boomers will be protected by over-zealous HR departments who will always give a person 40 or over the edge in a department (instead of considering them as equals). And if they are wrongly termed, they have many more options and technicalities they can get judgments on than those under 40 can.
Race And Sex: This Isn’t NASCAR
Wait, NASCAR is sexy? That’s probably another topic…
When layoffs started hitting hard, a story was run about males being disproportionately impacted by layoffs. Glass ceiling deniers or apologists pointed and said “See! See!” The only problem, most of the positions men were losing positions at were blue collar manufacturing and construction jobs. Throw in s0me investment bankers too. Couple that with the fact that gains within the female population were typically in service related positions such as health care and you don’t have a great argument that the glass ceiling is gone.
Another one is that the election of Barack Obama is a sign that all is well and the glass ceiling is broken. Certainly Obama’s run has inspired millions of people and given them hope (excuse my co-opting of his campaign slogan). Unfortunately hope and inspiration doesn’t overcome some hard truths:
If you have a senior manager with 25 years of experience, I can bet money on the race and sex of that person. If Vegas had that as a game, they would be broke.
During layoffs, if it is a choice between the person with 10 years of experience and 25 years of experience, I can also bet on who is going to get laid off.
That person is going to find it much more difficult to find a job in this rough economy which means they might settle for a lower position.
That person with 5–10 years of experience is much more likely to be non-white and/or non-male then the person with 25 years of experience meaning it is still more difficult to move up.
Getting Over The White Male Guilt
Even if all conditions for all races and sexes are equal today (which isn’t probably the case), the fact that they haven’t been equal in the past and that inequity gap was wider in the past gives non-whites and non-males a distinct disadvantage. In a recession, those disadvantages become more apparent.
So what’s the solution? What’s the white guy going to do?
I don’t know the solution. I think many of the solutions (and lack of solutions) presented are problematic in their own right and that the only solution that has really worked consistently is time. Time for people to gain experience so there isn’t that gap in past experience. Time for people to accept others as well as some protection while we are still trying.
I’ve stopped being guilty about it though. The true need here is for recognition, understanding and ultimately action.
When I was a kid, I used to play basketball all of the time. When you live in the Northwestern US, there were only two sports your could really play year round: basketball and soccer. For a good nine months, you could depend on rain interrupting your sport regularly and basketball was one where there were a lot of covered or indoor facilities available. I never could get into soccer as I had big clumsy feet that couldn’t direct a ball. Of course, my big clumsy feet hurt my basketball play as well but at least I could compensate with my hands.
When I was playing basketball, I used to say “stupid easy” all of the time. It refers to a task that should be so incredibly easy, you can do it in your sleep, after a few sips of an adult beverage … anything. A layup, a free throw and really any shot within 10 feet of the basket should be stupid easy if you’ve played basketball regularly. It is all about repetition and muscle memory.
That’s why when Nick McCormick sent me his book Lead Well and Prosper, I was so happy to see its size. It is a short 96 pages so I read through it twice. The first time I went through it, I did what I do for most of the books I read: focus on covering a lot of ground, skipping sections that are obvious or redundant. That took me about a half an hour. The next night, I read through it word for word and it took me about an hour.
The first thing you should know about this book is that it is a teaching book. The underlying message is that this book gives you advice on how to handle much of the tactical, day to day processes of being a manager. You may be tempted to note or highlight in the book. Please do! That’s what paper was made for after all.
The more implicit point is that good leadership is stupid easy. Anyone can learn the skills necessary to be a good leader in their organization. If a book that is 96 pages and holds your hand through the process doesn’t convince you that you too can be a good leader, I don’t know what will. This book could easily be used as a leadership training manual.
You’ll also notice that I am differentiating between good and great leadership. We have a shortage of good leaders in Corporate America. While our great leaders are often visionary, there is a dramatic drop off from that. I believe being a good leader is stupid easy and that people only need a few pieces, repetition and memory. It is a path that nearly anyone can take.
If I had to pull my favorite pieces of advice out of Nick’s book, I would take the following:
Listen — A skill that must be practiced, repeated and constantly checked. It isn’t difficult, it just takes time to form the habit.
Do What You Say You’ll Do — If you say you’re going to do something, execute. Don’t overbook yourself as it is better to say no at the front than when it is needed.
Embrace the Uncomfortable — Problem employee? Boss who throws everything out of whack? You have to be willing to take care of these things head on.
For the other 12, you can check out the book. We’ll also be doing a contest over at HRM Today to give away a few of these books too so stay tuned.
My first exposure to any sort of serious form of diversity training started at the university I went to. I was on a university diversity committee, somehow suckered into the role by my boss at the time. I walked into the room and, not surprisingly, nobody looked like me. I remembered how miserable I was because it obviously lacked effectiveness and it took up quite a bit of time. Imagine going to a two hour meeting and feeling like you went in the opposite direction of where you should have gone every time? That was every one of these meetings.
In these meetings, we talked about fostering understanding, creating an environment free of hate or celebrating our different cultures. We talked about getting speakers, free concerts, movie nights, or [insert any event where we offered free food to poor students]. Everybody patted each other on the back at the end and said great job so I didn’t have the heart (or the guts) to tell everyone that we didn’t accomplish much.
It was one of those moments where I promised myself “Never again.” It was also a moment where I saw HR could be a big factor in actually fixing some of the things that hurt diversity. And I wasn’t going to do it through holding worthless meetings.
Fostering understanding, creating an environment free of hate or celebrating our different cultures is important. It is also a band-aid, an oversimplified solution for a serious problem and completely ineffective. Imagine if female employees were angry about differences in pay. So you go on a retreat, talk about people’s feelings and end the camp by everyone holding hands and singing kumbaya. Great retreat, right?
Wrong. Failure. Utter failure.
You go back to work Monday morning and female employees are still being paid differently. Nothing has been resolved. People may understand the issues but they don’t fix it.
Having an understanding about different cultures and promoting a hate-free environment may feel good but it doesn’t fix anything. Actions fix things. Actions are more important (but more difficult).
So while you are patting yourselves on the back in your diversity committee meetings this month, ask yourself what have you done lately? Have your actions resulted in less of a need for a diversity committee? The main goal of diversity committees should be eliminating the need for a diversity committee right? Really great employers have relieved many of the institutional barriers that hold back people from succeeding.
How far along are you in eliminating your diversity committee?