Scene & Herd blog

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How dare I NOT be offended!

One late evening of the American Civil War, President Lincoln visited the home of General McClellan, head of the Army of the Potomac, to discuss vital strategy. The General was out, so he waited for his return. After an hour McClellan arrived and was told that his important guest was waiting. Without a word, he snubbed his commander-in-chief and headed to his room. After another half-hour, Lincoln was told of McClellan’s retirement to bed. Lincoln’s secretary John Hay bristled that the president should have been greatly offended, but Lincoln offered that it was “better at this time not to be making points of etiquette and personal dignity.”

When offenses arise, do I not make the personal choice to be offended? Or to ignore, overlook or move on?

I may be disrespected or insulted, but those are the acts of the perpetrator. Taking offense is an act reserved only for me.

And so is my choice for an opposite reaction: “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Not taking offense does not change or excuse the wrong directed toward me, others, or a group I identify with; but that decision does elevate me as an overcomer. I, therefore, profit despite the offense.

I recently attended a meeting in which the attendees’ discussion was declared to be a “safe space.” We were assured that everyone had come with their own background and perspectives, and it was okay to have different opinions. Yet the longer we discussed issues, the more people expressed personal offenses against what others had to say.

In order for tolerance to work, must it not flow both ways?

However, tolerance cannot be tolerated in all things. Some things, like genocide, human trafficking, murder and rape, are universally wrong and must be combatted.

Yet if truth is not relative, as these examples clearly demonstrate, how and why does it bend in our morality?

In lesser offenses, where do the lines separate between what is expected, acceptable, tolerable and intolerable?

Surely we could tolerate others’ opinions, I thought.

But what if “the science is settled?” Apparently there are science-deniers (think climate forecasts), history-deniers (think Holocaust) and Christ-deniers (think world-views), among others. There are people dwelling on both sides of such debates who are both fully convinced and fully inconvincible.

So how are we to treat all with equity and magnanimity?

It seems to me is that, as individuals, we want things both ways, and we bend our rules of behavior and acceptability to suit us.

Because: is it not true that my selfishness leads to an elevated opinion of my self-importance? And in my heightened arrogance, I then choose to be offended when my prideful sensibilities are mistreated?

Clearly, I have more questions than answers in this discussion. But here are a few thoughts I’ve collected for my own offense against offenses: Continue reading “How dare I NOT be offended!”

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Does your private life truly impact your public life?

It’s frequently denied, but more commonly ignored. We swear we don’t want to know what public leaders do privately—it’s their own business. (Yet the media claims it’s merely scooping up the private dirt the insatiable public appetite demands!)

Perhaps. But we need look no further than the morning’s headlines to document the direct correlation between countless individuals’ private and public behaviors. While it may be covered up for a time by bluster, talent, charisma or other gifts, we can all recall more than a few public failures, or “mistakes” admitted to in which private actions became public scandals.

When a leader’s intentions and behaviors clash, look to character to discover why.

Lance Armstrong, Gary Hart, Anthony Weiner, Jim Baker, Richard Nixon, Brian Williams, Rob Ford, Bernie Madoff, Martha Stewart, Mel Gibson: they’re just a fraction of the more infamous fallouts. Such a list of Exhibit A’s demonstrate the problem is not confined to particular professions, industries, ages or genders.

Here are five characteristics that make character the pivotal point of everyone’s persona:

Character is a foundational morality product.
Morality is universally and primarily a social issue, not a religious one. Conforming to the rules of virtuous conduct is good for everyone: virtues are universal and absolute standards that do not change with circumstances, time or point of view. When virtues are practiced, they always support personal and collective well-being. When rejected by a person, team or community, their foundations corrode and crumble. Virtue sustains character, but its absence destroys it.

Character is more than talk.
In my career, I’ve personally hired more than 300 individuals. As a usual part of my interview process, I ask the candidate to briefly tell me how each character trait I mention applies to them, and I take notes. Regrettably, there’ve been too many times I’ve had to go back to those very quotes to remind employees that their actions have contradicted their testimony. Nobody ever admits that integrity isn’t important, but our outward actions are the real indicator of internal character, no matter what we say. We cannot separate character from actions. Continue reading “Does your private life truly impact your public life?”

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The All New Change Game: how to play to win!

LL 103 change gameGordon Moore, cofounder of Intel, famously observed more than 50 years ago that the number of transistors in an integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. And he’s been prophetically accurate in that prediction, which is now referred to as Moore’s Law, as the capability in digital electronic devices—from microprocessors to memory and pixel capacities—to mention just three—has exploded exponentially. And with it has burst a never-ending surge of marketplace innovations, competitive restructurings and operational alterations.

No matter what your industry, you are immersed in a changing business. As a leader, you may exude technical expertise or adroitly manage your company’s financial affairs, but it is only when you solve people’s problems and confidently lead them through change does your collective value proliferate—rather than stagnate.

Because everything rises or falls on leadership, how you anticipate and respond to the constant stream of changes, innovations and modifications—especially when folks and facts go off-kilter—makes all the difference to your ultimate success.

Adaptability is the name of the Change Game. And we’re all players, like it or not. So if we’re going to play to win—and we should be, or what’s the point?—we’re going to have to acquire a taste for trends, a touch for timing, and a talent for transitions.

A Taste for Trends
Trends in markets, industries, politics, businesses or cultures are more than passing fads; they signal a broader and meaningful shift, and tracking them is key to managing their repercussions and profiting in their consequences. Be aware of current events, in and out of your industry and interests; subscribe to professional journals and newsfeeds; connect with your peers, associates and industry leaders at seminars and conferences and in online networking groups.

  • What are the three most-discussed trends facing your company or your profession today?
  • How may you insert yourself knowledgeably into the conversation? What educational opportunities can you avail yourself of to stay current?

Continue reading “The All New Change Game: how to play to win!”

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How to live, eat and breathe leadership

LL 102 not position, but dispositionWhen her workplace instituted a new nonsmoking rule, Gail came to realize that healthy living is a lifestyle choice—not just a workday prohibition. Practicing it part-time simply wouldn’t produce the results she wanted. So she chose to quit smoking entirely, eat better, exercise more frequently and enjoy the benefits of her healthier body.

This serial feature is so named because leadership is not something you merely put on and take off like a work hat. It isn’t just for time on-the-clock, special occasions, or for show. Leadership is not a matter of position, but of disposition, and extends to all facets of life.

Like my friend living the healthy life of a true believer, those who pursue true leadership embrace a whole-life concept that guides all their beliefs, behaviors, attitudes and actions. The leadership lifestyle then serves them well in all arenas of living: mind and spirit, labor and leisure, home and community.

This leadership-enabled lifestyle is substantiated in an extraordinary life based on our daily dealings with our circumstances, contemporaries, calamities, and capabilities. Aspire to these foursquare living principles:

1. Live above your circumstances.
Circumstances have a way of getting up in your grill. Good, bad or indifferent, they’ll rule you every time if you overcompensate them with significance, or seek your validation in them. Follow not their tracks, but direct your own. Continue reading “How to live, eat and breathe leadership”

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How to destroy the debilitating effects of (gulp!) ignorance within

LL 101 countering ignoranceIgnorance is debilitating.

Being ignorant does not mean a person is stupid or unintelligent. It simply refers to knowledge not possessed, like a little child who is ignorant of how to drive a car. I myself am ignorant of a great many things, including international macroeconomics, internal medicine, and my way around the kitchen. However, if I were to act in them despite my lack of understanding I would inevitably prove to be imprudent, unwise and sorry! Ignorance breeds foolishness.

Ignorance fosters fear. A Chapman University Survey on American Fears concluded that people with lower levels of education exhibited significantly higher levels of fear in nine different categories (safety, anxieties, victimizations, phobias, etc.). Far from stopping the bad from happening, fear instead prevents good things from materializing. Fear through ignorance discards choice and opportunity, deters risk and innovation, and disallows achievement and success.

Ignorance can stifle learning. Those who believe they already know all they need do not seek further knowledge or refinement. They tend to reject new information, neither realizing its value nor understanding its validity. Those who cannot or will not recognize their own ineptitudes are common enough to even claim a name for their syndrome: the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Unfortunately, as Charles Darwin lamented, “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.” Moreover, while knowledge has been greatly increasing in this Information Age, it cannot keep up with the exponential pace of new information—which means that our collective ignorance is growing faster than our knowledge!

How then can leaders counteract the debilitating effects of ignorance, both within themselves and their organizations? Continue reading “How to destroy the debilitating effects of (gulp!) ignorance within”

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How to soar over the ruins of stinkin’ thinkin’

LL 100 soaring over stinkin thinkinWhen my overcrowded local library was looking to expand, it wasn’t the people interested in improving themselves and their community who came out against it, of course, but only those who weren’t, or who refused to see the value in a better resource. Some people, bluntly put, prefer ignorance. The worst even take pride in it!

I had a grand-uncle I loved, but his thinking was less than grand. With all his creative ideas, when asked why he didn’t get involved in local organizations to make the differences he talked about, he famously declared “What this world needs is a benevolent dictator. And I’m just the man to do it!”

See, if things couldn’t be done his way—and without question—then he wouldn’t have any part of it. That’s a shame.

There’s a place for small thinking—bonsai growers, nuclear physicists and silicon chip manufacturers, to name a few. But for progressive leaders and managers, small-mindedness is a fatal affliction.

If we permit ourselves to become small-minded, we succeed only in minor accomplishments, and forfeit both the moral authority and the vision to achieve a greater good.

I’ve noticed a couple of common ailments among the small-minded. They:

• are usually satisfied with the status quo.
• are unwilling to change for a variety of reasons/excuses.
• do not notice or cannot comprehend the differences between mediocrity and excellence.
• have a “good enough” mentality.
• are unable or unwilling to see the big picture.
• deal in doubt and incite disbelief.
• focus on minimum requirements, easy fixes and paths of least resistance.
• are more concerned about what’s in it for “me” than what’s in it for “we.”

To the small-thinker, change is an onerous operation; to the big-thinker, it’s an investment opportunity. Yet reaching any goal, realizing any dream, or achieving any vision is, by nature, a successful experience in creating and managing change.

The difference between small and large thinkers is not in their intelligence, but in their mindsets and perceptions. We are, after all, the product of how we frame and control our thinking and imagination.

Continue reading “How to soar over the ruins of stinkin’ thinkin’”

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How to hire the right people for the right jobs

LL 99 hiring wiselyOne of my most challenging and delicate personnel issues involved a young man I had hired for his first professional job. Unfortunately, a number of disturbing shortcomings surfaced soon after he completed his orientation and assumed his duties. Despite his willing cooperation and our collective best efforts in seeking ways to improve, he was unable to significantly improve his customer interaction and meet most of his responsibilities. After a few intense months, he and I both realized that he was floundering in a position for which he was simply unable to perform adequately. I asked him to look for another job and assisted him in his search.

We parted amicably, knowing that despite his overall failure in meeting his responsibilities, it was also my failure for placing him in a job for which he was entirely mismatched.

Hiring the right person is always a challenge. And despite all the prep-work and precautions, you may still be surprised by the appearance of a wild card in the deck. But here’s an intentional process to eliminate some of the inherent gamble in the game to find and select that right, best person:

Determine your distinguishing culture
Your organizational culture is expressed in the collective behaviors of the people within it, and how their actions are perceived and received by others. So whenever you add people to the company, it impacts the culture by either reinforcing it or modifying it. And if you aren’t clear what your operating ethics and principles are, there’s a danger of bringing someone into your culture who not only doesn’t fit it, but could also destroy it. Continue reading “How to hire the right people for the right jobs”

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Mission: I’m possible

MissionPossibleEpisode 4-20-15

Setting: Right here, right now.


Good morning.

Your natural mental and emotional outlook today can be your most important ally—or your most insidious foe!

Normally undetected by remote surveillance, your mental disposition runs a clandestine intelligence-gathering operation. It is well-connected, extremely clever and highly efficient.

All your internal communiques, all your interpersonal diplomacy, indeed your entire worldview is focused through the predisposed lenses of your predominant tendencies.

As such, whether affirming, neutralizing or nullifying, they strongly influence all your beliefs, behaviors, attitudes and actions—and in every domain: mind and spirit, labor and leisure, home and community.

Their ulterior motive: control.

Your mission, should you decide to accept, is to ferret out the mole, shut down its nefarious black ops, and turn its surviving proclivities toward possibilities, its inclinations to ideals and its tendencies to triumphs.

This message will self-destruct…

Good luck.

Continue reading “Mission: I’m possible”

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Leading and defining organizational culture and why it matters

LL 98 organizational cultureHow would you describe the overall atmosphere in your office? Are your public statements verified or disproved by your employees’ behaviors? What kinds of perceptions are revealed in their candid comments? Do your people feel appreciated—or depreciated? How does their collective demeanor affect the quality of their work and the comprehensive customer experience?

Like water to a fish, the culture of our organizations surrounds us and provides the media in which we fail, flail, or flourish. And although we may pay little attention to it, it nevertheless defines us—and our clientele.

Consider the overall ambience and kinds of service you would expect at each of the following types of restaurants: a middle school cafeteria, truck stop diner, bar & grill, fast food outlet, concession stand, casual dining, coffeehouse, smorgasbord, supper club, and dinner theatre. While they all serve food (or what is at least ostensibly edible!), the great variation in their conduct and standards—and our expectations—is governed by their individual cultures.

Organizational cultures are expressed in the collective behavior of people within them, and how their actions are perceived and received by others. That group dynamic in turn impacts its corporate and community value.

For the leader who is intent on effecting positive change within the company, as well as its presence, prospects and profits in the marketplace, no other aspect is as crucial to its future. Continue reading “Leading and defining organizational culture and why it matters”

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What do you truly value?

stag waterFrom the annals of Aesop’s fables comes a lesson from stag on what’s truly valuable.

Reflecting on his image in a pool of water, a great stag admired the strength, size and shape of his comely antlers. But of his trifling feet of small split hooves, he pitied himself.

A lion appeared and the stag swiftly betook himself to flight, and kept his distance from the lion with ease, until he entered a thicket wood and became entangled with his antlers.

The lion summarily overtook him and the stag was doubly caught. Too late he reproached himself: “Woe is me! How I have deceived myself! These fleet feet which would have saved me I despised, and these widespread antlers I have gloried in have proved my destruction.”

The moral: What is truly valuable is often underrated.

Certain foundational concepts, like virtues, are universal standards because they are true regardless of circumstance, time, or point of view. However, they become meaningful only when we assign them value and priority.

Truth be told, virtues matter. In every personal relationship, every professional decision, every productive action, their values and priorities elevate us all.

As a master craftsman chooses and maintains his tools with care, for they enable his livelihood, his reputation and his prosperity, so we must also assemble our virtuous assets.

Lay hold of Integrity. Pursue Excellence. Add Gratitude. Procure Respect. Acquire Perseverance. Obtain Courtesy. Amass Diligence, Attain Virtue…

What’s in your toolchest?