Sunday, January 30, 2005

We Contain So Much More

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)


This excerpt, from the poem Song of Myself by Walt Whitman, opens up a vast thought for me about potential, about possibility.

For instance, we are taught that contradiction is bad. "Don't contradict me, young man." Or "You are contradicting yourself."

What if both positions are possible? If both positions are right?

I'm coming to the thought that we contain so much more than we know. It's a thought that runs counter to our socialization. We are taught to think of ourselves as units. We break things down, diagram things, and put things into boxes. We tend to think in terms of limits, in terms of scarcity.

What if we actually had no limit, no edges, no top, no bottom, no sides?

God is a circle whose center is nowhere and whose circumference is everywhere.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

STEPS to Training

I'm in the business of training folks in the workplace, helping them learn stuff that they need to know in order to do their jobs and perform well against the many challenges they face.

The other day, someone asked me, "When you are contacted by a client with a purported training issue, what steps do you follow?"

What do I do?

S - Stop what I'm doing so that I can attend to them or Schedule a
meeting with them so that I can attend to them.

T - Take time to listen. Tell the client what I need from them.
Teach by my example.

E - Examine the data related to the client's need. Educate myself
about the client's business.

P - Push back on the client if I think there is reason to. Plan an
approach. Propose the plan to the client.

S - Stay open. Stay loose. See how it goes.

BTW: I enjoy playing with acronyms.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Farewell Johnny!

Johnny Carson, who died yesterday at age 79, will be missed by many. And not just in Hollywood.

Born in 1955, I was a TV addict and grew up with Johnny during the 1960's. It was a milestone when I was permitted to stay up late with my dad to watch The Tonight Show, a program considered to be adult entertainment back then.

His cavalcade of guests was a chronicle of the three decades from 1962 to 1992. Many of my favorites appeared, including Don Rickles, Joan Rivers, Dick Cavett, Gary Schandling, Burt Reynolds, Steve Martin, Dom DeLuise and Robin Williams.

Not only was Carson a great TV personality, he perfected the opening monologue. He was the master of facial expressions and silence. He could "kill" without saying a word.

His "Mighty Carson Art Players" ensemble was a hoot. And I especially loved his characters such as Carnak. But the best was lovable Aunt Blabby.

He was unafraid of physical stunts and would often subject himself to potentially dangerous ones. Whenever he had guests from the local zoo, from monkeys to birds to baby tigers, hilarity would result.

Johnny, I'll miss you! Godspeed.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Leadership Development

At a listserv where I participate, a training consultant posted a dilemma about how to handle unruly participants at a leadership retreat.

Here's a snippet: "I faced one of the toughest groups EVER. Not only were they late every single day of a 3 day retreat, on days 2 and 3 they were hungover due to heavy drinking. They did not respond well to attempts to keep the discussion on track or to keep discussions concise. On the morning of day two, most of the group slept in and the director overruled me in front of the whole group and after that, it was hard to get cooperation. In the end the group ran WAY behind schedule and the recreational activity which was to have started at 1:00 to cap things off, got going at 4:30 and had to be truncated as some had to get to the airport."

My initial response was: "There is no reason (other than perhaps financial desperation) for you (or any of us in the T & OD field) to stand for such irresponsible, out-of-control, and insulting behavior."

What exactly should she have done? Let me answer this way.

One of the things that a parent does (hopefully) for her child is teach him to be a responsible person. My wife and I are working on this. Our sons are 17 and 16 years old. So far, so good. The feedback we get from their teachers, and from others outside the family, is that we have raised two fine young men. It's gratifying to hear. But I know my job as a parent isn't over yet.

What exactly have we been doing? In truth, muddling through, since there was no guide book (except Dr. Spock) or "Parent Effectiveness 101."

But when you stop and analyze it, we did what our parents did for us. They loved us, first and foremost. They provided a home and took care of the basics (i.e., food, shelter, etc.). They taught us stuff, from how to talk (e.g. the ABC's) to how to behave ("No elbows on the table.").

Then, they communicated their expectations, e.g. "clean up your room." Later, they followed up and inspected what they expected: "Terry, your room looks good. Isn't that better than before?"

When we did something dumb, they taught us about thinking (e.g. about consequences) and about making good choices.

When we were frustrated because we wanted something but couldn't get it, they taught us about patience, forbearance, and later about setting goals, planning, and saving.

When we let them down, or when we did not keep a promise, they confronted us and let us know how they felt about it.

When we hurt someone, they taught us about apologizing. And when we were hurt by someone, they taught us about forgiveness.

Over time, they taught us about being responsible, about making choices, about keeping commitments, about following through, and about respect (for oneself as well as for others).

What does this have to do with training and organizational development?

Everything.

What kind of leaders are we shaping? What kind of organizational cultures are we building?

My pastor, Fr. Doug, has a favorite saying: "Everything we do (or do not do) teaches."

In our professional practice, whether as internals or as external
consultants, what are we teaching?

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Performance Appraisal

Right now, a noted HR consultant is running a most curious contest: "Enter The Performance Appraisal Worst or Funniest Experiences Contest."

He asks, "Do you have a performance appraisal horror story? A great example of a completely hopeless example of how appraisals should NOT work? Funny appraisal stories? Now's your chance to share your experiences with others, and win . . . prizes."

I don't know about you, but my personal experience with appraisals has been anything but fun.

Although I well understand the reasons for performance appraisal, my experience (as both an appraiser and an appraisee) has ranged from annoyance to dread to horror. At no time have I had an experience of performance appraisal that could be called funny.

Unless, if by "funny," you mean strange.

When I was a kid, I learned to differentiate between two kinds of funny:

1) Funny = haha

2) Funny = strange

Appraisal, like other aspects of organizational life, would definitely fall into category two. Here we find the stuff that Dilbert is made of.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Turning Fifty

Yes, in case you haven't heard yet, I have turned fifty. Kind of amazing, isn't it?

My wife Joan and I have recently started to realize that, with the passing of my Dad and her Aunt Marg, there are very few left from that generation. Only my Aunt Gloria, I think. Which leads to the inescapable conclusion that we are now the elders. To the little ones like my nephew Andrew, we are the "oldsters."

But you know, I don't feel old. Sure, I have more twinges these days, my eye sight is blurrier, and getting out of my leather chairs is harder to accomplish. But inside, I still feel like a silly youngster who doesn't know what he wants to be when he grows up.

At my birthday party last night, the most frequently asked question was "So, how does it feel to be fifty?"

My intial answer is, Not so different.

But I guess I am now officially "over the hill." Or better yet, I'm on the hilltop. From here the view is different. Unlike ever before in my life, I can now see the retirement horizon waaaaay out there in the vague hazy distance. I may never get there.

But I'm not going to dwell on that. Rather, my sights are set on the near-term challenges of helping my son Kevin get into college and helping his younger brother David to steer through the last two years of high school.

This "getting old" stuff is a non-negotiable. The years roll on whether we like it or not. The key, I guess, is to stay young at heart. To think young. Stay awake. And keep on having fun.


Saturday, January 08, 2005

Life is what you make it

My mother, who passed away in 1981, taught me that "Life is what you make it." I've always believed that, but until the other day, I didn't fully get it.

I was attending a management seminar at work this week. The topic was leadership and change. The instructors were consultants, hired by the new owners, charged to shake us and wake us up to the new realities of being acquired.

They were provoking us to think about the results we want to obtain in life. They were pushing us to think about who really determines the outcomes that we get in life, both at work and at home.

If life is truly what YOU make of it, then very few external things really influence your life. A tsunami, for example, such as the one that hit Indonesia last week, can overwhelmingly influence your life. You don't have any say-so in the face of a tidal wave.

Outside of uncontrollable things like that, the major influence on your life is You. Your attitude. Your actions. You control 99% of what happens. Or doesn't happen.

"Assuming it can't be done, limits what can be done" is quite true.

I'm reading a book at the moment called Flying Without Wings by Arnold R. Beisser (published in 1989 by Doubleday). He was a champion tennis player who became a quadraplegic at age 25. Despite the catastrophic misfortune that befell him, Beisser went on to a successful career as a clinical professor of psychiatry, as well as a consultant and noted author.

His story is about choice and personal power. As he struggled with the awful truth that he had lost everything that he had most valued, he finally realized that he still had life. And he still had a future. And that he could still choose.

As someone once said, "If you think you can't, you won't" or something like that.