Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Did I Remember?

A recent radio story about a prominent national leader led me to remind myself that you never know when an encounter you have will have a powerful influence on another person.
Here is a case in point.  Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was recently asked what prompted her toward a life of striving that broke through barrier after barrier opposing the advancement and fulfillment of women.  She then became the first and only woman ever elected to be Speaker of the House of Representatives.
To the question, she responded that back in an early school debate class exercise, each student had to pull out a slip of paper from a bowl and then debate extemporaneously on the question written on the slip of paper. 
Nancy Pelosi's slip asked "Do women think?" and it has haunted, urged and propelled her since.  It is highly unlikely that the debate class teacher ever imagined the impact this exercise might have.
By the end of the radio story, I was left wondering how often I forget that any encounter I have as a leader can have a powerful impact on another person or, it can be just another forgettable encounter.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Lesson from the Coffee Pool on Being Right

I recalled an early life experience that reminded me of a lesson about managers and leaders.

One day as a young boy, I saw the local Scout Master jaywalking.  This was a man I admired greatly and here he was possibly breaking the law.  Each of us has similar examples of discovering that others we look up to aren't perfect.  As we grow older, we construct more sophisticated mental assemblies to hand these little contradictions and get over them.

Or do we?

Early in my professional career, our hospital got a new CEO.  Several months into his tenure, I was in the Executive Suite arranging meetings with his senior assistant,  She told me how very impressed she was with the new boss and it floored me.  It wasn't anything I expected from a seasoned, top of the line assistant.  She said he always chipped into the coffee pool.

The other day, when I saw a manager fill up their cup at the office coffee pool, I wondered they chipped into the pool.  The contradiction wasn't all worked out after all.

This recent manager who didn't pay didn't do anything wrong but arguable could have as I didn't see him pay. I simply hadn't seen him do it right.  If inclined toward the negative, I could have walked away from the experience assuming that he had as the conclusion was potentially open to interpretation.

For a manager seeking to also be a leader, it's not enough to be doing the right thing.  The leader must also be noticed being right.  At first, this seems trite.

Perceptions are very strong, particularly if negative.  If a manager is perceived not to be right, even in a small, seemingly insignificant area like the coffee fund, their standing as a leader drops.  If the right deed is done but not noticed at least sometimes, the perceptions in others may run to unfortunate and inaccurate negative views, sadly so, but true in my experience.

My attempts at being a more effective manager and leader include making deliberate actions that I would have taken anyway but now making them publicly at least part of the time.

I am seen at least some of the time, paying into the coffee pool.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Missing Truth of the Bryde Whale

As the summer fair season approaches, I was reminded of a childhood experience that didn't turn out how I imagined it would at a midwestern state fair where I grew up.

The sign advertised "See the REAL Bryde forty foot long whale".  I couldn't resist.  I followed the line past the ticket booth as the other paying guests and I waited our turn.  Slowly, we approached the exhibit which turned out to be a semi-truck trailer.  My suspicions were starting to rise but still, hope prevailed.

As we made our way into the trailer, our eyes took a moment to adjust to the dim light.

There, in a long tanks stretching from one end of the trailer to the other, was a very dead Bryde whale floating in some preservative solution.

True, it was a "real" whale. And no, they had not said see the real, "live" whale.  I had presumed that because, at that point, my only interest was in seeing a live whale and my perspective assumed that that's what everyone else would want to see.  Therefore, that's what would be shown I thought.

That was not the truth, not the whole truth anyway.

As leaders and managers, we are often confronted with dealing with portions of the whole truth.  Sometimes, because we simply can not reveal the full story to others.  Sometimes, sadly, because there is power in withholding the critical elements of the full picture and we withhold for advantage.

The latter will generally backfire colossally in time as the missing truth is discovered and trust evaporates.

The former, the act of disclosing part of the picture when some aspects can not then be spoken, can be accepted if the groundwork has already been laid.  For example, when a staff member is let go due to disciplinary action, it generally is not appropriate to reveal the exact nature of the action.  There were differences and they are gone and it's time to move on. 

Other staff are much more likely to accept this if the track record is already in place that you have demonstrated again and again that the portion of the truth revealed is relevant, accurate and in general alignment with the fully details later revealed.

The story of the missing truth of the Bryde Whale reminded me of the importance of telling a portion of the truth that is an accurate reflection of the whole truth rather than a twisted version true only by it's omission.