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Daily Dairy from Contented Cows

Since the June 23 referendum in which voters in the United Kingdom opted out of the European Union, there has been no small volume of ink and electrons applied to discussing the ramifications, good and bad (mostly bad) of what many describe as a surprising outcome.

So rather than heap more words on that argument, I’m going to look at it from the other side of the road: when people, in any context, become dissatisfied, disillusioned, and feel abused and/or taken for granted, they’ll start looking for the exit, or in this case, the Brexit.

It happens in marriages and other relationships. It happens with consumers and their once-favored brands.

And it happens in the workplace. Always has, always will.

The parallels between Brexit and “Wexit” (Worker Exit, of course), are almost as numerous as the EU officials who never thought the Brits would leave. I’ll highlight but a few that jump readily to mind.

As a sports-minded teen growing up in West Virginia in the mid 60’s, I was an impressionable witness to the metamorphosis of a brash young boxer named Cassius Clay into the more fully formed adult who became known as Muhammad Ali.

Our town wasn’t exactly a bastion of racial or social tolerance, so there wasn’t much local sympathy when Ali was stripped of his title and livelihood, fined, and sentenced to prison for refusing to be drafted into the military. Though his conviction was eventually overturned by an 8-0 Supreme Court decision, he still paid a heavy price.

It took me a while to come to grips with the fact that, whereas Ali was as good a promoter as he was a fighter, his decision to reject the draft notice was based far more on conviction than self-promotion. And in that respect, his actions proved more respectable than those of some of my classmates who found more surreptitious ways to avoid military service in the same increasingly unpopular war. He at least stood up and said, “No” in an unwavering voice.

Whether as parents, business or civic leaders, this presents an enduring lesson for those of us who have accepted the mantle of leadership – notably that we, too must stand for something(s), and stand means stand. It’s not always going to be appreciated at the time, and there is often a personal price to be paid. Yet, people who look to us for leadership have a right to expect that we will find our voices when circumstances call for it, and that those voices will be equally clear and resolute when we say, “No, we’re not going there”, “We can do better”, or to unambiguously call someone out who is behaving badly.

The song, “If I Could Turn Back Time” written by Diane Warren and performed by recording artist, Cher, laments our inability to completely erase and undo harm caused to another:

“If I could turn back time
If I could find a way I'd take back those words that hurt you and you'd stay.

I don't know why I did the things I did. I don't know why I said the things I said.
Pride's like a knife it can cut deep inside.
Words are like weapons they wound sometimes.

I didn't really mean to hurt you, I didn't wanna see you go…”

Leaders, like every other human, occasionally cause harm to others, be it via a mean or inconsiderate comment, personal betrayal, inappropriate use of position power, forgetfulness, selfish behavior, or some other action. More often than not, when it happens, we are aware of it, but choose to minimize or not to clean up the mess we just made, perhaps out of arrogance, pride, or ignorance (as in not knowing how best to remedy it).

One such episode permanently seared in my own memory involves a senior exec who chose to chew me out via speakerphone while two peers, one of my direct reports, and a contractor sat in his office listening to the ‘conversation’. The ONLY reason for doing that with an audience, let alone that particular audience, was to embarrass and humiliate. He got that, and more. Like the injured friend or lover in Cher’s song, I quit him immediately, and then left the job on my terms and timetable. And we wonder where disengagement comes from?

Simply put, once spoken, words can’t be put back in the mouth. Many deeds cannot be undone. But what we can, and must do is take responsibility for our messes and clean them up. Some of us seem content to roll thru life without regard for the damage caused by our wake. That damage accrues to our reputation which, at the end of the day, is all any of us has.

Following is some of the best advice I’ve gotten on this topic, most of it from the good example of others (thanks, Mom):

When you make a mess…

  1. Own it – sooner, not later. Don’t wait to be force-fed the facts or blame.
  2. Offer a real apology, not one of those wimpy, qualified (“I’m sorry if anyone was offended”) versions. Do it in person. Do it once, and mean it.
  3. To the best of your ability, make it right - make the person whole.
  4. As long as you’re paying the price for your mistake, learn from it and move on, a better person.

Economists have struggled over the last decade to attribute and explain the dramatic slowing of U.S. productivity growth. Since 2005, U.S. labor productivity growth (growth of measured output minus the growth of labor input) has been effectively sawed in half. As one of the few real indicators of economic vitality, understanding this phenomena is anything but an academic exercise.

Monday, 21 March 2016 22:40

Stupid Manager Tricks

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For better than two decades, late night talk show host, David Letterman ran hilarious periodic segments, Stupid Pet Tricks, highlighting silly tricks that people had taught their pets to perform. In a somewhat similar fashion, most of us manager-types have, over the years and the course of our careers adopted or fallen into habits and thought processes that, when subjected to the harsh light of day, are equally silly, but with more serious consequence. An example…

Monday, 21 March 2016 22:39

Have You Ever Been Attacked by a Shark?

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Guest post by Jonathan Cardwell

Mick Fanning has been.  Last month while surfing a competition off the Eastern Cape of South Africa, Mick was attacked by a shark.  He bravely fought off the shark and escaped without any physical injuries.

Monday, 21 March 2016 22:38

Listening… Really Listening

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By Bill Catlette

Recently, I came uncomfortably close to dying in a well-equipped, modern, metropolitan hospital emergency room, a building that I had walked into under my own power. The cause of the near death experience was preventable. It had nothing to do with staffing shortages, Obamacare, or a packed emergency department. Rather, it had a lot to do with listening, specifically the lack thereof. Listening, really listening.

Monday, 21 March 2016 22:38

Should We Stop Doing Performance Reviews?

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For the past few years there has been a hue and a cry, joined of late by large numbers of HR professionals, suggesting that companies need to stop doing traditional performance appraisals. You know what we’re talking about – those semi-annual (usually), awkward, occasionally unpleasant, and never timely conversations where you and your boss are supposed to sit down and have a documented conversation about what has gone well, and not so well with your work performance.

In a presentation last week for a group of healthcare industry managers, I was asked to comment on “work-life balance.” My remarks were prefaced with the admission that I’m fairly certain I no longer know what “work-life balance” means.

At one time, the term implied that there is a point of demarcation where one’s work stops and our private (non-work) life begins, and that there is some reasonable balance between the two.

Monday, 21 March 2016 22:37

Reputation Recruits, but Reality Retains

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In the last few weeks, US universities have disgorged nearly 2 million new graduates into the job market, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. American companies have been working hard (and spending a fortune) to recruit these new graduates, as well as others. They may want to also consider putting more effort into managing their employer reputation.

Monday, 21 March 2016 22:36

Choose a Great Boss. Be a Great Boss

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Guest post by Ivan Serrano

The best technique for getting ahead at work is choosing a great boss. Not a great job, a great boss. A great boss is one who listens to employees, who is willing to let employees make mistakes and learn from them, who understands the value of loyalty, who is willing to go to bat for employees and who makes sure employees have everything they need to succeed.

Monday, 21 March 2016 22:36

Leaders… You Really Need Truth-Tellers

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My last real (corporate) job was an eleven-year run with a very fast moving “550 mph warehouse” as the company’s founder and CEO has been known to put it.

Shortly after I accepted the job offer but before the start date, my new boss, a blunt talking former FBI agent summoned me for a little extra pre-game face time. A central theme of his message was that, in my new role, he expected a lot of mental errors to be made, without which he said, “You won’t be moving fast enough to stay relevant and impactful.”

Monday, 21 March 2016 22:35

Some New Year’s Coaching for You

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Another new year has begun, and many of us are now in the process of embracing it, with hopeful ambitions to tidy up our bodies, our lives, habits, homes, you name it. Clearly, we do so with varying degrees of enthusiasm and Commitment (capital ‘C’ intentional), but to be sure, no one enters 2015 with the hope that things will actually get worse. Not to put a damper on the freshness of the season, but some things will get worse if we don’t pay proper attention to them.

Monday, 21 March 2016 22:34

Practicing Self-Care Amidst the Storm

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Guest Post by Sylvana Rochet
As the events in Syria and Ukraine unfolded this summer, I got to thinking about how delicate it is for leaders to respond to others’ conflicts and emotional distress, while attempting to maintain their own balance. Not only because it must be hard to witness such turmoil around them – despite the trappings of whatever power they may have – but also because it seems that whatever they do will (almost always) be criticized. For President Obama, that meant being crucified for “going golfing” during his vacation as Putin rolled into Ukraine and an American journalist was beheaded in Syria. If we look closer, we can see much the same happening, albeit on a different scale in our own workplaces, creating negativity among employees and stress for the leaders.

Monday, 21 March 2016 22:33

Ebola and a Lesson on Leadership

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Since passage of reform legislation in March 2010, the U.S. healthcare industry has struggled with wrenching change brought on by movement of the tectonic plates underneath the delivery and payment sides of the industry. With the introduction of competition from new sources (e.g., diagnostics and urgent care via Doc In a Box), and the early melting of fee for service payment models, much of the industry is under tremendous pressure to adapt to completely new realities.