Quote: Leadership vs management

Ross Perot is 78 years old today. He is a successful businessman (founder of both Electronic Data Systems and Perot Systems), one of the wealthiest people in America, and a former presidential candidate (1992 and 1996).

“Lead and inspire people. Don’t try to manage and manipulate people. Inventories can be managed but people must be led.”

Ross Perot (b. 6.27.1930)

I’m not really normal

tulsa-200px.jpgWhile visiting relatives in our hometown of Tulsa last week, I found myself on kitchen duty with my brother-in-law one afternoon. Cleaning the kitchen during the holidays is somewhat like trying to hit a moving target, because the activity never really ends — it just reaches a lull between two peaks.

But we eventually conquered the task, and with a final triumphant flourish I closed the door of the dishwasher and bent down to start the machine. When I hesitated for a moment to familiarize myself with the settings, my brother-in-law stepped in and instructed me “Just select ‘Normal’ and then push the ‘Start’ button.”

And then we thought… Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just select a “Normal” button for our family or work, and then everything and everyone around us would function in some pre-ordained and predictable fashion?

No guesswork.

No worries.

No problems.

Predictable, perfect, autopilot.

Imagine a brief pause here as we both ponder and savor this idea while looking up at the ceiling and thoughtfully rubbing our chins. Hmmm…

As enticing as it sounds at first, we decided we really wouldn’t enjoy a “Normal” button very much. We enjoy the differences among us and appreciate the uniqueness of each person in our family (most of the time). We love the surprises, the challenges, and the occasional chaos that come with the differences. We find comfort in the uniqueness of our family because it gives us a sense of identity and belonging. We have our own inside jokes and sometimes we even speak our own language. We’re probably the only family in which eggnog is called Steve. That’s just not “normal.”

And we like it that way.

Unfortunately, a lot of organizations are trying to press the “Normal” button. While companies often say they want innovative and risk-taking employees, they usually try to assimilate new employees as quickly as possible into a strict company culture. (i.e. “Normal.”) Ultimately, they value predictability and compliance.

When an employee doesn’t fit the mold, they may get poor reviews and be passed over for promotions, leaving management to wonder how they ended up with such an ill-suited employee. The employee is probably a wonderful and skilled person, but just doesn’t fit the organization’s definition of “Normal.” The sooner that both employee and employer recognize this, the better off both will be.

Do we really talk about this kind of stuff after cleaning the kitchen? Yep.

But I’ve already told you… we’re not Normal.

Practicing gratitude

In yesterday’s post, I wrote “As Thanksgiving approaches, this seems like a perfect time to start practicing gratefulness and honing that mindset.”

But how to we “practice gratefulness?” It sounded like a good suggestion, but it also felt a little incomplete without some sort of practical application. And to be honest, I didn’t have any great ideas.

Later in the day, however, I came across this excellent suggestion from Keith Ferrazzi. While driving out of town, he used the time in the car to scroll through contacts in his cell phone, and call them to tell them how grateful he was for their presence in his life. In the process, he realized how truly blessed he was.

Can you imagine getting a phone call from someone just to say “I am grateful for you”? How much would that brighten your day (week, month)?

I thought this was an excellent — and very practical — way to “practice gratitude,” and wanted to share it with you.

Don’t forget to say “Thanks”

Sending a Thank You note following a job interview, an informational meeting, or a networking event is a simple way to stand out. I always thought this was a common courtesy, but I discovered last spring just how uncommon it really is. Then I recently attended a meeting where a panel of recruiters agreed that receiving a follow up Thank You note is so rare that it makes the candidate really stand out. One of the recruiters said:

I get so few Thank You notes that if you send one, you automatically stand out. And if it is handwritten, you really, really stand out.

This is both exciting and troubling to me. It seems incredible to me that I could “automatically stand out” just by doing something as simple as writing a Thank You note. Thus it is exciting because it seems almost like winning the lottery — getting so much return for such an easy investment.

And yet troubling because it is so uncommon. If writing a Thank You note is so easy and yields such a great return, why isn’t everybody doing it? Have our collective manners eroded to the point that we have we have forgotten how or (worse) don’t care to be gracious?

Why handwritten?

Sending a Thank You note by email may be better than no thanks at all, but there is great value to a handwritten note. In her recent excellent blog post on this topic, Ruth Sherman writes

A handwritten note rises above the clutter of email so effectively. Think about it: You may not respond to most of the hundreds of emails you get each day. But I’ll wager you immediately open a piece of mail with a handwritten address and that doesn’t come in a #10 envelope. I know I do. I love getting these thoughtful notes.The act communicates so much: The writer took time, she or he cares, the receiver is important. When was the last time an email made you feel that way?

Handwritten cards are better because they stand out. Not everyone will open and read your email, but you can almost guarantee that they will open a hand-addressed envelope received in the mail. And it communicates a thoughtfulness that can’t be captured in an email. Handwritten notes are more heartfelt.

True Gratefulness

And that leads to my final thought about Thank You notes. Sending a Thank You note simply because it is a good job-search or networking strategy seems disingenuous, so I hesitate to advocate it as such. I know I’m guilty of writing Thank You notes filled with empty platitudes simply because I know it is a good strategy. Or maybe because it’s what my mom taught me to do. And maybe I wasn’t even that grateful, but was just pretending to be (ouch!).

Instead of writing something bland and staid like “Thank you for taking time to visit with me yesterday blah blah blah,” perhaps we should try to express what we are truly grateful for. Did the person share some particularly useful information or wisdom with you? Did the person challenge you in a positive way? Did the person go out of the way to do something special for you? Was the person unusually patient in answering all your questions? If so, try to express that in your written note.

This requires a little more thought, and I suspect is not as natural for most of us. As Thanksgiving approaches, this seems like a perfect time to start practicing gratefulness and honing that mindset. And perhaps our future Thank You notes will be expressions of true gratefulness instead of just a strategy.

Quote: Creating leaders

Happy Birthday, Tom!

Today’s birthday quote honors one of my (well, shoot — one of everybody’s) favorite business writers and thinkers, Tom Peters.

Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.

Tom Peters (b. 11.7.1942)

Quote: The best executive

In honor of Teddy Roosevelt’s birthday, I wanted to share a bit of his wisdom:

“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”


Teddy Roosevelt

26th President of the United States (1901 – 1909)

b. 10/27/1858, d. 1/06/1919

Four questions (and answers) for managers

For a recent article in the Columbia Business Times, five management consultants were asked to respond to following four questions.

  1. What are a few steps small businesses can take to create better work environments? Conversely, what are some mistakes that companies make that create poor work environments?
  2. There are horror stories out there about well-intentioned team-building exercises that end up causing more divisiveness in the workplace. In your experience, what works and what doesn’t work?
  3. Just about every potential employee who walks into a job interview will tell you he or she gets along well with others, but what are good questions to ask job applicants to help determine whether they will indeed be team players?
  4. What are the top three to five management concerns that business operators have expressed this year? Are those concerns much different than they were in past years?

The survey responses are very insightful, and I thought I would share the article with you. It is worth reading.

One of the comments that made me think was Bob Scribner’s response the second question about team-building exercises:

It’s not necessarily the team building exercise that is at fault. Team building exercises were never meant to correct poor relationships that already exist in an organization. They ask people to make themselves vulnerable without taking into consideration the relationships of the participants is stormy at best. If the persons who are participating in such activities have healthy relationships then there may be some benefit from team-building exercises. If the relationships are [I think this is supposed to aren't] healthy then they will only bring more harm.

I have found this to be true in many cases. There are many different types of effective team-building activities, but what may be appropriate for one team may not be appropriate for another. You need to know which stage of development the team is in before deciding on a team-building activity. If you use an inappropriate team -building activity, you could create resentment and end up doing more harm than good.


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