Invisibles: People who don’t pat themselves on the back

On CBS Good Morning last week, David Zweig was interviewed about his recent book called “Invisibles – The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age if Relentless Self-promotion.” The book sounds like a fascinating read which explores the success of those who show up to work each day, do their job well and collaborate with others toward common goals. These folks do not seek the limelight and are definitely not about merchandising themselves. And, each has a very rewarding career doing a job well and sharing the success with others.

In my over thirty-three years of working as a consultant, teammate, employee and, at times, manager of people, one observation seems to ring true – “work will find good people.” These are the folks who don’t talk about getting it done, they work with others to get it done. In any business, we find people who are over-committing and routinely missing deadlines or producing less than quality deliverables. We will also find people who talk about good ideas, but fewer people who get up out of their chair and go do something.

The invisible people need not be the “stars” of the team. Sometimes their strength is project or process management competence. They are the machine that gets work product done. In other words, they do the basic blocking and tackling that does not make the headlines. A successful football team is more due to those guards and tackles who make way for the stars. A business is no different. And, many do not do their job exceedingly well, but do it well-enough, and show up each day to do it again. These are those solid C+ and B- performers that every organization needs to be successful. They have an intrinsic knowledge of how to do things within that organization. If leaders do not heed their value and input, they will not be as successful or may fail.

I had an old management professor who advised his son on how to be successful, advice which I share with others. If you do these three simple things, you will have some success. “Show up, show up on time and show up dressed to play.”  It matters not the underlying business or work group. If you are not there, others have to pick up the slack. If you are constantly late, others have to pick up the slack. If you are not there wearing clothes to present yourself as expected to your colleagues and clients or dressed with the right attitude, others will have to pick up the slack. Then, an invisible person becomes visible and management will realize they can do their job without you.

The lesson of the book is a good one. You do not have to merchandise yourself to be successful. Competence is a terrific aphrodisiac to an employer. I often help people network as it is my way of paying it forward. I was helping someone I know well get a job and she is all about competence, efficiency, teaming and effectiveness. She is not as good at merchandising and your first impression would be not to hire her. I used to tell prospective employers, she may not be the one you propose to, but she is the one you want to be married to. She understands strategy, tactics and execution and that is a powerful combination.

Let me close with some observations on what to avoid. If you hear someone say he/ she is a “big picture” person, don’t hire them. If you hear someone use far too many “I’s and me’s” and not many “we’s and us’s” don’t hire them. If someone “throws people under the bus” more than accepting responsibility, don’t hire them. I recognize fully the need to have people who can sell services and merchandise themselves. But, the merchandisers I would prefer to work with know that it is a team of others who back up their commitments. Many of them are in this group called “invisibles.”

 

 

 

Canned letter responses from congressional leaders

It may not surprise some readers that I often share my concerns over legislation I find lacking or the failure to enact anything at all. We have many concerns in our country and around the globe where thoughtful, collaborative action is needed to pass laws that will benefit those in need or the targeted problem. Yet, if you write leaders as well, you likely have the same experience I have when you receive a canned letter from the politician. Actually, the politician did not write the letter, it was handled by one of the staffers. On occasion, I will get a call from a staffer, which is much preferred, but for the most part I receive a canned response based on the subject box I checked online.

Earlier this week, I received a letter from my congressman over my concerns regarding the failure to act on immigration reform. This issue has been heightened by the refugee children on the border. These frightened kids are being treated as pawns in a game and some extreme folks are showing their hind end to intimidate them and others trying to do their jobs. The letter I received was prima facie evidence of what is wrong in Washington. It went out of its way to blame the other party for failures to act and did not speak to the issue, but more on what was wrong with someone else.

I sent another email to my congressman chastising him for this response. I said I did not need to see campaign rhetoric, preferring to see more stewardship over the problem at hand.  I noted we have a bi-partisan bill passed by the US Senate, so it would behoove the House to pass a bill and reconcile, per normal process, any differences with the Senate bill. I had noted before that a group of clergy and the US Chamber of Commerce are seeking better immigration laws. And, recently, an op-ed piece was written by a bi-partisan group of business leaders, Sheldon Adelson, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates over their concerns and frustration with congressional gridlock, in general, and specifically over immigration.

The reason I have been so active writing emails to state and national legislators, is their failure to look at the issues in the proper light. Almost every issue is a political chess game that needs to be played. The thought process behind the scenes goes something like this, “Is this a wedge issue that we can make the other side look bad?” rather than “What is the problem and what is the best solution long term?”  When you focus on the former, good decisions are rarely made and hypocrisies abound. As an example, Common Core was a bi-partisan law to help kids better compete in a global world. It was passed and is being implemented, but now it is wedge issue as certain leaders want to make it a state issue. While not perfect, teachers and administrators are largely in favor of keeping Common Core and improving it.

Please keep after your legislators. Keep them on their toes. And, if their answers are not satisfactory, do not let them off the hook. If we don’t keep them honest, they will only listen to their funders and the squeaky wheel extremists who represent a very narrow, myopic point of view. They need to hear from the countless reasonable citizens.

 

What if an event in history did not happen?

If I were a history teacher, I think I would gauge how students think by asking them to respond to a simple question – what would have transpired if an event in history did not happen?  This would show the importance of that event on world affairs, as well as revealing the influence certain events have on decisions to act or not act on subsequent issues. For example, the US delayed getting into WWII as a result of being involved in WWI, which was used as an argument by isolationists not to participate.

Here are few examples to think about. Pick one or two and tell me what you think may have transpired.

  • What if Japan never bombed Pearl Harbor?
  • What if President George W. Bush and team did not fabricate the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) story as a reason to invade Iraq?
  • What if Robert F. Kennedy was not assassinated?
  • What if the Robber Baron period in the US continued without check?
  • What if the verdict in Brown v Board of Education said separate but equal schools were constitutional?
  • What if President Teddy Roosevelt did not sanction the building of the Panama Canal?
  • What if the South prevailed enough in the Civil War to remain separate?
  • What if President Ronald Reagan had not made his famous speech in Berlin and ad-libbed, “tear down this wall?”
  • What if Senator Joseph McCarthy was stood up to earlier by other leaders?
  • What if Great Britain prevailed in the War of 1812?

Although, there are some global questions, most of these questions are US centric, so please forgive. If the reaction is good to this, I may follow-up with less US centric questions.  I would love to hear your thoughts. Keep them reasonably brief, so others can enjoy and react to them.

As you ponder voting, look backwards from 2030 to see where people stand

With major issues facing our country and planet, which do not get the attention needed due to a myopic focus on the short-term by politicians, pundits and media, it would behoove us to fast forward to the year 2030 and look backwards. As the next fifteen plus years are so critical on a number of fronts, this exercise will help us vote for forward thinking, issue focused candidates. The solutions will also need to be well grounded as they need to live beyond the terms of this campaign season. As food for thought, here are the views of this independent voter.

Eco-energy issues

These issues need to be top of mind for all due to their implications.

- Per the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Union of Concerned Scientists and the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and 97% of all scientists and research papers, climate change is a significant issue and man is influencing it more so than ever. We must move in a concerted fashion toward renewable energy sources. The time is well past to address naysaying and we need to be much more demonstrative in our eco-energy planning. Note, this is not an either/ or jobs issues as there are plenty of jobs today in the wind and solar energy industry and they are hiring today.

- To this same point, we are too pell mell into fracking, without recognizing the problems it is causing for the environment and usage of water. The industry speaks of how safe the process is and that they have been fracking for over sixty years. Yet, what they fail to tell you is they have been only fracking the way they are doing now for less than ten years and the process never really has been as safe as portrayed. The non-industry data documenting the air, water and environmental issues is just beginning to be noticed and will actually paint an even worse picture over time.

Economy and income inequality

The economy has gradually improved since the recession and we are on a much better track. Yet, we need more work force retraining for the newer jobs and to address the significant income inequality in the US, as we have a huge poverty problem.

- The economic recovery has not been felt equally by everyone. With the stock market rise, those with assets are doing much better than those with fewer assets. Coupled with more part-time jobs, the “have-nots” are still struggling. We need active discussion around an increased minimum wage and making it so that it adjusts periodically. We also need even more investment in workforce training building off of the federal, state and business partnerships in the community college system and high school apprenticeships that are occurring.

- We must also invest in innovation here. Innovation is portable, so if we don’t invest here or let our brighter minds depart, then the jobs will be created elsewhere. We have a terrific college/ university system. We need to pair it up better with business, community colleges and common elementary-high school standards to leverage that innovation. There are great examples where this has occurred like at Clemson University and surrounding community colleges and businesses working together to create jobs and internships, so we should leverage our assets more fully and share those lessons.

- The Affordable Care Act will help and is helping with our poverty problem, but it could do even more if states expanded Medicaid that have not done so. This program still needs some tweaking, but when reviewed backwards from 2030 it will be deemed to be more successful than its opposition would let people believe. Getting access to doctors to prevent the train wrecks from happening down the road, will also allow for more spending in other areas, as trips to the ER and medications are not inexpensive.

- We need to help people climb ladders out of poverty. We need to constantly evaluate how we provide support and various success factors, but we need for some to move away from the belief that many are gaming the system. While there are some miscreants, they are a very small percentage according to data. Like many areas, we need data driven solutions and not hearsay. With my volunteer work with homeless families, I constantly surprise people when I say our families have a job or two and yet still find themselves homeless. This is anecdotal, but it is at least evidence based.

Infrastructure investment and improvements

There is no better jobs program than to invest in our crumbling infrastructure (bridges, roads, harbors, railways, cable lines, etc.). These are the words of Ray LaHood, a Democrat and former Secretary of Transportation, and Ed Rendell, a Republican and former Governor of Pennsylvania. Plus, if we don’t improve our infrastructure, especially making the harbors deeper for the larger ships from China passing through the deepened Panama Canal next year, we will see the distribution business sail right past us to Canada. This is one area where the Stimulus Bill actually helped and is still helping, such as improving railway in Virginia and North Carolina or repairing or replacing a significant number of bridges in Pennsylvania.

LGBT equality issues

The train for same-sex marriage has left the station. Nineteen states have overturned unconstitutional laws to deny same-sex marriage. Nine more states’ laws have been ruled by a judge to be unconstitutional and are awaiting for the appeal process to run its course. I liked the line from Ted Olson, who is a conservative attorney who argued the case in the Supreme Court to overturn California’s Proposition 8 restricting marriage to a man and woman. He said this should have conservative support as it is all about two people who want to commit to a relationship, want to raise a family and be part of the community. By 2030, all states will allow same-sex marriage as to do otherwise is discriminatory. Which side of history is the candidate on?

Immigration issues

The recent influx of young refugees has heightened the issue, but this issue has been apparent for some time and it is time to act. You have church leaders advocating better immigration laws, you have the Chamber of Commerce advocating better immigration laws, and just last week Sheldon Adelson, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates co-wrote a bi-partisan editorial that advocated the need for collaboration (in general) and better immigration laws, in particular the VISA programs where bright foreign students are trained and then leave the country. The Senate has passed a bi-partisan bill; it is well past time for the House to do the same and reconcile the two. Otherwise, we will continue with piecemeal decision-making rather than a concerted effort.

Global leadership on women’s issues to fight terrorism and poverty

Terrorism cannot be tolerated by any civilized regime or religion. Too many innocent people, especially women and children, suffer that it must not be condoned. We must push for diplomatic and political solutions based on outcomes based missions. We must also push for better treatment of women, as those countries that put down women are competing in a world with only half their assets. Plus, more women in leadership positions will only help getting to more diplomatic solutions and less aggressive posturing. I believe if we continually promote the education and better rights for women, it will benefit more regions economically. We can also start here at home by addressing violence against women on college campuses and in the military, addressing sex trafficking, stop getting in the way of women and their doctor and paying women more equally to men for equal work.

Trade-off between freedom and security

Since 9/11 the pendulum has swung too far in the minds of many toward data gathering and security. We need to have better dialogue on where this balance needs to be. Irrespective of how people feel about Edward Snowden, we are only now beginning to have that conversation. We need more transparent governance over these issues. If we tighten the screws too far against the liberty side, America will look much less like we want it to. We also need to treat our allies better and expect the same from them. With all technologies, just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.

Gun death issues

We lead the civilized world by far in gun deaths and children gun deaths. Yes, it is a complex issue with causes relating to the lack of civil discourse, entertainment violence, drugs and crime, and mental health issues, but make no mistake it is also an access to guns issue. I saw yesterday where a scientist is moving to Denmark to raise his family because he is worried about gun violence in the US. We are well past time in doing something about this issue. The NRA is powerful entity that plays both ends against the middle, but they do not speak for most gun owners. This a much more than a mass shooting issue. It is an issue that happens every day in America. And, what we don’t need is allowing for guns in bars, on playground and on college campuses. That is malfeasance, in my mind, but some states have passed such laws. And, Americans want better background checks and more elongated waiting periods. That is a start.

Debt and deficit issues

I left this one for last as it is important, but the discussion is constantly around either/ or issues – either raise revenue in taxes or cut spending. Per Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction plan, the answer is both. We were last balanced in 2001 before the Bush Tax cuts. The Secretary of Treasury was so adamant against these cuts, he was fired. His name was Paul O’Neill, and he only turned around Alcoa as CEO, so what does he know. We need both cuts in spending and increases in revenue. The infrastructure improvements is an example of where we need to spend, yet we have room to cut on defense and elsewhere.

These are key issues in my mind. We need more of collaborative people who seek data based solutions. We need less of “I win/ you lose” politicians, pundits and media. We need less of people who want to win their argument so badly, they do not look for or consider other points of view. If a candidate advocates my way or the highway, I would strongly urge we give them the highway.

 

 

The Case Against 8 – Excellent documentary on fight for same-sex marriage

The train for the right to same-sex marriages in the United States has left the station and is building steam. Currently, 19 states permit same-sex marriage, with nine others in litigation over the constitutionality banning such marriages.* But, the action that caused the train to start moving was the court case in California to overturn Proposition 8 for its unconstitutionality, which made its way to the US Supreme Court. There is an excellent documentary called “The Case Against 8″ which is now airing on HBO.**

“The Case Against 8″ is well worth the watch as it is a fascinating rendition of how the law works and the gist of the case. The people who represented the vote for Proposition 8 could show no standing that by allowing such marriages any harm was being done to others. Yet, the story is more about three sets of individuals who made this happen.

First, the two couples – Kris Perry/ Sandy Stier and Paul Katami/ Jeff Zarrillo – deserve tremendous credit for being involved in the series of court battles for over four years. They show who the law is designed to help and evidence two very loving couples who have the support of their families and children. To see what this all means from their eyes is powerful

The other couple is the two lead attorneys, whose names I did not know, but who have had a hand in numerous cases involving the US Supreme Court – Ted Olson, a conservative attorney and David Boies, a liberal attorney. Olson took a lot of crap from the right, especially the pundits, when he took this case. But, his rationale is so simple. Marriage between a loving couple, who want to build a family and contribute to the community should be supported by conservatives as well as liberals.

The strength of their combined expertise shows as both said we need to do this the right way from the beginning. We need to do this in a manner such that when the US Supreme Court hears the case, our position is as strong as it possibly can be. What I found of interest from a legal front are three sets of events.

First, during the initial court hearing to try to throw the case out, the judge asked opposing counsel what harm is being done to others and he could not think of an answer. Both Olson and Boies were amazed by this. Second, during depositions for six expert witnesses to testify that same-sex marriages should not be allowed, five of the experts decided to back out of the case, leaving only one expert. Third and most profound, the remaining expert actually conceded during cross-examination that the children would be better off if the couples were married. He later wrote an op-ed piece saying he had been wrong to support Proposition 8.

With the solid case, the US Supreme Court eventually decided 5 to 4 that same-sex marriages could occur in California and that Proposition 8 had no standing, meaning no one could show harm. The two couples were first in line to be married and led the way for many. The nine states in court now should have their same-sex marriage restrictions overturned as unconstitutional, as judges have ruled as such, and they are in the appeal stage. The others will follow suit at some point. The Virginia Attorney General noted he would not defend the law as he deemed it to be unconstitutional. He noted Virginia was on the wrong side of the law in the first interracial marriage case, ironically and importantly named for the plaintiffs – the Loving couple, and he did not want to be on the wrong side of this.

Everyone should watch this documentary. If you are against same-sex marriage, this documentary will challenge your thinking. If you are for same-sex marriage, it will validate why it is important. If you are a gay or lesbian couple, it will make you proud that what you are fighting for is finally making a difference. I would love to read your feedback before or after seeing the movie.

* A current listing of states can be found with the attached link: http://gaymarriage.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=004857

** A link to the HBO film follows: http://www.hrc.org/blog/entry/documentary-on-proposition-8-to-premiere-today-on-hbo

 

Do not mistake kindness for weakness

One of the blogs I follow, called the Kindness Blog, gives me daily hope about the goodness that we humans have inside of us. The blog* attempts to counterbalance the negativity that gets highlighted in the news and on the Internet. I had a conversation with a reporter a few years ago about the unevenness of good versus bad news stories. He said we report both, but I countered that if someone does the right thing nineteen times out of twenty, only the twentieth item would be newsworthy and not the nineteen good things the person did. So, it truly is not even reporting and is actually quite uneven in the wrong direction.

Which brings me to my title, which speaks to those who feel they are being weak by exhibiting kindness. People will long remember an act of kindness as many witness so few in their lives. And, while a negative echo will have a higher bounce, a positive one can live longer in the minds of those who benefitted from the gesture. I would also note that leadership studies have shown that the better leaders tend to deflect credit to others, while the worse ones tend to assume more credit than they deserve. These good leaders are rewarded for their kindness with better loyalty and esprit de corps. As a former consultant (and employee), it amazes me how some leaders fail to grasp this.

In my career, my volunteer advocacy, my interactions and my parenting, I have witnessed that my opinions are heard more if I treat the recipient with dignity and avoid shouting or telling them their argument is stupid. My kids will listen more when I am talking with them quietly. We often don’t recognize we are the navigators of our own customer service, so if we are kind and diplomatic with our queries, by treating the customer service representative with respect will glean better service. And, if  you avoid condescending to people in a perceived lesser economic strata than you, you will actually be more successful in your job and business.

All of the above comments could be grouped into the “walk in their shoes” mantra. If you do this more often, then you will interact in a more compassionate and kind manner.  It will greatly benefit the audience, but it will also benefit you. When my diplomacy is not met with the same level of kindness, which I sometimes get when writing legislators who have fairly strident views, I remain diplomatic and feed back informed responses. It is more than okay to disagree with someone, but be as civil as possible. The lack of civility is growing at an alarming rate, so it behooves us to remain civil and calm others. I would also add, even with people you agree with most of the time, there will be times when you disagree, so you don’t want to indict with your concerns or disagreements as you turn an agreeable relationship into an adversarial one.

Like many, I am a person of strong convictions and opinions. I detest people being taken advantage of by those with means. I detest bigotry, especially from the pulpit, as I believe that is a misuse of power. I detest politicians using faulty arguments spoon fed to them by lobbyists to step on people’s rights. Where I can, I share as diplomatically as possible my concerns. Sometimes, I address injustice by deed or action. Sometimes, I will share that I do not find something to be true, based on my experience and reading. Sometimes, I may just be silent and vote with my feet, not frequenting a store or spending time (or limiting time) with a negative person.

If you do feel the need to act or speak, if you remain kind, civil and speak to the action, not the person, then you can remain on the side of the Angels in your argument. You need to treat others like you want to be treated. I also recommend picking your battles. We are a world of imperfect beings and we all make mistakes, both big and small. As a parent of three, one still a teenager, there is almost always something that the parent could complain about or remind the child to do. Don’t sweat the small stuff, with your children or others and encourage them to do the same. Sometimes, it is better to let them make the mistake, even when you see it coming.

So, if there are any takeaways, follow my paraphrasing of the Golden Rule, which appears in almost all religious texts. And, if you walk in people’s shoes, or as a colleague used to say, “picture yourself on their side of the desk,” you will be more civil and kind to people. They will remember your kindness and you will benefit from the better interactions, both mentally and physically. I would love to read your feedback.

* A link to the Kindness Blog follows: http://kindnessblog.com/2014/07/09/yes-or-no/

 

 

 

A few more odds and ends at mid-year

Since we are just beyond the halfway point of the year, I thought I would touch on a couple of issues in the news. In no particular order:

But, we have been fracking for over 60 years…

T. Boone Pickens, the famous oil man, was on CBS Good Morning News talking about how safe fracking is and we have been doing it for over 60 years. This is a common refrain from people in the fossil fuel industry to indicate how safe a process it is. This line of reasoning is disingenuous, as while that is true, the way they are fracking now, both vertically and horizontally, has only been done for the last few years. Fracking has never been safe, it is just people outside the industry are paying attention more. But, the new process has significantly greater pressure points where failure can occur. I also was tickled that Mr. Pickens pretended not to be aware of the $3 million jury award against a fracker for a family whose health has been impacted. Of course, he is aware of this as it is “a canary in a coal mine,” pun intended.

When every issue is a political game, nothing gets done…

I saw a funny line in the Letter to the Editor section of my paper. If Congress can sue the President for aggressive executive actions, can we sue Congress for dereliction of duty.  Most Americans are weary of all the political gamesmanship in some “zero-sum game of chess” where someone must win and someone must lose. Common Core was a bipartisan plan favored by business and teachers for the US to compete better globally. But, with the President behind it, the extremists in the opposing party had to be against it and now some states are repealing it. It should be improved not gotten rid of, so says the teachers. Obamacare is patterned after a Republican idea in Romneycare that was supported by Tea Party leadership for the whole country. Once Obamacare was passed, the leadership said BOTH Romneycare and Obamacare was unconstitutional. Again, Obamacare, which is showing some success, should be improved, but not repealed, so says the majority of voters.

The US and the world has some challenges, cooler heads must prevail…

As I wrote in an earlier post quoting a line from the movie Troy, “war is old men talking and young men dying.” Women are also dying as soldiers and pawns in extremist and terrorist actions. If we are going to commit people to die, let’s makes sure we know who we are fighting against, who we are fighting with, what are we fighting for, what will be different if we do fight and, above all things, are their diplomatic and economic pressures that could be deployed to avoid killing people.

The President has done some things poorly, but he should be commended for rallying countries together to economically punish Russia. The worst punishment for Russia is they are made to look untrustworthy like their leader which has led to an exit of capital. This is far from over, but so far, we have stayed away from a far worse scenario. Obama was too slow to act in Syria, but doing due diligence and helping on a targeted basis in Iraq is a judicious move. The last thing we need to do is bomb the hell out of people before we know what is what. And, we certainly should not be listening to a former Vice President, who did exactly that on top of a lie as a reason to invade,

The response to 9/11 is making the US look bad….

Many of our allies were 100% behind us after 9/11. However, as we set up the apparatus to make our country safer,  we have stepped on not only US citizens’ rights, but the rights of others around the world. I recognize spying has been going on since the dawn of civilization, but we have to treat our allies with better respect, if we want them to do so in return. I realize there is a need for cyber intelligence gathering, but we have to have the utmost in stewardship and governance. If this spy in Germany story points a finger at the US, then we need to do some major apologies and not let it happen again. American citizens and our global counterparts deserve better than this.

Our only recourse to Citizens United and other enablers is to not listen…

I have seen enviable activity to garner signatures in attempt to alter election funding laws in response to the poor decisions of the Supreme Court on these issues. Yet, like Sisyphus, we will be rolling a boulder uphill on this. We should try, but an additional strategy is well with our grasp. In fact, we hold the key in our hands. Mute all campaign commercials, as they are at best an embellishment. Obama’s presidential campaign commercials were proven to be 50% accurate, while Romney’s were proven to be only 33% accurate, so you are better off not watching. Those which are funded by out-of-state organizations with innocent sounding apple pie names, are the ones which we especially need to avoid. Also, please stop watching the book end faux news sources in Fox and MSNBC, which provide at best, a spin doctored version of the news. Any show that has people like Karl Rove on it should be avoided, as he is a professional spin doctor. He is paid to put perfume on any pig and does it very well.

That is all I choose to write about for now. Unfortunately, there is so much more on the agenda I could opine on. I would love to read your thoughts.

PS – Please check out Roseylinn’s post on a different take on the Hobby Lobby decision at http://roseylinn.wordpress.com/2014/07/07/birth-control-vs-e-d-drugs/