Losing with dignity – tells you a lot about someone

I read yesterday that losing incumbent Congressman Madison Cawthorn is pitching his own little hissy fit plotting revenge on Republicans who spoke out against him. Does that sound familiar? Is he emulating his idol, a more widely known former president? I will leave off the reasons, but simply say the person who needs the most blame looks back from the mirror when he shaves. I have said the same thing about his idol as well.

How one takes losing speaks volumes about the character of the individual. Winning with grace is also important, but losing with dignity matters a great deal. If someone shows their hind end in the losing process, it is indicative of a person who we should be thankful he or she lost. It is also reveals a person with a fragile ego, who feels they are now being viewed as a lesser person.

In consulting or business, your proposal does not always win. Yet, a key lesson that one learns is the person or group that decides not to hire you, may be the same person or group who will decide whether to hire you in the future. If you burn that bridge after the first failure, then you may be kissing future opportunities goodbye. You may have even won the business on earlier proposals, so if you show your tail, the future revenue stream could be zero. And, zero is still zero in any currency.

I had a narcissistic colleague who was very successful. His teams won many assignments. Yet, everyone better watch out if his team lost. Hissy fit is inadequate to define what happens next. As his senior, I would use suggestions to get him to calm down before calling the client encouraging him to be careful with his words.

If that were not enough, when I attended NCAA tournament basketball games with him where his favorite team and alma mater played, I was forewarned to be prepared when things did not go his team’s way. Screaming would be inadequate to define what happened next. Livid would be a better word. What surprised me is he would be this way even with clients present or at his kid’s ballgames. When I went home after the game, I told my wife, “I will never do that again.”

Losing with dignity. I have said variations of the following on the needed occasions. “I want to thank you for the opportunity. We are obviously disappointed not to work with you on this and wish you the very best. If you need any sounding board input, please do not hesitate to call.” This message shares thanks, disappointment, and well wishes. It could be applied to other situations where you did not come out on top.

And, I can also share, on occasion, my team has been brought in after the project started, as the winner failed to live up to the expectations they created. If we had shown our hind end, that follow-up opportunity would not have existed.

A New Palindrome

Many moons ago, I had a colleague named Ada, who I called my favorite “palindrome.” Ada was a delight to work with and knew precisely what it meant, so she gave me a novel to read called “Palindrome” that she thought I might like. For those who may not know, a palindrome is a word that has the same spelling backwards and forwards.*

The most famous English palindrome is “Madam I’m Adam” which can be read forward or backwards sans the punctuation. Yet, many names are good palindromes. Ada, Anna, Elle, Eve, Hannah, Sis, e.g. fit the bill. And, Mom and Dad are the most popular palindromes. The most recent numerical palindrome is the year 2002, but we had one eleven years before in 1991. Before then, we would need to go back to 1881.

Yet, palindromes can also refer to identical twins. They are as close to mirror images as we can get in nature. Not to spoil the novel by this name, but identical twins factor into the storyline. 

I bring this up as my wife and I have a new favorite palindrome. Ada will have to step aside as the old favorite, as we have a new niece named Hannah. Hannah is a great name to begin with, but the fact it is a palindrome makes it even more worthwhile. Welcome to the world Hannah. I know your parents are glad you were not identical twins

*palindromic number (also known as a numeral palindrome or a numeric palindrome) is a number (such as 16461) that remains the same when its digits are reversed. In other words, it has reflectional symmetry across a vertical axis. The term palindromic is derived from palindrome, which refers to a word (such as rotor or racecar) whose spelling is unchanged when its letters are reversed. The first 30 palindromic numbers (in decimal) are:0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 22, 33, 44, 55, 66, 77, 88, 99, 101, 111, 121, 131, 141, 151, 161, 171, 181, 191, 202, … (sequence A002113 in the OEIS).

The limits of sequential thinking – a reprise

The following post was written a few years ago, but I stumbled upon it today. It stands the test of time regardless of how one tracks progress.

What does sequential thinking mean, you might be asking? Many of us think in a sequential order. Basically, it means I cannot think about a certain thing, because it comes after what I need to do next. Sequential thinking is at odds with a working or living environment that demands a multi-tasking mindset.

When I say multi-tasking, I am not referring to doing more than one thing at one time, although that is its most common description. What I mean is having a list of multiple things to do and balancing the priority and times of when you plan to do them. It is akin to walking while juggling balls in the air. The key is to not drop any balls while you keep walking.

Let me use a few examples to emphasize my point. I may have a list of ten or twenty things to do. I receive information to do one of the items, but that item is not needed for a week. Sequential thinking would push doing that project until later in the week. But, what if you have a hard deadline and the information provided might be incomplete?

The military doctors and nurses coined an apt term called “triage.” So, a multi-tasking way to think of this would be to triage the information for the later project as an earlier step. Then, if it is incomplete, you could ask the sender to clarify or send additional input. Then, you can move onto other things while you wait.

Another example is moving forward with pieces of a project before having all the needed steps complete. One of the best project managers I have ever worked with would apportion a large report out in pieces for earlier completion. She would have folks working on producing the Appendix, Sections 5, 8, 11 and 14, e.g., while the analysis was being done to complete the key findings and recommendations. So, the supporting sections could be completed, so as to reduce the time crunch at the end once the analysis was done.

Although the last paragraph makes so much sense, it is not as widely practiced as you would think. Neither is the triaging concept, except in medical emergency settings. The other thing these two approaches avoid is the bottle-neck created by other projects and demands. And, in so doing, it enables deadlines to be better fulfilled.

As I write this, I recall a very demanding client. She could be a hard-ass on staff, but at the heart of her criticisms often was a legitimate one. If you told her a deadline, she expected you to meet it. The key was to give her a deadline that could be met, not in a vacuum, but in recognition that you had other things to do.

People like to please and hate telling people no. But, having been a consultant and client manager for ages, I would rather someone tell me they were too busy to help, forcing me to find another source, or avoid giving me too aggressive a deadline. This may not surprise people, but many deadlines that are not met are set by the person doing the work, not the client. Managing expectations is vital.

A favorite author, Malcolm Gladwell, confessed in an interview that he writes in an unusual way that works for him. He said he does not do all his research up front, so he outlines the idea, does some research, writes some, does more research, writes some more and so on. Why? Two reasons – he said he would get bored doing all the research, then writing. Plus, the research is fresher in his mind when he writes soon thereafter. He portions out the work in smaller more manageable segments.

Sequential thinking can get in the way of moving forward. I am not suggesting everyone will think like Gladwell or the best project manager I mention above, but think in terms of smaller, earlier steps to move things along.

Wednesday wanderings, April showers and falling

My hiking might get cut short today, if it occurs at all, with the gully washer we got yesterday and one more expected today. If I do walk, it will likely be on streets which will be less muddy. I don’t want to see this old body slipping on a wet hiking trail.

Being a tall person, when I fall it can be quite theatrical. My wife still laughs at me when I walked out of a restaurant in “slippery bottom” shoes I had packed for a trip and started to slide backwards saying “I am going down.” Fortunately, I avoided my prophesy and caught myself on the door rails, but it was funny. Apparently, I had forgotten why I did not wear those shoes anymore.

Each of us are at risk of falling, whether it is the Lucille Ball type fall or a metaphorical one. The key is to get back up, dust yourself off, make sure you are not hurt and keep going. One of the more memorable “I Love Lucy” shows for me is when Lucy took a tumble at a gala with several dignitaries. After washing herself off, she reluctantly went back out to the event. A Spanish diplomat asked her to dance and when she asked why, he responded she had the courage to walk back out here after falling. That was profound for a little boy to hear.

My father fell once in a noticeable way. One of the things I inherited from him is a fondness for alcohol, which I do not imbibe anymore. After rising to a senior position in his firm, my father let his drinking get in the way of being where he needed to be. Something happened in his absence and he was demoted. He had to go into work the next day as a peer not a boss. Now my father never put on airs when in charge, but still that had to be humbling. He eventually worked his way back up and before he retired he was asked to be on the Board of Directors of the parent company.

I have fallen as well. My father’s lesson is a good one. When you fall, the key question to ask yourself is what am I going to do about it? I have shared the lesson before about being demoted to the second team on my high school basketball team. So, I worked even harder in practice and eventually was asked to rejoin the first team. I have also passed many professional exams, but I failed three along the way. The key is to study harder and learn from my mistakes. Eventually, I passed them all and was accredited, but it still hurt to not pass, a feeling I will never forget.

Whether it is Lucille Ball, my father or me, everyone falls. So, don’t forget the answer to that key question and do something about it. You may end up with a skinned knee or bruised feelings, but if those are the worst things, you will survive.

My friend Carol who “leaned in” – a reprise

Although we are two days removed from Women’s History Month, I stumbled onto an old post of eight years ago that tells the true and still ongoing story of my friend Carol, whose decision to change her path forward is an example for us all.

For those of you who follow the wonderful blog called “The Bookshelf of Emily J”  you know that she recently highlighted Sheryl Sandberg’s book called “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.” The post can be found with the attached link: http://emilyjanuary.wordpress.com/2014/05/07/women-at-work-leaning-in/. After reflecting more on Emily’s post, I decided to tell a story about my friend Carol who during the early part of her career realized she was not doing what she wanted to do and did something about it.

The fact that she realized she was not fulfilling her dream is not the story, as many come to this realization. The story is she did something about it and took a leap of faith back into her dream. Carol had always wanted to be a social worker, but she listened to the counsel of her father and studied something more practical in college that would gain her a better paying career. Unfortunately, he was focused on the economic value of the career and not the psychic value of helping those in need.

So, she got a great education from a wonderful college and embarked on a career with a major electric utility. She was doing very well, but something was missing. She did not know what until she began volunteering with a crisis assistance organization that helped people who were about to be evicted from the homes or have their power shut off. Through this community service, she rediscovered her social worker mindset and calling. So, she sought and discovered opportunity with this agency.

Since she also had the business mindset from her schooling, she was able to leverage her heartfelt desire to help those in need. Eventually, she became the Executive Director of this organization and has successfully led them for many years. Because of her solid reputation, she is also a go-to person for many community efforts or to be a spokesperson on the plight of those in need. She lends her voice to those whose voice cannot be heard.

I like many things about Carol. But, in my dealings with her, she listens to what others have to say and she is comfortable enough in her own skin to change her opinion if you present good arguments. Yet, she is also confident enough to stick to her guns when she feels she is in the right. And, she can sway those who may disagree with her through her intellect and conviction. Many new ideas have been piloted through her involvement, whether directly or indirectly. She is a wonderful partner. There is an old saying about change. When you are looking to have change, make sure you have people on the bus that will help move it forward. You want Carol on that bus.

Carol leaned in early on. She changed the arc of her career to do something she loved. She rediscovered her passion. Yet, she is also someone who you want to work with. That is one of her true gifts. Together, with Carol on board, we can solve many more problems than without her involvement. She is one those “lights” that President George H.W. Bush spoke of so many years ago. Thanks Carol. You are more than one of the lights – you are a gem.

 A true aphrodisiac

My apologies for the provocative title, but I wanted to share an old lesson about the rules of attraction. A person becomes more interesting when he or she is interested in you. This does not make them attractive by itself, but having someone interested in you increases his or her appeal. It is a true aphrodisiac.

I was reminded of this paradigm watching a movie about a woman who had taken care of her father after a stroke for several decades. She had not loved or been loved during this time. The movie is about a traveler who takes an interest in her and slowly breaks through her protective resistance. Their first kiss surprised her as she pushed him away, but it peaked her interest and she reached out the next day to apologize for overreacting.

I have long believed the premise the woman picks the man. Her interest in him is intoxicating. But, maybe that is too one sided. We pick each other by being interested in the other person. In the documentary movie “I Am” on what makes us happy, it is noted the heart gives out an electrical current that can be felt several meters away, so if someone makes your heart beat faster, it can be felt by another in the same boat. I like to think that faster pulsation is the sound effect to the mutual eyeing of each other.

An old consulting friend used to say he was looking for a woman that was Attractive, Witty, Interesting and Interested. He loved acronyms, so he called these four terms AWII. While forgiving his consultative nature, I find his use of the word “interested” meaningful. If the target of your affection is not interested and she or he cannot be persuaded to be such, then you need to take no as an answer and move on. Ironically, he and his second wife began dating after he thought she sent him an anonymous card after meeting, so when he called to ask if it was hers, she said it was not, but she wish she had sent it. They were married for three decades until she passed away much too early.

Attractive, Witty, Interesting and Interested. What are your thoughts on the subject? Am I all wet? What attracted you to your partner?

More thoughts on saving a little money

I was reminded of the story of a fellow blogger whose car passenger wanted her to stop by the store so she could buy a lottery ticket. When the driver asked her how much she wanted to buy, the rider said $5. The driver said hand it to me and as she did, the driver threw the $5 out the window. “Hey, why did you do that?” The response was simple, “I felt if you were going to throw your money away, I might as well do it for you and give you a better story.”

Yes, I am aware some folks win the lottery. But, I am also aware, hundreds of millions of folks do not. My strong advice is get a strong box and every time you feel the urge to play the lottery, throw the $5, $10 or $20 into the box and lock it up. At the end of the month, put it into a savings (or investment) account and do not touch it. Better yet, set up automatic deposits with each paycheck into a 401(k) plan or savings or investment plan. $10 a week will amount to $520 a year without investment earnings.

I touched on investments, but investing money need not be hard. One of the safer (but not 100% safe), higher dividend paying investments is in your electric or gas company. They usually have customer stock purchase plans that are easily accessible. Often, information can be found on the billing statement, but go online and check it out. These companies are quasi-governmental because of their community purpose, so they tend to be safer (but not totally safe) investments than other stocks. Yet, you can also google high dividend paying stocks online as these stronger companies tend to have stock purchase plans. One key suggestion is to automatically reinvest the dividends to buy more stock.

But, where you should start is your company savings 401(k) plans. This is especially true when the company matches your contributions. If they match 25%, that is an automatic 25% return if you immediately sold the stock. Plus, you are dollar averaging as you invest, so the vagaries of the stock market will be less impactful if you invest the same amount with each paycheck. When you leave that employer, you can leave a large balance in the plan, roll it into an IRA or just cash it out. Some plans will automatically cash out small balances.

Finally, the best way to save money is not to spend it. I have written several blogs on this subject, but avoid buying so many name brands and plastic water bottles. If you live in an apartment, the water is usually included in the rent. So, get a filtered pitcher and save money and the environment. And, don’t throw so much food away. Based on the product, those dates are “best by” dates not expiration dates. A key thing to remember is leftovers are our friends – three meals out of one dish can go a long way to saving money.

Too many folks are looking for panaceas to make a ton of money quickly. Yet, most people make money by not spending it and investing it. If you are young, you have a huge advantage over an older person – you have more years for your investment to grow.

Note: Please do not construe the above as investment advice. These are savings suggestions. I am not an investment professional, so check with people who are for advice. Stock values do go up and down based on company and market performance. And, the stock value is based on the solvency of the company, so do some research or invest in mutual funds that hold many stocks.

You are no day at the beach either

One of the funniest “corrective” lines is in the title to this post. I cannot recall where I borrowed it from, but it is the kind of retort that will make folks laugh at themselves and not take things too seriously.

When someone is in the middle of a rant about the shortcomings of another person who is usually not present, efforts to give the non-present person the benefit of the doubt sometimes fail to dissuade the critic from his or her rant. At that point, you can walk away or use some means to change the subject. Humor works well in this situation. Using the person’s first name, you could say with a smile “you are no day at the beach either.” It tells the ranter that he or she is not perfect, so the ranter may want to let up on the criticism.

I often think of this retort when I read or listen to the rants of imperfect people (which we all are) that are hypercritical of someone who used the wrong words or did something we do not like. None of us are perfect, me very much included. Full stop. Even Mother Teresa shared her doubts in her diary about not being pious or good enough. And, she was one of our finer residents on the planet.

We all mess up. We all have messed up. And, we all will mess up again. Hopefully, we learned something and will minimize those mess-ups, but we still have it in us to make mistakes. The question that needs the attention of others is this modus operandi or is it an exception. The doctor who does something right 19 times out of 20, should get a bigger break than the one who messes up more than half the time.

A final thought to ponder is the following. When someone rants about someone not present, the only window is that of the ranter. The ranting will tend to make those present feel more sorry for the person being criticized, even if they decide to join in because of the forceful personality of the ranter. I would also suggest those present do their best to not join in.

Silence is golden – a lesson still needed

A song by The Four Seasons and covered by The Tremeloes in the 1960s had a wonderful chorus echo and title “Silence is golden.” There are broader lessons beyond the words written by Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio. Here are the words from one of the stanzas:

“A talkin’ is cheap, people follow like sheep
Even though there is nowhere to go
How could she tell he deceived her so well
Pity she’ll be the last one to know”

Words can make people do things they may not want to do if they knew the truth. Also, a person can be his or her own worst enemy if they he or she keeps talking. There are lessons in being strategically silent, which can benefit everyone.

There are many examples that come to mind. Here are a few to ponder on:

-Once the sale has been made or the recommendation accepted, don’t revisit the issue. In consulting, if the client’s CEO shuts his presentation book and agrees with the recommendation, do not reopen the book. I have seen decisions unwound or sales lost as a result.

-When dealing with a bureaucrat in a customer service role, do not offer information outside of their purview or superfluous to the mission at hand. Once you get a customer service person outside of his or her white lines, you will need to come back with more information.

-When someone is lying or does not know the subject matter, the person risks discovery when he or she keeps talking. A certain former president is very bad at this. Mark Twain said it is better to let people think you are a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.

-As a manager it is better to give employees enough input to do a job and then let them do it. My quotable old boss used to say, “our business is easy; hire good people and have them go see our clients.”

-Just because you think it does not mean you should say it. The best come backs to some personal arguments may be better left unsaid as they may be too hurtful or a bridge too far.

-Sometimes it is better to not to shout out the answer to a quiz show question as others like a chance to say the answer.

-Finally, as a parent, asking questions and then being quiet as your kids answer will both endear you and garner their thoughts. Plus, if you want them to hear you better, lower your voice not the opposite.

Let me know your reactions to this and please offer any other suggestions.

Radical Kindness – once again

Yesterday, I repeated a post called “Build Bridges not Chasms” using a quote from Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. One way to help build bridges comes from another earlier post which quotes someone defining another great American who passed away a few years ago – Mister Rogers. We need to practice radical kindness.

Last week, the excellent documentary called “Would you be my neighbor?” on the life and mission of Mister (Fred) Rogers, won an award from AARP’s Movies for Grown-ups annual ceremony. Morgan Neville, the producer/ director summed up his reflections of Mister Rogers with the words “radical kindness.” He noted we need his wisdom more today than ever.

In the film, Rogers, who was an ordained minister, puppeteer, and musician made it his mission to teach children about how to understand and address their feelings. His shows focused on issues that were previously avoided with children – anger, hurt. grief, confusion, jealously, greed, love, etc. He told these kids it is OK to be angry, but you should not hit others in reaction.

Through words and examples, often delivered through his puppets (and his modified voice), he discussed death, divorce, bullying and bigotry. A key example is his having an African-American in a recurring role as his Officer Friendly and friend. This sounds rather innocuous now, but he did this in the late 1960s. He made a further point of having both share the same wading pool to wash their feet, a purposeful lesson that could come straight from the bible.

Among several powerful moments in the movie, three stand out. The first is his testimony in front of a Senate committee chaired by the ornery Senator John Pastore to petition the committee not to cut $20 million funding of PBS. He focused on what he tries to do and asked if he could say the words to the following song:

“What do you do with the mad that you feel? When you feel so mad you could bite. When the whole wide world seems oh so wrong, and nothing you do seems very right. What do you do? Do you punch a bag? Do you pound some clay or some dough? Do you round up friends for a game of tag or see how fast you go? It’s great to be able to stop when you’ve planned the thing that’s wrong. And be able to do something else instead ― and think this song ―

“I can stop when I want to. Can stop when I wish. Can stop, stop, stop anytime … And what a good feeling to feel like this! And know that the feeling is really mine. Know that there’s something deep inside that helps us become what we can. For a girl can be someday a lady, and a boy can be someday a man.”

A visibly moved Pastore said he would make sure the funding continued.

The other two moments are more visual. He filmed an episode with Coco the gorilla who could do sign language. This enormous beast was quite visibly moved  by Rogers. Coco seemed to feel the radical kindness that exudes from Rogers, hugging and petting the man and signing that he loved Mister Rogers.

The other visual is of Rogers inviting Jeff Erlanger, a wheel chair bound young man on to his show. Erlanger explained to the audience what had happened to make him a quadriplegic, the result of a spinal tumor. In a very poignant manner the two sang a song together that left both my wife and me a little teary eyed.

Mister Rogers came along after my formative years. I would watch an occasional episode as I channeled surfed. Yet, seeing this and another documentary about his work, left me with a very favorable impression. As a producer noted, Rogers did the opposite of what other TV shows did. He talked directly to the children with radical kindness. We adults sure could use a large dose of that.

One of the sayings we should follow comes courtesy of Mister Rogers’ mother who said in a crisis, rather than focus on the crisis event, focus on the helpers instead, those first responders and volunteers. That gives me comfort.