Leadership: Finding Diamonds in the Pig Slop!

Knowledge Check!Have you ever noticed the many writers pouring billions of gallons of ink into leadership guides, books, articles, and so forth, and leadership is still a problem?  As a kid, we kept pigs.  Not many, just seven or eight, had a couple of batches of piglets, and the pig slop grew the best tomatoes ever.  One day, someone visited and saw the pigs when they dropped something flashy in the pig slop.  I forget what was dropped, but we kids were told to find this item for this visitor — launching a marathon of several days crawling through pig slop all to no avail.

I saw those pigs eat snakes, squirrels, and they even ate a wild dog who got injured inside their pen.  These eating machines never ceased to amaze me, and the slop was the best place to “lose” anything.  Bringing us back to leadership and the search for diamonds in pig slop.  I am not castigating the authors of leadership books, tools, guides, etc., as creating pig slop.  I am claiming that leadership is learned, and in learning, there will be failures and success.  The books on leadership do represent a clamoring quagmire for attention, where finding that one diamond to help your particular situation is going to be difficult, if not impossible.wild pigs in pen - YouTube

What is a Leader to do?

I am a practical-minded person.  Give me information, and let me chew on that information until solutions can begin to appear.  As a leader, I have found some basic principles helpful in producing an atmosphere and culture worthy of passing along.  Use; do not use, doesn’t matter to me.  I offer some suggestions and leave the rest to you.

    1. Create a learning culture. I do not care how many degrees plaster your wall; I do not care how high your GPA is or was in academia.  If you are not a committed lifelong learner, you will not retain the data you learned and treat yourself or others properly.  Read a book!  Investigate topics of interest to you!  Read out loud to children!  Reading has a power over the mind that no other force can match.  Pick up a book!
    2. Never forget, “a leader is a teacher, and a teacher is a leader.” If you are not teaching, you are not leading!  Yes, it truly is that simple to identify a leader from a manager.  Teaching comes in many forms; use them all.  As you get to know your people, you will discover the need to use different teaching styles; don’t be scared not to know something, suggest learning it together.
    3. Delegate, delegate, delegate, and then wash, rinse, and repeat. A leader will not keep everything on their plate.  Recognize the talents around you, take those talents and grow more, using the first two principles and the power of delegation.  The best leader I ever knew never seemed busy.  He delegated as much as possible and spent his days going around to those he delegated to for updates.
    4. Know the value of emotions and use them sparingly! A military commander I served with understood this principle well.  When he got upset, change happened.  But he did not get upset often and was very selective when he showed any emotion, except humor.  When this commander showed he was upset, people respected his emotional displays and worked twice as hard to right the wrong.
    5. Humor! Know some jokes, use them often!  I was working in a call center, the VP of customer relations saw I was logging off for a break; he comes hurrying over to me, acting all important and officious; he says, “Do you know what I just heard?”  “Not a clue.”  “Elvis, he was singing a melody of songs to fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches.”  Not a good joke, but I remember it.  Knowledge of humor and application of that knowledge is preeminent to leadership.

Why the discussion on leadership?

Andragogy - The PuzzleLet’s face the 800# gorilla in the room; America, and the world, are in desperate need of leaders.  We have too many managers and people who claim to desire leadership but want nothing more than a manager.  We have people all around us who have become content with management and cannot tell you the difference between a manager and a leader; worse, these same people will try and claim leaders are born, not made.  Plus, a thousand and one other excuses, diatribes, vent spleens, egoistic manifestations, and straight lies.  Worse, politics gets involved, from the government to business; the politics of wagging tongues reminds me of geese in a pen.  Hissing, biting, honking, making tons of noise, and not making a lick of sense.  Chickens cackling in a yard is almost musical compared to geese in a pen, and I think the chickens might be smarter, even without brains, than geese!

One of those authors who write about leadership but could not lead a platoon of sailors into a bar after a long deployment was recently quoted as having said something others claim is essential to leadership.  Leaders need to embrace the C’s of leadership.  The C’s of leadership include:

    • Calm. Employees and customers look to Leaders to project a sense of calm through an uncertain situation.
        • This is a true statement, but if the employees have been appropriately trained, uncertain situations are diminished proportionally to quality, value-added training as part of being lifelong learners.
    • Confidence. Being calm, but not still-water calm. Employees and customers rely on the confidence a Leader brings.
        • Calmness is a projection of inner thoughts onto situational awareness.
        • Confidence is the sum of training, plus experience and the desire to excel — all of which the leader does not control and can only influence. Thus, we have a confusion of terms and ideas that do damage when confused.
    • Communication. Relentlessly communicate and communicate more clearly. This is to avoid rumors developing the muddy waters.
        • Muddy waters will always exist; people gossip like mad. But leadership communication can only go so far when people choose to ignore communication.  Hence, again, we confuse roles and responsibilities being passed off as a leadership principle.
        • Communication is a two-directional street and requires both parties to be listeners and speakers in their due order.
    • Collaboration. Call on the resources and capabilities of ALL your team and bring them together. Have a role for everyone in which they can contribute.
        • NO! Contribution is nothing without training, training requires delegation, and delegation is only useful if you include a return and report requirement.  Collaboration has a role, but not in leadership as described.
    • Community. All of us live in communities.  It’s important we set an example, and model behaviors that are supportive.
        • Would someone please tell me how modeling behaviors is part of living in communities?
        • Modeling behaviors is essential in the leadership toolbox, and I would never implicate otherwise. However, the community is left with a choice to exemplify the modeled behaviors or not.  Worse, those outside the company cannot be controlled except through persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, and love unfeigned — all tools a leader needs to be promoting in followers.
    • Compassion and empathy, during and post a crisis are critical in leadership.
        • Every time you see the word empathy, remember it is an emotional road to ruin. Worse, add sympathy to the mix, and the speed to ruin increases dangerously.
        • Compassion is not empathy; compassion is not sympathy; it is simply recognizing pain in another person and rendering support without participating in that emotional crisis.

FAIR AND BIASED: STAY OUT OF THE HOG PEN!Thus, we have the pig slop and the diamond hunt.  Unless an author provides principles, many leadership books, guides, and articles are just noise, pig slop, where the person desiring to improve individual leadership skills is hunting for diamonds. At the same time, fighting through a gaggle of geese that are hissing, honking, and clamoring for attention.

How does a person avoid the diamond hunt in pig slop?

Gaggle of geeseThe following is not an all-inclusive list.  However, it is the beginning of a list of tools helpful to leaders in all situations:

    1. Start being a leader by being a good follower. Even if being a good follower requires you to be the loyal opposition.  “Yes,” people are managers looking for a leader to pin their star to and never understand the power of being the loyal opposition.  I have never met a leader who was not first a good follower, even if they had to be the loyal opposition.
    2. Not just books on leadership, as this is only going on a diamond hunt in pig slop.  Read books on every topic you can think of, for when you read; you discover principles for future application.  I found how to understand complex theories in biology and how to use these complex organizational systems in how the human body interacts with its disparate parts and systems.
    3. Never stop learning! Going hand-in-hand with reading, never stop learning is a principle and motto for life.  If you need or want information, go to a subject matter expert and beg lessons.  I had a boss who did not know the industry, did not know the company and had no clue how to build the team.  He was hired for a specific set of skills and discovered his collateral duties one assignment at a time.  He went around to every long-term employee and asked them to teach him their jobs.  Six months into his tenure as leader, he was the best leader many had ever experienced.  Never stopping learning means being willing to learn from anyone.
    4. Leaders are trained, not born. Leaders do not magically appear.  Leaders are carefully taught, built, and never stop!  Are you carefully building yourself mentally and physically?  In the US Army, I was taught physical fitness, and with the number of mistakes I was constantly making, I learned a lot about physical fitness.  But, until I was injured, I had not taught my brain to meet my body’s strength and made more mistakes because the strength of my body excelled the strength of my mind.  In carefully building your leadership skills, abilities, and talents, do not forget to keep the body and mind equal in strength.

Andragogy - LEARNNo single person has all the answers on how to be a good leader.  I know I am still learning, and the more I learn, the less I know, and I have been studying leadership, becoming a leader, and working as a leader for the majority of my adult life.  I have led teams in dangerous work, I have developed people in all sorts of industries, and I still fall back on these time-honored principles because they work.  Thus, I ask you to put down the diamond hunt, get out of the goose pen, and simplify your life so you can learn easier and practice better the principles of delegation, learning, reading, and using humor.

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

Buzzwords and Canned Phrases – More Tyranny From Plastic Language

Stretched WordsPlasticized words make the most trouble.  Unfortunately, public education in America does not appear to care; public educators are some of the worst abusers of words, disconnecting words from meanings to achieve an agenda, which is practicing mental terrorism.  Poerksen (1995) discusses this phenomenon in some detail, and the need to be more cognizant of the problem is a small part of the solution. For example, Poerksen (1995) brings up the term ‘strategy’; the context might not be clear. Without specifying the intention and meaning, the audience becomes lost quickly but lost with confidence and lost doing what they understand.

Hitler’s Germany was famous for plasticizing words to make socially unacceptable actions acceptable with no negative consequences. For example, consider how cattle cars were used in the transportation of Jewish Citizens and other humans deemed useless, by plasticizing the term “cattle,” the Jews could be eliminated, society could believe what they were doing as acceptable, and the political agenda of Hitler was pushed forward, because a human of different religion, handicap, and so forth has been dehumanized to the level of cattle.Non Sequitur - Plasticity of Language

Poerksen (1995) is correct in labeling those who intentionally destroy language through plastic words as tyrants and tyrannical actions.  Mao was an excellent speaker, but his deceiving methods included making words plastic to cover abuses of people, destruction of lives, and to help his followers feel good about what they were doing. Likewise, ex-President Obama used a TelePrompTer because extemporaneous speaking is not his forte and because of the plastic words which were bent, twisted, and molded to deceive.  We all remember the promises of Ex-President Obama where ObamaCare is concerned.  However, what is fading from the collective public memory are the plastic expressions lauded upon Bergdahl to justify nefarious actions.  Bergdahl is a tiny example of how Ex-President Obama manipulated language to hide, obfuscate, denigrate, and deride the American People.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)3-direectional-balance

If you are going to work in a department with such an auspicious title as “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Department (DEI), one might imagine that you have a clear and present understanding of the power of words. But, apparently, those working in DEI either have an agenda and desire to be tyrants or are uneducated in the power and ability of words.  Draw your own conclusion, but I present in totem an email received earlier this week while I was out of the office.

12 Things You Should Never Say… And What To Say Instead

It’s easy to say the wrong thing when you’re under stress or a problem arises. Take a pause to reframe your response:

        1. That’s not my problem. ‘I recommend you speak to_____’
        2. But we’ve always done it that way. That’s a different approach, can you tell me why it’s better?’
        3. There’s nothing I can do. I’m a bit stuck, can you help me find other options?’
        4. This will only take a minute. ‘Let me get back to you on a timeframe.’
        5. That makes no sense.I’m not sure about that one – can you give me some more details on your thinking behind it?’
        6. You’re wrong. ‘I disagree and here’s why ______ what do you think?’
        7. I’m sorry, but…. I’m sorry about that… next time I will _____’
        8. I just assumed that. ‘Could you clarify what your expectations are for me?’
        9. I did my best. ‘What could I do better next time?’.
        10. You should have... ‘It didn’t’ work – here’s what I recommend next time…’
        11. I may be wrong, but... ‘Here’s an idea…’
        12. I haven’t had time. ‘I will be able to get this done by…’

And if you have said something you regret, here are three steps to quickly recover:

        1. Apologize. Be sincere for any upset or confusion you might have caused
        2. State what you didn’t mean. Admit your error, explain what you did not intend to do or say.
        3. Say what you actually meant. Explain what you really intended to say or do.

Please note, no grammar changes were made in copying and pasting this email; I changed the format to emulate the original. So now, let us carefully examine, without judging the grammar, the canned phrasing presented here along three lines: applicability, usefulness, and value.

ApplicabilityDetective 3

When discussing applicability, we are looking for situations where the canned phrasing offered is better than being natural, admitting error honestly, and moving forward from the current position in a constructive manner.  I fully appreciate that the 12 bolded phrases might not be the best way to state something.  However, the lack of applicability for the canned replacement phrases does not improve the situation.  Imagine a situation where the offered canned phrase would work, and I will show you a real-life scenario where it was tried and failed miserably.

Drawing upon more than 20 years of experience in and around call centers as a subject matter expert, as a customer relations expert, and published author, I can certify that canned phrases do not improve situations, nor can they cover mistakes.  Canned phrases stick out like a red dot on a white cloth!  The customer can hear the canned phrases, and the canned phrases will result in negative consequences!  Hence, this information from DEI fails the smell test before ever launching as a potential solution.

UsefulnessLook

When discussing the usefulness of a tool, the first aspect to always note is that any tool should feel comfortable, almost as if it was an extension of yourself.  Tools are intention incarnate; we select tools to perform tasks we cannot perform without the tool.  For example, hammering nails into house framing requires a hammer.   Not just any hammer, but a framing hammer, specifically designed for the job, framing, and because all framing hammers are not manufactured equally, should feel like an extension of your arm and hand.  The same is true for words; words are tools employed to communicate and should feel like an extension of yourself, be personal, and be helpful for the intent of delivering a message.

Again, we find the DEI email and canned phrases not passing the smell test.  Take any single item in the list above and try to use the exact phrase in a sentence with a friend or co-worker, and you will find yourself struggling to personalize that phrase.  Worse, saying it aloud makes you struggle with the offered grammar. So again, try personalizing that phrase; can you find any variation that feels natural to your method of speaking?  If so, you have used the offered phrase, but does it add or detract to the conversation when applying that phrase?  Herein lay the problem, some of the proposed phrases might work with individual variation but still cannot be used for a positive result.

ValueAndragogy - The Puzzle

Value is the sum of the application and usefulness of a tool to create opportunities to advance the situation to a solution positively.  More to the point, the value remains in the hands of the tool user, not the suggester of canned phrases. Thus, the tool’s value is not found in what has been created but in the usefulness and application to the tool’s user.

For example, while working in a call center, the agents were instructed to fit as many “keywords” into a conversation as possible.  The Quality Assurance Department (QA) was counting how often these keywords were used, so the pressure to perform was on the agent.  QA found that the offered words were often used in a single sentence to begin or end the call, and more often than not, when used during a call, led to call escalation.  Hence, the value of the terms was lost on the customer and worsened customer relationships.  Instead of releasing the agent from using keywords, the business managers doubled down.  The management team had no clue about the usefulness of the words as tools for communication and disregarded the need for tool personalization.  When negative results occurred, they compounded their error.  10-years after this disastrous decision, the agents are still forced to use tools that do not fit, the customers have continued to leave in droves, and the management team still struggles to understand why.

Knowledge Check!Application, usefulness, and value are how you measure tools, any tool.  From a tape measure to a hammer, from a computer to computer software, from words to headsets, the tools must meet these three criteria. Unfortunately, buzzwords and canned phrases do nothing to build value, enhance enthusiasm, or build cohesion into an impetus to motivate.  Often, buzzwords and canned phrases do the exact opposite, and failing to understand applicability, usefulness, and value is the problem of those insisting upon terminology, not the audience.  It cannot be stressed enough, plastic words lead to mental terrorism, and terrorism always leads to tyranny!

Reference

Poerksen, U. (1995). Plastic words: The tyranny of modular language (J. Mason, & D. Cayley, Trans.). University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press.

 © 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

NO MORE BS: Intention and Discernment – Tools Worth Knowing

Foghorn Leghorn - MedicationParents, how many times have you witnessed a toddler going about their day, an idea crosses their face, and you can tell they are about to do something that gets that toddler in trouble?  I heard a comedian talk about witnessing this as the toddler saw the cat sleeping in the sun, the toddler crossed the room and kicked the cat.  When asked why the toddler claims “it was accident.”

What is intention?

Intention is all about deliberate action, using a plan, and involving ideas in action.  According to Webster, intention is also the healing process of a wound, but this definition is not part of our discussion.  From Latin, we find intentio as “stretching purpose” and originates with intendere meaning “towards, stretch, and tend.”

Calvin & Hobbes - Irony HurtsConsider these definitions for a moment and the story about the toddler kicking the cat.  We have a plan, a purpose, and a deliberate action.  How does the parent discern the act was deliberate; the use of observation as to what the toddler had done to the cat previously, what the toddler was doing immediately before they kicked the cat, and the attempt to use an excuse to get out of trouble.

Discerning Intention.

Never Give Up!When defining discernment, I am not entering holy waters to discuss the pieces of discernment that belong to discerning for religions.  Discernment is the ability to obtain sharp perceptions, observations that empower decision-making.  Discernment can be psychological, moral, or aesthetic.  Discernment is also defined through the contexts; scientific, normative, and formal. The process of discernment involves going past the mere perception of something and making nuanced understandings about its properties or qualities.

Note, there is also a legal definition, or standard, for discernment, “the cognitive condition of someone who understands; savvy, understanding, apprehension knowing about their actions before, after, and during the act;” which is where things get sticky when discernment and intention cross paths.  Hannity and Carlson disagree on the actions of the jury in the Derek Chauvin case.  Not being a lawyer and not knowing all the legal jargon, the best I can do is form an opinion.  I base my opinion on other high-profile cases where the media has condemned an individual as guilty before the judge and jury are formed.  Meaning, I feel the jury was intentionally and unfairly biased against Derek Chauvin due to the influence of the media and the mob outside the courtroom’s doors.Thin Blue Line

There was a shooting of a teenage girl in Columbus, Ohio, by a police officer.  The girl had a knife in hand, did not listen to the police officer responding, and lunged at another person before being shot.  Again, we come to discerning intention and split-second decision-making.  Only, in this instance, the officer has no history of the person holding a knife, only reports of a stabbing and an apparent altercation involving a knife when they arrive on the scene.  I offer no judgment in this case as this case continues to unfold, details are still being investigated, and family interviewed.  Yet, the media is already off and running their biased opinions, and mobs have formed for mobocratic justice, which is never just nor proper.

Calvin & Hobbes - Ontological QuandryUnfortunately, this pattern repeats too often, and thus the need to understand discernment and correctly discerning intention.  My intent is not to make you as adept at this practice as a police officer. In a Republic, and even in many democratic societies, the citizens need to discern and discern intention, two separate processes.  The media will sell a lurid and emotionally charged story with all the bias of a bull in a China Shop and never care about the consequences.  But, the citizen does not have the same luxury or legal protections as the media.  Hence, we must discern what the media relates and discern the media’s intention before we ever read or listen to their story/reporting of events.  Thus my intent in this article and bringing up this topic, we, the citizens, are held to a higher law than the media and cannot afford to form mobs, trust the media’s reporting, or even rely upon the press reported “facts” to discern and discern intent.

How do you make a decision requiring action?

GearsThe process for critical thinking, leading to intentional decision-making, with purposeful action, generally follows the following pattern:

      1. Gather data
        • Requires knowing the validity of the source data and trusting the sources.
      2. Organize the data
      3. Make preliminary decisions and determine an action to take.
      4. Beta test the decision through application to a minimal audience to refine the solution and ensure the integrity of the data.
      5. Roll out the entire decision, including the solution and the reasoning, take timely action.
      6. Monitor and make course corrections as needed.

Detective 4These steps are useless unless we understand our own intention before launching a decision-making process.  Consider, do you intentionally believe that others are doing their best or giving their best efforts?  Do you intentionally shut down your own opinion to consider the perceptions of others in making decisions?  Where in those steps do you stop and take a moment to ponder the short and long-term consequences of the solution devised?  When making decisions, do you ever consider the axiom, “If a solution is not Win/Win, everyone loses?”  Do we fear failing to make a correct decision if the future teaches us something new about the data changing the pattern of decision-making?  How do you learn?

Let us briefly examine that axiom, “If a solution is not Win/Win, everyone loses,” does not mean making everyone happy.  A good compromise leaves everyone upset and feeling cheated and settled on the issue under consideration.  Yet, the media and many politicians firmly believe that unless they win everything they desire in a solution, they have been robbed and feel justified in stirring up public angst and creating a worse problem.  The adults in society must understand both the good and the ill in creating Win/Win solutions, or all is lost, and the patients run the asylum.

Anton Ego 4In going back to the analogy of the toddler kicking the cat.  Does the solution in the short-term mean corrective behavior modification for a long-term lesson learned?  Does the better solution involve instruction as well as behavior modification?  Have we, the parents, discerned correctly the intention of the toddler sufficient to justify our decision?  Will the cat be safe around the toddler in the future because of the action we take at that moment?

How do you learn?

In answering this question, we must return to the topic of failure.  Do we consider failure a learning moment?   Do we appreciate the power of failing as integral to achieving success?  A close relative of mine in high school went out for the track team as a pole vaulter.  I looked into pole vaulting to learn more and was surprised at the ways, means, and multiple times the pole vaulter will fail.  The technical skills to pole vault are incredible, almost as unbelievable as being an operations manager in a manufacturing environment and being a parent.  Hence, the need for discernment and intention.

2012-08-13 07.37.28I close with a challenge, use discernment more intentionally in learning your way through failure to success.  Liberty and freedom allow us the power to fail our way to success, but only if we consciously choose to learn and discern better our steps in decision-making.  Know your intent, take a moment every day to consider your intent, and purposefully make decisions to live your intentions.  Trust yourself to discern.  Your confidence in discerning is key to understanding and using your intention to power decision-making as a process.  Please remember, what I am discussing requires time, you will fail, but you will also win and win BIG!  Enjoy the journey of discovery!

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.