Archive for May, 2010

Global Impact #2 – “I’m Not Part of the Problem”

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Nobody’s “part of the problem” anymore, are we?  Not Senator Blanche Lincoln, as she declared this morning (“I have not been part of the problem!”) in kick starting her campaign to compete in a runoff election; not BP or Transocean or that third company involved with the Gulf Coast oil spill, who passed the blame to each other in a news conference last week.  I hear these news items and I think, “Whoa!  Stop!”  There are some great, everyday, doable mindsets influential leaders use that don’t ride this Blame Train.  Thank you, Senator Lincoln, BP, and Transocean for showing us the way; um, the other way leaders who influence might go… 

It strikes me so loudly when I see examples of placing responsibility elsewhere.  Do you cringe/rage/wonder how the heck when you see or hear things like BP/Transocean or: 

  • Matt Lauer (or pick your media host) talking about how the paparazzi or the media are making a circus out of an event.  Hello Matt!  You are the paparazzi!
  • A company leader says we are going to “bite the bullet” and cut back staff.  He’s not going anywhere (you might be), but he’s “biting the bullet.”  Jerry Harvey pointed out the hypocrisy of this expression years ago in a video, saying that the expression “bite the bullet” came from Civil War soldiers about to get amputations who were told to bite down on a bullet to endure the pain.  They were experiencing the real pain; managers cutting others are not.
  • “It’s not my fault; she’s being too sensitive.” 

Attempts to redirect responsibility seem so blatant to me sometimes that I wonder how the person can keep a straight face or a calm stomach.  Unfortunately, however, I know the discomfort of screwing up, or of wanting to appear more noble than the other guy, so the sad truth is that I know I have done the same thing of trying to absolve myself. 

But the difference for me is that I know I do this, and apparently from just these examples I have mentioned, I know humans try to shift blame, too.  I think leaders who want to have positive impact don’t say, “I’m not part of the problem.”  They may feel the urge to do so, but they act differently. 

I’m convinced after working with hundreds of leaders in my consulting over the years that one sign of maturity and effectiveness is the tendency to acknowledge problems rather than find ways to claim innocence.  As I coach leaders, the actual answers to problems seem much easier to me than it is dealing with my coaching partner’s desire to fend those problems off, particularly the ones that involve the leader herself. 

For example, one coaching partner of mine gets fabulous results at a very high level but seems to alienate people in the process, risking burnout and turnover of key personnel, as well as helping to promote an environment of avoidance and withholding of information.  The behavioral changes that could alleviate this are fairly simple; but the difficulty in moving forward is the coaching partner’s desire to underplay the issues and have a “perfectly logical explanation” for each one. 

There are alternatives to the Blanche Lincoln statement that I believe increase our ability to influence, have impact, and solve problems: 

Remember Projection and Perspective.  The two “Big Ps.”  I know I project my experiences and judgments on to others. I know they do the same to me.  Leaders particularly get a lot of projections – you’ve probably done a lot of things you never knew you did!  So when somebody sees me as “part of the problem,” one thing I know is that is their perspective.  Maybe they’re right, maybe not.  Remembering the two Ps can have a calming effect. 

Hmmm It.  Knowing I don’t like feeling blamed, I can start my reaction by acknowledging to myself, “Wow, there goes my internal Blanche Lincoln.  I want to scream ‘I’m not part of the problem.’”  Externally, you might simply say, “Hmmm,” as a way to calm your gut. 

Explore.  Instead of screaming, “I’m not the problem,” do the opposite – go toward the problem.  If you’ve been accused by one person, you might say, “Wow, that wasn’t how I saw it, but tell me how you see it,” and be sincerely interested in the response.  If you are leading a group, you might say, “Well, doesn’t sound too good.  Let’s focus on our part in this – how do you all think we may have participated in this?   What might we have done differently?” 

Look at our “Lies That Limit.”  My colleague, Teressa Griffin, has a book coming out this summer called Lies That Limit.  In it, Teressa focuses on the ways we unconsciously trap ourselves into limiting our influence or achievements by the accepted wisdom we utter.  You can get a preview in her recent article in Healthy Aging magazine, where she applies the Lies concept to being stuck and unhappy in our jobs.–Tips-on-Reversing-the-Psychological-Damage-/Page1.html    

Stuff like “I’m too old,” “I’m trapped in this job,” and “I don’t have the discipline to go out on my own” contains the same self-absolving quality that “I’m not part of the problem” does.  Look for Teressa’s book on and Amazon and Barnes and Noble in late summer.  Meantime her website gives you access to the Lies That Limit blog and the notion that we can limit ourselves simply through the words we use. 

I know that there are many leaders in business and government that practice calm, centered approaches to blame and to crisis, who meet “I’m not part of the problem” with a hand up to say, “Wait a minute.”  Here I’m suggesting a few things:  

  • Accepting differences in perspective
  • Being conscious about your gut saying “I didn’t do it, Daddy”
  • Moving toward issues
  • Monitoring our words 

What have you seen good leaders do, what do you do, to counter the “Blanche Lincoln response?”

Global Impact #1 – Is Max Stier Crazy? Countering the Drift

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

Ever wonder why so much of what we see and hear drifts toward the negative? 

Conversations.  News coverage.  Even the fact that many of us fend off compliments, explaining away our goodness.

Thank goodness Max Stier stood up to negativity.  And “thanking goodness” is exactly what Max did in a recent editorial in the Washington Post. 

Max Stier is President of the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service.   From Pew Research polls to reports about SEC workers watching porn to dismal ratings of Congress and even to Saturday Night Live skewering public sector employees, there is evidence out there about the public’s distrust of and cynicism about the federal government.  But Max begs to differ, and in his essay, “The federal government’s quiet heroes,” he cites several examples of “the routine successes, innovative initiatives, cutting edge science, and other amazing work being done behind the scenes” by our government workers in Haitian relief, intelligence gathering, global warming, health care fraud, and aviation safety.  Not a bad start, Max.

What impresses me most about Max’s editorial is that it counters the drift.  Think about it.  Have you ever joined in about how awful “the government” is?  In the DC area, it’s a great and varied sport – we can lampoon the Feds, our state, or, a real favorite target, the DC government.  (I’ve tried to counter that last one over the years by citing the most efficient government agency on the planet, the DC parking officers.  These folks stand tall amidst their well-maligned brethren by being the best at finding you over your meter or, if you dare, parking illegally while you “run in” to pick up something.  Don’t try it.)

One thing good global leaders do is to counter the drift.  When I speak of “global” leaders, I mean people who scale up their influence – and not just overseas.  People who have impact beyond their small store or their lone department in an agency.  

Do you tire of discussions that are so predictable and easy that they don’t really require real thought and evidence?  One of those is the knee-jerk tendency to tear down government.  If Mr. Stier were in that conversation, he’d speak up, and I wonder if we all might think he’s crazy, so accepted is the notion that government = lazy/inefficient/bureaucratic.   But then he’d tell us about Pius Bannis, a U.S. immigration officer in Haiti, who, in 20-hour days, 7 days/week, helped hundreds of orphans find safety, set up a makeshift day-care center, and even drove kids to the airport for evacuation purposes.

Max’s stance, to me, has “global” impact.  He stands in the face of accepted wisdom and gently tells us we might be clueless to the goodness.  He asks us to look beyond sound bites, cliche, and plain old conversational comfort.  He asks us to look deeper, to think, to question stereotypes, and to acknowledge our unsung heroes, where, yes, as the highway signs in New Jersey used to say, “Your tax dollars at work.”

Thank goodness, and thanks Max.

Who do you know who is doing great work in government?