Archive for the ‘Adding Value’ Category

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?

Be Valuable Like Steven Strasburg

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

Steven Strasburg’s knee buckled recently, and that provoked major panic and concern from the people he worked for, writers, and a crowd of adorers.  He caught his foot in some grass and crumpled.

Wouldn’t it be great if your boss or the agency Secretary or, as in this case, the owner of your company, made sure you were ok to carry out your job if your group’s numbers buckled or your motivation buckled or your mind buckled from the stress of a 24/7 workplace?

Concern happens; that is, when you are considered valuable.

And Steven Strasburg is $15.1 million valuable.  Steven left San Diego State University in 2009 to be hired as a pitcher by the Washington Nationals baseball team for a contract worth $15.1 mill.  There is a lot of future staked on Steven Strasburg – future wins, future fans, and future dollars from those fans.

Most of us bemoan the salaries paid to athletes – that’s old news.  Why not turn that around.  How could I be valuable like Steven Strasburg?

OK, so maybe the $15.1 isn’t happening anytime soon.  But with a lot of our nerves jangling about whether our jobs will hold or whether there is a job out there for me, it seems like a good time to demonstrate value.  Steven has, at times, a 100 mph fastball.  The potential use of that speed makes him elite – a $15 million dollar man.  What is our equivalent?  What is the 100 mph fastball that we offer our employer, a potential employer, or a customer?

Here are some things that are valuable.  I say they are valuable because when I get them as a customer, I want them and appreciate them.

Be Distinct.  A few years ago, I was in competition for a consulting contract for a health care system.  For some reason, I was tired of putting the same old proposed ideas out there.   It was an opportunity to help them improve the cultural competence of their employees.  What would stand out, what would be different?  I proposed a cultural “mystery shopping” assessment, where we would test their employees on cultural challenges, just like mystery shoppers test the responses of retail employees.  In fact, we even did a little testing before they decided and showed them some real live issues they were confronting.  I’m convinced that idea was the big reason we got that contract.  No one had done it.

How can you distinguish yourself in a substantive way?  Are you tired of how you act in meetings, or how you run them?  Could you bring in outside opinions in some way – customers, constituents, kids?  How about altering how you communicate verbally or in writing so that you really stand out?  (For tips on that, check out a book called Pop by Sam Horn, or go to Sam’s website at

Initiate.  I know.  You’ve got too much to do.  (See the article on “The Cost of Pressure and Overload” in this issue.)  But that is the issue that can subtly make our value stand out less.  All of us are so into doing and accomplishing that we are hard-pressed to be strategic in our thinking and proactive in our action.  But thinking strategically, and then initiating, is a great way to really demonstrate value.

A colleague complains in a way similar to so many leaders I’ve talked to in the past:  “Why do I have to remind people to initiate?  I don’t understand why I can’t get people to think things through.  It seems so obvious to me; for example, when we have a proposal.  Our folks are waiting for their customers to ask them to do things.  I want people to understand what the customer wants and add value by presenting options to meet those needs.”

Initiation doesn’t have to mean large amounts of time on new projects that add to your pile.  It can simply mean thinking about the implications of a job to be done or a proposal or presentation and demonstrating that you have thought things through by presenting alternatives.

Take a Load Off.  I have the best accountant!  Whenever I call her after stressing out about some complicated tax calculation or figuring out that, if I sell my books in 50 states, that I have to fill out state tax forms in each state (yes, it’s true!), I call expecting to plunge into hours of complexity and drudgery.  Invariably, she says something like, “Oh, that’s easy.”  (Use that phrase.  I love hearing it, don’t you?)  “I can do this and this, and it won’t take long at all (that second clause is a good one to use, too, especially when I’m paying her by the hour).”

And she’s got another really good one, too.  “I’ll take care of that.”

When she says that, I love the feeling I get so much that I’ve started using the phrase  “would you like me to take care of that” with my customers.  I have to believe my customers love it as much as I do when Linda says it to me.

In a global, frenzied workplace, what better way to demonstrate your value than by relieving somebody – your boss, the prospective employer, a project manager?

Now, I do hear the voices out there saying, “How am I going to initiate and take care of other’s needs when my plate is already full?”  I get that.  It’s a totally understandable reaction.

I’m suggesting an attitude of being valuable.  Of course you will balance this with your to-dos and pick times that are appropriate to initiate.  But how does Linda do it?  How does Sam Horn do it?  If you do check Sam’s website, you’ll see she’s found many ways to “be distinct” and thus create her 100 mph fastball that makes her a valued, sought-after speaker and advisor.

Being distinct.  Initiating.  Taking a load off someone else.  Wouldn’t you want a person who innovates, thinks through, and follows through?  Maybe you wouldn’t pay them $15 million, but you’d want someone like that working for you, consulting to you, managing you, or working with you, wouldn’t you?  Maybe you’d even make sure their knee was ok.