CIVIL DISCOURSE – THE ENDANGERED SPECIES (An UPDATE)

I need to revise a posting I made last fall on the lack of civil discourse in this country.  Civil discourse is no longer an endangered species.   It is extinct.   I thought in October 2017, that civil discourse had reached an all-time low in this country.  I’m sorry to say that I was wrong.

During a broadcast on MSNBC on Friday, 11 May 2018, in reference to Sarah Sanders, Nicolle Wallace asked NBC White House reporter Kristen Welker, “How do you resist the temptation to run up and wring her neck? Why can’t she just say, ‘If a staffer said that, we’re going to get to the bottom of it and she’ll be fired?’”  Calling for the WH press secretary to publicly try, convict, and punish a employee before the proper steps have been taken to address the behavior is ill advised and puts us on a very slippery slope. Leaders and professionals try to avoid that slope.

Let me first say that bad behavior is bad behavior.  Those who engage in bad behavior must be held accountable for their conduct. No equivocation here.  If there is a factual basis (complying with EEOC policies, rules, and regulations) for disciplining the staff member for the comment regarding Senator McCain, discipline should be implemented for poor judgment and unprofessional conduct.  KEY POINT – an individual who uses his/her position to publicly advocate the use of violence against another individual also needs be disciplined, again for poor judgment and unprofessional conduct. To discipline someone in the first scenario but not the second runs the risk of a serious decline in professional standards and ethics that can only lead us to a very negative place and I don’t care what field or profession we’re talking about, nor the political party to which a person belongs or follows.  Double standards are never good and double standards that advocate violence against a group of people or an individual can never be accepted in civilized society.  Ethical conduct and leadership cannot tolerate such double standards.

All those in public life have an obligation to uphold the highest standards for professional conduct.  Our professions and our leadership positions demand nothing less from each of us.

Do Your Job and Do It Well – No matter how long it takes

I realized something while reading about some senators who are calling for the U.S. Senate to cancel its August recess if they haven’t completed their work by the end of July.  Setting politics aside, I have a few thoughts.
Suffice to say that in the real world outside the halls of the U.S. Congress, slacking off on doing your job carries with it significant consequences, the vast majority of which are negative. Such consequences can range from a verbal or written reprimand, withholding pay increases or promotions, denial of vacation, and (gasp!) suspension without pay, and even (double gasp!) termination. Why would any of us as leaders within our organizations or communities want to continue paying someone who isn’t doing his/her job? For that matter, why would our organization want to keep us around if we start half stepping it through the work day? As leaders, we have an ethical obligation to serve as positive role models. Our guiding principle should be that we expend however much time it takes to get the job done and to insure that a quality product results.
In my teaching, I see students who expend just enough time and effort to get some semblance of an assignment submitted and who are then surprised when the grade they receive is not what they expected. A mediocre effort generally earns a mediocre grade. The same is true in the workplace. Mediocrity generally does not lead to pay raises, promotions, or a reputation for being a quality employee. (And if mediocrity is accepted, that organization needs to take a serious look at its standards and organizational culture.) Same thing for leaders. Mediocre leadership generally gets recognized in time and does not lead to increased responsibility and authority within an organization.
Half stepping it and sitting on your laurels based upon previous success doesn’t really help the organization remain competitive in today’s world. But I guess if we are only judged by past reputations and accomplishments we might all be tempted to take our foot off the gas once in a while. Let’s not make a habit of it, though.

Barbara Bush

It is with sadness that I read the news of the passing of former First Lady Barbara Bush. My prayers and deepest condolences are offered to her family and friends.
In all candor I feel a heavy sense of loss. I never had the honor of meeting Mrs. Bush in person but I was impressed by her public grace under fire, her ability to cut quickly through the fluff and get to the substance of an issue, and her devotion to and practice of her core principles. She was a mother lion when it came to her family and was never shy about letting folks know that in public and political debate, talk truthfully and respectfully about her family members – or suffer her wrath. Nothing wrong with that, in my view.
Whether you agree with her political views is totally irrelevant. She was and will remain a positive role model. I am very sure that Mrs. Bush had such a command of the English language that she could verbally cut people off at the knees if she disagreed with them. But she apparently followed a very simple principle – just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. She was gracious even with those who disagreed with her in the nastiest of terms and behavior. While she may have suffered terribly in private, she remained calm and polite in public. That opened the way to honest and productive dialog. For me, that will be, among other things, Barbara Bush’s greatest legacy. I sense that she was honest with herself and with others. Her integrity was without question. She especially found ways to let folks know that we have so much more in common than we do different, and if we tone down the decibel level, it’s amazing what we can accomplish. We are a better society in many ways because of her unfailing belief that working together, we can solve many of the issues which bedevil our nation. Rest In Peace, Barbara Bush, and thank you.

Problem Solving – The “Whack A Mole”© Method

Ever watch young kids try the arcade game where they hammer the moles into oblivion? As the game progresses, they hammer the moles harder and harder. The older kids quickly realize that no matter how hard they hit the moles, another one is going to pop up. They generally walk away, refusing to play anymore. Ahem, leaders and supervisors – a lesson to take to heart?

Simply addressing the symptoms of an issue within your organization is not going to result in any meaningful solution to your problems. And if you keep doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different outcome, you’ve just succeeded in demonstrating Einstein’s definition of insanity.

A key component to problem solving is the correct and accurate identification of the cause of the problem. But I think that’s the issue. Identification of the underlying issue seems so simple at first. When the identification doesn’t come easily, the tendency is to revert to looking at the symptoms because they’re more obvious and easier to address. Address the symptom, hammer another mole and problem solved. NO! Symptom addressed.

Here’s a practical suggestion: Put the hammer down. Sit down, take a deep breath, and get a plan together. Put together a quality work team to begin the problem solving stage. Talk with AND LISTEN to the people involved in the problem situation and those who have experience handling such issues. After collecting information, work together to develop quality responses. Communicate with the people involved in the situation, as well as the entire organization. Decide on your best solution and implement it. Use the evaluation phase to assess how well the solution is working. If it’s working, great! If not, make the necessary changes to either fix the implemented solution or toss it out and implement one of the other solutions developed previously. It’s hard work but worth the effort. And if you want to pick up the hammer and whack something, take your kids to the arcade and see how many moles you can whack.

National Crime Victims Rights Week: 8 – 14 April 2018

Sunday, 8 April, marked the beginning of a week long recognition of the importance of letting crime victims know of their rights within our criminal justice system. Many organizations, especially NOVA and other victim advocacy agencies, are doing special events to inform the public of the many services available to assist crime victims. Here in the Phoenix area, a local church, the Church of the Advent in Sun City West, is hosting an information session with members of the Arizona Attorney General’s Office. Attendees will hear about different types of scams which specifically target the elderly. The focus of this session on Saturday, 14 April (10 a.m. to noon) is to let potential targets know what they can do to minimize their chances of being victimized. Unfortunately, the reality of today’s world is that many elderly residents will be subjected to criminal behavior. The presentation will also include information on what to do in the event a person becomes a victim of criminal conduct.
Our criminal justice system is well served by a dedicated and passionate group of individuals who serve as victim advocates throughout our country and our military. Almost on a daily basis they see individuals at their lowest moments, many of whom have suffered severe physical and emotional trauma. Victim advocates often bear the brunt of the anger, the outrage, and sometimes a complete emotional breakdown as they figuratively walk with the victim through the process of prosecution, trial and conviction, sentencing, and hopefully, the start of the healing process. They do an extraordinary job for every victim they meet, oftentimes completely in the background. They’re so successful at working in the background that many members of our communities have little to no knowledge of what victim advocates do. Suffice to say that victim advocates are a special group of individuals, much deserving of our support and respect. I, for one, am extremely thankful that we have such a dedicated group of professionals who selflessly and tirelessly work to make crime victims whole again.

Doing the Ethical Thing

I’m confused – Why is it that one side of an issue thinks it’s acceptable to demand respect while also thinking they don’t have to reciprocate? Why is ethical conduct not required of all parties involved? Where and when did ethics get tossed off the train?
As leaders within our organizations and our communities we have an obligation to practice ethical leadership at all times. More importantly, we have an obligation to follow an ethical approach while engaging in the dialog.
One of the hallmarks of collaborative problem solving is all sides of the issue are given the opportunity to be heard. How else are we going to know what the issues are which frame the problem? More importantly, how else can we determine where the actual problem lies if we shut down one side or another of the issue simply because we don’t want to hear what that side is saying? One of the hardest things about collaborative problem solving is having to listen to a side of an issue which we might personally detest. However, the ethical and responsible adult will put aside personal preferences and engage in active listening – meaning not only looking like we’re being respectful but we actually do respect the other person’s point of view. We don’t have to agree with it, but the ethical thing to do is listen and work to find some point of commonality which can lead to a realistic and lasting solution. Vilifying those we don’t agree with does not advance the discussion, nor does it come across as ethical behavior to call these folks whatever names we want simply because they disagree with us. I don’t know about anyone else but that behavior doesn’t even come close to being ethical conduct. The ethical approach is to respect the differences among the parties involved in the argument and then work together, as mature responsible adults, to find a resolution to the issue.

Let’s Ignore the Cabal in Criminal Justice

I have watched with increasing concern, the behavior of some folks who have sworn to uphold the laws and the Constitution. Seems we have a cabal of individuals who believe that certain people are to be treated more fairly than others. A privileged class of individuals has grown who flagrantly violate the law – the same law that others without political power or money are prosecuted under and are often sentenced to prison when convicted.

Why am I worried about what some would call “old news?” A couple of reasons. First, I’m very proud of our Criminal Justice System (“CJS”) in this country. It’s not perfect but I know that we have dedicated folks who are passionate about insuring that changes are made so that we can achieve the fair and impartial administration of justice. These individuals should not have their efforts tarred with the self-serving conduct of others who support a privileged class of select citizens.

More importantly, with the cabal in place dominating the headlines, time, and effort, those of us looking for meaningful changes in the way in which victims are protected and served throughout the entire CJS will be stymied.

Getting laws passed is the least of our concerns – fair and impartial enforcement is the most important concern. Prosecutors who pick and choose who to prosecute based upon status and perceived political power; judges who consider the future of the offender over the rights of victims; or, universities and colleges which decline to press for criminal prosecution for a campus rape, continue to threaten our efforts to implement change. Members of the CJS who work daily to insure the fair and impartial administration of justice are the folks which should be grabbing the headlines. Indeed, their efforts and passion about protecting the rights of victims should be fully acknowledged and recognized. Shine the spotlight on these dedicated folks, and let’s ignore the cabal.

Failure – oh my!

I attended a meeting today during which the question arose as to how to make the educational experience more meaningful to students. With subtle filter in place, I offered the idea that as faculty, we need to help our students deal more effectively with failure. Why is that?

Well, not everyone is going to get a participation trophy for simply registering for class. (At least I hope not.) I know things have changed since I was last in undergraduate school. But I think it’s still required that students participate in class discussions and activities, do well on exams, quizzes, etc., and turn in required assignments on time that meet the academic standards for whatever school they’re attending. College should prepare students for the real world of being an adult – a responsible adult. In the real world, we don’t usually have someone telling us when to go to work, how to dress, how to do every assigned task, etc. If someone has a job where the supervisor looks over the shoulder of every single employee, pointing out when they’re making a mistake and taking the time to correct that mistake for them, and the employee is still getting paid (on top of keeping his/her job), please tell me where I send in an application.

Failure is not a horrible thing.  Think of it as an opportunity to learn from our mistakes and improve our skills. Certainly it hurts the ego when we fail.  For all those former students out there who sailed through high school with straight A’s, remember how it felt when you received your first ever B or C in college? Once the shock passed, what was the result? More than likely it was a higher level of motivation and effort so the B or C was quickly overwhelmed with A’s again. I don’t think we’re doing our younger generation any good by awarding them prizes for simply showing up.  Life requires more than that. It requires a commitment to do our best each and every time. Remember that success is usually the result of hard work.

Legends

Last week I got to shake hands with Tommy Lasorda. This week, I met and spoke with Jim Thome. Both men are legends in sports and probably in life in general. And yes, it was nice to meet both.
 
For me, a legend is someone who is committed to doing the very best he or she can do and passionate about overcoming the challenges and obstacles that stand in the way of that commitment. Legends are found in all walks of life, to be sure. Do I think legends are perfect? Certainly not. They’re human. While meeting these two men was exciting, I recall that the most impressive person I ever met was while I was in college.
 
Christine Jorgenson was invited to speak at a women’s symposium on campus my senior year. She was forthright and candid about her life story and challenges she had to overcome. I’ve read her autobiography and I know her story. She wasn’t there to persuade but rather, she was there to share information and let us each make our own decisions. Christine didn’t appreciate patronizing questions and as for stupid ones – she didn’t do stupid at all. She was passionate about sharing her story with others, to let them know that she understood and appreciated how they might be facing personal issues. She was captivating throughout her entire presentation. Perhaps it was her own expression of passion, or perhaps it was her way of paying forward something that was given to her – a word of encouragement and support in a nonjudgmental way – that made her presentation so effective.
 
What I remember most was the brief meeting Christine and I had after the symposium. She encouraged me to never apologize for being passionate about something that was close to my heart. Her words have stuck with me for a whole lot more years than I really care to admit, even though our meeting was no more than five minutes, at best. Even in low moments, Christine’s words have been a guiding light for me, encouraging me to remain true to my commitment. I understand better the importance of following my passion, of inviting others to share the journey in their own way, and remaining true to making a difference. Christine Jorgenson made a lasting positive impression and I’m forever grateful to that legendary individual.

Breaking in a New Cold Front

Family and friends living on the east coast – you’re welcome!
It’s been chilly of late here in the southwest desert. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the photo taken late last week at about five in the morning.
I don’t know about anyone else but it’s a bit strange that the Phoenix area would set records for high temperatures in January and the week before MLB’s spring training starts, we’re colder than a number of places east of us. Now there could any number of ways to handle such an event. We could complain mightily, wrap ourselves in every single layer of clothing we own and top that off with a new pair of flip flops (another story for another time), or simply go with the flow. I no longer own a serious winter coat and haven’t seen my good winter gloves in over a decade. It’s a shock to the system to get the pups up and out around five in the morning only to see the temperature is well below the mandatory minimum 60 degrees. The three looks of, “seriously, Mom? It’s freezing out here,” are priceless but Mom prevails.
This cold snap might help explain why I never complain about the triple digit weather we experience here throughout an extended summer. I guess I’ve finally reached that point in my life where I know there are simply things over which I have no control, the weather being one of them. That doesn’t mean I simply give up. With this cold snap (hopefully done by the weekend) I can’t control how cold it is but I can control my response. Fussing isn’t going to change a thing and complaining to folks who are well below zero and still shoveling snow is sort of like spitting into the wind – another waste of time and often inconsiderate to boot.
I know that the task I took on late last summer is something that contains a number of things I can’t control. What I can control is my passion and my commitment to making a positive change, even if it’s only in the lives of the three young boys I met over two years ago. And if we all work together, each of us can make a similar change in the lives of any number of young people whose lives have been seriously impacted by neglect and abuse. Do I know for certain that the weather’s going to change? Yup. Do I know for certain that I’m going to make a positive difference in someone’s life? Not really, but that uncertainty isn’t going to stop me from trying.

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