It’s Been a Bad Week

I should stop getting updates from a variety of news sources. This week has seen a flood of reports about abuse of children and others. The one that stood out was the sentence of probation passed out to a woman defendant in Minnesota who attempted to hang a 16-month old in her home based child care center. The sentence handed down by the judge? A ten year term of probation, including special conditions for mental health treatment, and no unsupervised visits with minors, among others. The defendant was credited with the 20 months in jail that she has served since her arrest in November 2016.
Here’s the problem – a sentence imposed in a criminal matter has a number of functions to fulfill, not the least of which is specific and general deterrence. According to defense counsel, the defendant already served a sentence of imprisonment because of her pretrial detention and she’s now lost her career in child care. Seriously? How does the sentence imposed address the important consideration of general deterrence? So long as our criminal justice system continues to be inconsistent is punishing offenders who inflict harm on others, especially children, we all will continue to read horrific stories of people inflicting unspeakable harm on victims, especially those who are too vulnerable to fight back. Those of us in positions of leadership, whatever the organization, can be of help by working toward a more consistent approach to effectively punish anyone who inflicts harm on another. Our criminal justice system is good, but by exercising our moral and ethical leadership, we can make it better, especially for victims of abuse.

Cotton Candy or Substance?

The ongoing debate about any topic you might want to select from the news these days has reached a new standard, in my assessment of, “are you kidding me?” I don’t doubt for a moment that the people involved think they’re making sense but they’re not making their arguments clearly or logically. In many instances, the “debate” has been reduced to an emotional display of nothing more than name calling. So what has this got to do with leadership within our organizations or even more importantly, our goal of protecting victims within our society? A whole lot, if we stop to think about it.
If the goal is to get changes made to existing laws to better protect victims but our arguments for doing so are confused and illogical, those who don’t want to make the changes will be able to derail the goal. The same is true for making changes within organizations.
On the other hand, if the arguments for making changes to the laws are well reasoned, logical, and based on verified facts, those individuals who oppose the goal will be less able to undermine it. Again, the same is true for an organization seeking to make changes in process, policies, procedures, etc.
It’s important to remember that it’s not about how something appears. Rather, it is the underlying foundation upon which the goal is based. Base the goal figuratively on cotton candy, and the first hint of any moisture will melt the foundation in a New York second. Base the goal on a solid foundation of reason and verified fact, and no amount of argument will undermine it.

Breaking Out of Our Rut

This past weekend I had occasion to shop at my local office supply store and was a bit shocked to see “Back to School” displays and goods already available. It took me a couple of seconds to remember that here in the desert southwest, school starts a number of weeks before schools in other areas of the country, so it’s only going to be a bit more than a month before school starts back in earnest.
It’s sort of comforting to know that despite all that‘s going on in our lives these days, there are still some things that never change – schools open for about 180 days and close for the summer. We know that Labor Day will mark the traditional end to summer and we’ll enter into a busy time of the year with various holidays upcoming. And we know that with the New Year, we’ll continue that comfortable cycle.
What we can’t continue is turning a blind eye and deaf ear to the needs of hundreds of thousands of children in foster care in this country, nor can we continue to stay in our rut when it comes to child abuse, molestation, and murder. I know I keep beating this drum about protecting our children, but as leaders in our communities and organizations, if we don’t stand up and do so, who will? Data is available which shows that hundreds of children die each year from neglect or abuse. I know that so little attention to paid to this horrific situation, probably because it doesn’t garner a whole lot of media or public attention. That, in itself, speaks volumes about those people who would seek to continue to ignore this issue. I can’t ignore this any longer. I know that today’s children represent the future employees and leaders of our companies and organizations and we need to protect their futures now. I hope you will join with me in breaking out of this rut and finally make a positive, significant difference in the lives of our children.

AUTO CORRECT

(This posting was rejected for “boosting” by Facebook because according to their policies, it contains political material.  It is presented here verbatim, from the posting made to our Facebook page.  You decide.)

I HATE AUTO-CORRECT. It drives me crazy at times. I’m doing battle with the grammar check for Microsoft©. The latest – telling me I have an error with the phrase, “So do I.” Their correction? I’m supposed to use, “So do me.” Seriously? I hate auto-correct on my phone. It has led to some interesting comments sent from me to family and friends, prompting an immediate second message to correct the first.
When we hear of particularly heinous crimes involving victims, especially children, we sometimes want to have an auto-correct program of our own, to shut out the horrific details of what happened. For example, we saw this with the murders of both James Byrd, Jr., in June 1998 and Matthew Shepard in October 1998. Both murders were particularly gruesome and that gruesomeness was reported in great detail by various media outlets. One outcome of these murders was the passing of the “Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act,” which was signed into federal law in 2009. But because of the extensive detail provided in the media coverage, people sought refuge in shutting out the details so that they were not overwhelmed by the nature of the murderous acts. It’s a natural reaction. We’ve developed an auto-correct system to deal with the news of such horrific crimes. When such crimes come to light, we use our auto-correct defense: The story can’t be as bad as it’s being reported. People just don’t do that to others – or do they?
Unfortunately, people do harm children and others in gruesome and stomach wrenching ways. Those of us who cannot conceive of a time when we’d torture a child or another person, have to realize that when such stories are reported, we need to disconnect our auto-correct defense. We need to focus on doing what we can to insure that those individuals who harm others deliberately and with malice, are isolated from our communities and our societies. We have an obligation to work together to insure that a clear message is sent to those who think nothing of harming others – bad behavior will be punished to the fullest extent of the law, and those who facilitate such behavior will also be held accountable. Truly, we can have no lesser goal.

Persistence

With no subtle filter in place, so far this month has been the “May from Hell.” One of my pups had surgery in late April to address a year old spider bite which had never fully healed. Thank goodness for that because during the surgery the vet discovered a completely encapsulated mass. Had the bite healed properly, we would have discovered this mass probably too late to effectively address it. Now comes the hellish part.
An infection unrelated to the surgery accomplished the removal process of the sutures by literally blowing out the incision just two days before the sutures were to be removed.
Both she and I are blessed that her vet team was/is determined to get her through this. Tests, cultures, exams, etc. have all been done and no satisfactory answer for the source or cause of the infection has been found. Thankfully, her vets won’t give up until my pup is healed and restored to good health. Gotta love persistence.
Wouldn’t it be great if our leaders and managers were just as persistent in finding practical and realistic solutions to the problems facing them? Instead of going for the easy fix, wasting time, money, and human resources, leaders and managers need to buckle down and do the hard work. What is the correct source of the problem? Exactly what is the problem? How can we find the best solutions to resolving this problem? (HINT: It’s not about imposing a solution to address the symptoms – it’s about getting the best people together to correctly identify the problem and work out possible resolutions.) How do we communicate the issue to our organization factually and accurately? Persistence, that’s how. Long hard work that’s firm in its dedication to solving the problem.

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.

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.