“Discipline, effort, patience and courage”

patience...it's a virtue... by melodyofrosepatience...it's a virtue... by melodyofrose

patience…it’s a virtue… by melodyofrosepatience…it’s a virtue… by melodyofrose

Thanks to StumbleUpon, I came across on article on Psychology Today entitled “What to Tell Kids After Failures and Mistakes.”  The Author, Salmansohn, describes some recent research conducted by Dr. Carol Dweck, who advocates an “Incremental theory” of learning.

Incremental Theorists believe that success is achieved through putting in the necessary hard work. According to Dr. Dweck, a big key to a successful life is to embrace being an “Incremental Theorist” – so when failure or disappointments occur, you are ready to overcome them.

This quote from the article is powerful:

Discipline, effort, patience and courage are hugely important core values for kids to grow up embracing.

 

They are also hugely important core values for adults to maintain, too.  I think we can easily simplify that message and state that Discipline, effort, patience and courage are hugely important core values.  Period.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a grown up or just look like one, either.

Consider all of the writings on change management, personal improvement, operational excellence, or just about anything else I’ve ever discussed in this blog.  Every school of thought regarding those issues relies on some combination of exactly those same 4 principles:  Discipline, effort, patience and courage.

Eric Ries’ Lean Startup movement seems to embrace these concepts most closely.  To successfully launch, you have to have a plan, work your plan, stick to the plan, but be willing to make the courageous decision to pivot when called for.  That dynamic applies to many facets of both work and life far from the startup environment, too.

Since there is always overlap of concepts and even repackaging of old one, I’ll go ahead and assume that the practices advocated by the Incremental Theorists aren’t anything entirely new.  Nonetheless, the depiction of the characteristics necessary to overcome adversity is simple, powerful, and entirely consistent with the best practices for both business and personal development (and isn’t it funny just how much those 2 things go hand in hand?).

Well, OF COURSE no one trusts management…..

Backstabber_by_bat_bat
Backstabber_by_bat_bat

Backstabber by bat bat

In a conversation with a seasoned manager who asked me why I believed morale was so poor in his organization, I stated that the thing most often heard wafting through the cubicles was that people simply don’t trust the management here. “Well, that’s universal.” he stated, and quickly dismissed the concerns people were uttering as just usual, typical, workplace angst. 

And so, improving the situation quickly became impossible or, at the very least, set back for quite a while. 

Now, it would be easy to point out the ignorance of this approach, or how such thinking leads to long-term disengagement, to how the failure to put aside personal perceptions and attempt to understand a situation before launching into a solution is a far more optimal approach, etc, etc, etc.  Certainly, all of these things were my first, immediate, and emotional reactions. Upon reflection, however, I realized that this problem  was born from different perspectives on management’s role among the age groups in the organization.

Those who felt that the staff was – for lack of a better term – whining, were all north of 55 years of age, and most of those were north of 60.  Their expectation was that managers were tough, not very understanding, at that the entire management rank of the organization was something for everyone else to contend with and develop mechanisms around. 

The folks on the other end of the spectrum were all 30-40 years old, and had an expectation that, while management needed to be stood up to at times, its primary function was to enable workers as much as possible.  Managers, from their point of view, needed to make adjustments in their own behavior when confronted so that the organization as a whole, as well as the people within it, could thrive. 

Younger still, and with a very different perspective, were those who were 20-30 years old, who believed they shouldn’t even have to confront management and let them know where the problems were.  They expected management to be involved, engaged, and have a deep understanding o the work such that problems were prevented, not simply addressed when they arose. 

 Some of this difference in perspective has to do with simple matters of maturity.  s you get older, you get a little more grizzled, tougher, and less likely to expect that someone else is going to take care of you.  Some of it, however, is also generational – my belief is that those folks who are in their 20s now will be more likely to look for collaborative and trustworthy management styles when they are in their 60s, as well as be more likely to create a sense of trust in the organization as they rise through the ranks. 

They will not achieve it 100%, of course, since having to bend the young whelps into shape is a part of maturing and becoming a leader.  There are clear differences in the expectations that generations have of the role of management, however, and not all of those expectations will erode over time. 

For the highest ranks of management, this is an important element of team dynamics to understand.  There are going to be conflicts arising from role expectations, management styles, personality types and even just work habits.  But what is driving those attributes?  The root cause may be something so simple as understanding when a person was born.

My best advice to anyone, regardless of age group, is simple:  Seek understanding and reflect before speaking.  Every opinion is a valid one, and you will understand it better if you first learn to understand the premise with which it was made.  This will provide you with an opportunity to examine your own opinions and behaviors and then decide if you are the one who needs to grow up a little, or regain a little of your lost youthful optimism.

 

Don’t be a tool

tool of the trade
tool of the trade

tool of the trade by steamby51

If you want to understand slang, there’s no better source than The Urban dictionary.  While far from the classiest site on the internet, let’s face it – there are a lot of references out there that most of us thirtysomethings and beyond just don’t get anymore.

Which isn’t to say we haven’t learned a thing or two we can teach the younger crowed.  According to the Urban Dictionary, a tool is

“One who lacks the mental capacity to know he is being used. A fool. A cretin. Characterized by low intelligence and/or self-steem.”

A lot of the information out there on various blogs and career advice sites advises college graduates to become exactly this – tools.  Although well intended, the advice that is spewed out usually tells people how they can get a foot in the door, appease their boss, be praised by co-workers and, in general, give up on their own thoughts for quite some time while doing all that is necessary to fit in and be just who the boss and the company’s culture want them to be.

Or, in other words, to become complete and utter tools.  If you don’t think these folks who step up and do just what the boss desires in order to get promoted, grab the best assignments, and maneuver their way through the corporate minefield are tools – just ask their co-workers.  You know, those folks who are much more interested in doing a job or – heaven forbid – living a life than their handy counterparts.  There’s no doubt that the do-gooders are considered to be tools by that crowd.

My advice to those young, aspiring people who are entering the world with just about as much freedom as they will ever have in their entire lives is simple – Take advantage of it.

And don’t be a tool.

There will be plenty of time to sit in a cubicle, navigate corporate politics, curry the favor of blowhards and nincompoops, and monitor your 401K.  For a short time, however, you will have the ability to experiment with life….and your career.  Why work for someone else?  Start your own business. It can be just about anything, since the consequences of failure are so low.  Trust me, as you get older – no matter how smart you get about business – going out on your own gets more and more difficult.  Those mortgages and tuition bills are pretty limiting.

And it’s not just about the money.  You might enter into something lucrative that will have you well-positioned by the time you’re 40, or 50, or even 60, leaving you in a position to fund your own start-up or to completely switch careers.  Unfortunately, those kids have a way of wanting your time – and you’ll need to make some difficult decisions on how much of it you’re willing and able to give them once they arrive.

Before all that, however, you have the freedom to test yourself and learn much about the world of business and, even if you don’t really enjoy that, you’ll learn quite a bit about how to budget, plan, and negotiate.  All that will serve you well no matter what you do with yourself.

Looking back, I wish someone had told me this advice back when I had all the options available to me.  There’s much more to be learned by doing for yourself than by doing for someone else.  Especially when working for someone else has such gained such notoriety for turning independent, creative, bright people into nothing more than a tool to be used by someone else.

More on kids and the wisdom gained from teaching baseball

Memories (baseball)

Memories by RickyCrabbit

Last spring, when my older son was 6, I wrote a couple of posts describing what I learned about parenting, people and myself as I attempted to guide him through excelling at something he’d never done before.  You can seem them here:

That second post – about teaching the boys on my son’s team how to focus in spite of themselves, is one of the more popular posts I’ve ever written, if you judge by how frequently it has been re-tweeted.  As we move into spring time here in northern New England, the baseball gloves are re-emerging from hibernation, and there are already opportunities to learn more about guiding people.

My son had a friend over on what turned out to be a record-setting day for warm weather (which has been freakish in these parts for the past 6 months or so).  In 75-degree weather, which is about 3 months ahead of schedule, I played a little catch & hit with the boys on our front lawn.

My son and I have spent a lot of time over the past year or so on the mechanics of fielding and hitting.  While he’s not exactly the second coming of Derek Jeter, he has a decent understanding of how to throw, how to hold a bat and swing level, and how to move his feet to get in front of a ground ball and squat down to field it.  His friend, who has not played on a team yet, proclaimed he was awesome at baseball – and then proceeded to hold the bat incorrectly, throw with no mechanics, and every ball that rolled on the ground went through his crooked knees.

Now, this has nothing to do with me bragging about my son (okay, so maybe just a little).  It has to do with understanding how people learn, the importance of subjective experience and interpretation, and the role of coaching.  The other boy honestly and genuinely believed he was “wicked awesome” – based on his own experience and what people had, or had not, told him about the way he did things.  My son believed much the same, until a lightly tossed ball went off the heal of his glove and hit him in the lip, or he swung so hard at a ball that he completely missed it and the bat went all the way around until it bonked him in the head.

Each of the boys had a different interpretation of what “good” meant – and acted in line with that.  By their own definition, they were, indeed, “Awesome.”  So, it struck me, that when we interview candidates or assign people to tasks based on what they tell us about themselves, we are really only going on that person’s interpretation – which may be very different from our own.  Different professions have attempted to make the understanding of the job standardized by instituting certifications and licenses, however, there is still a great deal of variation in the ability to understand and implement those standards.  There is still one universal truth – the definition of what constitutes “good” is often developed after the fact and is done so according to subjective interpretations by someone with a need to save face.

In my mind, this episode with the boys on the front lawn emphasized the need to establish the criteria for success up front and to work towards it constantly.  There has to be some wizened expert in the mix, able to see the gap between what is known now, and what the ideal is supposed to be, in order to guide and coach those with little experience.

Without that, when simple games turn into genuine winner-take-all competition, the uncoached will be left to flounder and lose…..even though they were “totally awesome” in their own minds.

Plan for peak capacity, or get good at eliminating waste

overflow

71 by PixelSoulPhoto in deviantart.com

Recently, our eldest son, who is just 7, was diagnosed with mononucleosis.  Typically, teenagers get this infection, which is commonly known as “the kissing disease.”  Just how he got it, we don’t know, but he’s going to be fine so – thanks, but no need to worry.

The infection caused his spleen to be enlarged, which means that his skiing lessons, swim classes, gym class at school and recess time are all put on hold for the next 6 weeks.  That’s a tough pill to swallow for a 1st grader.  While his teachers and school administrators are all working hard to accommodate him, they are having a bit of a difficult time of it, as there aren’t any extra staff members around every day to make sure he has someone to work with.

That mindset, however, got me to thinking about a classic problem faced in many organizations, large and small.  It points to a problem in the way we view staff capacity.  Namely, the instinctive reaction whenever current resources are strained to simply go out and get more resources, or to complain that we can’t meet the need because we’re not allowed to go out and get more resources.

But……when does anyone start to examine how we do things, to look for inefficiency?  If we eliminated that inefficiency, how many hours of unnecessary processing, running around to find things or people, sitting in pointless meetings, etc. etc. could be done away with?

Inefficiency takes on many subtle forms.  Lean has 7 traditional wastes, and some would argue there are 8 or 9 other wastes to add, but the key to all of them is that they don’t necessarily jump out and bite you.  You have to be looking for them in order to uncover the really entrenched ones.

If you’re not looking for those wastes, when resources appear to be stretched to the limit, your reaction will never be, “We need to identify some unnecessary effort in order to make more efficient use of our existing resources.”  Instead, it’s always, “We simply need to get more capacity.”  This, of course, leads to more overtime, more people (who will get laid off when the peak is over) and, in general, the very mura  and muri that are at the heart of performance problems everywhere.

We know that all environments will, eventually, encounter resource limitations.  Managing for the unforseen, however, requires more than just building extra resources into the plan – it requires knowing how to slim things down when required, too.