Employment Strategies During a Recession

It is no surprise that this year’s college graduates are finding the job market unreceptive;  and “even those who land jobs” says Sara Murray in her education blog at the Wall Street Journal, “will likely suffer lower wages for a decade or more compared to those lucky enough to graduate in better times”.  Murray cites numbers from a longitudinal study conducted during the recession of the 1980’s by Lisa Kahn, a Yale School of Management economist.  In simple terms, this study shows how income for recent graduates decreases considerably as employment rates rise; further, this data reveals that overcoming a lower starting salary may be close to impossible.

David overcame Goliath by rejecting the traditional terms of battle and by thinking of alternatives that woud level the "battlefield".

David overcame Goliath by rejecting traditional terms of combat and by thinking of alternatives that would level the "battlefield".

Murray offers some good news for graduates who are fortunate enough to find employment in their field of study, referencing Canadian data covering two recessionary periods collected by Columbia University economist, Till Marco von Wachter.  This study states that graduates who found work in their field of interest were better positioned to recover when the economy rebounded, even though their starting incomes might be lower.

In his most recent publication, Outliers:The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell offers additional perspective on the principles of success.   First of all, Gladwell makes a strong case for preparation as a critical component for achieving the highest levels of success.  He examines the absolute dedication that must be invested to become an expert in any field and explains step by step how high achievers  like Bill Gates, The Beatles and others were able to outperform the field.   He also establishes a threshold for the commitment level that will produce excellence.  And from this comes the “10,000 hour rule”.   Step 1 — I have achieved a level of expertise.  I am prepared.

The balance of the book is dedicated to a necessary and complementary factor on the path to success — opportunity.  Although there is an abundance of research on the subject of opportunity and we understand that some people have more opportunity than others, Gladwell presents his case in the most compelling and unique  manner.

Gladwell presents substantial evidence to make the case that success, even for the most prepared and the brightest, is influenced by factors such as year of birth, month of birth, being in the right place at the right time, cultural heritage, family heritage and serendipity.

Considering the 2009 graduates, Gladwell would conclude that their diminished opportunity is simply a matter of bad luck — they have had the misfortune of graduating during a world-wide recession.  Their preparation compares to previous years’ graduates and is not a factor.  No, the year 2009 is simply a year with less opportunity and that’s just the way it is.  Step 2 —  I am prepared, but where is my opportunity?

So now what?  Is that just truly just the way it is?  Do we simply roll over and pretend that having less opportunity is our fate?  After all, isn’t that what we are conditioned to do — believe that our success or lack of it is a factor of our preparation and our ability?  John is so much smarter than I am.  Mary has natural ability in this area that I will never have.  That’s right — the next step is simply acceptance of my limited capacity.  Game over.

Outliers does not change the way we look at preparation; it still takes effort and lots of it to develop expertise.  It is useful to know that 10,00 hours is a goal to which I can aspire to achieve excellence, but it still amounts to lots of hard work.  However, Outliers does offer us a new paradigm of opportunity.   Although preparation is still very important, opportunity outtrumps preparation as a determinant of success.   Opportunity is a commodity that some of us will own in excess, while others will experience a dearth.  Thanks to Gladwell’s, we no longer have to accept the limitation of opportunity.  We can act with effort to create opportunity.

This is the question! What action can I take that will restore an equilibrium of opportunity into my life?

David Brooks, in his New York Times post, shares a story about how the playing field was leveled for some students in inner city schools.  The “Harlem Miracle” as he has dubbed this educational experiment has eliminated the achievement gap for predominantly poor inner city black children when compared to predominantly middle income suburban white children.  The program –currently available to a limited number of inner city children who qualify through a lottery system — counters the view that improved facilities and better teachers will help these impoverished students to achieve at higher levels.  Instead, it has established a disciplined and orderly counter culture of absolute adherence and longer hours of school and study.  In this case, creative thinking has allowed inner city children to compete evenly with their suburban peers.  Opportunity has been restored.

A second story comes from Malcolm Gladwell (How David Beats Goliath).  In this article for the New Yorker, Gladwell explains how a girl’s basketball team, short on talent, size and experience when compared to their competition, managed against all odds to overcome their opponents and win a national championship.  The coach of this team of 12 year old girls, Vivek Ranadive, was of east Indian descent having a heritage of cricket and soccer.  He had a difficult time understanding the logic of how basketball was played.  That is, that a team would permit another to easily enter its half of the playing surface with no opposition.  Once in the offensive end of the floor, skilled teams were at an advantage displaying their dribbling, passing and shooting skills.  And a shorter, less skilled and less experienced team was particularly vulnerable.  Ranadive decided to apply the pressure found in other sports — specifically, he taught his players to apply a continuous full court press.  With constant pressure before the ball was even played in bounds, the playing field was leveled.  The press confused skilled teams and made it challenging for them to unleash their skill advantage.  The press forced skilled teams to play on his terms and allowed his team to outperform far better teams.  Strategic thinking allowed this group to overcome the cultural opportunity that other teams possessed.

In Gladwell’s words,”..substituting effort for ability turns out to be a winning formula for underdogs in all walks of life, including little blond girls on the basketball court”.

What are your thoughts about opportunity?  Can you think of times in your life where you sabotaged your own opportunity?  Please watch for “Craig’s Top Five List” for next Friday as I will share five steps that 2009 graduates can take to level the employment field.

Generation S: Unifying the Generations

Today’s “Craig’s Top Five List” is a response  — that is, my hope, my dream, my plea that inherent in the next generation will be a determination to unify, not where it is convenient, not where it is advantageous, but purely and simply as a matter of principle.  The next generation’s single drive will be unity — a unifying force that will allow the phenomenally powerful material “stuff”  of the “next generations” to be supplemented and complemented with an emotional and spiritual super glue.

We often confuse unity as being somewhere out there and bigger than us; however, unity starts with each of us and is then infused in our relationships, workplaces and communities.

We often confuse unity as being somewhere out there and bigger than us; however, unity starts with each of us and is then infused in our relationships, workplaces and communities.

The next generation which we previously labelled “Generation S”, in full awareness of man’s dilemma and feeling the acute suffering facing humanity, will aspire to a higher standard — hence “Craig’s Top Five List” for this Friday and the following five characteristics that define Generation S:

  1. A Vision and Mission that Supports a Unified Humanity: Using Maslow’s hierarchy of need, the next generations in developed societies no longer have to worry about physiological and safety needs; unlike their parents, they have the luxury of spending their precious time growing emotionally and spiritually.  Some might argue that the next generation is the first truly emotional generation; this means that this generation is more emotionally mature and progresses to stages of emotional maturity much earlier than was the case for baby boomers.  This emotional maturity contributes to awareness of the global plight of humanity; members of this generation suffer when any member of humanity suffers.  Their life mission is simple — “doing things for the right reasons” — “every action based upon principles of rightness and goodness”.
  2. A Personal and Generational Virtues Cocktail: To operationalize their life mission, this generation identifies a set of values that will guide their behaviour.  They understand that they will become what they believe and practice.  They are committed to continuous personal growth because if they are not advancing they are retreating.  They infuse their behaviour with values like honesty, understanding, compassion, integrity and love.  They understand that arrogance and ego are the greatest impediments to growth so they adopt and nurture a posture of humility and observation.
  3. A Capacity for Consultation: This generation understands that a change of this magnitude cannot be imposed.  In addition to modelling the preferred behaviour, this generation must also launch a dialog; a critical component of this model is listening.  Consultation also requires participants to detach from ideas so that all thoughts can be assessed objectively, thus containing reaction and impulsive negative emotion.
  4. Relentless Determination, Patience and Endurance: This generation understands that change comes slowly.  Although they feel great urgency in their unifying mission, they understand that resistance to change is embedded in tradition, conformity, fear of loss and power-based relationships.  They remain focussed upon the prize and prepare to perform aerobically, recognizing that endurance is necessary.  Changing behaviour will demand that members of this generation vote consistently for love and peace, while others, lacking in trust, will continue at least in the short term to vote for war and hate.
  5. Joyfulness: While the baby boomers deal with the ghosts of their parents’ legacy of guilt, fear, seriousness and regret, the next generation is whole; and although by nature they strive competitively for excellence, they do this with the knowledge that man is not perfect.  The ego relieved of this albatross, there is no reason to strive under the illusion of being flawless.  Life’s pursuits are joyful and entertaining;  the journey leading to gradual accomplishment of the life mission is equally gratifying.

Some might argue that this next generation should be labelled “generation YOU”, since the overlay should not come from a new generation but from our cumulative efforts to grow spiritually.  In essence it becomes a metaphor for your growth and maturity

“I am doing this now” retorts the reader with intent.  Take a closer look.  What you may discover is that your life mission is targetted to a specific community and conditional on a particular result.  Take a closer look and then tell me what you think.

Unity-Based Leadership in the Workplace

Reflections on workplace perspective…..

The baby boomers, the single largest generational cohort ever, are still dominant in the workplace, even though the oldest among them have now reached retirement age. And, like the Titanic, this massive age cohort is difficult to budge, let alone turn. In the eyes of many, the baby boomers are painfully slow in reacting to “hit you over the head” trends and “if you can’t see it, you aren’t looking” trends.  In the eyes of many observers , these trends demand serious attention, however, most decision-makers continue to deliver incremental change, on issues that are defining the lives of “next up” generations.

Understanding the importance of unity and collaboration critical ingredient for next up generations.

In the absence of an ethical and moral framework, unity of the generations will not be possible.

And these emerging generations are beginning to assert themselves in the work-a-day world by demanding that they be heard and that the promising attributes of their generation be drivers of a new workplace; in the absence of considerable action, it is the view of many that the “new gens” will reinvent the world, and with it the workplace.

Gary Allen’s excellent post on these “next up” generations amounts to a manifesto of sorts that explicitly advises prospective employers what they must address so that, in particular, the F generation can be adequately accommodated, if not welcomed into the workplace.  In the absence of a reasonable response, the next up generations could very well launch a technology-induced revolution.

Although demographers take full responsibility for naming the new generations, the incumbents so-named proudly claim full membership and have begun to lobby against the establishment generation with an “us versus you” mentality.

We are unique, we have great ideas and we are impatient for change;  we demand change now, or else.

Some might compare the simmering relationship between baby boomers and gens X,Y and F to the way the adolescent perceives the parent.  Mark Twain summed it up perfectly:

When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.

I personally appreciate what these new generations have to offer and there is doubt in my mind that with a little guidance the new gens will change the world favorably; I also see movement from the stodgy baby boomers as the momentum created by the internet and Facebook have contributed to an recognition that the world is changing exponentially — change with it or be left behind.

Still I feel that there is a missing ingredient in the Facebook manifesto.  Simply stated, I don’t believe that positive, sustainable change can be achieved through confrontation, intimidation and manipulation.   Perhaps it will take one more generation to complement the promising package — one that will recognize the critical importance of collaboration, cooperation and partnership.  In my dreams I envision Generation S that will offer the  overlay of an ethical and moral framework that will guide all action — will reinforce the importance of “unity-based leadership”.

As Baha’u’llah, prophet-founder of the Baha’i faith says,

The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens.

This is a simple message with a profound complexity.  Clearly, divisions of any kind that create distance between us, whether they be generations, genders, races or nations with all diminish our capacity for unity.  Without unity, we all achive less.

Have you achieved unity in your workplace?  Do you see the importance of aspiring for unity?

Understanding Sabotage in the Workplace

Reflections on workplace perspective…..

Another Friday — another “Craig’s Top Five List”.  On Monday, we put forth a case for the ongoing value of management and success books.  While the current trend in the industry seems to be to discredit these reference materials and fear monger, we argued that the competent manager should understand the opportunities and limitations that come with these materials and include them as part of a package of resources that support a healthy attitude of continuous improvement.

Sabotage in the workplace is rarely as clear as this!

Sabotage in the workplace is rarely as clear as this!

We also reminded readers that workplace sabotage can emerge from the shadows of an organization in many ways, and that pointing the finger at success books is just too easy.   So, on this wonderful wind down Friday, let’s talk about sabotage — specifically, five ways that organizations can interfere with their own success:

  1. It Starts at the Top: A true leader understands the importance of building a strong organization and is constantly in search of powerful guidance.  Sadly, the American Automobile Industry is a perfect example of a rudderless ship.  With countless opportunities to lead the pack, they chose complacency.   For example, they were given the opportunity to be the leader in electric automobile technology and they chose to balk at this gift.  And now, they are scrambling just to survive.  Poor leadership will suffocate an organization; strong leadership will allow an entity to explode with possibilities.
  2. Buy-in, Stay-in: Rightly or wrongly, there will be times in your organization when lower level managers decide to take management matters into their own hands.  This will not be an all out mutiny; no, instead, while smiling and nodding support for their bosses, these managers will quietly and secretly begin the process of undermining the initiatives they dislike, in part by treating their area of responsibility as an island.  These managers need to understand that disagreement is healthy if it is voiced openly and if it is part of an appropriate consultation process.  However, there is also a time for unity of purpose where the team as a whole needs to get on side and offer a plan its best chance of success.  It is often difficult for a senior manager to know what is happening on the ground floor.  In their eyes if they hear nothing all is well.  They need eyes and ears with employees at all levels so they can understand the support or lack of support for their plans.
  3. Silos Belong on Farms: The more we slice and dice our organizations, the lower the unity of purpose.  It is not uncommon for units, sectors, divisions to see themselves in competition with each other, largely a result of both managers and their staff seeing their role in the organization as being critical and successful, while the role of others, their “inside” competitors, being performed inadequately to the detriment of the organization.  Unifying the organization’s sense of purpose and demonstrating how each role is an essential component of the organization’s mission is a critical responsibility of senior managers.
  4. Communicate- Empower- Communicate- Empower: This is “the circle of [organizational] life”.  Managers at all levels who fail to delegate will by definition underachieve.  They will waste organizational capacity; they will damage employee motivation, goodwill, loyalty, commitment, happiness and so on.  They will undoubtedly lose their best staff.  Once managers learn how to empower effectively, they must complete the equation — effective and almost excessive communication.  The empowered employee has a responsibility to inform and advise the manager; however, it is contingent upon the senior manager to ensure that an effective and satisfying mechanism is in place.  When I say excessive communication, I mean it.  This is the tool that allows you to sleep well at night.  Because of clear communication, you know with confidence that all is well on the home front.
  5. You are Only as Good as Your Talent: A couple of stories might help to clarify this point.  Following the interviews for a senior researcher position, the interview team agreed that no one met the minimum qualifications.  “I will cover what the best candidate cannot do” offered one senior manager.  I reluctantly agreed and we offered the job to the best of the group.  Big mistake!  My senior manager was constantly rescuing this employee, time lines were lagging and we lost our capacity to perform effectively.  In contrast, an organization hired a salesperson.  Their expectations for this position were low based upon the performance of the previous incumbents.  In a short time, this newbie demonstrated that she could outperform two people in this area and in fact her area became a significant source of revenue.  The manager quickly realized that he could throw a challenge her way and that she would often out produce established areas of revenue for the organization.  The stronger the talent, the greater the opportunity, the greater the result.
  6. Flavour of the Month Syndrome: Did I say a list of five?  Well, I could not resist offering this one last point. “It’s just the flavour of the month” he lamented, “I’ll just wait it out and before too long everything will be back to normal”.  The manager who gets excited about every new management idea will find that skepticism settles into the organization. Employees will soon realize that the manager does not know how to use creative ideas to effect a change in culture; employees will see the initiative as time wasted and give the illusion of buy-in by saying the right things, while only accepting the idea at the margin.  The senior manager has the right spirit — one of trying to bring the best to his organization; however, with a little help from other managers, he will complete the loop and carefully assess the value of the idea to the organization and the nature of its implementation.

Have you seen any of these at work in your organization?  What efforts were taken to resolve the challenge?

Is it Time to Sell My Management Books?

Reflections on workplace perspective…..

Drake Bennett (Have Success Gurus Steered Us Wrong?, National Post, Saturday, April 25, 2009) and also in Boston.com has an interesting take on the value of “success books”; interesting yes, but he may be missing the point.

His bottom line conclusion, in my words: management books amount to little more than a hoax, a conspiracy of sorts that mislead CEOs and organizations who trustingly chose to adopt their doctrines.

Is it time to sell my management books?

Is it time to sell my management books?

To make his case, he cites the work of a more recent set of experts, counter-gurus if you wish, like Phil Rozenzweig (author of The Halo Effect).  They claim that the suggestions espoused in these books are essentially useless, guilty on several charges.  First, they have done a poor job of identifying successful organizations, since success may be attributable to factors outside an organization’s control such as luck; and there is a fair amount of evidence to show this is true.  Second, what these gurus claim to be research is little more than a collection of soft qualitative case studies and in many instances the accuracy of the numbers can be questioned.

How do I feel about this assessment?  A little conflicted I guess.  On the one hand, I agree with the reviewers.  These earlier management and success books are not without flaws and to some extent these challenges limit their usefulness.   On the other hand, completely discounting these reference text would be counter productive.  So I prefer asking myself what is the value of these materials and how should they be used in the workplace?  These are my observations:

  1. Organizations need some form of guidance: I just recently completed some consulting work with an organization.  There was a great deal of experience in the management group; however, there was little awareness of advances in the field of management.  They seemed satisfied to continue employing inefficient practices, because they had little knowledge of a better way and if they had some knowledge, they had little reason to believe that newer approaches to management were any better.   They were in need of someone to demonstrate that certain management principles actually worked. The “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” mentality that tarnishes a reasonable source of experience, ideas and tactics  makes it difficult for these organizations to bridge the knowledge gap.
  2. Some Disciplines Defy Rigorous Measurement: In my previous incarnation, I was blessed with the opportunity to manage highly rigorous studies using advanced measures and huge data bases.  We had solid numbers, a solid research method and our results were defensible.  For years we deferred studies that defied measurement, mostly because the measures were soft, qualitative and subjective.  It was like trying to build a high rise tower on a bed of   sand.  As researchers, we were vulnerable to attack.   In spite of their weaknesses, these studies were state of the art.  They were the best that anyone had tried; they represented innovation in the field.  Still they were impossible to defend — a nightmare for researchers.  The so-called science of management is similarly difficult to measure and although some researchers claim that they can do better — and perhaps they can do somewhat better — these new studies will also be subject to criticism.  Let’s face it.  These were pretty good studies for their time and in my view they still have a great deal to offer a judicious reviewer.
  3. Theory may have its limitations, but used correctly has great value: I love hockey; for period of time, I studied the sport of hockey very closely.  I was so passionate about the sport that I used to attend advanced hockey symposia with coach presenters from around the world — NHL and AHL coaches, European league coaches, and development league coaches.  They were all there talking about what works.  The irony was that what worked one year didn’t the next.  Last year’s hero was this year’s exile.  Nobody could predict what would work in the future and no one could explain why a certain approach had worked the year earlier.  There were just too many intangibles from talent to training methods to on ice systems to who knows what.  Coaching team sports was and always will be theory.  We will continue to attempt to make it science, and we may have  some hard data that seems to prove part of the puzzle; but in the end, my sieve will continue to be my intuition, my good judgment.   Interestingly much of my management and leadership principles are derived from coaching team sports — more on this in a later post.  Can you think of another domain which continues to be principally theory?  Remember Harry Truman wishing for a one-armed economist?  Why you ask?  He simply wanted some hard, scientific and tangible advice.  Business success and leadership also fit into this category; you must filter, examine, assess and consult to arrive at the best fit for your organization.
  4. Passion manifests itself through preparation: Years ago I attended a presentation by the CEO of a garden tools mail order company.  Most of his presentation I have forgotten; however, there is one thing he said that I found quite interesting.  This CEO had conducted a study of American businesses and from his research had concluded that there were two key determinants of business success — passion and luck.   After everyone in attendance laughed at the simplicity of his formula, we began to assess what this finding really meant.  First let’s look at luck.  I cannot predict when luck will come my way and I cannot even determine the quantity of luck that will fall in my lap.  Clearly this is beyond my humble capacity.  When it comes to luck, however, I belong to the school of luck infused by author Stephen Leacock.  “I am a great believer in luck”, said Leacock, ” and I find the harder I work the more I have of it”.   The work component described by Leacock is equated to my passion.  My passion is my drive that allows me to prepare and those business books are part of the content that feeds my passion — all in anticipation of the day when luck, however defined, comes a callin’.
  5. The formula for success involves more that just a management reference book: A quick story to make a point.  Years ago, a former NHL coach shared with me, over coffee, that he never explained his hockey system to his players; he simply taught them their role on the ice in different situations.  He had learned from the school of hard knocks that players would translate failure of the team with the weakness of the system.  He preferred that the players measure success in terms of their own level of commitment to team success.  Interpreting?  A management book does not an organization make.  The formula is much more sophisticated;  the ingredients of this recipe, if you wish, include items like leadership at all levels, teamwork and talent; all of this is overlaid with a system of guidance largely extracted from management books.  It seems a little too convenient to blame failure on the weaknesses of management information.

I think most organizations realize that neither management books, nor management gurus provide perfect information.  They are merely part of the answer that prepares us to manifest our passion; organizations can then assess the value of these tools and the extent to which they will be integrated.

And in all this, we must keep in mind that there is still no utopia; of course, I would rather be the organization that strives for self-improvement than a laissez-faire business that is mired in complacency.

What is your favourite management book?  How has it helped you or your organization?  Does your organization have a mindset of improvement?

Strengthening Gender-Based Relationships

It is time for another “Craig’s Top Five List”.  On Monday, we looked at male mocking with the conclusion that perhaps we would be wise to strive for a higher standard in the way we approach gender-based relationships.  Here are a few suggestions:

Rufino Tamayo 'Man and Woman' 1926, Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Rufino Tamayo 'Man and Woman' 1926, Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

  1. Acknowledge our differences: I am saying this as though it has never been voiced before, in the history of humanity.  Of course, the exact opposite is true — it is hard to get through a day without some exasperated soul  needing to exhale this sentiment.  Clearly, you don’t know what you don’t know and under this condition, any form of growth is impossible.  Otherwise stated, awareness is a prerequisite for change.
  2. Accept our differences: By now I am sure you have figured out that difference is code for what I don’t like, don’t understand and cannot accept about “them”.  Since each gender represents fifty percent of humanity it may make sense to try something different; let’s face it —  How is your current pattern working for you?  Not so good?
  3. Stop the Veiled Criticism: There is something unifying about being able to share your frustration with those holding down membership in your gender club.  Somehow, if they share your angst, it affirms the view that you’re not crazy.  And if you are really courageous, you allow these whimsical commentaries on the other sex to slip out while they are present.  After all, “its just a joke;  I don’t really mean it.  I am so tired of this politically correct stuff, aren’t you”? you offer to your membership.  Well, if it smells like a dead fish and it looks like a dead fish, its probably a dead fish.
  4. Celebrate our strengths: Once we get past the frustrating parts of male-female relationships, we can rejoice in what we value in each other.  We need to acknowledge reality –that we are attracted to each other for reasons other the physical; for example, passion, intelligence, courage, sensitivity, calm, creativity and so on.  Its the  deeper issues that truly define who we are.
  5. Treat Each Person as an Individual: If we can treat each person as unique, then we override the stigma of gender or for that matter any other way of classifying humanity.  The more we choose to slice and dice humanity, the more we will frustrate our goal of unifying the human species.

I have just completed reading an amazing book entitled “Change”, based upon the principles of brief therapy.  Clearly, surface or simple change is possible; however other forms of change demand more sophisticated solutions.  More on this in a later post.

And that is the issue!  Change is a difficult challenge.  Can you see this prescription working?  How are things in your workplace?

Male Mocking: Deserved and Necessary?

Reflections on Workplace Perspective

On Saturday, March 14th’s  edition of “Definitely Not The Opera” (CBC.ca), Sook-Yin Lee and guest host, Nick Purdon took a very thorough look at dumb guy stereotypes and male mocking focusing on this trend in advertising.  Loved the show — extremely well done!

However, what I found troubling was how we accept our human limitations and rationalize how it is acceptable to repeat the destructive patterns of the past.   Perhaps I am taking this tongue in cheek presentation too seriously; maybe it all just meant to be playful and humourous.   BUT, what we say, in any form, and what we model is what we become.

Those interviewed during this show presented a number of arguments rationalizing why male mocking was not only acceptable, but necessary and represented a rational evolution of male-female relationships.   Let’s take a look at what was said:

• For decades, women have been victimized (i.e., sex objects, lacking in intelligence or judgment) by the media for so long it is now man’s turn. They can take it; we certainly did for all those years!  Ironically, most of the commercials mocking men are written by men.
• The culture of men has evolved from one of men being respected and recognized as the breadwinner and the backbone of the family to one of men being irresponsible and incompetent.   So, this representation of man is simply a reflection of the current reality.  So we paint all men with the same brush?
• The bashing of men is only temporary.  Soon society will tire of man bashing and we will find someone else to satirize.  Lucky them!
• We will continue to mock each other because it is programmed into our “reptilian brains”.   Probably true, but a disappointing commentary on what men and women want their species to become.  If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.

Only one interviewee spoke against these commercials. She said that this representation of men was in fact modeling future generations of young men and that the commercials suggested to young men that being irresponsible and incompetent was acceptable behaviour.  This mother of two boys, wanted more for her boys.   As any parent would, she wanted them to maximize their God given capacity in every way.

Ironically, the decision of advertisers to male bash has little to do with any of this argumentation.  It’s really quite simple; advertisers see women as the front line purchasers in just about every area.  They also know from psychology research that the best way to get women to buy their products is to stroke their self-esteem.  And advertisers have decided that the optimal way to achieve this goal is mocking women’s mates, fathers, brothers and sons.

I will be the last person to suggest that men are perfect.   I have learned from hundreds of career coaching diagnostics that each of us is an individual, that each of us has great capacity, a number of wonderful strengths and a comparable number of challenges that get in our way.   I understand that relationships between men and women are difficult and that women in particular have been seriously scarred by the power that men and paternal cultures have exerted over them.   I am not suggesting that we forget our history.

I am proposing that we learn from history and strive for a higher standard — one that will strengthen and model the nobility of men and women. The world and for that matter the workplace will only work optimally if men and women treat each other with dignity and work collaboratively.

“The world of humanity has two wings — one is woman and the other man”, says Baha’u’llah, prophet-founder of the Bahai faith. “Not until both wings are equally developed can the bird fly. Should one wing remain weak, flight is impossible”.  I think this reference puts everything in perspective.

Are you concerned about male mocking?  Do you concur that we should strive for balanced relationships?  What are some of the gender challenges in your workplace?

Recognizing Workplace Heroes

As promised, each Friday I will post a “Craig’s Top Five List”.

Much of what we have addressed in the infancy of this site concerns the definition and development of leadership capacity.  One of the points raised in my Heroes and Villains post is that workplace heroes already exist.  We know they are present, but using a traditional definition of hero, they are difficult to discover.  So, I am asking you to imagine your workplace; somewhere in your workplace there is a hero.  So start looking.  Your hero may, in that Waldo sort of way, be disguised.  Your hero may not even be a senior manager or a manager at all.  And, your hero may be emerging; just starting to develop an understanding of what heroic leadership means.

Where is your hero?

Where is your hero?

With these preconditions, you say, “Craig you are not making this simple”.   Absolutely!  Imagine you are mining for gems — diamond, emerald, ruby.  The process of discovery would be equally demanding.   Heroes are gems whose unearthing requires effort.   So let me help you in your search with Craig’s Top Five List for this Friday — 5 ways to recognize workplace heroes:

  1. Heroes are guided by a moral framework: I have a conscience, I can distinguish between right and wrong and I take the time to weigh my decisions.  When push comes to shove, I listen to that anxious little bug in my tummy and I make the honest decision.  As one former manager once advised me, if you have any doubt that your choice is integral, you have your answer.
  2. Heroes act locally and think globally: Simply put, if something I do here negatively affects someone somewhere else, I need to stop and rethink my proposed action.  I can no longer ethically define the world as my town or my neighbourhood.  If a family is suffering in Africa, I am also suffering.  The world is my family.
  3. Heroes problem solve: “You can’t get there from here” is not a viable answer.  I think emotionally and spiritually.  I listen.  I search for new paths; I solicit peaceful arrangements.
  4. Heroes lead through service: I am interested in the success of others.  I recognize that building a community takes all kind of skills.  I understand that by building the capacity of the team we will all achieve more and serve more. I have nothing to hide.  Even if I must make difficult decisions, I am transparent and open in my actions.  Heroes carry their behaviour into all parts of their lives.
  5. Heroes are detached from their heroic actions: Heroes do not see themselves as heroes.  They are just doing what they feel is the right thing to do.

Do you know any workplace heroes?  Do you understand why this style of  leadership produces herioc behaviour?  Please leave a comment and I will respond.

Villians and Heroes

Reflections on Workplace Perspective…..

A couple of weeks ago, I came across the most magnificent of quotes.  Referencing the tragedy of the current recession and the circumstances that had contributed to it, James West in his blog The Midas Letter, wrote:

“the commodity with the grimmest prospect of recovery is trust.”

Trust is a precious commodity.  Trust, truthfulness, honesty and integrity are the essence of the functional workplace.  In the absence of these values, the workplace begins to smell like a three day old fish.  In most workplaces, we begin to react on the mere suspicion of dishonesty; the case of our financial institutions goes wildly beyond speculation!  I think it is worthwhile examining this case to illustrate the impact that the loss of trust can have in the workplace.

The leaders of North America’s largest financial institutions have flagrantly created a financial disaster — of this there can be no doubt. This being the third and most serious systemic financial challenge over the past ten years, our financial leadership have shaken our societal self esteem; they have shattered the belief that our cornerstone institutions can survive.  I find myself wishing that this incredible deception is a mirage, just a bad dream.

joker1In addition to the emotional devastation, there has been significant job loss, business closures, house foreclosures, families broken.  And the damage is world wide.

The perpetrators, from their publicly subsidized high rise towers, have yet to admit responsibility.  There is no remorse and  no apology.  It is business and huge salaries as usual, while public administrators scramble to determine where the bail-out money has landed.  Like many in our society today, they choose to avoid the issue of wrongdoing; in the absence of an acknowledgment of impropriety, there can be no link to guilt and, hence, no consequence.

As I retell this story it seems more fiction than fact, something a team of scriptwriters would require years to invent.  The protagonist is clear; the villain has been unmasked. Yes, the bottom line is villain.

In contrast, there are those who build trust, hope and enthusiasm  —  encourage us to serve the good of humanity, leaders who can help us to be the best we can be.  These people are the heroes of this emotional age.  Here are a few examples:

Story#1: When we consider that 50% of the world’s wealth is controlled by 2% of the world’s inhabitants, and a mere 1% of the world’s wealth is controlled by the bottom 50%, leadership from those who control far more than their share of the world’s riches is desperately needed.

I am moved by the example of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet ; these folks are breaking new ground by giving the bulk of their wealth to philanthropic causes.  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation targets worldwide health and education challenges; they have chosen to focus on neglected issues and strive for increasing opportunity and equity for those most in need.  The Gates and Warren Buffet are modeling extreme behaviour that hopefully will encourage others to follow.

superman1Story #2: I often share the importance of the lesson told in the story “Stone Soup”, one of my favourite stories of Portuguese origin.  There was a time when famine caused people to hoard very limited resources and retreat back into the protection of their families; however, a very wise traveler taught them the importance of community unity.  The villains in my story represent famine and create mistrust and fear.  The heroes represent plenty and generate love, compassion, unity, hope and ultimately, community building.

Why has Barrack Obama attracted such a strong following?   In my eyes, he is the traveler.  With a recipe of wisdom, compassion, partnership and hope, Obama is rebuilding not only the American community of trust, but he is seen by those around the world as offering hope to men and women whose trust is battered and bruised by the villains of the world.  He is soliciting partners to strengthen the “global village”.

Story #3: Sometimes all it takes to be a hero is a little creativity, a little compassion and an understanding that the brutal option of cutting a community off at the knees is just not acceptable.  Kevin Cullen in his blog at Boston.com (March 12,2009 “A Head with A Heart” ) tells the story of Paul Levy, the administrator of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.  Before announcing staff cuts deemed necessary in the current economic slowdown and feeling particular empathy for how layoffs would affect the most vulnerable in his hospital family, Mr. Levy suggested that staff do whatever it takes to keep all employees on the job.  The response from staff of all levels in the organization was wildly supportive.  Employees offered to take less pay so that layoffs would not be necessary.  And I am sure there are many more heroes.

The individuals we typically consider heroes are the ones who land an airliner on a river or rescue a family from a burning home.  But these latter workplace and organizational nominees are equally worthy of consideration.  They have a positive and profound effect on our hope and the togetherness of our struggling workplaces and communities.

Am I on the right track? Who are your workplace heroes?  What defines the individuals you consider workplace heroes?  This coming Friday in “Craig’s Top Five List”, I will be identifying 5 ways that we can recognize a hero.  Please help me build this list.

Building a Powerful Management Environment

Reflections on Workplace Perspective….

As promised, here is your “Craig’s Top 5 List” for this Friday. I decided to rewrite this short post based upon Gary Hamel’s article on how the Facebook generation will revolutionize the way people are managed (http://blogs.wsj.com/management/2009/03/24/the-facebook-generation-vs-the-fortune-500/). I found many similarities between his powerful list of characteristics and what the literature is espousing about building powerful management environments. With both of these in mind, here is a list of 5 values that managers should adhere to if they want to manage effectively:


  1. Humility: it all starts with your attitude. You can walk around with management books under your arm all day long, but if you fail to read them and take action, your staff will quickly figure out you are just about show. Lead by example; be the first to dip your toe in the water. Acknowledge that you are like everyone else — wonderfully flawed.
  2. Self knowledge: if you truly want change, you must start with yourself. Get working on those deficiencies that will sabotage all your good-hearted efforts. Work your strengths; build strategies to compensate so your operation will appear seamless.
  3. Trust: Be transparent and open. Be a person of integrity. Be fair and objective. If your staff see that you are a person of your word, you will accumulate good will and support. Without trust, even those who desperately want to buy-in will be hesitant.
  4. Empowerment: Think of yourself as a facilitator; your job – to find capacity, to develop capacity, to empower capacity and to recognize capacity. Capacity can be defined in many ways – skills, ideas, innovation, effort.
  5. Creativity: Set a standard for creative thought. Challenge your team to innovate. Never lose an opportunity. Never lose the excitement of discovery. Benefit from collective capacity.

Thinking this way takes courage, especially when the standard is control; the organizational benefits far exceed the costs. By adopting this management perspective, you will unleash massive capacity. You will effectively nurture each person’s ability to lead.

How do feel about this list? Have you encountered any challenges because these values have been absent? Leave a comment and I will respond.