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November 2007


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This guest posting is by Douglas Ross, who describes himself as a displaced Canadian now living in Georgia, awaiting his green card. You can read more of his ideas at www.resultsthroughintegrity.com

Over 1800 years ago, Marcus Aurelius said “If it is not right, do not do it. If it is not true, do not say it.” These are simple words from another time and place. Do the right thing and speak the truth.

Integrity is about wholeness, consistency, objectivity and purity. In simple words, it is about doing the right thing (wholeness), doing the next right thing (consistency), and doing things right (objectivity). Marcus Aurelius also points out that what we say is as important as what we do.

Some people mentally walk away when words like this appear. Maybe they believe they already know the truth of these words. Maybe they just do not care. Only a few reflect on the true standard of behavior set out in these words.

Defining integrity

Today, many people define integrity in a vague way that only roughly distinguishes good from bad. These people usually recognize integrity as a refusal to engage in lying, blaming, or other behaviors that evade accountability.

This definition, although simple and easy, misses part of the meaning. Webster’s Third international dictionary defines integrity as precluding expediency, artificiality, and shallowness. This means you don’t use others for your own purposes (expediency); make promises you never intend to keep (artificiality); or hide behind politically correct and social acceptable things (shallowness).

Maybe you define integrity as “do what you say and mean what you say.” This definition adds to the clarity and suggests integrity is compromised when you break promises you truly meant to keep; break promises to one person to meet a promise to others; or break promises to yourself to keep promises to others.

Unfortunately this definition too, although helpful and easy to remember, misses another part of the meaning. The intent of action is as important as the action or the words. Some people do what they say and mean what they say, but they do it to serve their own ends. That is not integrity either.

Organizational integrity

Many organizations, like all too many people, treat integrity lightly. Any time a company delivers less than they promised in terms of quality, quantity, or service, there is a breach in integrity. Some companies make promises they can’t keep. When they are caught out they blame others or refuse to accept the consequences for broken promises.

For example, in manufacturing there is a term called the death spiral. It works like this:

  • In response to increased Return on Investment demands, leaders put pressure on their organizations to increase sales and to cut manufacturing costs. The sales group makes unsubstantiated quality and delivery promises to attract customers, while manufacturing cuts people and programs to reduce costs.
  • As sales increase, product quality and delivery suffers as manufacturing struggles to achieve more with less. Warranty costs rise and increased customer service demands negatively impact the bottom line. Pressure to perform grows again. A new cycle of broken promises and cost cutting efforts fuels the death spiral.

Fortunately, some organizations do strive to make integrity work. They learn their lesson and start developing their internal systems and structures to ensure integrity in the marketplace. They know that economic sustainability is not built on expediency, artificiality, and shallowness.

Some people also strive to make integrity work in their lives. They weigh the costs of their promises and commitments before making them. They take responsibility for broken promises and instill the discipline to act and speak with integrity through a process of correction and validation. They learn that speaking the truth, not only to others but to themselves, is the right thing to do. This motivates them to do the next right thing and to do it right.

Be that person, not for the world, but for yourself.

(5 votes, average: 5 out of 5)
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Organizations need to be loyal too

 
I suspect that one of the main reasons why so many people put up with long hours, constant demands to increase output, and even Hamburger Management is simply loyalty: loyalty to colleagues and friends, loyalty to a workplace, even corporate loyalty.

The trouble is that organizations don’t appear to have the same sense of loyalty in return. That puts a huge strain on employees. Do you pitch in and help out your colleagues, who are struggling with the latest batch of unreasoning demands from on high? Or do you start polishing your resume and get ready to walk out the door as quickly as possible? Do you stay with your belief that the job you’re doing is both worthwhile and valuable—even if it’s poorly paid, as so many jobs in teaching, nursing, and other public services tend to be? Or do you decide to follow the money into a different career—or even consider leaving to work overseas—and let go of your loyalty to an ideal?

The loyal employee

The loyal employee is innately valuable. He or she doesn’t accept expensive training, only to use it to get a better job elsewhere. When times are tough, the loyal employee accepts extra work, or even a lowered income, to help the organization cope. Many loyal employees work on their own time, either to clear backlogs, or to polish or add to their skills, to the ultimate benefit of their employer. They support their colleagues and willingly help others without expecting anything in return.

You would think that organizations would be doing just about everything possible to nurture such people. After all, they don’t just make for a better working atmosphere; they are extremely good for that sacred bottom-line.

The uncaring organization

What we actually see is rather different. In the pursuit of quick profits, organizations appear ready to cast off loyal employees as readily as everyone else.

We’re told, by research, that 38% that won’t go the extra mile for their job, or that 40% don’t care about making the company successful. That only 6% would resist outside job offers. But that still leave around 60% of people who do care about the organization and will put themselves out to see it successful.

Do we see organizations pinpointing these people and protecting them from the negative effects of Hamburger Management and grab-and-go, short-term policies? I certainly don’t. All I see is corporations treating all employees alike: as disposable tools that are simply costs to be eliminated as far as possible, not resources to be used to help grow the business and ward off external threats.

The effects of organizational disloyalty

All actions send a message—often quite a powerful one. Organizations who discard people without a second thought, or exploit them to the maximum extent they can get away with, are sending the message that loyalty counts for little or nothing.

The results are obvious:

  • People expect to be continually under threat of lay-off, so they keep their resumes permanently on the market, changing jobs without concern for anything save their own short-term advantage. Organizations have taught them to do this.
  • Because they see executives cheerfully raiding the corporate coffers to enrich themselves, any natural unwillingness to engage in “cheating” or manipulating rules to put extra money in their own pockets is lessened.
  • Since those at the top are obviously interested only in quick, short-term returns (especially to themselves), the attitude permeates the organization as a whole, leading to everyone focusing on what will give them the biggest, quickest return—even if that means elbowing colleagues out of the way, playing the dirtier kinds of organizational politics, or hyping resumes to leverage a quick move somewhere else that is paying a few bucks more.
  • Because they recognize that their bosses are “on the make” and will sacrifice them to hit next quarter’s numbers, employees gradually lose their sense that they have an obligation of loyalty to the business. They may still feel loyal to colleagues, but that can turn into and “us versus them” attitude towards those higher up. If people no longer feel that the organization is anything but a short-term meal-ticket, they won’t invest much of themselves in their job.
  • Worst of all, people start to feel devalued and see their work as less and less worthwhile. This can breed a whole slew of emotional and psychological stresses and problems.

Why corporate disloyalty matters to us all

Selfish, disloyal organizations are training a new generation of employees to be focused entirely on short-term, personal benefits and self-centered goals. Our society cannot work under such conditions, since we rely on people’s sense of unspoken obligations to one another, to their work, and even to society as a whole, to keep the structure of our democracies operating.

In America, perhaps the country most prone to Hamburger Management today, the number of people who vote, especially in local elections, is abysmally low. They obviously don’t feel engaged in their society or much interested in the outcome—probably because they don’t believe they can change anything against the weight of special interests and big business dollars. There is much more interest in television personalities and their private lives than there is in politics or issues of social justice. Books about career management stress looking out for yourself and finding ways to avoid being caught up in organizational or societal expectations. The business hero isn’t the CEO or corporate titan, but the young, freewheeling entrepreneur who makes a fortune in some esoteric, new business and retires at 35.

I don’t imagine our corporate leaders are even aware of the lessons they are teaching, or where they might lead in the longer term. Maybe they wouldn’t care, even if they knew. After all, they’ll be long retired to live off the millions amassed in their dubious share-option schemes.

When you know that you can lose your job at any time with little reason beyond corporate expediency, or that are only earning a minuscule fraction of what you’re helping to bring in, it’s hard to think about helping your company do even better. Are you “lucky” to have a job? Maybe, but the organization is equally lucky to have you helping them to success and financial solvency.

Loyalty cuts both ways. You can’t have loyal employees in a corporate that is disloyal to them. The sooner business learns that lesson, the better for everyone.

(9 votes, average: 5 out of 5)
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How to cut your stress by staying humble and practicing detachment

 
Why shouldn’t you believe your own hype and act as if you’re someone truly important? You’re doing a key job. You have people working for you—perhaps quite a lot of them. You’re responsible for a great deal of money and extensive corporate resources. People look up to you. They listen when you speak. You can even give your staff instructions and expect to see them carried out.

The higher you rise in an organization, the greater the temptation to see yourself as important outside that organization as well. Power is intoxicating. Being “a person of influence,” a “player” and “contender,” can quickly go to your head.

All this produces expectations about how people ought to treat you: how they ought to recognize your status and worth. But watch out! There are some nasty stressors associated with this kind of attitude.

  • As boss, your every mood and expression is scrutinized for what it may mean. Your praise and criticism is magnified by the size of the job you hold. Have a bad day and people start discussing how large the impending round of lay-offs will be. It’s very stressful to have to keep yourself constantly under close control to make sure that you don’t unwittingly cause some dangerous rumor to start.
  • People stop responding to you honestly. If you puff yourself up and insist on your status, don’t be surprised to find the number of yea-sayers around you increases quickly. In a short time, you’ll have no idea how people really think about what you are doing or saying. All you will hear is what they think is in their interests to say.
  • People stop telling you the truth. The more senior you become, the more responsibility you carry for what happens; yet the less willing people become to bring you bad news—unless you take good care to stay humble and open to the truth. Pompous, status-conscious managers are horribly at risk: carrying the can while being kept almost totally in the dark about anything nastly lurking to trip them up. How stressful is it to be responsible for events and almost blind to what’s coming?
  • Demanding special respect and consideration destroys people’s empathy. Your people will no longer care whether you’re succeeding or not. In fact, they’ll probably rather like to see you brought down a peg or two. Leaders who constantly demand special treatment quickly find that those around them start to become cold and hostile—except, of course, to their face. Isolation of this kind is very stressful.
  • Your family will become less and less supportive. If you believe your own work-based hype, you’ll quickly start expecting your family to treat you in a special way too. But your partner isn’t one of your staff; your teenage daughter won’t care whether you’re responsible for millions in resources; your son won’t be impressed by your quarterly results. Instead of seeing a loving, caring human being, they’ll see only a stuffed-shirt who breezes into their lives occasionally and starts demanding that they act impressed. Losing the support of your family is going to hurt deeply, as well as send your stress levels sky-high.
  • You’ll no longer know who to trust. In fact, it the ultra-political environment of most executive suites, you’ll probably feel there is no one whom you can trust. That’s going to make you extremely anxious. Soon, you won’t be willing to trust anyone at all, which will ensure that no one trusts you either. This vicious cycle causes more stress than almost anything else.

What’s the answer?

If you keep yourself in perspective, you’ll realize that almost nothing you do is that important. We’re all totally replaceable in our workplaces. Fall under a bus and your job will be filled in short order. In less than a year, no one will remember your name. What you do may be important to the business, but it doesn’t give you any basis for claiming special treatment from the world at large.

Practicing detachment doesn’t mean being cold and distant; it means understanding that taking yourself seriously is neither necessary nor useful. It’s also a great way to increase your stress and anxiety. At root, we’re all simply human animals, doing our best to get by in the world. Lightening up is a great way to feel better and make yourself much more acceptable to others.

Try it.

(5 votes, average: 4.8 out of 5)
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Don’t fall for wrong ideas about work/life balance

 
In many ways, the most important principle of Slow Leadership is building a balanced life between work, housekeeping, and leisure. It isn’t an easy task, especially in the present climate. But it isn’t being helped by the advice that’s given to look for answers in al the wrong places.

To find balance, you need first to know what it looks like. This is especially true of work/life balance—a topic that consistently produces more confusion than enlightenment.

It’s easy to say what balance is not:

  • It’s not a fixed state. Life circumstances and work and career expectations continually change. What seemed desirable only a few months ago may now be unacceptable.
  • It’s not some mathematical ratio between hours spent working and leisure or family time—let alone a 50:50 split.
  • It’s not a way for organizations to try to turn reasonable and civilized working patterns into supposed “benefits” and pass them off as part of remuneration.
  • It’s not an excuse for trying to get more paid vacations or better maternity (or paternity) leave arrangements.
  • It’s not even a matter of time management or day-to-day decisions about when, how, and whether to spend time on all of life’s various aspects.

The real demands of creating balance

The real demands of creating a balanced life are all about choice, responsibility, and being alert to the consequences of all your actions—on yourself as well as on others.

How you spend your time is a consequence of your thoughts and intentions. What do you value most? What do you want to achieve? How do you wish others to see you and estimate your worth?

These are all key work/life balance choices—and you are responsible for them all the time, whatever external pressures are placed on you.

Suppose your organization demands extra working hours. Can you refuse? Yes, so long as you are willing to accept the consequences. Of course, if you want most to be seen as a hight flier and a model of corporate loyalty, a choice against extra working is not going to be a good one. But it’s still a choice you can make—and for which you are responsible.

Suppose you decide to start a family. That choice comes wtih a great many consequences—not least those that may cause you to wish to limit time away from home and cut lengthy working hours. Should organizations make the implications less negative in career terms? There are good arguments that it’s in their interests to do so, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was your choice to start a family and you must be aware that there are consequences. You can’t duck out of your responsibility for that choice.

Choices and consequences

Decisions about how to spend our lives are tough and the outcomes often uncertain. It’s tempting to try to shift responsibility onto others and claim that we had no choice. It’s also tempting to duck such choices altogether by demanding a “right” to have it all: a rich family life, with time off whenever it’s needed,and unaffected promotion opportunities. There is no such right and never has been. It may be an ideal we could work towards, but it’s not a right anyone can demand, any more than we have a right to good health or a right to be prosperous, or loved, or happy.

It won’t wash. Finding balance can neither be handed over to others, nor avoided by claiming a non-existent right to “have it all.” It’s down to you to make the best choices you can, based on the best information available to you at the time.

In life, incompatible desires and clashing priorities are constant. There are no ways to avoid them. Nor can you avoid the consequences of whatever choices you make. Even failure or refusal to make a choice consciously won’t help. It’s still a choice after all.

Building a balanced life requires waking up to your responsibility to do the best you can and accept that it’s never going to be perfect. It’s making choices consciously and carefully that others maybe try to avoid or pass off onto circumstances or fate. It’s accepting that whatever balance—or imbalance—characterizes your life, it’s there because that’s what you chose. And it’s finding ways to meet work and non-work situations with intelligence and wide-open eyes for the likely results.

You are what you choose and what you fail to choose. Save in conditions of slavery or actual imprisonment, there are always other options.

It’s just that we usually don’t like them very much and prefer to believe our mistakes are forced on us.

(3 votes, average: 4.67 out of 5)
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Treating life as a game carries far higher risks than you might imagine

 

A good many of today’s problems arise because of people’s tendency to treat life as a game, in which game plans, tactics, and even dirty tricks count for more than reality. It’s time we all stopped deluding ourselves like this, or the outcome may be worse than we expect.

Games are everywhere. The financial problems currently plaguing investors have come about because, in a period of very low interest rates, banks, hedge funds, and other financial institutions played a deliberate game of “juicing” returns by getting into risky and novel types of investment, smug in the knowledge that they knew how to play and win.

They didn’t. Now they’re suffering the consequences of pretending they knew how to play a game that was almost entirely unfamiliar.

The media regularly replace “dull” facts and “boring” explanations with much more exciting conflicts, suppositions, and so-called “human interest” stories (really little more than emotional ego-trips). They play at chasing ratings and pretty much ignore educating or informing. That’s not today’s game.

Corporate leaders play a game of personal self-advancement by seeking ways to manipulate corporate results to enhance their own earnings, whether by outsourcing jobs, forcing people to work longer hours for no more pay, reducing benefits, “creative accounting,” or cooking the books. Their attachment to ďż˝”game plans” works down the organization, until every petty team leader and section boss is doing the same, inventing and playing elaborate games instead of dealing with the dull work of responding to reality.

Games require winners and losers

If business is a game, as it seems to be nowadays, there must be winners and losers. So Wall Street happily drops into the role of a grandstand full of spectators, cheering on their favorites, booing the losers, and betting trillions of dollars on the outcome. Maybe that’s why there are so few real investors compared to the number of speculators. Investors put their money into ideas with a view to creating long-term wealth. Speculators place bets on the outcome of elaborate, but usually short-term, games.

For the investor, there may be many outcomes, from earning great wealth, through periods of ups and downs, to losing slowly but steadily. For the speculator, it is sudden death: the bet either pays off or fails completely. You win a bundle or lose your shirt. No wonder they have no interest in the longer-term. Their fate is being decided here and now, linked to each fresh roll of the financial dice.

All this would be little more than another indication of the workings of what we call human nature, on a par with Roman gladiatorial shows and people sitting around the guillotine during the French Revolution, were it not for this simple fact: in the arena of reality, the universe is not playing anyone’s game.

Reality rules!

The addiction people have to games comes from the illusion of control.

I say illusion, because we do not have any real control over reality. We want to be in control so much that we convince ourselves what we desire is true. But most of the future is down to chance. And because we constantly refuse to accept that we have almost no real control over what happens to us, we invent all kinds of “explanations” and superstitions to maintain our illusions. People almost universally believe that they have far more control over events than is really the case. Try to puncture this illusion and they quickly become angry. It’s too painful to accept that all the game plans and supposed rules of success are little more than childish fantasies.

Games and game plans are not the only examples of inventions designed to maintain our illusion of control. We invent “rules” to govern the future because they give us that same illusion. Playing by the rules—even breaking the rules—implies that the rules are there and govern events. Thus we keep our mental picture that we are in control and able to determine outcomes in our favor.

Yet however much you believe that you can create ways to beat the odds and control the future, you cannot. Like the House at a Casino, the universe always holds the upper hand. Its odds are determined by blind chance, not some human system.

So the banks and hedge funds who dabbled in risky investments, while simultaneously denying the risks, not only sought to deluded other people (pulling the wool over customers’, competitors’, employees’, and investors’ eyes is assumed to be part of the game), they also deluded themselves. They believed they were playing a game they knew and could control. In reality, they were gambling in more or less total ignorance of the odds, the way that their investments worked, and the potential outcomes.

The penalties of arrogance with ignorance

The Buddha taught that all suffering is, at root, caused by ignorance. I don’t think he meant not being educated or knowing facts. What he meant was self-delusion: the constant willingness of people to substitute illusions, designed to satisfy the demands of an ego-driven wish for control, for looking at the unvarnished truth of how things really are.

When you add arrogance to ignorant self-delusion, the resulting mix is so toxic that bad results are inevitable. You may be playing your game, but the universe ignores all human rules and goes on patiently following its own path. Businesses, even nations, be they never so great and powerful, can be brought down in a few years or months. Diseases can decimate populations. Financial crashes—their causes always crystal clear in hindsight — regularly sweep away everyone’s plans. All we can do is try to understand reality and adjust to what we can see, going with the flow of events with no belief that we can control what is obviously beyond our capability to effect.

It’s time we got back to trying to understand reality and forgot all our petty game plans and maneuvers. Give up the illusion of control. Only those who face reality live and prosper in the long-run; those who don’t, fail and disappear. It’s as simple and stark a choice as that.

(3 votes, average: 4.33 out of 5)
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The nature of the work you do may be more important to happiness than how much you earn

 

Even if we can’t yet persuade business and politicians that their obsession with money as the sole measure of worth is self-destructive and ruinous to society at large, most people’s feelings of self-worth have rather less to do just with the size of their bank balance. Feeling uneasy or ashamed of the job you do—even if you do all you can to avoid anyone realizing this—isn’t a recipe for a happy life. You can try to ignore it, push it below the level of consciousness, or even deny it altogether, but it will still be there. The amount of personal damage it can cause is considerable.

We’re told that more and more young people are demanding better work/life balance and rejecting the overwork, narrow results orientation, and achievement obsession of previous generations. I think this is a misunderstanding.

What these younger people are demanding is more meaningful work: work that provides them a chance of real happiness, personal stimulation, and the sense that what they do matters. They aren’t rejecting good salaries, comfortable lifestyles, or future prospects. They’re rejecting what they are being expected to give up to get those in many corporations: their personal freedom, their leisure time, their relationships, their ideals, their ethical standards, their sense of what makes for a good life, and their dignity.

They are also questioning the current notion that wealth is the sole measure of value, whether of individuals or corporations.

Feeling good about what you do

What makes you feel good about what you do for a living? Is it just the size of your income?

I doubt that very much. As social animals, people are concerned with their status in the group. Money can be used as a way of enhancing this, just as animals may “prove” their status by larger antlers or bigger tusks. Yet these outward displays of dominance and success only go so far.

People also want to be liked. Being rich may make people defer to you—even suck up—in the hope of getting something out of you, but it won’t make them like you—or what you do to earn that wealth. In fact, it may well make you suspect their motives for hanging around with you at all. The stereotype of the rich person who looks for love but only finds golddiggers is a stereotype because it expresses a truth: that having money is more likely to attract the wrong kind of “friend” that the right one.

Ethics also play a part. To feel good about your job usually means knowing that, if you tell your neighbors what you do, they will value it. They will approve both the outcome of your efforts and the means used to achieve them.

But suppose that you suspect that knowing exactly what you do—and how you have to do it—might cause those same neighbors to look askance and cross the street rather then meet you? Suppose you are employed selling dubious loans to people who can’t afford them, and part of your job is to conceal the exact terms to avoid firghtening them off? You may earn good money, but can you really shut your mind to the consequences of your actions?

Career karma

Whatever we do has consequences; and what we do habitually has them over and over again. Choosing a career or a job that makes you feel uneasy about your actions is going to produce some internal consequences at least that aren’t conducive to happiness.

If your work doesn’t make you feel proud, will the money dull your feelings enough to compensate? If you’re asked to undertake actions that offend your values and ethics, will even oodles of cash quieten your conscience? And if you are brought up against the negative consequences of your emplyment—if it all comes out into the open—how will you feel? How will those you care about feel about you?

Young people have always been idealistic. It would be a sad world where this wasn’t so. They have also always been able to see where the compromises and surrenders of their elders have presented them with futures that contain, not what they want, but what their parents think they should have.

We have greater abilities than ever, through modern technology, to build the world we believe will fit with our ideals. We can use our powers for the good of the many or the profit of a few. It would be a disaster if all we do is use that same technology to build a world based on the past: a world enshrining inequalities, attitudes, and tawdry beliefs that we already know are failing to provide a happy society.

When you see some old film of what people of 40 or 50 years ago imagine today would be like, it’s so laughable as to make you wonder what they could possibly have been smoking. But is that so very different from looking forward and realizing that the world people are building today is may very well seem mean-minded, greed-obsessed, and stupid—even downright nasty—to our grandchildren?

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Delegation. Does the word evoke strong, perhaps other-than-positive, emotions in you? If it does, you’re not alone. If there is a single most misunderstood or misused concept in business, the delegation process is the leading candidate.

Repairing or refining how delegation works in an organization may be the biggest bang-for-the-buck in organizational management. If you get it right, your stakeholders and shareholders will thank you.

Delegation defined

Delegation is the act of assigning responsibility and resources for a task, holding or process to a subordinate. In effect, you sublet your work. Because they remain your subordinate, the task ultimately remains your responsibility. Since you chose to delegate this to them, you proactively decided they could handle the situation.

Why bother delegating at all? Because you can’t be everywhere, simultaneously. In addition, your employee may be more skilled at the task than you are. Proper delegation lowers total organizational workload and improves the quality of the output. Invest the new found profits wisely.

Delegation process

The delegation process itself is a simple series of steps:

  1. Communicate the task, holding or responsibility.
  2. Give the resources needed to accomplish the task.
  3. Compare results to expectations then adjust.

You could say it this way:

  1. “This is your new responsibility.”
  2. “Here is what you’ll need to be successful.”
  3. “Let’s agree on a follow-up schedule or mechanism.”

Don’t be fooled by the surface simplicity. Skillfully accomplishing the three steps is the core competence of management itself. Don’t worry: a good-faith effort to follow the process will usually provide good results.

Superior organizations and managers work hard at refining and honing their delegations. Delegation is a “do-loop” process. Any adjustments in Step 3 redefine the delegation and the parties restart at Step1.

Delegation refinement

The delegation is rarely, if ever, static. The delegatee grows in skills or capacity. The delegator becomes more comfortable or skillful with the situation. The task, holding or process itself changes. The original delegation eventually changes altogether.

The constant evolution is not a bad thing. The subordinate becomes a better employee. The manager gains as well. The task becomes more valuable, or easier to administrate, or both.

Delegation context

Delegation is fundamentally a tool to get the work done. Thankfully, it is also a development mechanism. Give and review assignments with an eye towards improving the employee or situation. As a subordinate’s skills and abilities expand, they in turn may be able to successfully delegate to others.

Delegation is less a supervision tool, and more a management technique. A manager who really wants delegation to work needs to be prepared to sacrifice some measure of direct control. Delegation means you will not know, with absolute certainty, every minute of everyday. The job will have someone else’s fingerprints and signature look.

They is likely a good thing. Your employees may have better skills on a specific task than you do. The differences in how you would get it done are trivial, considering the other things you should be doing.

Delegation core

That doesn’t mean you should not stay reasonably informed about the results and circumstances. You have the prerogative to direct some of the outcomes. That’s why feedback is the core of the process.

Responsible management demands that you follow-up on the employee and the task. The system of monitoring, should be carefully matched to the situation. Veteran staff should need less supervision than rookie trainees. Simple tasks (set the table) need less oversight than complex projects (perform vascular surgery).

Even if Step 1) and Step 2) are executed imperfectly, Step 3) will eventually repair the situation. Evaluate and adjust. Repeat as needed.

Slow delegation

Once the delegation process in your organization is mature and robust, you’ll be on your way to an excellent organization. Management will more thoughtfully assign tasks. The tasks will run better. Meeting time and horrible surprises will both go down. What are you going to do with all your new free time?

The process steps are few and simple, but they demand skill and discipline to be done well. Take your time. The results will be worth it.

This guest article was contributed by Desertcat.


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Talking to others, rather than at them, is becoming a forgotten art

Conversation is becoming a lost art, replaced by endless talk. To converse is to share ideas and learn from one another in the process. It demands listening and talking in equal degrees. Talk is one-way. All those people endlessly talking into their cellphones, the TV chat shows, the instant pundits on any topic, all of them talk without ceasing and rarely pause to listen. We live surrounded by constant chatter that amounts to little more than egotism, compounded by fear of silence.

Go to any meeting in any organization. What will you discover? People who spend their time thinking about what to say next. People eagerly seizing on someone else’s words as the excuse for talking themselves. People who are so busy talking at others they rarely talk to them.

Decisions are so often made before the meeting ever takes place. At the meeting itself, no one listens. No one is open to persuasion. Attendees are briefed to take a position, regardless of what’s said after they arrive. Like politicians toeing the party line, they have open mouths and tightly shut minds.

People don’t even say what they mean when they do speak. Our organizational heroes are like John Wayne, strong and silent types, hiding themselves behind an action-man exterior. In “Conversation: How Talk Can Change Our Lives,” Theodore Zeldin uses dialogue from a John Wayne movie to make this point. When the heroine says to Wayne, “You don’t need anybody but yourself,” she could as easily be speaking to a top executive in a corporation.

“I want a woman who needs me,” Sheriff Wayne replies. It’s all about him it seems. But when the heroine wears a sexy dress to attract his attention, all he can say is, “You wear those things and I’ll arrest you.”

Action-man (and action-woman) leaders assert their superiority by aggression. They don’t need to listen, and they cannot be persuaded save by aggression greater than their own. Conversation has no place in their lives. Who needs talk when there’s action to be done? Who needs to persuade others when you can manipulate them, or coerce them, or (like political fixers the world over) use dirty tricks to discredit them?

The power of true conversation

Conversation is personal contact, the meeting of minds in a mutual search for what life and work are about and how we should deal with both. It’s approaching others with an open mind and ready sympathy for their concerns, not just our own. It’s being willing to engage rather than dominate.

When people converse, a change of opinion is always possible. What would happen if politicians and leaders began to converse, instead of shouting pre-prepared political slogans? Might there be a chance to put the needs of the nation as a whole before narrow, sectional interests? Might there be real decisions on priorities, instead of shady political compromises?

The power of conversation, at work or outside it, is the power of making direct contact with people in all their complexity and vulnerability. It’s the best remedy for the sense of alienation from society that’s the underlying cause of vandalism, crime and terrorism.

People want most of all to be heard; to have others listen to them—really listen—and understand their needs and concerns. If you want to attract and keep good employees, if you want to retain good customers, if you just want to have a better quality of life, cut all the chatter and start a conversation instead.

It will change your world.

(6 votes, average: 5 out of 5)
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It’s a mistake to underestimate the importance of trust to a civilized life

 

If you google the word “trust,” it can be a surprising experience. I was more than 20 pages into the results before meeting a single instance of trust in the sense of belief in something or someone.

There were all types of financial trusts, businesses with “trust” in their names, companies eager to help you set up personal trusts, charitable trusts of every kind—but nothing about putting your trust in anything or anyone. When I did find an entry relating to trust in this common sense, it was about mistrust; a psychiatrist offering help for people whose trust had been abused through infidelity or fraud.

What is going on? Is talking about trust becoming merely another form of selling—more of a marketing concept than something heartfelt and real?

Trust is fundamental to life. If you cannot trust in anything or anyone, life becomes intolerable—a constant battle against paranoia and looming disaster. You can’t have relationships without trust, let alone good ones. Intimacy depends on it. I suspect more marriages are wrecked by lack of trust than by infidelity. The partner who can’t trust the other not to betray him or her will either drive them away or force them into some real or assumed act of faithlessness.

Trust needs to spread to the workplace too

In the workplace too, trust is essential. An organization without trust will be full of backstabbing, fear, and paranoid suspicion. If you work for a boss who doesn’t trust her people to do things right, you’ll have a miserable time of it. She’ll be checking up on you all the time, correcting “mistakes” and “oversights” and constantly reminding you to do this or that. Colleagues who don’t trust one another need to spend more time watching their backs than doing any useful work. The office politics in a place like that would make Machiavelli blush.

Organizations are always trying to cut costs. Think of all the additional tasks that are caused directly by lack of trust.

Audit departments only exist because of it. Companies keep voluminous records because they don’t trust their suppliers, their contractors, and their customers. Probably more than half of all administrative work is only there because of a pervasive sense that “you can’t trust anyone these days.” If even a small part of such valueless work could be removed, the savings would run into billions of dollars.

Think about at all this extra work—plus the work we load onto ourselves because we don’t trust people either. The checking, following through, doing things ourselves because we don’t believe others will do them properly—or at all. If you took all that way, how much extra time would you suddenly find in your day? How much of your work pressure would disappear?

Lack of trust makes work pressures greater

I’m constantly amazed when people claim to be overworked and under constant pressure, yet fail to do the one thing most likely to ease their burdens: trust other people more:

  • They don’t delegate, because they don’t trust people to do what they’ve been asked to do; so they have to take on every significant task themselves.
  • They attend every meeting, however futile, because they don’t trust others not to talk about them behind their back, or reach decisions they don’t like.
  • They demand copies of every memo, report and e-mail, because they don’t trust what might be said if they’re not watching.
  • They’re constantly keyed-up and tense, watching for rivals or other departments to launch some covert operation to undermine their position.

It’s not the pressure of actual work that’s driving them towards some stress-related illness, it’s their lack of trust in anyone and anything. Is it any wonder many are so close to burnout?

Someone has to begin the cycle of trust by an act of faith. It’s no use waiting for the other person to make the first move. They’re waiting for you. It takes a conscious act of unconditional belief in that other person’s good sense, ability, honesty, or sense of commitment to set the ball rolling.

Will your trust sometimes be misplaced? Of course. Life isn’t perfect and some people aren’t trustworthy. But will increasing your willingness to trust produce, on balance, a positive benefit? Will it make your life more pleasant and less stressful? I believe so. You have little to lose by trying.

Trust has to start somewhere. Why not with you? Why not today? Why not right now?

(4 votes, average: 3.75 out of 5)
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Why we need to wake up to how many commonsense management ideas are nothing of the kind

 
In the first part of this series, I explored the “Practical Men” who opposed the ideas of the great British economist Lord Keynes. Their economic dogmas — not unfamiliar today — included the beliefs that reducing wages would cut unemployment and all the economic ills of the country could be cured by chopping government spending.

In a strange reversal of the ideas of Adam Smith, they claimed that because everyone pursues their selfish interests, the common good will result—which is the opposite of what Smith thought.

Their modern descendants, the Practical Men and Women who run today’s organizations, have absorbed this distorted ideology and created the idea of Economic Individualism — that Keynes described as:

. . . the astounding belief that the wickedest of men will do the wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.

 
The gravest error of Economic Individualism is the idea that people work solely for money (selfish economic interest again), and that decisions about taking or leaving jobs are therefore purely financial ones.

The practical impact of Economic Individualism

Missing from all of this, of course, is any recognition of what the effects on the average employee — the one producing the wealth of the company — might actually be.

This was not an accidental or even a heartless omission, but an ideological one: the defunct economists simply didn’t take human beings into account in their theories at all. Human beings were assumed to have no interests but money—no loyalties, no aspirations to status, and no personal lives at all. And so, in the English-speaking world and increasingly elsewhere, companies have been converted into money-generating machines which compete with each other to cut costs and so boost profits, until all possible savings have been made, and the bits are then sold off.

Such a company acts as if it hates its employees and despises its customers: the first exist only to be reduced, the second only to be cheated. Employees have literally no function except to be as few and as cheap as possible—indeed, the ideal company would have no employees at all; just a management team and a sophisticated computer program that took money in, skimmed some off, and sent it out again.

This sounds insane, and in some ways it is: think of the manager basking in praise and counting his bonus after closing the R & D division on which the company’s future depends. But in fact this kind of behavior is perfectly logical if you realize (which most people don’t) that it’s entirely based on the logical implementation of an ideology derived from defunct economists.

Why does this thinking still remain?

Itďż˝€™s a reasonable question, then, why people believe such rubbish. After all, not just personal experience, but also generations of empirical studies, show that people work mostly for non-financial reasons, that money is a poor motivator, and that introducing new financial incentives into an organization is usually the best way to destroy it. What’s going on here?

One answer is to do with intellectual laziness. Keynes was up against the mentality that assumed that if there’s a budget deficit you should cut spending. This is the kind of common-sense, largely thoughtless conclusion that people come to naturally, like the idea that heavier objects fall faster than light ones. How many remember the famous pictures of Apollo astronauts dropping a feather and a wrench, which fell at the same speed, and the shock they felt then?

Similarly, the idea that money motivates people is just, well, intuitive, and easy. It makes management simple. It appeals to our inbuilt assumptions and prejudices.

But there’s another element as well. Ideas — and here perhaps Keynes was wrong — are not always powerful in themselves. It depends who takes them up, since nothing is more influential than an idea whose time the powerful decide has come.

The fact is that the money hypothesis, as part of the Hidden Hand fantasy, is only powerful because it’s been accepted and promulgated by those who benefit from it.

There’s nothing mysterious or conspiratorial about this. Powerful interest groups have been able to dictate which ideas are influential since the days of the Ten Commandments, if not before. The reality is that, if the works of Milton Friedman had been evaluated on their merits, the books would have remained on the shelf sandwiched between the reptile fantasies of David Icke and the likes of the Da Vinci Code. But once powerful and greedy intelligences realized how useful they could be, the rest is the history of the past twenty-five years. It has always been thus.

Does that mean there is no hope?

Not necessarily. One Buddhist idea I’m quite fond of (if I can switch intellectual disciplines violently for a moment) is Samsara, which refers, among other things, to the suffering we experience because we do not perceive the world as it really is, but through patters imposed upon us by others.

The Buddha, we recall, was literally “The Man Who Awoke.” We don’t have to be Buddhists necessarily, but we do need to wake up—to see clearly how much of what we think is common sense and accumulated experience was just handed down from some defunct economist while we slept. Only then can we begin to do something about it.

An Englishman now resident in Europe, John Fletcher has had a long career in the public sector in several countries. He has spent a good deal of time in working environments outside the Anglo-Saxon world, and has written and lectured on organizational issues.

(9 votes, average: 3.22 out of 5)
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