December 26, 2007

Concerns of Character

Filed under: Observations, Moral Leadership, Success — Mark Sanborn @ 12:15 pm

Junior Achievement released a study on December 5 that is troubling. According to the summary, 71% of teenagers say they are prepared to make ethical decisions when they enter the workforce. So far so good. Here’s the troubling part: 38% of those who say they are prepared to make ethical decisions think it is sometimes necessary for success to cheat, plagiarize, lie or even behave violently. (23% of those surveyed think violence towards another person is acceptable on some level.)

The acceptance of unethical behavior and the belief that success makes wrong choices necessary to attain it should give us all serious pause.

Public education is often conflicted about character education (based on what? whose standard? what about cultural difference? are we imposing ‘values’?). The Junior Achievement study strongly suggests that some type of concerted character education, imperfect though it may be, is necessary.

That is no way alleviates parents of their responsibility to both teach and model ethical behavior to their kids.

I appreciate the important and good work Jr. Achievement does and believe they have done us all a service with this study.

December 19, 2007

The Importance of Small Choices

Filed under: Moral Leadership, Success — Mark Sanborn @ 12:25 pm

“Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ride or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible.” C.S. Lewis

December 6, 2007

Faith and a Future President

Filed under: Uncategorized, Leadership, Politics, Moral Leadership — Mark Sanborn @ 11:57 am

In 2008 will we be electing a president or a pastor?

Peggy Noonan makes a good point: we’re supposed to be electing a president, but if you watch the news you’d think we were electing a national pastor.

I believe faith is important, but I don’t believe it is the most important criteria for electing a leader. Competency and character are critical issues, but I know people of diverse faiths and beliefs who exhibit both.

Mitt Romney is going on national television to explain his Mormon beliefs. Other candidates are wearing their religion on their sleeves these days and spending much time either defending their beliefs or casting criticism on the faith or lack of it in their opponents.

A campaign staffer from the Clinton camp was fired for sending a false email claiming that Barack was a Muslim.

In my perfect world, would a president I vote for share the same faith is I do? Of course. But I don’t live in a perfect world. I don’t even expect a candidate I vote for to completely agree with me. I love my wife and I know she loves me we don’t even agree all the time. What we do share are common values and commitments. Those trump differences of opinion.

I suspect we’ve let the issue of a candidate’s faith become more of a distraction that part of constructive dialogue at this point. Let’s keep the primary focus on competence and character, and on values and ethics.

September 14, 2007

Some Thoughts on Integrity

Filed under: Observations, Politics, Moral Leadership, Success — Mark Sanborn @ 8:46 am

Integrity is about…

Promises kept. Period.

Saying what you’ll do, and then doing it.

Congruency between beliefs and behaviors.

Living out values rather than keeping up appearances.

Being the same person on stage and off stage.

Choosing truth over spin.

The distance between your life and your lips.

July 3, 2007

Two Key Leadership Factors

Filed under: Leadership, Moral Leadership, Professional Development, Relationships — Mark Sanborn @ 2:12 pm

Recently I reconnected with a valued friend from my past. Dr. Byrl Shoemaker was Ohio Director of Career and Technical Education from 1962 to 1982. At the time I was involved in state leadership of the FFA (then Future Farmers of America). Dr. Shoemaker always impressed me as a wise leader who was always first and foremost committed to the best interest of students. I learned much from him those many years ago.

A mutual friend provided him a copy of my book, You Don’t Need a Title to be a Leader. After reading it, Dr. Shoemaker wrote me, and told about a graduate level class of mostly superintendents of schools that was funded by a special grant:

“The professors were from psychology, sociology, educational administration and educational methods. Various theories of leadership were reviewed and the focus finally was placed on the extensive leadership studies conducted during WWII with the pilots of the bomber aircraft with crews. The Air Force was concerned with identifying the leadership abilities of the pilots due to the cost of the planes and the effectiveness of the missions. Various theories of leadership were tested, using both superiors and subordinates in the evaluations. The research identified only two factors that were identified by both superiors and subordinates. Those were:

The ability to initiate structure (”Put the show on the road.”)

The ability to show consideration for the people with whom they worked.

The grant also allowed them to test the concept with superintendents of schools over the state. The research supported the two factors as being good measures of the leadership of superintendents.”

Dr. Shoemaker’s remarks remind of hard skills (structure, process, administration, etc.) and soft-skills (people). Regardless of the words one chooses, the concept rings true intuitively and is proven by the research.

At EDS they say “The soft stuff is the hard stuff.” I’m not sure why that is, but I tend to agree. For some reason leaders are often more at ease in the neat and tidy hard world of numbers and things than the soft squishy world of people and relationships. Ironically, the soft skills become the hard skills to learn.

Dr. Shoemaker is in his eighties and a vibrant thinker and leader. I appreciate his insights.

June 26, 2007

Our Culture Seems to Care…

Filed under: Observations, Politics, Moral Leadership — Mark Sanborn @ 9:50 am

…but often about the wrong things.

Paris Hilton pranced out of jail and her cheery exit has been taking up network news time. Who cares? Evidently quite a few people care, based on the news coverage and the record amount of mail she received during her terrible 23 day ordeal.

Apathy doesn’t seem to be a cultural malaise these days. People seems to care a great deal but about lots of silly stuff. Yes, we do seem care about a missing mom in Canton, Ohio and floods and gas prices, but it gets squeezed between tons of reports about immature celebrities and reality TV shows.
And just who the heck am I to judge what is silly stuff?

Answer: a thinking adult. That’s what adults are supposed to do. We’re supposed to reflect on what is important in our personal lives, in our communities and in our culture. Adults are supposed to exercise mature discernment, not out of intolerance but concern. People often don’t agree with someone else’s conclusion. but that’s no reason to stop thinking and talking about what we think.

And our unbalanced obsession with Hilton and her ilk is pathetic and sad. A passing interest in the lifestyles of the rich and famous isn’t bad, but a displacement of news coverage to follow their every step and misstep is.

With the war in Iraq, genocide in Darfur, homelessness, missing children, hunger, poverty, education and even the simple challenge of raising happy, healthy kids–for heaven’s sake, let’s stop caring so much about the silly and trivial and free up some media attention, some thinking time and yes, even some action, to care about the important stuff.

April 25, 2007

Telling the Truth

Filed under: Leadership, Politics, Moral Leadership, Speaking and Communication — Mark Sanborn @ 12:01 pm

Leaders should not lie. That is obvious. Should they “spin”?

We live in the age of spin. We use the term lightly. Companies and politicians hire firms to create favorable spin and minimize negative spin.

In the old days it wasn’t called spin. It was called propaganda. Propaganda was what those evil communist officials told their citizens to help keep them in line.

I grew up believing that what my elected officials told me was true. I might have been a little naive, but by and large, I could count on highly placed leaders to tell the truth.

Today, what’s the difference between spin and propaganda? I’ve come to think the difference is in whom is telling it: if the “good guys” play fast and loose with the facts, it is spin. If the “bad guys” do it, it is propaganda.

It appears our leader lied about Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch. Lynch testified as much in front of a House committee. She never wanted to be considered a hero, but evidently the government thought she needed to be one, so they spun her story.

Pat Tillman was already a hero when he volunteered to serve. Getting killed by friendly fire would have been a PR crisis, so people were told to lie about what happened. The truth came out anyhow. Pat Tillman is still a hero. Those who contrived a plan of deceit are zeros.

Do we stop believing our elected officials? In the sixties I was admonished to trust no one over thirty. Are our kids learning to trust no one in a position of authority?

What are we, leaders with or without titles, to do? Some ideas:

1.) Tell the truth. That is your choice. Stop taking spin lightly. If you don’t like it as much as I don’t like it, then don’t do it. I can’t make anybody else tell the truth, but I can choose to communicate spin-free myself.

2.) Be vigilant. Don’t discredit everything others say, but remain open to getting the information to confirm or deny the validity of their statements. Don’t accept everything at face value, especially spin-prone issues. The good guys and the bad guys are all using various forms of spin these days.

3.) If you’ve gone on record and since changed your mind or had new information presented, communicate your revised position. It generally increases credibility when a leader says “I used to think this, now I don’t and here’s why…”

4.) Hold elected officials accountable. We as citizens can’t always directly control what happens but we can certainly influence how it is handled. We need to let our leaders know that spin as it is currently practiced sucks, and we’re not going quietly into the night when we find out we’ve been lied to.

5.) Make truth telling a sacred value in your organization. Lead the way for honest, compassionate communication. If you really care for someone, you tell the truth, even when it isn’t easy. This is a difficult lesson of relationships and leadership.

March 26, 2007

Does being Mormon Make You a Better Leader?

Filed under: Observations, Moral Leadership — Mark Sanborn @ 8:15 am

This was a question posed by CNN this morning. It has been asked of other belief systems before. Does being a Christian make you a better leader, or a better spouse? Does being Jewish make you a better businessperson? Does being (fill in the faith of your choice here) make you a better (fill in your choice of a desirable skill or job here)?

I believe that being a person of faith first and foremost makes you a better person. While faith traditions vary, one commonality is the belief that there is a spiritual dimension to life, that the immediate the material is not all that there is. Unless your belief system causes you to be more violent or less loving, it follows that as a better person, you’ll bring more to your work and position.

But I would still stop short of saying it makes you a better leader, more successful or increases your networth.

Mother Theresa was arguably one of the most influential people of the twentieth century. We should note, however, that when inquired about how she felt about her lack of material gain, recognition and financing (”think how much more you might have been able to do!”), she responded by saying, “God has called me to a ministry of mercy, not a ministry of success.”

I’m reminded of a story my stockbroker told me years ago. Someone in his office was struggling to make it as a broker. He found faith and became a top producer. I asked my friend this question: What would have happened if the broker found faith, and continued to struggle as a broker? Would you still be telling me the story?

I don’t believe in using faith primarily as a means to an end–faith as winning lotto ticket in the sky. I believe that true faith is about doing the hard work of finding out what is true, and then believing and practicing those things. Often that means not “because of” but “in spite” of our circumstances.

I don’t know why God lets some people of great faith struggle and some miserable people live large. When you start questioning God, you might want to read the book of Job. When Job goes down that path, God basically says, “Who are YOU to question ME?” Can you create life? God asks.

Consider: would you want to believe in a “god” so small you could understand him? I believe we can know God, but I don’t believe we can completey understand God. I believe in physics and I don’t completely understand that subject, and furthermore the smartest physicists don’t complete understand it either. We know a great deal about physics, but we don’t know everything. It would be a small god and limited creator indeed if my human understanding were enough to figure him out. In effect, that would make me equal to God in at least one dimension, and believing oneself to equal to God is delusional.

I think CNN could pick just about any belief system and find some high level leaders or CEOs who buy into it. Being successful doesn’t necessarily make one right or even smart.

So to me, the question of faith is more importantly about what kind of person it makes you. And being a better person is, I hope, a worthwhile goal we can all agree upon.

March 18, 2007

Sometimes Cheaters Win

Filed under: Moral Leadership, Professional Development, Success, Motivation — Mark Sanborn @ 9:06 am

A friend and I were recently discussing a mutual acquaintance who had achieved a high level of visibility and success through dubious means. It brought to mind another individual who had made great amounts of money in ways that were legal but ethically suspect.

Who hasn’t been beaten out for a promotion by someone who was better at office politics that job performance, or been bypassed for deserved recognition that went to someone who didn’t deserve it? It can happen at any age.

What is one to make of these injustices and this unfairness?

Sometimes the cheaters win.

That much is apparent. By “winning” I’m leaving out the character and morality issues that most of us would say are included in an accurate definition of winning. By winning, I mean they get the prize, recognition, fame or fortune.

Asking “Why?” doesn’t help much. Here’s a better question, “Would I personally have been willing to win that way?”

If you’re not wired that way–if playing fairly and ethically is important to you–you shouldn’t be all that bothered by the cheaters who sometimes win. If you still buy into that antiquated idea that how you play the game is as important as the outcome, then don’t dwell very long on the supposed success of those who cheat.

If we can make the workplace, marketplace or community better and more just for others by helping to eliminate “cheating”, then by all means, let’s do it. In this case, I’m talking about the personal disappointments  and discouragements that my friend and I were discussing and experiencing. When I thought about it, I wouldn’t want the success or money that either person achieved if I had to do it the way they did it.

And that perspective was helpful consolation.

March 7, 2007

Nothing to Say to Each Other

Filed under: Observations, Politics, Moral Leadership, Speaking and Communication — Mark Sanborn @ 3:33 pm

Henry David Thoreau was watching wires being strung near his home in Walden. He inquired of the men putting up the lines about what was going it.  They explained that it was a result of a new invention called the telegraph and that with it the people in Maine could communicate with the people in Florida.

Thoreau’s reply: “But what if the people in Maine have nothing to say to the people in Florida?”

Thoreau’s whimsical response encapsulates one of the greatest problems of our day, and that is the seeming inability of people of opposing viewpoints to dialogue.

It would seem that people on the left have nothing to say to people on the right; that Republicans have nothing to say to Democrats; that Baby Boomers have little to say to Gen Y (or vica versa).

“But wait!” you say, “all of those parties are saying a great deal!”

Yes, you are right. But they are saying it to themselves.

Labeling, name calling, provocations, accusations and belittling are not a means of communicating with the other person or party, but a way of bolstering your standing with those who already agree. These are techniques of the exclamation point that don’t increase understanding but do increase polarization.
Political pundits use humor to point out what’s funny and sometimes what is wrong with a politician’s way of thinking, but it isn’t dialogue. There is no attempt to engage the other person to understand him or her better, to make one better understood or find common ground.

If you really have something to say to someone in Maine or in Florida, you must be willing to engage them, not just shout at them. You must respect them enough to understand them even if you don’t agree with them. You need to focus on clarifying the content of the communication, not the demeaning the character of the other party.

When people really have something to say to each other (rather than just themselves) they communicate far differently than is commonly observed in the discourse of the day.

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