This word keeps popping up

The word isn't trust. It is consistent.

In a multitude of settings, from a variety of voices this week, I heard people affirming the importance of consistency.

I don't think any of us need a definition of it.

What we may need is a fresh recognition of its importance.

The person who is consistent is dependable and predictable.

When the service is beyond what you expect, being dependable and predictable is a great thing. It builds trust and interest, and becomes a differentiating factor in the marketplace.

If you are consistent, you aren't focused on looking for the next new thing. Instead, you are focused on results. You are focused on making a difference that matters, every time.

There is an internal strength to being consistent that breeds confidence.

It breeds confidence only if you are improving at the same time. Just being consistent and nothing else is not the answer. Rather, being consistent in bringing your A-game to your life or work is.

So, here's a plan for the next week.

Look at your schedule, the work that you have to do, and plan for everything you do to be consistent in one specific and important area.

What might those areas be?

It could be doing things on time.

It could be following-up on contacts and conversations with people.

It could be on the language you are using to describe who you are and what you do.

It could be leaving the office on time to get home for dinner on time.

It could be any number of personal disciplines that you've not been able to master because of a lack of consistency.

Consistency comes from focus and practice, and with it a difference that matters in many ways.

Let's give it a try this week.

You are in control of you - Admiral James Stockdale on surviving in stressful situations

This week's Weekly Leader column - You are in charge of you - looks at the stress that Stockdale reunion - Academy of Achievementcomes from losing one's job in the context of the story of James Stockdale, the highest ranking US POW imprisoned during the Vietnam War.

A long section from an excellent interview posted at the Academy of Achievement where Admiral Stockdale tells about how he managed the psychological stress of imprisonment, and the role that the philosophy of Epictetus had in his survival.

Admiral, how did you survive psychologically? The other men you mentioned perished under the same circumstances.

James Stockdale: I don't know. I didn't feel like I had more vitality than the next one. I had things to do. I was alone a lot, and I found ways to talk to myself and to bolster my own morale. I was getting occasional letters from my wife Sybil. And she would from me. She probably wrote 50 and I got six, and I probably wrote 20 and she got two or something like that.

After I came out of Alcatraz, we all came back to the regular prison. They tried to get me to go downtown. They tried everything. They would give me the ropes three times a week. One of my original breakthroughs was self disfiguration. I was given a lot of times in the ropes in room 18, which is the main torture chamber of Hoa Lo prison. It also serves as kind of a ceremonial chamber when no prisoners are in there. In that, the only room in the building, a great big building with plate glass windows, and they had big heavy quilts that they drew across it. I was in there and they were about at their wits end. Two officers were working me over. Pi Ga, my torture guard, was always there to take me wherever they wanted. It was about mid-afternoon and they said, "Okay, you've done okay, today. Now you want to get washed up." I knew what that meant. That meant we were going downtown that night.

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A Conversation about Constant Change - 3

Here is my response to Steven Devijver's questions (below) author of the free ebook, The Strategy of Constant Change

Q1: You’re this amazing guy with a really special view on leadership and human relationships. What’s your view then - with all this background - on the three human universals? I ask this because you’ve only just recently written on your blog about The Golden Rule. I would like to understand why you think these tree human universals are novel.

Steven, I'm not sure that these universals are novel. I think your identification of them is insightful. They are what I observe in my dealings with people. They want to be treated with respect, kindness and given the opportunity to grow. Yet, at the same time, as people, we make mistakes.

There are two aspects of this worth identifying. There are mistakes that come from a lack of knowledge or ability. These can be corrected by instruction and training. The other kind of mistakes are ones of character.  These are more serious because they are not so easily subject to being changed by training, but by disciplined action. If what I say sounds like Aristotle, you'd be correct. I believe of all the ancient philosophers, his perspective on how we are to live is the closest to what people raised within an institutional context need today.  The parallel insight is of the management philosophers (Say and Schumpeter, especially) of the past couple hundred years who described entrepreneurialism in similar ways. From Aristotle through to Peter Drucker, the virtuous, happy person is the one who acts and creates new things.

I see in your identification of these human universals an ancient truth that is emerging in discussions about organizations and institutions in our day. I point most specifically to my good friend Tom Morris who has been writing and speaking on the value of ancient wisdom in the context of modern corporate institutions for almost twenty years. His perspective informs much of my own.

To be human is to create, and this comes from action, from taking initiative to transform abstract ideas into concrete realities. I believe that this is why God made us, and is God's most indelible mark upon us.

Q2: You mention the human point-of-view on organizational change. How important are human beings and relationships in organizations according to you, and what else should we pay attention to to help organizations thrive?

What I wrote above is about the individual person. Every person, however, exists within a social context, or, rather, many social contexts. There is our family, our neighborhood, our associations whether they are religous, political, or interest based, and then, of course, our work context. What I find is that social organization leads in one direction without intentional human intervention. I find that most organizations grow towards minimizing ambiguity, resist change, exclude outside influence, and become uniform,closed systems of relationships that squeeze out human initiative in favor of social compliance. One of the unintended consequences of universal education is to remove human initiative in favor of comformity. We treat education as a management exercise where efficiency is valued over effectiveness. This is true in every institution that I have had contact with during my lifetime. I do not think that this is intentional, but rather a logical result of how we think.

We think like managers who do not own the work we do. We simply have organzed our lives around the performance of certain activities. Ask people what their purpose is, and rarely does it have anything to do with the work they perform. We think like managers instead of as leaders because we have been taught to work within an institutional environment. I heard yesterday that a million people have lost their jobs in the United States over the past year. Those businesses that lost those people are now more efficient, but are they more effective. Are they capable of taking advantage of opportunities that still exist? I don't think so. Now, imagine, all those million people starting new businesses. Imagine the creative energy that will be released into world as a result.

From my perspective, I see a need to reconceptualize not only what it means to live an authentic, happy, virtuous human life, but also what this means within a social and insititutional environment. As a result, I'm interested in the nature of human relationships. Let me give one example of what I see.

Over the past decade there has been an explosion in the level of social interaction that takes place on line. You and I met through our involvement in the Triiibes online social network. I see in the growth of social media an expression of the basic human need for companionship.  However, I don't see all this social interaction as necessarily their purpose. Instead, taking my lead from Aristotle, I believe that our human interaction should lead to collaborative human action. Through these social media tools, we should be forming relationships where we work together to achieve some impact. If all they are is a place to talk, they will not be sustainable. They will degenerate into a narrow clique built around a few strong, influential voices, and a circle of people who compliantly go along. It is a picture of all social institutions in microcosim.

What is the solution? I return to Aristotle and entrepreneurism. We must become virtuous people who act to create new ways of meeting needs and opportunities. My personal responsibility is to be a person that others can trust. This trust is built upon not only personal integrity, but openness, honesty, humility and the recognition that we each have a role to play within every social context. Sometimes it is to lead, others times to follow, some moments to give and others to receive.  It is from this philosophical perspective that was born my Johnny Bunko 7th lesson - Say Thanks, Every Day. Giving thanks in this perspective is an act of creative openness that affirms the connection that exists between us.

Q3: What’s your view of change is bad, and should be avoided?

I don't see change as either bad or good. I simply see it as the context of how we live. Every change has within it some good that can be identified. For example, suffering is a kind of change. We can view suffering as something to be avoided or we can see in it the opportunity to gain strength.  We have a choice in how we deal with change. We either see it as an opportunity or as an inconvenience. The choice we make determines whether we will find happiness.

We need to develop our capacity to adapt to change. Returning to Aristotle, I believe that this is what he writes about as becoming habituated to doing virtuous acts.

Okay, my next question for you.

Q. Why is it important for human beings to experience discovery? How can we do this on a daily basis? And how do businesses and organizations develop ways to discover?

When leaders act children

This article - How the Masters of the Universe ran amok and cost us the earth - in The Scotsman gives a insightful picture of life at the top.  As I read it, all I could think was that the world's top banking executives were children playing and benefiting from someone else's money, and thinking that their Daddy, the federal government would be there to bail them out.

Accountability ignored is discipline denied.  Accountability modifies how one looks at risk. If  you think that your actions have no downside because Mommy and Daddy are there, then you'll take on ever riskier activities.

As a result, when the industry was deregulated, permission was given to these children to play with fire. With freedom must come discipline, and discipline begins with the individual. You can see how one firm invested more and more in subprime lending, seeing their cash flow grow and grow, and how other firms jumped on the bandwagon. Just like a fraternity party where one drunk decides to jump off a hotel balcony into a pool, the rest of the guys have to do it too until one or more end up in the hospital or dead.

Independence of thought, and responsibility for action are lost in the herd instinct not to be an outsider.

Here is a lesson for the person who is head of an organization. Following is not leadership. Leadership is taking personal initiative to do the right thing in the context in which you live. In all my years of working with organizations, there is not a single group that is like another. NOT ONE. So, if you want to follow, know that this is what you may find at the end of that sequence of non-decisions.  There are no perfect people or organizations. There are none that you can follow blindly. Everyone spins their failures into someone else's responsibility.

Here's the bottom line, the failure of these banks is not simply because of their financial decisions. Their financial decisions failed because of the moral choices that they failed to accept.  Leadership is a position of trust which is earned by the moral choices we make. If we act like children, believing that some parental agency will be there to pick up the pieces, and that I get to keep all my toys and privileges after my failure, then we are failing at the most fundamental level of life, the moral one.

None of us should ever think that we are immune from the moral imperative of accountability. And in the case of these bank failures, the implications of their moral failure is global.

What should we do? Accept the world as it is. Success and failure are both components of the life of endeavor. What we don't know is more important than what we do know, and what we don't know is determined to a large extent by what we choose to accept as relevant information.

Accept the world as it is because we have now seen, you can't fool Mother Nature.

Quick Takes: Counting Risk

Here are two articles - here and here - that relate to the new film 21. Here are some quotes from Jim Manzi's post.

Surprisingly, one thing that 21 made clear was that card counting isn’t an IQ test, it’s a character test.
In the broader sense, the gambling environment tends to attract self-destructive people and encourage self-destructive behavior. The card counting teams that I knew did pretty much what was shown in the movie, e.g., wear costumes to avoid detection, repeatedly return to the same casinos to be treated like high rollers and so on. Though the members had trouble admitting this to themselves, they were acting out fantasies and seeking camaraderie as much as they were trying to take the house for money. Eventually, the teams (in somewhat less dramatic fashion than in the movie) would always fall out over money as a consequence of trying to divide up gains and losses in a venture with large capital requirements and extremely variable earnings.
My experience was that it was very easy to stay under the radar of casinos if you didn’t feel the need to do any of that. Just play solo at the quarter tables, never spike your bet above 5:1, and play no more than one hour at casino before you move on to the next one. There are about 100 casinos in Vegas, so you can play ten hours per day every other weekend and only visit a given casino once every two or three months (for an hour each time). No pit boss will know who you are or care what you’re doing because you’re so far down in the noise. You can make a lot of money this way. Of course, nobody will ever know that you are taking them, and the emotional satisfaction arises from walking into this multi-billion dollar enterprise and walking out with their money because you’re smarter and more disciplined than they are. In a bizarre way, you succeed through classical bourgeois virtues: self-discipline, frugality, ego control and steady work.

And from the Wall Street Journal article.

WSJ: What can your blackjack strategy tell us about how to manage risk in today's markets?

Mr. Thorp: You have to make sure that you don't over-bet. Suppose you have a 5% edge over your opponent when tossing a coin. The optimal thing to do, if you want to get rich, is to bet 5% of your wealth on each toss -- but never more. If you bet much more you can be ruined, even if you have a favorable situation.

Good lessons here about risk management and personal character. It takes me back to Nassim Taleb's book, The Black Swan. Not seeing the potential disaster is more a product of character than it is a product of knowledge. If you haven't read either of Taleb's books, you should. On the short list of most important books written in a generation.

At the heart of the problem of risk is a choice between two perspectives. The first one is a belief that  there is an ideal, utopian opportunity available to everyone.  It is embedded in the idea that you can be anything you want to be. It  is embedded in the notion that all we need to do is care and talk, and all conflicts will go a way. 

The other view is the tragic one. This view sees that all things are a mixture of good and bad. That embedded in every opportunity is risk. It is tempting to think that the financial wizards responsible for the sub-prime lending fiasco should have seen this coming, but I don't believe that is the case.  They are utopians at heart which feeds greed and run-away egotism.  To a utopian, the only evil is the person who isn't a utopian or your kind of utopian. It is at the heart of our political system today.

Managing risk is about managing one's own best and worst inclinations. As the oracle commends, "Know thyself." I'd say that Jim Manzi's gambling methodology begins and ends with this bit of wisdom. A word to all who believe that utopia is within reach, and that someone else can pay for the risk.


Real Life Leadership: Leaders' personal discipline essential in business

My Real Life Leadership column is online.

Today's column is a response to a question from a reader about how leaders exercise discipline.  He is a second in command, newly hired of a non-profit organization.  He finds a great deal of political in-fighting and gamesmanship going on.  He felt that his boss and the board should exercise more discipline over staff and members.

For leaders, this goes to the delicate balance between dictatorial authoritairianism and lassez-faire management.  Too strict, and you lose the collaboration, too passive, and people become indifferent and cynical about their work.

As a result there are two things that need to be pointed out in regard to this matter.

1.  Leadership involves personal initiative. Leaders who are passive or are passive aggressive - there is a difference - create an environment of ambiguity, uncertainty and indecision.  If they are not communicating strong, clear values about the organization, then in the midst of critical periods of challenge and stress, conflict can arise.  Leadership initiative involves three areas: with people in relationships, through ideas in terms of clarity of vision and priniciples of values and practices, and, in organzational structures.

Organizational structures provide an environment for healthy working relationships.  Structures are for more than the mechanics of production and distribution.  They exist as to serve the human relations of work, communication and achievement.  Leaders who depend on their relationships and their visions to provide a foundation of discipline are not going to be able to do this consistent.  It requires them to be on their game at every moment.  That is impossible.  It makes more sense to create organizational structures that are clear and focused on preserving the integrity of the organization while fulfilling its mission and meeting its opportunities.

2. Discipline is a counterpart of accountability. When organizations decline into a convenient place for people spend time in mediocre pursuits, then questions of accountability become problemmatic.  And it falls on the leader to guide the organization to adopt standards of accountability that are beneficial to the organization.  The challenge in moving in this direction is what I write about in the column.  The problem of conflicts becoming personal.  This is why the leader's personal character is critical to the health of the organization.  He chooses to treat personal attacks in a personal rather than in an objective manner, then his credibility as a leader suffers.

I'd be interested in a dialogue on this topic. Tell us your stories and insights.

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