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Tag: Integrity

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Really, How Informed is our Decision Making?

Really, How Informed is our Decision Making?

Opinions are a form of judgment that require people to perform a decision-making process. In reality, these decisions are often supported by the thinnest levels of credible information and rational thought. Formation of these ideas is based loosely on questionable facts and flashy headlines. We can see evidence of this from the world of high politics to the simplest of daily conversations.

Decision-making is highly influenced by people’s internal scripts, biases, and cognitive maps and frames that allow for mental shortcuts in information processing. These shortcuts of our marvelous minds are wonders to behold and do their best to keep us moving forward with our lives. However, I am not convinced they are capable of maintaining the pace with the increasing onslaught of information.

Recently, I had my opinions about several political and social topics challenged.  I took the time to explore my thoughts and do some research. Looking into each of these issues took about an hour, and I limited myself to primary news sources, academic research, and speaking with people who had first-hand experience. No matter how people try to avoid it, everything has a bias one way or another. We are all human, and some skepticism in what information we consume is healthy.

What was my result? Many of my positions were ill-informed and based largely on drive-by exposures to mass media. I was a little shocked at how I formed many opinions through exposures to the headlines and 30-second media blurbs.

When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?
–John Maynard Keynes

Am I so different than everyone else? I started an active inquiry about topics when I found myself in casual conversations with friends and associates. I must say, my opinion formation experience is not uncommon. I am no different from these other educated and successful people who are in my life. We are in a wash of information, so we deal with it as best our minds can through the use of mental information processing shortcuts. We cannot be “informed” about a majority of topics because of limitations of time and mindshare. However, we need to be aware that others with knowledge on specific topics will use drive-by information tactics to sway public opinion.

We need to be cautious of our thoughts and ideas as they may not be as well informed as we think. Advertisers know how to move ideas through a population segment. In fact, we send people to school to learn these skills. I am not a black hat conspiracy theorist. This is not subversion, but effective use of marketing driven by various specific, and often competing, agendas.

A better practice that I try to follow:

I realize that I cannot be informed on all issues, so I stopped trying. When having a conversation with someone about a subject which I have not thought about deeply, I will share my current thinking, but let the person know they are my superficial thoughts. This feels like blood in the water with a shark circling. Watch how they will move to sway or reinforce your thinking about the topic.

When the topic is of particular significance to me, my family, business, or community, I do my research. Every information source has an agenda, so I expect it. I look for reputable sources that are fact based and not primarily opinions or interpretations. I try to spend an hour or two to develop a baseline understanding of the arguments. Warning: personal biases will quickly come into play – watch for confirmation bias in the information source selections!

I do my best to question my bias and rational. I want to understand what were the motivators and influences of my initial position.

After researching and thinking about it, I will wait a few days before making a decision or opinion formation.  I review my notes and thoughts before making a newly informed decision. I do not always change my starting opinion about a topic or issue. As often as not, my starting place remains the same, but I am better informed on the issue.

This is not the end. I do my best to stay up on the subject and look information that may cause me to reevaluate the position. I consider the ability to change my mind as an attribute of strength and not indecisiveness.

Always, remember that John Maynard Keynes quote!

Photo Credit: "Congressional Simulation Exercise" (CC BY 2.0) by West Point - The U.S. Military Academy
Engage in Small Talk to Reach an Easier Agreement

Engage in Small Talk to Reach an Easier Agreement

It is a common practice to build rapport before entering into a deeper conversation (Coupland, 2003). Often referred to as “small talk,” it is an opportunity for the parties to get to know each other on a personal level before getting down to a substantive discussion.  It seems that many people engage in this practice automatically as a cultural norm and to get over the initial anxiety of beginning a new conversation.

In a negotiation or other business dialogue, it is a highly advisable practice to begin with some small talk.  It helps establish rapport and a personal connection with the individuals at the table.  There is a significant potential upside that can be gained when s deliberate focus is applied to this early stage of a conversation.  People may be more open to seeking an agreement when working with someone they like and trust (Fisher & Ury, 1991).  We should use the time spent in building rapport to create the most amount of confidence and likeability.

People begin developing cognition-based trust and impressions about our character and motives within the first moments of an encounter (as cited in McKnight, Cummings & Chervany, 1998).  The use of small talk can be used to help foster good impressions in dialog participants (Bickmore & Cassell, 2005). Once these first impressions become established, a perception bias forms which is more difficult to alter in the future.

There are several excellent books on how to create great relationships with other people.  One of my favorites is Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People.  It is an excellent read and covers how to establish a positive rapport with other people.

A few key tips that have served me well over the years:

  • Be ready for the meeting beyond just the business terms. Understand who you are meeting with and read their LinkedIn profile.  Look for shared commonalities in their background, earlier work experience, and interests.  Furthermore, learn a little about their firm and industry.
  • Understand and adapt to the cultural norms of the other party. Not all cultures appreciate extended periods of direct eye contact or the shaking of hands.
  • Be punctual, courteous to others, and hospitable. For example, offering a beverage is usually advisable and some cultures expect an exchange of gifts of appreciation.  Be aware and sensitive to the cultural norms.
  • Dress appropriately for the occasion and mimic their formality if possible. People generally like to be around others that they see as similar to themselves.  It is important that dress code is followed and proper for the situation and profession.
  • Have a genuine smile and be enthusiastic. Ask them questions about their profession, company, and safe personal interests. Be genuinely interested in what they are sharing. Keep the personal interest dialogue in the safe zone such as outdoor recreational activities, volunteering organizations, and travel.  This is not the time to delve into politics or religion.
  • Keep them talking as much as possible about themselves. People love to talk about themselves, and when you engage in active listening out of genuine interest, it will translate into likeability, trust, and authenticity.

It is imperative that all emotions, interests, and enthusiasm displayed are genuine.  A person cannot fake interest very long before it is picked up by the other party.  A feigned lack of authentic interest may cause personal disengagement, distrust, and possibly resentment.

Being authentic and genuinely interested in other people’s thoughts and experiences builds a foundation for a strong working relationship.  It must be of genuine interest and not trying to manipulate their emotions as that will work against you.  This is not to say that emotional manipulation does not have a role to play in certain types of negotiations.  It does, but that occurs at a later stage and only under particular circumstances.

I have found that it is much easier to reach an agreement with someone you like and trust than someone you dislike or distrust.

Using the small talk time wisely, I have learned about other people and companies.  It has made a meaningful difference in reaching mutually beneficial agreements and forming strong and lasting working relationships with diverse groups of people.

Photo Credit: Lincolne
Work is a Means to an End

Work is a Means to an End

Meaningful work is a preferred method by which the majority of people wish to get many of their goals in life. Well, this is at least my firm belief. The work in-of-itself is not “the goal” or the be-all end-all purpose for our lives; it is a vehicle that moves us down a chosen path. Albeit a simple concept, it took me a while to internalize its meaning and applicability.  Many people get caught up in their careers while losing the connection to themselves. The inner person may become twisted and warped resulting from a lack of internal alignment between personal values, goals, and actions.

Looking back, I understand why my mentors and leaders placed a high value in the idea that work or a career is a method of achievement and not the purpose of life or the central point of our identity. My executive coach accelerated my learning in this area by incessantly challenging me to question my long-held beliefs.  I would seek shelter in the safety of what got me to that point before gently (or not so gently) pulling the rug out by merely questioning me in a way that cut right through the layers of obfuscation I had carefully constructed.  This is what I needed for me to realize the fallacy of my earlier logic that put work ahead of everything else and allowed me the freedom to explore new concepts.

The difference for me arrived when I understood that work and career are a vehicle of life and should be designed to give an opportunity for me to achieve, explore, and expand whom I am as a person while providing a valuable service to my firm and the needed financial support to my family.

I work because I want to work; where I want to work; and I am with the people I want to be around.  Work is not optional for me; I have to work if I want to fund my family’s lifestyle and prepare us for retirement.  Still, I work because I want to work, and I work where I want to work. My career is personally fulfilling, but it is not who I am or what I do with my life.  Work is no longer my identity. It is part of me but not all of me.

As I shifted and understood my real priorities, changes flowed naturally.  I have lower stress, a happier life, and even more professional success. I did not realize how much easier things become when you are aligned in thinking, values, and actions. By putting first things fist, I support the needed alignment for both personal and professional success.

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Aligning Professional and Personal Roles to Core Values

Aligning Professional and Personal Roles to Core Values

Having a strong work-life role as part of our overall identity is healthy and normal for high-performing people.  However, it is easily taken too far.  People may become so emotionally connected to the business that it consumes their identity until “the company” represents a huge part of the individual.  On the other hand, having a weak work-life component of our identity leads to career stagnation, mediocrity, and disengagement.

When we permit our personal identities to be compromised by allowing the corporation to supplant our true selves, we are letting our family, team, and company down.  Our objectiveness and priority system is unbalanced, and that compromises our judgement.  This situation leads to burnout, frustration, and an ever escalating level of damaged relationships.

FYI: This post is not what I intended to write.  However, it is some honest thoughts, and I feel it might be worth sharing.  I hope you find some value in it.

This is avoidable by aligning our priorities and actions with our core values. This requires us to understand what matters the most to us as a person.  Frequently, it is our family. I have learned the importance of regularly looking at my obligations and roles through the lens of my core values. This approach allows for the separation of the corporation from the person. I am not advocating for the separate identities for work-life and home-life.  This would create an entirely different set of problems. I am a complete person that has multiple obligations and roles in life.  When integrated together through core values, I am a unified and authentic person. I would recommend that we look at where our efforts/resources are being directed while asking a couple of questions.

  • Do I understand the needs and expectations of my stakeholders? Even if I am sure, I will ask them again. This understanding must be comprehensive and include both internal and external such as family, friends, colleagues, business and community.
  • Are my actions and resource allocation (time, energy, mind share, and financial among other items) aligned with those needs and expectations?
  • Do I agree with the current alignment between my core values, conduct, the external expectations placed on me, my internal expectations for myself, and my allocation of resources? If not, what beliefs, actions, or assignments need to be modified to gain the required alignment?
  • If I feel my resource’s allocations, actions, and beliefs are aligned with my core values, do the desires of my stakeholder’s need to be modified? If so, what methods may I use to help them in recalibrating their expectations?
  • How often should I recheck my alignment with my stakeholders and core values?

The allocation of resources and assessment of our behavior moves as our life situations change. The aim is to keep the true priorities that are derived from our core values first in our personal and professional lives. When we have an agreement between our core values, behaviors, and stakeholders, we are free to experience higher levels of fulfillment, clearer judgement, and ultimately the success we seek.

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Screwed up at work or ??? A simple plan to help with the recovery process

Screwed up at work or ??? A simple plan to help with the recovery process

We all make mistakes and screw up from time-to-time.  As imperfect humans, we must accept that there will be inevitable errors. Instead of going into a panic mode after-the-fact, some focus should be spent on minimizing the opportunities for errors and developing a generic recovery strategy.

Preparing a generic and adaptable plan in advance allows the focus to be on the resolution and recovery processes instead of the distractions that arise from confusion, dodging blame, or a thinly veiled attempt at a C.Y.A. maneuver.

I tend not to make small or frequent blunders.  I save all the goodwill I generate from being a consistent performer for the bigger mistakes that I make from time-to-time.  Recovering from these errors provides me an opportunity to improve my leadership skills, learn valuable life lessons, and strengthen relationships through a sincere rebuilding effort.

When a serious misstep occurs, I follow a few key guidelines that reduce the damage while maximizing the chances for possible relationship gains.

Take Full Responsibility

  • Admit and Apologize: This takes the gas out of anyone attacking or seeking to play up the failure through a nefarious blame game. Most people consider it unfair to attack someone who has taken full responsibility and given a deep personal apology.
  • We must show authentic levels of remorse without giving excuses for the outcome or our conduct.
  • Accept the consequences of our actions with grace and maturity

Establish Open Lines of Communications

  • Complete an effective postmortem of the situation and your conduct. Bring in stakeholders and the concerned parties for private individual feedback sessions. Once complete, share the results. Open and honest communication is critical. Do not compound the problem by trying to keep things in the dark as it never works out in the end.

Correct the Mistake

  • Some errors cannot be rectified, but many can be made improved. This may take some creative thinking, but search out how best to make it right.  Remember, making it right must be from the perspective of the wronged party.  What is “right and fair” to you, may feel like a further wrong from their perspective.
  • If proper for the circumstance, compensate the affected parties.

Work to Reestablish Trust

  • Seek outside help and perspective from mentors and an executive coach to help deepen your understanding of the impact on others and how to address the personal underlying issues.
  • Create a mitigating plan that lowers the risk of a future occurrence. This even goes when the mistake is personal such a public confrontation. The plan should be shared as well. Keep people informed and close.  It helps greatly with rebuilding trust.
  • Be open to more feedback sessions as people may need to express their feeling multiple times before they are able to accept and forgive.

Even significant mistakes do not have to be the end of the world or a career. Obviously, this excludes things such as criminal conduct and huge moral lapses in judgment.  Most times when people have a lapse in judgment or make a mistake, it is recoverable.  How we choose to address these events and its impact on others is critical to our growth and long-term success.

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Success, the Right Way

Success, the Right Way

For much of my life success was about accumulating more money and possessions than those around me. In reality, it was not a healthy or even true definition of success for my life. It was a mistake to allow myself to operate under its influence for such a long time. Well over a decade ago, I realized that I needed to stop trying to live up to other people’s definition of success and define it for myself. Now, I define success as being a devoted husband and father at home, and a strong leader who demonstrates the highest level of integrity and strives for wisdom in my career.

While I was growing up, money, power, and personal possessions were quickly becoming the new definition of success in American society. Everywhere I saw wealth and power expanding, and I wanted my piece of the pie. One of my favorite movies was Wall Street, and I so wanted to be Gordon Gekko when he gave the speech to the Teldar Paper shareholders.

The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed — for lack of a better word — is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms — greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge — has marked the upward surge of mankind. (Weiser and Stone)

I tried to embody Gekko’s convictions for many years to the point where I had his quote taped to the inside of my office door. My desires for wealth were consuming and always seemed to be just out of reach.

Several necessary but unpleasant events occurred to some people around me that lead to a change in my definition of success from wealth and control to one of relationships and integrity. I had known all along that success was about how we live and touch those people around us, but I just refused to accept it for a long time. Simply put, I woke up one day and accepted that life was not just about me anymore.

The first principle of my definition of success describes the relationship I want to have with my family. I cannot imagine any definition of success that does not require the love and support of one’s own family. Often I wonder how many people who traded their family’s love for the corporate suite would do so all over again if they had a choice. I would venture a guess that it would not be many. While I am certainly no angel and a borderline workaholic, I put significant effort towards building strong family relationships. I focus on the happiness and needs of my family and do my best to keep my word to them.

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Continuing on…The Internet Never Forgets

Continuing on…The Internet Never Forgets

The other day I was ranting about privacy in the digital age. The public does not fully comprehend the potential positive or negative impact of cloud services on their lives; how the information they choose to share and store inside of those systems lives and dies; or how a data breach will affect their personal privacy. However, that is only part of the equation since it deals with a failure inside of one of these commercial entities. And let’s be honest about the situation here; these entities rarely screw up so the breach is usually in the form on an outside attack against them. Frankly, with how few breaches occur each year, I see it as a testament to their dedication and professionalism in treating their customers’ information with respect and a security-focused mindset.

More often than not, we do it to ourselves. We expose our own information to public scrutiny without hackers or bugs in the code. We breach our privacy by posting “dumb” things online. Usually in an agitated state, or inebriated one, but rarely with a clear mindset. It is so easy with modern smartphone technology and computers/tablets everywhere to post any and every thought online in a mere moment. Much like the words we speak, something posted online can never be really retracted.

Having an argument with a family member, friend, or coworker? Seriously think about the consequences before you lash out in a quick twitter or Facebook post. In a lapse of good judgment, let us say you do actually post something that is highly critical of a coworker, management, the company, or releases confidential information, what should the company do about it? Is it unreasonable to expect serious disciplinary action?

It is no secret that employers will check on-line profiles of potential candidates, and it is not uncommon for them to complete other reviews on a periodic basis and around promotions to make sure, employees are living up to all company guidelines and expectations. Do you really want to promote someone who does not represent the values of the organization with their highly questionable digital activity? Yes, people will invariably say that personal life and professional life are distinct and should not affect each other. I think that is a Utopian view that is not reality, and everyone should presume that their bosses are reading most of their on-line social media communications. No, I do not think that management is reading employees’ Twitter and Facebook feeds regularly. Who has the time? But would you really want to risk your next promotion on it? This is an area that some serious common sense needs to be exercised by everyone.

People need to present their public social media life in the way they would like their managers to see and experience it. Remember by lashing out in a discourteous/unprofessional manner at people or topics on-line, they may be hurting their career to a far greater degree than they even begin to realize.