May 2009 Archives

The tactics of the Indians [during the Little Bighorn campaign] resulted in their doing to Custer exactly what Custer had planned tactically to do to them.  And they were able to do it because they had the leaders, the arms and the overwhelming forces, none of which facts were known or appreciated by the Seventh Cavalry.  Their numbers had been underestimated; their leadership and fighting capacity undervalued; their superiority in arms not even suspected.  The Seventh Cavalry paid the penalty for national stupidity.

    Lt. Col. W. A. Graham

And so begins the book, The Genius of Sitting Bull, 13 Heroic Strategies for Today's Business Leaders

National stupidity. That's a good phrase for it. It's a few days after the latest election in my home state of California. The state is facing a budget deficit of $24 billion. In human terms, that means the state is shortly going to run out of money. Our governor says teachers will lose their jobs, firefighters will be laid off and college students will not get grants for tuition this fall.

Murphy & Snell, the authors of the Sitting Bull book say,

"The ultimate tragedy of Custer and leaders like him is that they repay their societies for the privileges they've received by damaging them.  Like so many of America's Eighties generation of "me-first" leaders, Custer symbolizes the greed and insensitivity of predatory values.  Leaders like Custer measure success in simple, one-dimensional terms with such tangible rulers as position or money.  As a result, they pursue single-minded objectives that distort their own personal missions and those of their organizations, corrupting the very foundation of leadership.  Existing only for themselves and the sycophants who protect them, they create a black hole of selfishness that ultimately collapses in on itself.  Just as Michael R. Milken's selfish vision bankrupted Drexel Burnham Lambert, destroyed the financial lives of thousands of individual investors, and cost the FDIC and American taxpayers billions through the sale of phony junk bonds, Custer's vision of personal glory at any price cost the Seventh Cavalry their lives."

twobuffalo.jpgWhat has all of this got to do with Sitting Bull and our current mess in California and the nation?  Let's take Custer as an example of the same type of management that got us into this mess, since, at least in his case, we can see how it turned out.

What mess are we in? Well, in California and the nation we have spent money we didn't have for a very long time. We did this as individuals, states and a country. People took out loans they had no way to repay in the belief that their house would rise in value, they would sell it for a profit and pay back the loan. They believed this because they did not know the facts. Like Custer, they had 'advance scouts' telling them the signs that the facts were different than they believed, but they refused to listen.

Sycophant. There's a word you don't hear every day but it is very appropriate here. A sycophant is someone who flatters his superiors, who hides from them information they may find unpleasant and never disagrees with them. There are a lot of other less kind words for people like this and our organizations are full of them.

How did state government in California get so over budget and why did the people refuse to allow any changes to bail them out?

One way is lack of honesty, generosity, fortitude and courage, those virtues which were the foundation of traditional Sioux culture.  Let's take the most recent fiasco. The state has a budget crisis. We are going to cut teachers, the police force, fire department and grants to students.

Why those areas?

Large organizations have project managers, administrative assistants, "communication specialists" who produce the department newsletter, benefits specialists who help employees with completing health care forms, and a hundred other job descriptions. If each of those areas cut one position, yes, it might be inconvenient to get department news quarterly instead of monthly, to have to wait to get your office supplies or trip scheduled. HOWEVER, it probably is not nearly as inconvenient as having 35 first-graders in a classroom or having your house burn down or not being able to go to college.

Let's look at how the failure of traditional Dakota values led to these cuts:
Generosity - Sitting Bull sacrificed along with his people. He ate what they ate, slept where they slept.  Custer rode while his men walked, ate while they went hungry. Without having shared in their hardships he was not fully aware of how unprepared his army was in terms of arms and supplies.

In California, our "leaders" are asking the people, both taxpayers and those relying on tax-funded programs, to sacrifice while there has been relatively little discussion of cutting budgets for the numerous boards and commissions filled by political appointments or cutting the support staff who provide services to government employees. Because Sitting Bull lived among his people, living the same lifestyle they did, he understood them. He understood their needs, what they could and could not do. Since the ballot measures in California have failed, I have seen many reports from politicians and career government officials who claimed that ,
"The public just didn't get it. They thought we were bluffing about these cuts in programs coming. These cuts are really going to happen."

It was, in fact, those in government who didn't get it. They did not get two facts, due to their disconnect with the people. The first fact is that the public sees a lot of places where government services can be cut that bureaucrats don't consider, because those positions, like having a personal secretary, benefit them, not their people. The second fact is that people just don't have the extra money.  After my husband passed away, there were a couple of tough years while I paid off the funeral bills, medical bills and others that had stacked up. My daughters would occasionally argue with me that they NEEDED a new backpack, or new Nike running shoes because it was for school, or the track team. They somehow thought if they just made me see that it was for a good cause, that they could get me to pay for it. What they failed to understand is that if I just did not have the money, it did not matter how badly they needed it, I could not get it for them. Now, that is excusable  when you are a child of ten or fifteen, but the failure of our state leaders is for the same reason, they just don't understand the position of the average person. Unlike my daughters, our state government leaders are old enough to know better.

HOWEVER, this lack of generosity is not limited to politicians. Over the years, I have reviewed many grant proposals for services that were just not needed. Disability services - how could we be so stingy as to deny services to people unable to care for themselves? Reading the proposals that began, "Everyone deserves a home of their own, eating dinner with a tablecloth on the table..."

In one grant review, I stopped and asked my fellow reviewers,
"Says who? I don't own my own home and I don't understand why I should pay for you to have one."

In the latest round of stimulus grants, I heard complaints that money was not being given to arts organizations, instead going in large bulk to the National Institutes on Health.

Yes, art is wonderful and every time I go into a museum or some beautiful public place like the Los Angeles public library, it reinforces my faith in the goodness and generosity of humanity. If you have $300 million and you give $10 million to build a museum, I think that is fabulous.

If you don't have a job or any skills and you think that one hundred of your neighbors should each pay $1,000 so you can have a house, I think you are very selfish. If you think your neighbors should each pay $500 so you can have a job using your talents and preference, then you're selfish.

Rant advisory warning: Today I am on my soapbox

I have seen Erich working diligently on the latest course, Ethical and Effective Managers. It has been interesting to watch if only because Erich working feverishly is an uncommon sight. The other day, someone called and asked him if he was interested in a job. He told me,

"The money was good so I listened to the recruiter for a while, but the more she talked about it, the more it seemed like real work, so I referred her to you."

Although we joke about our differing work habits a lot, the truth is that whenever something really needs to be done, Erich puts his nose to the grindstone and does it. Right now, he is struggling with getting all of the management information into the course, all the stuff about having attendance policies, creating and following procedures such as a written warning for policy violations. All of this is good information and will be useful to new managers.

However, and it is a very big HOWEVER, values come first. I have been working a long time, thirty-five years to be exact, and with a whole lot of managers. I'm the type of employee you want working for you. I have a basket of degrees, a ton of experience, work my a$$ off and do top-quality work. I also have zero interest in taking your job, so if you put me in a corner and fed me terabytes, programming would come out, you would look good and life would be happy for all. So, what kind of managers have I worked for?

Plenty of (too many) people who were good at project managent, Gantt charts and Excel. They had classes on how to run meetings, including writing an agenda, taking minutes, and making sure every member of the team had a chance to speak. Almost all of the people I have worked with have demonstrated persistence, coming to work every day and often putting in long hours. What really distinguished the good managers from the bad, though, was almost never their ability to do all of the things they had learned in their MBA program. It was those last three traditional values - honesty, courage and generosity.

I worked with a very ambitious young man, let's call him, Bo, who took every project management course there was. He very much wanted to rise through the management ranks. When scheduling a meeting one day, one of the people could not make it. One of my co-workers said,

"Let's have the meeting anyway. That guy has no clue what's going on."

In truth, "that guy" was assigned to this project because he had a friend in the organization who wanted to find some work for him to do. Bo said,
 "No, everyone is a member of the team here. We all have to be here. Everyone has an equal say and everyone shares in the credit."

Now, Bo had perfect charts of how projects should get done. He had written plans. He was always on time for meetings, for which he had an agenda printed ahead of time and minutes done within twenty-four hours. Great according to all of the classes on communication. HOWEVER ...

He is sitting here telling the two people who are actually going to do the work, my co-worker and I, that we need to reschedule this meeting for the convenience of someone who we all know doesn't know what is going on or have anything to contribute. Then, after we have done the work that was delayed due to 'that guy' not being available, we are all going to share equally any raises or other rewards. I don't know if Bo ever attained his goal of being a manager or not. I do know that the result of the meeting was this:
  1. One good, hard-working employee left very angry that his time was being wasted.
  2. Another good, hard-working employee left with no respect Bo's capabilities as a manager.
  3. The completion of the work was delayed.
Imagine how different the situation would have been if Bo had the honesty to say,
"You're right. Let's go ahead and have the meeting. I'll fill in Joe later."

Really, how hard would that have been?

This did not happen because Bo lacked both honesty and courage. He was afraid what Joe might say to his friend who had gotten him the job if his co-workers went ahead and had meetings without him. Bo was afraid what would happen if Joe did not get equal credit for the work and complained to his friend.

Erich mentions how even though there are lots of complaints about tribal workers, those so-called "ghost workers" who never show up for their job, workers who have a job title like "Assistant Co-Director of Economic Development" that can't tell you what it is they do and on and on. HOWEVER, there are tribal organizations and departments that work well, with people who come to work every day and do a good job, with pride. Part of the difference, I believe, is that managers eventually get the workers they deserve. I will bet you that Joe would be happy to have Bo as a manager. HOWEVER, if I, or my co-worker ever see a job advertised where Bo is the manager, you can bet we won't be applying to work there.

All of the classes in the world on written policies, charts, budgets, communication and management style won't make up for the fact that the good employees don't want to work for you.

Losing Susie Sainte

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
In the Tribal Leaders Institute, there are a lot of stories about Joe the Tribal Worker and Susie Sainte. Erich says,
"Joe must have supernatural powers because I meet him on every reservation I visit."

Joe is an unethical person who lies about his qualifications to get the job, comes to work late, leaves early, takes two hour lunches to run into town for groceries or a six-pack of beer, hires his relatives who also do almost no work - well, you get the picture.

Another person we discuss a lot is Susie Sainte. Susie is the opposite of Joe, competent, hard-working, ethical. Fortunately, for every Joe out there, we have meet at least one Susie, too.

Joe and Susie are frequently in conflict. Their goals, values and beliefs are completely different. You can read the stories some Tribal Leader Institute members have written about the Susie or Joe on their own reservation on the Tribal Leader Forum's Joe the Tribal Worker section.

Why would anyone want to keep Joe as a worker instead of Susie? It seems like a no-brainer, right?

It all goes back to two of the Dakota values discussed over and over, courage and honesty. Let's look at what happens with Marcia, a generous, hard-working manager, in her first year as manager of the Tribal Health Department. She has several people working for her, Joe, Susie and a few others who are neither as worthless as Joe nor as completely honest, reliable and effective as Susie.

In her first month on the job, Susie walks into Marcia's office and complains that Joe has three times missed  a meeting that was scheduled with another department. Because the two of them were responsible for representing health concerns, Susie for the children's health programs and Joe for elder health, the project is behind schedule. Susie says,
"I put a lot of work into this. I have come to the meeting and presented my programs and we are all waiting on Joe. He is making the department look bad and wasting everyone's time."

Marcia thinks that Susie is a little too focused on herself and it is not worth getting angry about, however, she promises to talk to Joe. She does, and Joe tells her that Susie did not tell him about the meeting. Besides, he says, Susie is just an over-anxious person trying to be white. He jokes,
"She doesn't understand about reservation time, like real Indians like you and me."

Joe is quite charming. Marcia tells Susie that she has talked to Joe and the situation should be better in the future. As the months go on, Joe continues to miss meetings while Susie obtains a new grant for an early childhood screening program. At evaluation time, Susie gets an outstanding evaluation and a raise.

Joe also gets a good evaluation and a raise. After all, he is a nice guy and we all need to get along. He has worked for the tribe a long time and we need to support our enrolled members. Or so Marcia tells herself. In that time, Joe has worked for seven different departments in the tribal administration, while Susie has been in her present job for three years and her last job for seven years before that.

The truth is that everyone gets a good evaluation. Marcia does not want any unpleasant scenes if someone gets a bad review and doesn't get a raise. After all, she tells herself, everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt.

Susie thinks the fact that they both received good evaluations and raises is extremely unfair but she can't think of a way to bring it up without looking stingy. She thinks about coming into work an hour late, as many of her co-workers have started to do, noticing that nothing happens to Joe. However, she believes it is just plain wrong to lie on your time card and claim you worked more hours than you actually did. She just can't bring herself to do it even if everyone else in her department does.

Susie mentions to Marcia that she has been working a lot of hours and it does not seem to be reflected in the difference in pay and promotions. Marcia tells her that she does not need to work so hard and should relax, the work can get done tomorrow.  When Marcia tells Joe or the other employees this when they complain, they compliment her on being so understanding. On the other hand, Susie says, "Fine!" and walks out of her office.

Don't get me wrong, Marcia really likes Susie. She is smart and really cares about tribal health, and so does Marcia. They have good conversations on the future of health care, on what the tribe needs. Marcia thought it was great that Susie got a grant and has told her so many times. In fact, she can't understand why Susie seems so annoyed with her so often when Marcia tries to be a good supervisor, She gave her a good evaluation. She got a raise. Marcia tells Susie she appreciates her.  What more does she want?

After a year, even Marcia is beginning to see that Joe is not doing his job. Other department managers have complained to her. The Transportation Department manager says when he asks questions about the number of elders needing transportation, or how many vehicles Tribal Health has for transportation or how many trips they make with elders per month, Joe either has no answer or gives an answer  that turns out to be wrong. Other staff members seem to avoid being assigned to work with Joe.

Marcia does not want to confront Joe. He has a reputation as having a bad temper. He has a large family that is very active during tribal council elections. Besides, she tells herself, he has been working for the tribe for a long time, he has a family to support.

On Thursday, Susie walked into Marcia's office, slammed the door and told her that she had just found out that Joe had gone to the tribal council and claimed to have written the grant for the children's program. Believing him, after all, he worked in tribal health for Marcia, the council approved Joe to go ahead and write a proposal for health care funding. He did not get the proposal in on time and the tribe lost the chance for funding. Marcia finally sees the point. She says,
"That's it. I am going to move Joe out of the elder programs tomorrow and you are going to take those over."

Susie says quietly,
"No, I don't think so. I am leaving to work for the Tribal Controller."

Marcia is stunned. How can this be happening? She has given Susie raises, praised her work, let her have time off whenever she wanted. How can Susie be quitting?

It's simple, really. Marcia has not had the courage to take the action against Joe she needed to take. Marcia did not have the honesty to admit that Joe was a bad employee. He did not need more training, more time, another explanation of department needs. Marcia did not have the courage and honesty to fire Joe, so she lost Susie Sainte.

And this is how tribal organizations lose their good workers and keep their bad ones.
Someone asked me to explain the advice from Jim Bregman I quoted in my previous post,
"Don't let the ducks bite you to death."

After all, everyone knows that ducks aren't really considered man killers (or, in my case, woman killers). The common explanation I have heard for this phrase is that while one duck won't make much of an impact, being swarmed by a constant flock of ducks biting you over and over can kill you.

Unfortunately, I have seen board members quit over the "ducks", those people who come to every single meeting, point out every single flaw you make. No matter how hard you work or how much grant money you bring in, how many families your program serves, how many people you employ, they are constantly pecking at you. No one is perfect and the ducks are there to point it out. Your newsletter had an error in the page numbering and you misspelled the name of the principal. They called you on Thursday and you didn't call back before the weekend. Never mind that most of the staff takes every Friday or Monday off and you haven't missed a day since the school was built. Someone stands up at a meeting and accuses you of mismanaging money even though there wouldn't BE any money if you hadn't brought in that contract. I could go on and on but you have plenty of your own examples, I am sure.

After a while, those really honest, competent board members, managers and other employees get sick of it. They throw up their hands, walk away vowing to get a job where they will be appreciated, not have their reputations attacked and never have to put up with these "ducks" again.

It takes a lot of persistence to outlast the ducks, to constantly remind yourself why you are doing this job, that no,you aren't a perfect employee or board member but you are a very good one and they are NOT going to win by running you out.

The second meaning of being bitten to death by ducks has to do with courage and it is one I just made up. If you have ever had a duck or goose run at you, you have probably jumped back at first out of reaction to something flying at you. If you think for a minute, though, you realize,
"Hey, you're just a duck! I'm higher on the food chain. I could have you for dinner!"

I was at a resort with my daughter when she was about seven years old. For some reason, a duck came running out and snapped at her. I did not have the usual reaction at all. I practically drop-kicked that thing and it certainly never came near my daughter again. 

Often, the opposition and reaction that people fear is about as threatening as being bitten by a duck.
"If I speak up in that meeting and say I don't think we should hire Donna's cousin because the other applicant is more qualified, Donna will be mad at me."

So? What is she going to do? Set your desk on fire?

"Everyone voted against the new policy but me. I really think it is a bad idea, it leaves too much opportunity for charging expenses to the tribe that you really shouldn't. If I vote against it, though, they'll think I am not a team player."

Yeah, and what of it? You won't get invited to the Annual Team Player Banquet ? Very often, I have had to make unpopular choices, and I have found out two things.

  1. These choices frequently turn out to be not so unpopular after all. There isn't a swarm of ducks. If you look at those people who are criticizing your grammar, spelling, hours and ancestry, they aren't forty-five different people. They are three people fifteen times each.
  2. Yes, making what I believe to be the ethical choice in the face of opposition has cost me the good opinion of a few people. However, not making what I believe is the right choice is going to cause me to think less of myself, and I am going to have to live with myself a lot more years than with anyone else.
A couple of years ago when a debate was going on, I said,
"So I vote against those guys, what are they going to do, glare at me when I walk by and whisper behind my back?"

A friend of mine laughed and said,
"Honey, I hate to be the one to break this to you, but they already do!"

What are you afraid of? They're just a bunch of ducks.

Erich and I have different opinions sometimes. In his podcast on Dakota values, he says that there isn't any one that is more important than the others, that each of the traditional values - courage, honesty, persistence/fortitude and generosity - is most important in certain circumstances.

Personally, two of those seem to be more needed by leaders. When I consider three men who I see as role models, values that particularly stand out are courage and persistence. Erich is an extremely courageous person. Most recently, he has taken a strong stand against the Fighting Sioux logo. This has certainly cost the company some business, resulted in a lot of hate mail directed toward Erich personally and strained relationships between Erich and some of his friends and relatives.

Three of the biggest role models in my striving to be a leader are two Indians and two Olympic athletes in judo. If you think two plus two equals four, read on...

Three and a half years ago, I was elected to the Board of Directors and as vice-president of the United States Judo Association. Six months ago, when the president resigned, I became president. Facing difficult decisions, Erich's example has been a model for me. Recently, I was faced with some decisions and some well-meaning advisors suggested that I not do anything, delay until after the next election so as not to alienate any potential voters. Thinking of Erich, I said,

"You know, gentlemen, only doing the right thing when no risk is involved doesn't take a lot of courage. Where you really show your character is when you do the right thing even when you know there will be repercusssions. You know people will stop speaking to you, block you from getting positions or promotions you deserve, vote against you, oppose any ideas you have. When you really show your courage is when you fight on even knowing you might lose."

Persistence. It doesn't take that much to be courageous on one day. I've been married three times. My first marriage ended in divorce when I was 25, after six years of marriage. My second husband died shortly after our tenth anniversary, and I am still married to my third husband. Almost twenty-eight years of marriage to three different men gives me some basis for opinion on what is a real man. And, as one of my daughters says,

"Believe me, Mom is just brimming with opinions."
I'm not too impressed by the man who is willing to get in a fight in a bar to 'defend my honor' if he isn't just as willing to get up and go to work every morning to feed our kids. First of all, if you are getting in a fight in a bar, you are probably drunk, but that is a whole different issue.

Ben Nighthorse Campbell, before he was the first Native American elected to the U.S. Senate was on the U.S. Olympic judo team. He was a member of the board of the United States Judo Association, the same board I am on now. He published a book on drill training. With all of his qualifications, he should have been the next Olympic coach and due to some political deals, someone else ended up being the coach instead of him. Think about this a moment - here is a person who has spent most of his life dedicated to something. He made the Olympic team. He competed around the world. He was elected to the national board of directors and a public author. He has been really unfairly treated and lost out for political reasons for a job he should have had. He had a number of choices at this point. He could have sued to try to become coach. He could have accepted that he was treated unfairly and gone on as if nothing happened. He could have stayed around and bad-mouthed and tried to undermine the people who had ousted him. Senator Campbell did none of those things. He walked around and applied his considerable talents to other areas. He became successful in business, ran for the House of Representatives, was elected, ran for the Senate, was elected and served many years. One day, when an attacker came at Senator Quentin Burdick, Senator Nighthorse Campbell used his judo skills to take down the man and protect his fellow senator. Persistence AND courage.

When I get faced with difficult decisions, I think of Senator Campbell and how even though he lost out in the small world of judo politics he had a brilliant career. As for whoever got the position of Olympic coach that year -- who knows? My point is that some of the fights we get caught up in our SO small and petty. We can be like Senator Nighthorse Campbell, just step away and go on to do something more meaningful.

Finally, one of Campbell's teammates back on that judo team, Jim Bregman, was President of the United States Judo Association a few years before me. I called him to get his membership number for a form I needed to complete. He said, "20".   My daughter, who joined six years ago, has membership number 345,871 . So, Jim has been with this organization since the beginning. When I took over as president he advised,

"Don't let the ducks bite you to death."

Jim was a member when the organization started, then, like Senator Campbell, he want on to other things. He had a very successful career in the Department of the Interior, but when the USJA fell on very hard times, he was called out of retirement by his former colleagues. When he took over as president, the organization was $600,000 in debt. Today, and for the last few years, we have been in the black. The same thing happened with him as I saw happen with another president, Cankdeska Cikana Community College president, Dr. Erich Longie. Both brought major financial improvement to their organizations. Both dedicated a good bit of their lives to making their organizations better. Both ended up resigning in disputes with boards.

Depressing? No. Because, like Senator Campbell, both went on to be successful in other ways. Erich founded Spirit Lake Consulting, an extremely successful business that continues to make a difference on the reservations to this day. Jim ran for the board again, with a new slate, and recruited people like me to be on the executive committee. He epitomizes the quote by Walter Lipmann,
The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men the conviction and will to carry on.
Jim did that. Ben Campbell did that. Erich has done that.

Persistence. As a leader, you must have the courage to make the hard decisions. Even if you fail, your example will lead others to follow your example. And that, I agree, is the true test of leadership.