November 2009 Archives

A single friend of mine explained the reason he doesn't go to strip clubs. He said he was in one once (I never got the story behind why he went), when he looked around ,

"And I thought to myself, all of these guys are a bunch of pathetic losers. And then I thought, well, you're in here. You must be a loser, too. And I left and I haven't been in a strip club since."

The book Questions of Character, brings up the same point (without the pole dancing), saying that you should look around at any organization where you work and DON'T assume that you are special. If you are in a Wall Street firm where everyone is concerned only about making more money in any way possible then ask yourself if that is really your main concern as well. The author argues that we aren't as different and special as we might think.

If you are in a tribal organization where everyone comes to work late, leaves early and takes two hours during the day to run personal errands in town, are you really THAT different. Yes, maybe you work 30 hours a week instead of 20. My suspicion is that if you really are the Susie Sainte that everyone tries to believe themselves to be that you wouldn't be able to take working in a place like that and you would quit.

So, take a look around, like my friend in the strip club, and ask yourself if you really belong here.

Who are your role models?

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I have been reading a really good book, Questions of Character, on what we can learn about ethics from reading literature. The author, Harvard's Joseph Badaracco, uses examples from the play Death of a Salesman and other classic literature, much of which I never heard of having specialized in statistics early on in life and avoided English classes like the plague.

A very good question brought up by one of these classic pieces I had never heard of was who are role models are in life and what they have taught us or brought out in us. I would guarantee that mine are names you would never recognize, and I think that is true for most people. Maybe there are people out there who based their lives on Sitting Bull, Martin Luther King or John F. Kennedy. Maybe. But I think most people are more affected by their mom, their older brother and their next-door neighbor.

Who were my role models in life? My grandmother, Emelia Maria, was someone from whom I got a great deal more than my name. She believed that your family was your family for life, period. If your children screwed up big-time, you didn't pretend otherwise but you always let you know that you loved them. At the same time, no one was ever off the hook. Nanny expected you to succeed, expected you to study, expected you to be a good person. No excuse was permanent. She would say,

"You can always change."

From my grandmother, I received a model of unwavering faith. We used to tease her about it. One of my cousins, trying to describe how bad the weather had gotten one winter said,

"It was so cold that there were three days when Nanny didn't go to church."

My grandmother believed that God knew what he was doing, and no matter what, things would work out as long as we had faith. She believed that for all 99 years of her life. My grandmother was a role model of faith, unconditional love and doing your best with whatever God handed you.

My mother wasn't the most liberated woman out there. She had five children and I never saw my father change a diaper or wash a dish, despite the fact that my mom was one of the few mothers I know to have a full-time job. Yet, she was also one of the first women I knew to join the National Organization for Women (NOW), to subscribe to Ms. Magazine. You know how people sometimes don't want their children "to get ideas" about moving to the big city, reaching "above themselves".

Well, my mom was the opposite. She TRIED to give me ideas. She tried to raise me to be the trouble-maker, questioner, uppity woman that she never got the chance to be. For years, she worked at Washington University in St. Louis as a secretary, earning very little, on the promise that her children, if they could get admitted, could get a private university education, for free. Three of us gained admission and two of us graduated.

Two of my most common memories of my mother were going to the public library with the whole family every weekend, and going swimming at the YMCA. Soon, I was reading everything I had checked out on Saturday by the middle of the week and walking the mile to the library by myself on Wednesday or Thursday for more books. I still swim in the hotel pool every time I am away on business, and the YMCA is where I started judo, a sport in which I eventually became world champion.

My mother was a role model of the value of education, hard work, persistence and sacrificing for your children.

I have had other role models in my life, people who shaped my professional and academic career, but these two women were the first influences who shaped the character I have today.

Who were YOUR role models?

I finished analyzing the first set of data from the Tribal Leaders Institute courses and all I can conclude logically is that a bunch of people lied through their teeth on their answers. For example, we had a 24-item questionnaire that asked people how often they did things like come to work ten minutes late or more, talk on the phone on personal business for more than five minutes during the work day and so on.

The most common score, from more than a fourth of those who took the courses, was ZERO .

That might make some people say none of these folks needed to take the course because before they even took it they were perfect. I say they lied on the questionnaire. Why the heck would you do that, anyway, lie on an anonymous questionnaire? How do I know people lied?

First of all, how many people NEVER come to work late, NEVER talk to anyone on the phone, NEVER take a sick day unless sick, NEVER use the printer at work to print off something for home or school.

I did not score a zero on the survey and I think I am a pretty ethical person. To be honest, I very often arrive at work ten minutes late or more. If I have a meeting when someone might be kept waiting I make every effort to arrive on time. However, punctuality is not one of my strong points. When I record my hours, I record the hours I actually showed up. I am not a morning person but I very often work until 7 p.m. As Erich pointed out, I never would have taken a job that required me to be there at 8 a.m. because I just wouldn't make it.

I generally don't answer my cell phone during business hours, and the only people outside of those I would talk to on business who have my office number are my husband, my daughters and my youngest daughter's school. If any of those people call, I answer it. So, while I don't spend lots of time on the phone, I can't say never. My youngest child is only eleven years old and she does call on occasion about something SHE thinks is an emergency, such as being given permission to leave day care to go to the mall with a group of boys and girls from her school. (My answer - when hell freezes over. )

How can I say that I am an ethical employee? Well,  I work the hours for which I am paid, I try the very best I can to get a day's work done every day. I make decisions that are best for our customers AND for me.

Let's talk about generosity for a minute. I knew a woman who often came to work late. She would then "make up" the hours by being in the office on the weekend, so she could get paid for a 40 hour week. I asked her,
"How can you justify that? How can you say that you made up for not being there during the week when clients come to meet with you by sitting in your office on Saturday afternoon when the place is closed? This isn't high school where you are doing detention by staying in on Saturday for cutting class! "

If you are an ethical, generous employee you think about meeting your client's needs, not just about meeting your own needs. Which is why, when I got back from vacation on Sunday afternoon I answered all the email that came in while I was gone. I may not be in bright and early on Monday morning, but the answers to all those questions will be in the person's mail no matter how early they get in.

Okay, I got carried away and distracted from my subject which was people lying on the questionnaires. You see, we ask people to complete MANY questionnaires as part of our ethics training. One we have had about 200 people complete from various reservations ask what are the five major ethical issues.  Over and over, we see "not working the full hours" as the first or second major issue. As Dr. Longie says, when you work a 25-hour week and get paid for 40, you are stealing from the tribe.

As a logical person, I can't quite understand how when so many people "never" come to work late, "never" run personal errands during business hours, "never" call in sick when they are well, "never" go on unnecessary travel at tribal expense, why the biggest problem their fellow tribal members see is employees not being at work.

People lie all the time to make themselves look good. Cut it out. Lying is bad.


To read more about one particular survey, on the five biggest ethical issues, click here for our September newsletter. Look for more on results from our surveys in the November newsletter, coming soon. 
Erich (Dr. Longie) talks a lot about traditional ethical values of persistence, courage, honesty and generosity. To be honest, sometimes I get tired of hearing about it. Yes, it is important not too give up when the going gets tough, blah blah blah. I know how my children feel when I give them a variation of the same lecture for the thousandth time. I know why Erich does it. It's the same reason I do it, the same reason my grandmother did it to me. Certain lessons are so IMPORTANT that we want to make sure they are learned. Ten years after my grandmother died, I still hear a lot of her words in my head, and that's a good thing.

Whether it was your mother, your grandmother, a teacher, a coach, there are those people who drilled values into your head, who taught you courage, honesty, strength, humility, generosity and other lessons that usually come back to you when you need them most of all - and honey, are you ever going to need them as a new board member!

Persistence - strength - fortitude - whatever you call it, you are going to need a lot of it. I'm going to assume that you ran for the board for the right reasons. You want to make changes, for the better, not just have your name on the letterhead. Congratulations.  There's a nice line from a song

"Every beginning is another beginning's end."

Your beginning as a board member means the end of someone else's term. Before your first board meeeting, just by getting elected to the board you made some people mad at you. The people who lost, for a start. And all of their friends. And their relatives (the relatives that like them and even some of the relatives that don't like them. You might have beaten Joe and he might be lying, cheating, woman-chasing deadbeat but he's still Uncle Joe.) If other people were on the board and they lost their positions to you, they really hate you, most likely.

When you come up with a new idea, whether it is a new name for a sports team, a proposal for  a federal grant, a new building - no matter what, no matter how wonderful, there will be people against it, some of them viciously personal about it. Sometimes this is because it affects them personally. If you raise money for a brand new building, whoever was getting rent, fixing the plumbing that always broke or in any other way profiting from your program being in the old, run-down building will be against it.

They never say it that way, though, because no one would be too sympathetic to Joe if he said,

"If we move out of the old building I lose the $1,000 I get twice a year fixing the furnace when it breaks."

No, instead he says,
"Susie wants us to move out of the old building because she has no respect for our history and traditions. If I was elected, I would be preserving the worthwhile heritage that we have instead of throwing it all out like it was of no value."

.... and the next thing you know, Joe's supporters are handing out flyers with your picture and a nuclear bomb landing on  a herd of buffalo while you are shaking your head wondering how anyone can be against a new building for the kids.

You need to be persistent. You will have to tell 80 people that no, you are not against history, culture and tradition. You will need to explain calmly the reasons why a building that is warm, with a roof that doesn't leak and a furnace that works is better than a cold, drafty, leaky building. And you will have to do it without losing your temper. All this time, you will need to keep up your fortitude to keep working on the fundraising for the new building, meeting with the architect, the parents on the planning committee.

There isn't any secret that I know to make this easier. It is hard work being a good board member and it will be as long as you stay on the board and do a good job.

Resist the urge to spread false information about those who disagree with you. Remember that other value, honesty. Unless it is relevant, resist the urge to spread even true negative information. So what if Joe was passed out in the corner of a bar last night. Maybe he was just tired. (Remember that other value, generosity.)

One tip I can give is to maintain a sense of humor. Some days the attacks on you will be so far from the truth that you laugh because your only other choice is to cry. A friend of mine used to be exceedingly polite to those who disagreed with him in the most outrageous ways.

Jake would say,
"I understand how a person could have your opinion... "
and always added silently to himself ,
"... it's because he is a complete f###ing moron."

At one particularly heated meeting, almost all of the board members adopted his strategy, so when one after another of Joe's friends got up and yelled and swore about how wrong the changes we had made, to the great amusement of the rest of the board, board member who responded sweetly began,

"Now, I understand how a person could have your opinion, but ..."

Be persistent, be honest, be generous, be courageous and laugh a little. Some days it may seem like your two or four-year term will never end, but never, never, never give up. That's persistence.