February 2010 Archives

mom_and_julia_and_paint.jpgI have worked on reservations since 1990 - that's twenty years of teaching, consulting, working as an evaluator, grantwriter. That certainly doesn't make me an Indian but it means that I can see b.s. most of the time - as in some people may have been discriminated against but other people didn't get their grant renewed because they wrote a terrible proposal, putting in half the time that would have been required and ignoring the instructions. (Hint: The federal government is pretty anal-retentive about people following instructions.)

It also means I have seen both the good and the bad. Over the past couple of decades I have seen more and more people getting higher education, including graduate degrees, and that is good. There seem to be more people getting professional jobs off the reservation, and then coming back home to work, bringing their skills with them. That is good, too.

Lately, a lot of "management expertise" is being promoted in the workplace and that can be both good and bad. Understanding balance sheets, standard accounting principles, all of that is not only good but it keeps you out of federal prison for misuse of funds.

HOWEVER, some of the latest management gurus I think just are not worth listening to. On this score, I may differ from Dr. Longie.

I get really fed up with those articles about delegation, for example, that tell managers they need to delegate repetitive tasks, detail work, information gathering and attending meetings because they need to save their valuable time. Native Americans of a great many tribes are rightfully known for their generosity. There are over 400 federally recognized tribes so there may be some known for their stinginess.  I can only say that I haven't encountered them.

This generosity takes many forms. One is giving of attention, treating each person's opinion as worthy of notice. As Erich has pointed out many times in his courses, a major difference between Sitting Bull and Custer styles of leadership is equal treatment. While Sitting Bull definitely led the Battle of Little Big Horn there is nothing to suggest that he believed he was superior to his people. Quite the opposite, he slept where they slept, ate what they ate. This lack of a rigid hierarchy is another quality I consider positive in many tribal organizations and why I have enjoyed working with them.

In keeping with these traditions, I would suggest that really effective delegation should help your employees as much as you. Tasks which are repetitive to you may be completely new to a less experienced employee. Being trained on something with a set procedure may allow that person to learn new skills, succeed and gain confidence. Sending an employee to a meeting in your place should also give that person a chance to meet other managers and get recognized for his or her knowledge, get experience running a meeting or in public speaking.

I am starting to think this more and more -  management strategies without ethics like generosity and honesty are not effective. More often, employees will see right through you, no matter how many management books you cite.
Too many managers act as if they and their workers aren't the same species. They employ expensive consultants (hey, that's us!) to tell them how to motivate their employees - praise, support, involvement, autonomy. What makes them think that the people who work for them are so different from themselves?

In the book, The Genius of Sitting Bull, the authors point to one of Sitting Bull's strengths as a leader, that he lived among his people. He knew exactly how ready his troops were to attack. He ate what they ate, slept where they slept. Living among them, he also had the same information they had. Custer, apart from his men and disdaining to listen to information from scouts was fatally uninformed.

Today, I walked through a building where the managers all have offices while their workers are in cubicles, some of them no more than a desk with a few inches of "wall" on each side. The managers have nice oak or cherry furniture while their workers have prison-grey steel desks and bookcases. I am sure this saved the organization a lot of money. Everyone is expected to work exactly eight hours a day and the lowest level employees are even required to ask their supervisors if they want to use the restroom. I asked someone, who was a very competent worker who had been there for years, to help me. As we passed his boss, he stopped briefly to explain why he was away from his desk helping me, a client !

In the tribal managers course, Dr. Longie quotes management researchers who stress the importance of "autonomy, support, recognition" in motivating employees. The managers I walked past today would argue they do all of those things. In fact, the very employee who was helping me had a certificate in his cubicle recognizing him as a "team player" or something.

As my children would say - I call bull shit on you.

Honestly, if you are a manager, you have designer furniture in your office while your staff are working with no privacy and you give them a ten-cent piece of paper you printed out on your printer as "recognition" and email them "atta-boy" three times a month - are you any different than Custer who referred to his men as "cattle"?

If you are a manager, take this quick quiz:
1. Name three people who work for you.
2. Now name three people who work for THEM who are doing a good job.
3. For each of those people list what is important to that person. What does he or she really like about the job? What does that person dislike the most?

I know a person who is head of an organization of about 300 people and very proud of the fact that he knows the name of every person working for him. What the hell difference does that make? This same person doesn't have a clue about the problems his employees face because he seldom leaves his office unless it is to meet with others at "his level", accompanied by one or two of his favorite employees who are constantly gushing about his brilliance and hands on approach. As you might guess, he has a very big, very nice office.

If you have an open door policy, how many people who are two or more levels below you in the organization ever actually walked through your door, sat down and talked to you about anything? Why not?

My first suggestion is to throw away half of your management books and look at what motivates you. If you have a great deal that your employees do not, you might ask yourself why you expect them to be so motivated.

My second suggestion is to quit reading management books and ASK your employees from time to time what concerns them. Don't do this in a carefully scripted public relations approach where the president meets with a large group of employees who "can ask me anything". Rather, invite workers to meet with you one on one and really listen to them.

After all, isn't that what you would want?

Often, I think the Spirit Lake Consulting courses should be renamed. "Ethics" makes me think of philosophers discussing what Aristotle said about - well, something - I have to admit I never read very far in those discussions.

Character is a better description to me of what the Tribal Leaders Institute is about, doing the right thing every day to the best of our abilities. One "pillar of character" is perseverance. Josephson discusses this under "responsibility".

As a board member, you need a thick skin. The more involved you are on a board, as chair of a committee, on an executive committee or president, the thicker skin you are going to need. It may seem unfair - in fact, it probably IS unfair - that the more work you do the more criticism you will attract. Very, very few decisions will be appreciated by everyone. It may happen that a person has a completely wrong reason for criticizing you. The Director of the After-School program continually came in drunk. Last week, he was found passed out on the floor by two of the kindergarten students. So, you fired him.

Today, everyone is getting a note from a fellow board member saying that you don't care about youth because you have no children of your own, that money only goes to the elder programs because your mother needs assistance, and proof of how uncaring you are is that you cut off $60,000 in funding for the after school program.

The $60,000 happens to be the line item for the director who is the board member's brother. Your only child died seven years ago and your mother is in poor health. How could someone be so hurtful as to bring this up?

When you confront the board member she says,
"I am only telling the community the truth. You did vote for money for more programs for the elderly. I am sure you are concerned about your mother but that doesn't make it okay for you o cut funding for youth programs. Joe being my brother has nothing to do with it. I am just doing my responsibility as a board member to let people know the truth."

How do you deal with situations like this? Four answers that have worked for me:
  1. Be prepared. Realize this will happen again and again. Persevere. Remind yourself every day that perseverance is needed as a board member.
  2. Generosity. Try to consider whether the other person does have a point. Do you focus more on elderly programs? Is there a need for more funding for the youth programs? Have they been neglected.
  3. Don't take anything personally. This is often hard for me, but as I make a deliberate effort at it I am getting better. Those same people who are complaining about your actions would complain if someone else had made the same decision. When people are running you down it says more about them than about you and most people realize that. However, some people will believe the critics. Don't take that personally either.
  4. Take heart from people who are better than you. This one works for me a lot. I look at people who have survived and excelled in so much greater challenges than I do. Senator Max Cleland is one such example. After losing three limbs during a battle in Vietnam he went on to become a senator and spend a career in public service. Erich often discusses role models in Native American history, such as Sitting Bull. The tribal leaders wiki has articles added on more contemporary leaders, such as Wilma Mankiller. Whether it is President Obama or Tillie Black Bear, most of us don't need to look very far to find someone who has devoted ar more to public service than we have and be far more unfairly criticized. There is value in both learning from those role models how to handle adversity and in realizing how petty our own personal issues usually are.
Here is my own Susie Sainte story for the day.

Susie had been at her new job for just over a year. Employees received 12 days of vacation the first year and 12 sick days. Guess what? Everyone was sick exactly 12 times each year.

As the end of her first year approached, Susie mentioned to her co-worker, Joe, that she had 12 days of sick leave and would start losing sick days if she did not use them by next year. Joe said,

"You must be stupid. Haven't you noticed that everyone takes one day of sick leave a month? Even the boss takes his 12 days a year!"

Talking to her cousin, Sam, she received the same advice,

"Why on earth wouldn't you take your sick days? Those are yours. You get those because you are a good employee and they want to keep you happy. It's not because they love you. Take next Monday off."

Susie decided that they were right. She had been working very hard lately and she was going to stay home from work next Monday. When she came in on Thursday to find that both Joe and her boss had called in sick, she was even more determined to 'quit being a sucker' as Joe called it. She even planned to get some shopping done.

Thursday night, her young son asked if he could stay home from school the next day to play with his new video game. Susie said,

"No. You're not sick. If I tell the teacher you're sick, that's lying. If you go back to school on Monday and say you were sick, that's lying. Lying is wrong."

Saturday morning, Susie was visiting with her dad and asked  him what he thought about taking sick leave. He put his coffee down, leaned back and said,

"Well, when I retired, I had 39 days of sick leave left. They were good to me so why would I want to &*!@ them over? What difference does it make if everyone else in the place is taking sick leave when they're not sick? That's their choice. You need to make your own choice. I got paid enough to take care of you kids. I had my vacation time. If I got sick, I took my sick leave. Why would I lie and take advantage of a policy? My sick leave was there if I needed it but I was lucky enough to be healthy.  Over the years, those other guys, they ended up getting two day suspensions here and there, getting written up, getting fired.  Remember when your grandma was sick? I said I needed two weeks to go to take care of her and when she passed on I called and said I needed another week and my boss just said to come back when I was ready. If you do right, people do right by you. Even if they don't, it's all about what kind of person you want to be."

Monday, as Susie was leaving for lunch, she happened to look over at Joe's empty desk. He was out sick again. On the way out, she stuck her head in the boss's office,

"Would it be all right if I come back a little late from lunch? My son just got a perfect attendance award and I promised to run into town and buy him another one of those video games he's crazy about."

The boss waved,

"Don't worry about it. Things are slow here. Take the afternoon off.I can manage by myself."

Leaving the building, Susie was thinking her dad would be proud of her and patting herself on the back for being a good example to her son. And Joe? She wasn't thinking of him at all.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

[Over a year ago, Erich wrote a blog on self-honesty/ self-awareness. He asked why, when most tribal members clearly know right from wrong do they engage in unethical behavior. He argued that part of it is unethical environments. When you see everyone coming in late, and it is hard for you to get up in the morning yourself, you start sleeping in. You have a lot of personal tasks to get completed (who doesn't) and everyone else takes an hour or two for lunch instead of half an hour. Why not you? It's a slippery slope. Initially, you compare yourself to others and say I'm ethical, I'm not like Joe who comes in an hour late and takes a two-hour lunch' Be careful because a few years from now people may be justifying their behavior by comparing themselves to you!

Where does this apply to board members? The new board comes in and they have friends who want positions, who want favors. There are people who have 'done them wrong' in the past and this is a chance to get even.

Why is this new president telling them they can't do that? Why did John get to put his friends in positions and give them favors and now that I am  a board member and my friends are much better and more qualified people than John's, you're telling me that I can't put them into positions? John paid his way to Hawaii from board funds and you want me to pay my own hotel room for the board meeting off site. How unfair is that?

Is it any wonder that soon the people who voted for us are saying that nothing has changed? The key is, as Erich points out, relentless self-honesty.

Here is an example from today. A board member, let's call her Louise, had continually been disparaging the director of a project, "Sam", and there had been other issues. When I mentioned to Sam some of  what Louise had been doing, Sam directed her to follow the chain of command and not take action without his approval. Louise was furious with me and said a lot of things I thought were pretty unnecessary. When I spoke to Erich about this he asked,

"Why didn't you just talk to Louise yourself?"

I replied,

"I did, so many times I am tired of it. This has been going on for a long time with her trying to undermine Sam."

Erich said,
"Then, the reason you did what you did wasn't necessarily that it was the right thing to do but because YOU were tired of dealing with Louise. So, maybe Louise is right to be mad at you. Maybe the right thing to do was to keep dealing with Louise even though you are tired of her. It sounds like a lack of perseverance on your part."

I started to protest that Sam had not deserved the lack of support from Louise but Erich cut me off with a story...

"I watched a movie once where these prisoners ended up mixed in with a group of rich people. One of the prisoners asked,
'We're bad people. We're supposed to act like this. What's your excuse?'

My point is that we have to show the proper respect and consideration even toward people who might be behaving badly at the moment. Talking behind someone's back, subverting the chain of command, ignoring policies and procedures - none of those things a person might do makes it okay for YOU not to confront the person directly, deal with him or her fairly and try to resolve the conflict. The hell of it is that person probably won't appreciate it and may be just as mad at you as if you had not continued to try to treat her fairly. That's not the point. The point is you have to treat everyone right. If it was a friend of yours, if it was me, would you have been too tired of dealing with it or would you have approached me yourself?"

RELENTLESS self-honesty. When someone hollers at you at a board meeting or outside of one, when people attack you, ignore the venom, ignore the shouting and try to honestly answer whether somewhere in there you are completely blameless. If you are at fault, try to fix it and if you can't fix it at least try to do better in the future.
My daughter, referred to in our family as "The Perfect Jennifer", is very smart. Today, I was discussing with her a question I have been wrestling with, that of being generous as a board president versus having the courage and honesty to remove people from positions when they are really not the right people. I asked,

"Where do you draw the line between being generous and just using generosity as an excuse not to make the hard decisions? I know people who say they are trying to build bridges with the opposition when I am pretty sure they are just too cowardly to face the conflict that would come up as a result.

On the other hand, I don't want to take it out on people just because they backed the other side in an election. It's like that blog I read the other day, talking about generosity of spirit, where she said that she resolved to try to understand other people's intentions and to realize that people on the opposite side may feel hurt and unhappy over conflict, too...

But, then, some people really DON'T have the best interests of the organization at heart, really do have selfish agendas. "

Jennifer said,
"You know, Mom, it sounds like you are trying to say where is the difference between generosity and being a putz. I say it is this... if what the person is doing is going to harm you personally or harm the organization, then they have to go. If it is just annoying, nagging at you, complaining or whining about your policies, and they happened to be on the side that voted against you, then you need to just let it go."

[If you didn't know what a putz is,  I wasn't sure either. I had to look it up. It is a yiddish word for an ignorant person, a person with poor judgment, a fool.]

So, I think there is your line. If this person is not damaging to the organization but is just critical of you personally, even if you think the criticism is unfair, let it go. Listen. There may be an element of truth in it. Respond kindly as best you can. If your opponent is being critical and negative because she or he feels hurt and not listened to, kindness is needed and warranted. Even if the person is being critical out of a general miserable, bitter personality, that's not the kind of person you want to be and so you don't want to respond in kind.

As with most ethical decisions, one of the main beneficiaries will probably be you. After all, wouldn't you rather fill your days with listening, generosity and kindness than the reverse?

I asked a very experienced board president who I admire if he had any advice for a new president or chair. He said,

"When you have won a victory it is time for you to be magnanimous."

Generosity. That's one of the four Dakota virtues Erich stresses in his ethics courses. In the book, The Genius of Sitting Bull, 13 Heroic Strategies for Today's Business Leaders, the authors state that Sitting Bull was a "healer", not in the medical sense but in the sense of healing conflicts among their people. They state,

"Leaders bestow beneficence, generosity and compassion upon their people. "

The first lesson, then, for a new board president is not to "out to get" those who voted against you.

  • Don't publicly embarrass them. Be honest with yourself, were you opponents really evil, incompetent people, or did they just want the same job as you? If they have good qualities your organization could use, emphasize that. Thank your supporters but don't disparage those who supported your competition.
  • If a person is qualified for a job, put him in it, whether he supported you or someone else.
  • Try to see the other person's point of view.

In a really interesting blog on generosity of spirit, Seraphine mentions the tendency in any conflict situation to focus on how others have hurt us and forget that there is more than enough hurt to go around. In fact, since your opponents lost, they are likely hurting more than you.

Seraphine resolves to "think the best of other people's intentions .. Even if their decisions are problematic or hurtful, I want my first assumption to be that they had a reason for what they did that seemed important. "

Following her advice has already helped me a little, in that I don't respond immediately to people who attack me as board president. I do try to understand their point of view and why they have taken such a position.

The next step is to follow Sitting Bull's model of healing the divisions within the group. That step, I think, is going to be harder.