April 2011 Archives

What's in a dream?

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gambling.jpgToday, I was reading Questions of Character, a book by a Harvard Business School professor, Dr. Badaracco, who uses literature to teach leadership. It's not the sort of thing I usually read because I HATED English class and everything like it in school. That's why I grew up to be a statistician.

This book is different, though. He talks about the lessons to be learned from literature. One example he uses is "Death of a Salesman".  Badaracco says that one of the problems Willy Loman (the salesman) has is that his dreams are not really his. They are the "mass-produced dreams" of being rich, famous and popular.

Even though Willy has some talents, like construction, he doesn't follow those, instead he becomes a salesman for a large company. Here is another place where Dr. Badaracco says it isn't Willy's dream - he doesn't enjoy what he is doing for a living, not any part of it, and so he is continually looking for shortcuts.

The third point the book makes is that Willy is not honest, not with himself, his family or friends. He spins stories about how successful he is, when they are barely paying the bills, and he has this vision that his big break - his sons' big break - is just around the corner, even when he is old and laid off from his job and his sons are middle-aged. It seems more important to Willy how people feel about him than how he feels about himself.

The saddest part, Badaracco says, is that Willy has accomplishments and talents - he is a good builder, his wife sincerely loves him, he has managed to pay off the mortgage on his house, own a car and provide for his family all through the Great Depression, when those things were far from easy to do.

I was trying to think how this applies to the people we work with regularly on the reservations. I was thinking about people just like Willy who have enough food for their children, a nice home and live in a beautiful place (I may hate the cold weather, but no one can deny walking through the woods, or watching the northern lights, or sitting out by the lake, etc. that the reservations where we work are some really nice places to be). Yet, I see some of those people who are pretty unethical - and for what, so they can buy their kids some expensive shoes, or buy a new truck or pick up some new furniture at Wal-Mart. I confess that I just don't get it.

Erich talks a lot about self-esteem being the root of a lot of problems on the reservation and probably elsewhere. This might be where it all fits together, being able to recognize the things that you do well, and that those are the key to your success, not what car you drive. Being a good parent means the values and knowledge you taught your children, not the brand of shoes you bought them. It's like one of my daughter's favorite sayings,

"You don't own your things. Your things own you."

The other place I think this fits in with the Tribal Leader Institute ethics is self-honesty. If you have limitations that keep you from achieving your dream, it could be, that as Badaracco says, you have the wrong dream. I think a lot of the Joe the Tribal Worker stories have to do with people who are unwilling to recognize that what they want out of life is out of whack with the amount of work they are willing to do to get it or their own abilities. If you find yourself in that situation, you need to either change your dreams or change the amount of work you're willing to do.

Why should you? Well, on the one hand, you end up like Willy and leave behind a family bitter, heart-broken and living with your unfulfilled dreams. On the other hand, you end up an unethical Joe the Tribal Worker who gets what you need through lying, manipulation and outright stealing. Now that I am getting older, I can see what happens to those Joes in the long run, and I can tell you, it isn't pretty.

Ethics Make Us Powerful

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Ethics make us powerful.

Several years ago, Susie Sainte, Sam and Joe the Tribal Worker were all on the same board. They had found out that the program director was misusing funds and had agreed to vote at the next meeting to have him removed. Before the meeting, the program director went to Joe and offered to give his son a job. He also offered to give Susie's company a contract to evaluate their program, and suggested that Sam that he attend a meeting for the project in Hawaii, paid with project funds.

Sam and Susie turned down these offers, but at the next meeting, were they ever surprised when Joe voted with two other board members to keep the project director. Sam and Susie resigned from the board the same week Joe's son started his new high-paying job. Both swore they would never have anything to do with Joe and his unethical behavior again.

Last week, Susie ran into Sam and he could not wait to tell her how unhappy he was that he had agreed to do the staff training for a program where Joe the Tribal Worker was now the training manager. Joe had great difficulty getting anyone to work with him because of his known unethical ways. He had one of his staff members, Sally, contact Sam and ask him to do the training.

Susie asked in surprise,

"Why would you do that? I thought you said after Joe completely lied about that board meeting and sold his vote to the program director for a job for his son that you would never work for him again."

Sam answered,

"Yes, but I'm not working with Joe, I'm working with Sally, who is a good person. I wouldn't do it for myself but I work with this youth sobriety group and she promised that their program would donate money to the youth group to pay their way to the state meeting. These are really good kids who have worked hard all year and they deserve to make this trip. You'd do the same, wouldn't you?"

Susie stared at Sam for a minute and then answered in the direct way that had made her not very popular,

"I wouldn't, because I don't have a price."

Then she walked away.

Here we have two people who have experienced lies and unethical behavior. One of them decides to forgive and forget - FOR A PRICE. These are the lies we tell to ourselves, that it is not selling out because it is "for the kids", "for a good cause".

The other one never works with that lying, unethical person again.

 Sam will tell you that he can't help it. He is doing it to help the youth group, it is for a good cause. Yet, Sam is unhappy, doing something he doesn't want to do, working with someone he doesn't trust and even though he says he is working with Sally, he knows that Joe is her boss so he is even lying to himself saying he isn't working for Joe.

What about Susie? How does she get the power to not ever be roped into Joe's deceitful circle again? Simple. As she said, she has ethics that are not for sale at any price.

Of all of the ways I have seen good people (and not so good people) sell themselves, saying it is for the good cause is far and away the most common.

I can't count the number of times I have had people who wanted my vote, or wanted me to give a false, positive evaluation of their project suggest to me that they could get my company a contract for grants, evaluation or training. I have four children. It would be easy for me to sound very ethical saying that I value my family (I do), they are my first priority (they are) and so I have no choice to take that contract and work for Joe. That last part is a lie.

THE TRUTH is that I do have a choice. If my work is so mediocre that I need to sell out to get contracts, I should find something else to do.

I do think that in the long-run being ethical is better business, but EVEN IF IT ISN'T, I'm not going to sell out.

So, back to Susie. I asked her,

"What would you do if you were Sam?"

She answered,
"I'd go and find some other cause to work for or I'd find another way to raise funds for the youth group. Hell, I'll sell cookies like the Girl Scouts but there's no way I'm going to sell myself. "