Headlines, Marines, Airmen, Trains, Sheep and Bystanders

Herding dog in a pasture in the mountains. Carpathians

The headline could have been much different. The headlines have been much different. Gun attack kills 12, or  Horrified passengers witnessed brutal slaying, or — oh, no, you don’t need to see more. You know. Whether the motive is criminal or terrorist, the enemy is at the gates. Today, the headline is as scary and infinitely less tragic. Three Wounded, Shooting on Train Averted, and President thanks ‘heroes’ who overpowered gunman.

The short version of events is this: Americans (initial reports said Marines, see postscript for thoughts about the differences between the services — they were Airmen) overheard the gunman loading his weapon in the restroom. They confronted him when he emerged and subdued him.

Why did they attack him when the people on the train in DC, less than two months ago, did nothing? Examining the difference between the two incidents is important and instructs us in our values and our culture. The people on the DC Metro cowered in a corner, afraid for themselves and their family. They felt powerless and therefore they were powerless.

Continue reading “Headlines, Marines, Airmen, Trains, Sheep and Bystanders”

Passionate Introductions and Ado

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When you get up in front of a crowd, how do you introduce yourself?

For the last month, at various presentations, many of the people were introduced with the words, “And here’s someone who needs no introduction.” Some didn’t even get that. Most people stood up, addressed the crowd without any prelude to their comments. They jumped immediately into their content. Continue reading “Passionate Introductions and Ado”

The Real World Cup

Boy playing soccer

As the mother of two young boys, I’m used to a fair amount of “icky girl” syndrome. My oldest son is not yet at an age when girls are interesting, while my younger son is only now figuring out that girls are different in ways he doesn’t understand.

You can imagine my pride then, when the oldest begged to watch the finals of this year’s World Cup. And that’s what he called it. The World Cup. Not the Women’s World Cup. Simply, the World’s Cup. He chanted “USA” and walked around quoting the I Believe mantra. Continue reading “The Real World Cup”

Who’s behind you?

Going for a rideOn a recent bicycle ride to our local grocery store, my daughter and her friends and I formed a line. I took the rear — Tail End Charlie — following behind the youngest and therefore the slowest biker. The girl in the lead took off, enjoying the view, enjoying being in front, and she left the two of us in the dust. We caught up only when the others stopped before crossing a road.

For the return trip, I put the former leader behind the slowest girl, keeping Tail End Charlie for myself. Almost immediately, the girl in the lead took off, enjoying the view, enjoying being in front, leaving the three of us to shift for ourselves. Our former leader now hollered up, “Slow down! You’re going too fast!” She was watching the new leader behave exactly as she had. If she saw the irony, she didn’t show it. She felt the pain though of being left behind. The pain of being so far back that she didn’t even feel like part of the group any more.

When you’re in the lead, how often do you look back? Do you consider the slowest (perhaps the newest?) person on the team? Do you check their tires for proper inflation? Do you keep your team together?

Being a leader entails more than simply being in front. If you’re leading and no one is behind you, then you’re simply out for a ride.

Leaders consider everyone on their team. Leaders ensure that they have the tools to be successful, to keep up with the others. Leaders look out for those behind them.

And the first step to doing that is to pay attention.

Why We Read Fiction

An instructor once told my class that A Confederacy of Dunces is among the best leadership books ever written. Huh? Really? I raised my hand. “I’ve read Confederacy and that’s nuts.”

Have you read this tome? If you’re from New Orleans, or ever been in a book club with someone from New Orleans, then you have. Otherwise, this obscure, Joycian ramble may have escaped your notice. A work of fiction, through and through, I couldn’t see why anyone would consider it to be about leadership. Leadership books are most often found in the Business section of the book store, and in the Dewey Decimal system under General Management.

Can leadership be learned from fiction?

The Marine Corps clearly thinks so. Orson Scott Card’s wonderful Ender’s Game has been on their reading list for years. The Navy seems less sure. None of their Essential books are fiction, although the Recommended list includes the classic Starship Troopers and Master and Commander. Retired Admiral Stavridis is famous as a voracious reader, and recently cited Generation of Winter by Vassily Aksyonov as one of his favorite books.

Stepping back, we should consider why we read fiction at all. We can read it to entertain us, to unwind, to engage, to delight. In Reading Lolita in Tehran, author Azar Nafisi proclaims that, “what we search for in fiction is not so much reality but the epiphany of truth”. Truth can be illuminated in fiction more clearly than truth can be found in reality. A non-fiction biography of Admiral Lord Nelson might tell us of his battles with Spain, his affair with Lady Hamilton, his final words and Hardy’s kiss.

Only in his fictional alter-ego of Horatio Hornblower do we learn about the fear experienced on the eve of action, the embarrassment caused by the lack of fortune, the calculated statements designed to endear the crew to their captain, the sick dread of watching a man before the mast taking his punishment at the cat o’nine tails.

We learn from Hornblower that our fears are not unique, that our doubts can be overcome, and that we too can learn to lead. Other fiction reveals other truths. Other shades of truth are illuminated by the fancy of the author and by our reactions to the characters.  Perhaps we learn more about the human condition by imagining how we might feel if we were in their situation and by filling in the gaps of their own musings.

What leadership lessons have you learned from fiction?

Using Code to Create Conduct

“On my honor, I will try….”

So begins the Girl Scout Law. The Girl Scout Promise is similar. “I will do my best to be….” And then a litany of virtues from honesty through courage to sisterhood. Every Scout meeting begins with the Law and the Promise. You likely did the same as a child if you were a Scout. You likely also stood in your morning homeroom class and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Other organizations use songs, creeds, vision statements.

Do these Codes of Conduct actually improve conduct? The research says they do, as long as we remember them. Dan Ariely discusses the concept in his excellent book, “The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty”. His team conducted experiments which showed that a simple reminder about good conduct and moral behavior reduced the incidents of cheating. And this weekend, I had the opportunity to try it out.

My daughter’s Girl Scout Troop loves to camp, so there we were; out in the woods without much to do. [My fault, and the wisdom of giving 10-year-old Scouts too much time on their hands should be duly questioned.] Before long, the in-fighting began, with the various cabins pitted against each other.

We called each cabin out to the unit shelter and had them recite the Girl Scout Law and Promise. They weren’t in trouble. Each Scout was asked to simply evaluate her behavior in the context of who she is, as a Scout who does her best. And it worked! They figured it out. The warring ended and the cooperation began.

Are your cabins — departments — distracted by internal disputes? Are they more focused on each other than they are on the mission, the vision and the values of the organization?

Try reminding your team, early and often, of their greater purpose.

Remind them of why they are there. Not to earn money, or be seen as better than their co-workers. Remind them that they are there to serve the customer and each other.

Remind them of who they are.