Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Five Internal Perspectives on Leadership

 Here is a brief summary of what leaders must deal with internally, almost all the time.

1-    Understanding the difference between your work and your job.
Work is your passion, what you care about the most whether reaching goals, accomplishing big projects or meaningful personal relationships with colleagues. Your job is what you have to do to get to your work, all of what I have called “administrivia” for many years.   For me, it’s the paper work, the myriad of details where the devil resides. Others, such as a top-notch assistant can be enormously helpful here in order for you to spend more time with your work and less time with the job.  We usually say going to work, not going to the job unless it’s a construction site, often known as a job site.  There may be some parallels here.
2-    Some expectations for top-level administrators (CEO's Division Heads, Directors, CFO's CIO's and others).
As the one in charge, you have overall responsibility for the institution or organization and you are expected to be decisive, supportive, intelligent, sensitive to the needs of others, communicative, positive, constructive, insightful, wise and available.  In fact, accessibility is often a key ingredient in the success of many leaders.  Other expectations are that you are the one who sets the tone and pace for others, and you must be capable of making difficult choices and persuading others to accept the outcome.  You must respond coolly and calmly in the face of an urgent and critical issue, and you need a handle on any board or governance matter.  

3-    The results of anxiety, stress and fatigue.
There is sufficient research that documents the negative effects of continuing and unresolved stress.  Illnesses of every variety from cancer to immune deficiencies to the common cold can often be traced to stress or one of its allies such as fatigue or anxiety.   Poor health habits that include lack of sleep and exercise, lousy nutrition, and no time for reflection and renewal all contribute to a stressed life out of control.
One of the keys to successful leadership is balancing the demands of the workplace with the personal needs of the individual.  It is apparent that when the latter are addressed in meaningful and productive ways, the former are met with a higher degree of confidence and energy.  Everyone experiences moments of doubt, frustration and discouragement.  But those down moments can be counterbalanced with times of insight, understanding, intelligent action, and positive outcomes.  Examine your priorities and include some for yourself!

4-    Choices, choices and more choices
Some of the better-known diversions for a CEO, head or director are a get-away or a conference that can fall under the heading of professional development.  Other official and approved “escapes” include travel to meetings with peers, visiting other places in conjunction with developing partnerships and other individuals and including an extra day on either end of a trip for some much needed R & R.  What should be clear is that in order to lead and serve others well, we must also take time to take care of our own needs, thus making it easier and much more possible to meet the demands and expectations of others with grace, dignity and style. 

5-    Qualities and characteristics of good leadership that can enlighten and energize.
Regardless what you think leadership is or should be, what is clear is that
good leaders know how to marshal the energy, talents and resources of others in order to accomplish certain stated goals and move closer toward fulfilling the mission and vision of their particular organization. Robert Greenleaf contends that one of the things that sets good leaders apart from ordinary ones is the gift or talent of foresight.   He calls it “a constantly running internal computer that deals with intersecting series and random inputs and is vastly more complicated than anything technology has produced…it means regarding the events of the instant moment and constantly comparing them with a series of projections made in the past and at the same time projecting future events- with diminishing certainty as projected time runs out into the indefinite future.”   That’s a lot to chew on and digest but it is a comprehensive yet concise view of what makes for a good leader.

(This short article is excerpted from a longer one entitled “Internal Perspectives on Leadership”, copies of which are available by request.)

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Violence, Videos and Many Voices

I wrote the following piece some five years ago but when I saw that the app of the day (2/21/13) was Gun Bros 2, I thought it might be time to re-issue it.   The debate and conversations about gun control and our culture of violence continues to put people on opposite sides of the issues but perhaps there is space in between for some rational conversation about where we're headed.  We just watched the movie, "Zero Dark Thrity" and it's up for several awards tomorrow night at the Oscars. I doubt that the Academy will award any but we'll see.  And now "Manhunt"  a documentary produced by HBO that features three real CIA agents who tracked Bin Laden for 20 years.  I continue to wonder what price we're really paying for all of this and I do not mean the billions of dollars but rather to our collective psyche in terms of how we regard violence and when and how it can be justified.
So, here's the original piece for your consideration and review.

Originally written 4 Feb 2008:
Adults with many years of experience cannot expect children to be able to relate easily or quickly to an adult perspective.  Neither should they always try to persuade or convince the young to understand or accept their particular point of view.  However, that is what we do when we try to communicate personal, family and cultural values, transmitting our culture from one generation to the next. 
I expect young people of today to question and debate the issues that affect them and their generation..  And when there is disagreement, there can and should be a conversation with respect for each other’s views and positions. Then both will learn something of value.
Playing violent video games can increase a person's aggressive thoughts, feelings and behavior both in laboratory settings and in actual life, according to two studies that were in the American Psychological Association's (APA) Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. (April 2000) Furthermore, violent video games may be more harmful than violent television and movies because they are interactive, very engrossing and require the player to identify with the aggressor, say the researchers.
Violent Video Games and Hostile Expectations: A Test of the General Aggression Model.
    B. J. Bushman and C. A. Anderson (2002)  See also:  Short-term and Long-term Effects of Violent Media on Aggression in Children and Adults.  B. J. Bushman and L. R. Huesmann (2006) Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine 160, 348-352
     What is clear is that the research is divided and there are no easy or definite answers for any position – whether the games contribute to more aggression or that they only contribute to aggressive behavior in those who are already angry or that they contribute, but in a small and insignificant way or that they make it possible for aggression to occur but only under specific circumstances.  More reliable research is indicated.
     To understand some of the effects of video games, you need to go back to debriefings conducted by the U.S. Army after WWII. Interviewing soldiers returning from battle, researchers discovered a disturbing fact. A significant number of soldiers had been face to face with an enemy soldier, rifle in hand, enemy in their sights, gun not jammed, and had not fired. Something deep in their being, some sort of innate humanity, or values instilled early on, had prevented them from actually pulling the trigger.
     This was very disturbing to the military. They began a research effort to figure out what to do about this problem. They discovered that in the heat of battle, under the incredible physical and psychological stress of being faced with another human being you were supposed to kill, the higher mental functions were largely absent. Under such conditions, the mind reverts to much simpler modes of operation, to deeply wired, almost instinctive behaviors. In other words, no amount of target practice and classroom lectures about how you're supposed to kill the enemy had much effect when it counted.
     Over the following decades and wars, the Army learned that the way to get soldiers to reliably pull the trigger was to use very basic, repetitive operant conditioning, along the lines of standard behaviorist theory. Behaviorism provides a poor model for how humans act in everyday life, but it turns out to be a fairly good model for how humans act when they are under stress and have to act quickly, and are responding primarily to fear. Under stress, fearful people do what they have been conditioned to do.  That is one reason we have repetitive fire drills, so that we know how to react in an urgent situation.
     The Army's solution was to replace dry target practice with realistic training grounds, complete with pop-up targets, loud noises, smoke, stress, the works. The goal was to condition the soldiers: if it moves, shoot it now, don't think about it. Repetition, repetition, repetition: Target pops up, you shoot. Target pops up, you shoot. Do that often enough, and, research shows, next time you see something pop up, you are more likely to shoot it, even if it's a real human in a real battle. Sometimes it’s called “friendly fire” when it is a mistake.  This is not just a theory, it is documented by exit interviews from soldiers in later wars: The Army got what it wanted.
     What does this have to do with video games? The answer should be obvious. The whole point is, if it moves, shoot it. Again and again and again.  The military uses all kinds of expensive simulators, basically high powered video games, similar to what kids use every day, to train its recruits and to overcome the aversion to killing.   And there is evidence to suggest that those who are expert at gaming are some of the best and most effective fighter pilots and soldiers.  In the end, if you believe in war, maybe video gaming is a good thing for survival!  The downside is that, in most cases, the enemy is also trained in shoot to kill.  Is it that he who presses the right buttons faster wins?
     The cost for soldiers who survive, as witnessed by the increase in post-traumatic stress, is devastating.   As many as one-third of the homeless men in the U.S. are Viet Nam veterans, most of them suffering from PTSD and we are only beginning to count the cost from the years of human destruction in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
     What can we learn from this?  Whether or not violent video games cause aggressive behavior may not be the real issue.  Perhaps the real question that needs to be explored is whether video gaming might contribute to an acceptance of the need to destroy the “enemy” without any need to feel anger or anything that can be consciously identified as aggressive behavior.   After all, it’s just a game.

Here is a sample:
“Hunched with his troops in a dusty, wind-swept courtyard, the squad leader signals the soldiers to line up against a wall. Clasping automatic weapons, they inch single-file toward a sandy road lined with swaying palm trees.
The squad leader orders a point man to peer around the corner, his quick glance revealing several foes lying in wait behind a smoldering car. A few hand signals, a quick flash of gunfire, and it's over.  The enemy is defeated, but no blood is spilled, no bullet casings spent: All the action is in an Xbox-based training simulator for the military, called Full Spectrum Warrior.”   (Associated Press 10/03)
 Finally, here is something which should also concern all of us.  When many people see a real video, shot live, they think that because it’s seen on a screen, that it’s not real when it is.  It’s just like a video game or worse, a television program with a script and actors and made up in a studio or on a set somewhere like a movie.  If you want to test that out on yourself, take a look at some of the current, live, very real, military videos and register your own cognitive and emotional response.  This is somewhat the flip side of the video gaming issue and equally important because it is very real and not a game.
     Not every child playing video games will develop aggressive behaviors and only a small percentage will become soldiers who are trained to do what soldiers have to do.  The point is that both children and adults can be easily influenced by the media and high powered, well- conceived video games.  What the short and long term results are will continue to be debated but there is compelling evidence to suggest we better take a hard look at what is happening as a result of violent video gaming.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Vernal Equinox, March 20, 2013: Lessons from Mother

When the Julian calendar was established around 45 BC, a date in March was fixed for the vernal equinox, that time and moment in the Spring when night and day are of equal length. It has to do with the tilt of the earth toward the sun and at this time it's approximately zero.  But the hours of night and day are not really exactly the same. George Greenstein, an astronomer had this to say: "There are two reasons. First, light rays from the Sun are bent by the Earth's atmosphere. (This is why the Sun appears squashed when it sets.) They are bent in such a way that we are actually able to see the Sun before it rises and after it sets. The second reason is that daytime begins the moment any part of the Sun is over the horizon, and it is not over until the last part of the Sun has set. If the Sun were to shrink to a starlike point and we lived in a world without air, the spring and fall equinoxes would truly have ‘equal nights.’”

In the northern hemisphere, we celebrate the return of the light, actually beginning at Winter solstice but even more so in the Spring with the advent of new growth that we can see and smell.  While we may spend more time inside than outside in the winter, we are now glad to be outside again.  And the closer you are to the earth, the more enhanced the senses.  I usually remember at this time of the year that Easter (Eostre, pagan goddess of Spring) is the first Sunday, after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.

What can we learn from Mother Nature?   Photosynthesis is as natural to plants as eating is to humans.  In fact, there are some similarities with several significant exceptions.  One is that plants seldom overeat.  They take what they need, water from the ground through their roots, CO2 from the air and sunlight to turn water and CO2 into oxygen and glucose.  The way they do this is called photosynthesis which means literally “putting together with light.”   

Lessons from nature abound.  The rhythm and dance continue in their annual display of new growth, especially that green, green, green of newness.  Here are some 10 lessons to consider.

1      Eat what you need to sustain your vitality.
2      Save resources for leaner times.
3      Add some color to your life.
4      Figure out what you don’t need and let it go.
5      Prepare well for the next season.
6      Wait and don’t try to rush the process.  Let it work.
7      Embrace and celebrate inevitable change.
8   Know that what is not seen is often more important than what is seen.
9   Drink enough water to help the flow and grow
10 Remember that too much sun may be more damaging than not enough.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Organizational Check-Up

Here are four words, huge in their implications, challenging in their applications, and sometimes confusing in their descriptions.  The following comments are my brief take on each of the words and their meanings, at least for me in the past, present and possible future.  As Yogi (Berra) said, "It's very hard to make predictions, especially about the future."

Structure -  How is the institution, company, team, division, department or individual organized?   What are the essential features of how the parts connect with one another and work for both efficiency and effectiveness?  When you look at it from the outside what do you see?  Is there a chart, one of those diagrams that show people and how they are all connected? And if there is, when was it last updated?   If form follows function then this would not be the first thing listed but perhaps the last, as it would be formed and informed by the work that needs to be done.  Think about it.  When putting an organization together, where do you start?  Or if you are re-forming and re-shaping an organization, team or whatever, it might be better not to start rearranging the tables and chairs (and people) until you have a really good idea of how its working.

Function -  Is it working?  So many responses are that if it's working, don't mess with it.  Don't fix it if it's not broken and I say that if you think it's not "broken" perhaps you're not looking hard enough or far enough or deep enough.  It does not have to be broken to make it better or to rearrange some pieces in order to make it work or function better, more efficiently for example.  You may want to increase the flow or the capacity or maybe you even want to slow it down.   Maybe you want to do something entirely new and different or add a piece to what already exists.  Are you willing to consider what you might want to discard in order to replace it with a newer, better model?  Of course, the marketers are all about built in obsolescence in order to keep selling the new stuff.

Process -  Here is where the proverbial rubber hits the road and two of the words that have gained popularity recently in the parlance of organizations are "traction" and "recalibrating."   I am all for gaining traction as that is what moves us forward.  How do you measure progress?  Assessment and evaluation have become enormous markers for determining success, so much so that they are an integral part of the process.  As for recalibration, maybe that just means that in the face of so much change so fast, we need to make certain adjustments in the way we adapt to change or even design change as part of the process itself.  If you believe you have a good process, then it's important to let it work on behalf of the organization and/or the individuals who comprise it.  If you need to design a new plan, then go for it.

Outcome -  Here is where your goals and objectives rest and wait for you.  You may think you have determined what they ought to be and depending on your values, whether bottom line profit for the stakeholders and shareholders or individual and corporate success by some other measure, the results
"prove" or demonstrate that what you are about is worth all the investment of time, effort, energy and resources.  When you and those with whom you work are excited and energized by your mission, your vision and values, these are what will drive the decisions that will eventually produce the outcome.  Mission driven decisions, according to the research, are the most effective ones.

In summary, have a look and if you need some outside, more objective expertise to do that, then get it. You will be glad you did!

© Gary Gruber 2013

Monday, 4 February 2013

Finally, an explanation of Why.

We are currently in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and as lifelong learners committed to postponing dementia for a few more years, we are taking Spanish lessons at Warren Hardy's Escuela at # 6 San Rafael.  It's a great neighborhood although we are camped about 2 miles north in the country.
Warren offered a lecture this morning describing a brief history of the United States, a similar chronology of events in Mexico and the importance of social protocols.  He said that the ethnologists tell us that the top three values of the U.S. are financial opportunity, time and its control and personal freedom.  In Canada the top three were peace, good government (reported debatable by one of many Canadians in attendance) and respect for all people.  In Mexico the top three values are respect for the individual; trust, family and friends; and free time.

Furthermore Warren linked the founding of the U.S. as an opportunity for the puritans to work hard and that God would prosper them and the compulsions about time are evident just about everywhere.
(I wrote an earlier blog in October of 2011 entitled "It's About Time" with a few references to our use of time).  What Norteamericanos do not understand or appreciate is the significant cultural differences between the neighbors to the north of Mexico as well as the significant historical differences.  Being enslaved for 300 years provides a very different perspective on one's freedom from that of a country which has been relatively free for its entire existence, a mere 237 years.  There have been people and previously a few advanced civilizations here in Mexico, for 20,000 years and that is very much part of the cultural heritage.  The indigenous people of Mexico actually merged with the Spaniard conquistadores.  Not so in the U.S. as our regard for the indigenous tribes of North American did not allow for nor encourage much assimilation. 

What I finally understood is why I have lived in conflict with many of the core values of the United States which I struggled to define about 45 years ago.  I encountered the spend-buy-waste-want-borrow paradigm which was diametrically opposed to my own personal values of save-use-keep-have-give.  It is not that I am opposed to spending or investing but bottom line profits in terms of money have not been one of my life's motivations. And I came to the realization years ago that time was a construct, an invention for our convenience.  When Warren said that Mexicans would rather have free time with their friends than use that time to work for money, the light bulb burned brightly.   Yes, I said, that's it!  Eso es!   That could even be a play on S.O.S. but it's not.  It's part of the way of life here and it is truly refreshing and just one of many reasons we are enjoying being here and realizing that we are guests in this wonderful country of gracious, generous, polite and friendly people.  We have much more to learn.

The Mexican people love to hang out; they are very proud of of their race as a nation (La Raza); they are among the hardest workers of any industrialized nation and their economy is on the rise globally. And unless they become too much like the U.S. they may be able to retain their core values without compromising respect, family, friends and free time.  What a great model that would be.  In fact, we could also take some values lessons from our neighbors to the north, where peace is a top value.  There is much more to learn, linguistically, culturally, historically - perhaps in reverse order as the history defines the culture, language comes along with both and there you have it.  Becoming multi-cultural in our global village today is an essential piece of learning, growing and evolving, as human beings, as people who care about and for one another. Thanks, Warren for finally explaining why!

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Giving Yourself a Gift of Time and Space

This piece was originally written a year ago and this is a revised update. This interesting phrase, “taking time off” doesn't mean much because one can not really ever turn time off.  What we mean is "time out" from the usual and ordinary, perhaps to invest in the unusual and extraordinary.   Like it says in the old ads for Timex, it just keeps on ticking and one day, we will run out of time, or walk out, or lie down and check out.  Think of some of the amusing ways people speak about time.  “I didn’t have time to do it.”  What they really mean is they did not choose to take the time to do it, whatever “it” was, but who is going to say that?    How about this one?  “It’s time to eat.”  That was my mother calling from the kitchen.  Whether you were actually hungry or not didn’t matter.  It was “time” for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  One family I knew quite well, not my own, sat down precisely at 5:30 PM every evening for dinner and everyone was expected to be there and be on time.  Being “on time” is highly important to many people but different cultures regard that behavior with more or less value.  Personal priorities about being “on time” may also vary.
Researchers have found that individuals are divided in two groups in the ways they approach time.  The Iowa State University Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning puts it this way:
"Monochronic individuals are those who prefer to complete one task at a time. For them, task-oriented time is distinguished from socio-emotional time. In other words, there is a time to play and a time to work. These individuals value punctuality, completing tasks, and keeping to schedules. They view time as if it were linear, that is, one event happening at a time. Examples of monochronic cultures include the U.S., Israel, Germany, and Switzerland.
Polychronic individuals, on the other hand, are more flexible about time schedules; they have no problem integrating task-oriented activities with socio-emotional ones. For them, maintaining relationships and socializing are more important than accomplishing tasks. These individuals usually see time in a more holistic manner; in other words, many events may happen at once. Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa are places where the polychronic orientation prevails.
In certain cities in the U.S., it is not uncommon for us to find timetables or daily schedules for buses or trains. If the bus is to be at a certain stop at 10:09 PM, for example, one can expect that to happen at the designated time, give or take a minute.
For polychronic individuals such precise timetables are mind-boggling, as many of them are simply used to going to the bus stop and waiting – not knowing whether they will be waiting for five or forty-five minutes. That is just the way things are.
This difference in time orientation is reflected in the complaints of U.S. business people conducting business in Saudi Arabia or in Mexico, for example. A big source of frustration for them is the difficulty of getting through a meeting’s agenda. That is because in these countries meetings begin with an extended socializing time in which time is spent establishing social rapport – usually over many cups of coffee or tea."
We are often like Pavlov’s dog.  The bell rings and we respond whether by changing activities, answering a call or checking something in the oven.  We are conditioned and regulated by time.  It’s “time” to go to bed.  It’s “time” to get up.  It’s “time” to go to work.  It’s “time out” and “time” to start again.  It’s “time” for the meeting.  It’s “time” to leave in order to get there in a reasonable amount of time.  It’s all about time and yet time is an invention, a construct for our convenience and we are bound by it.  How we measure time and how we use it reveals an enormous amount about who we are as individuals and who we are as a culture.
Here’s a phrase that amuses me because of the double entendre. “It’s about time” we say, meaning usually that we have waited for some time for something or other to happen and finally, it has taken place. Whether that expresses gratitude, relief or annoyance depends upon the context.  A long-awaited package arrives at the door and we say, “It’s about time!”   And really, it is simply that it has taken longer than was expected or desired for the delivery to be accomplished.  Big deal!  Get over it!  At least we got the package.
In order to get more done in the same amount of time the phenomenon of multi-tasking has appeared and it seems to have arrived in conjunction with the advent of computers that are able to perform several functions at the same time.   Recent research at Stanford on multi-tasking shows that people who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information do not pay attention, control their memory or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time.
High-tech jugglers are everywhere – keeping up several e-mail and instant message conversations at once, text messaging while watching television and jumping from one website to another while plowing through homework assignments.  But after putting about 100 students through a series of three tests, the researchers realized those heavy media multi-taskers are paying a big mental price.
When it comes to our brain’s ability to pay attention, the brain focuses on concepts sequentially and not on two things at once. In fact, the brain must disengage from one activity in order to engage in another. And it takes several tenths of a second for the brain to make this switch. As John Medina, author of “Brain Rules” says: “To put it bluntly, research shows that we can’t multitask. We are biologically incapable of processing attention-rich inputs simultaneously.” (

When we are in situations where there are multiple sources of information coming from the external world or emerging out of memory, we are apparently not able to filter out what's not relevant to our current goal.  That failure to filter means we are slowed down by that irrelevant information."  However, that said, there are examples and instances that may show some exceptions and here is one such illustration.  The song, “The Time of My Life” which was the music and lyrics used in the final scene of the movie Dirty Dancing with Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, was written by Frankie Previte.   Previte said: "I received a call from Jimmy Ienner who asked me to write a song for this little movie.  I told him I didn't have the time and he said, 'Make time. This could change your life.'"  Frankie's former bandmate John DeNicola and his friend Don Marowitz came up with the music for the song. Says Previte, "I received a track from John and Donny and I wrote the lyric and melody for the chorus in the car while I was driving along the Garden State Parkway, going to a studio session for another song."

Here’s the message:  Making or taking time to do what is really important can change your life. The question is, what is really important?  And if you’re driving, be careful!
Our April Seminar title is "Leadership Unplugged."  It provides leaders with the time and space to reflect on their personal and professional lives, renew themselves and their commitments and contemplate what might be next in life's great adventure.  If you've gotten this far, care to join us?