To the American people & your better angels at the dawn of 2010

Wise words for business students

In every business school, first year students are taught these words.

I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.


You will recognize the words of Abraham Lincoln at the close of his Inauguration.

The better angels of our nature

We recognize the counsel to students.  Follow the common story Speak for the better angels of our nature.

I have the power, but dare I use it?

The Power Of One

One song can spark a moment,

One flower can wake the dream.

One tree can start a forest,

One bird can herald spring.

One smile begins a friendship,

One handclasp lifts a soul.

One star can guide a ship at sea,

One word can frame the goal.

One vote can change a nation,

One sunbeam lights a room.

One candle wipes out darkness,

One laugh will conquer gloom.

One step must start each journey,

One word must start each prayer.

One hope will raise our spirits,

One touch can show you care.

One voice can speak with wisdom,

One heart can know what’s true.

One life can make the difference,

You see, IT’S UP TO YOU!

Author Unknown

A Psychologist’s View of the The Power of One

Powerlessness

Most people who consult a psychologist feel powerless, or at least overwhelmed by circumstances.  They don’t want to hear about the power of one!  First, they want simply to be heard.  They want to be acknowledged and not feel foolish for feeling powerless.  Then ideally they want the power of many.  They want the circumstances fixed ~ now!  Of course, that’s the psychologist’s job:  to help put their predicament in perspective and to stay withe them until they are willing to move forward again.

Portfolio workers

Increasingly though, work & organizational psychologists help people who run portfolio careers. Portfolio workers often consult us when they are feeling powerless, or unappreciated!  The reality though is that they have massive power.  In a sense, each person works in a niche.  In reality, they work at the nexus of a great network.  Everything they do, or don’t do, potentially makes a massive difference to the world.

Portfolio workers are the new bosses

There are many things that frustrate us and on which we voice an opinion in the pub or on a blog.  In the ‘olden days’, solving those problems would be in the gift of a ‘boss’.  In our interconnected world, we can do anything about anything.  Because we are so powerful now, we need to take the responsibility of ‘bosses’ on our shoulders.

Are we ready to change the world?

Do we really want to solve the problem in the way we say?  Have we thought about the side-effects?  Are we willing to take responsibility for the side effects?

We have become so powerful that the fun of complaining in the pub is over for us!

And use our influence wisely?

What we really have to do is to list all the changes in the world that we want to see.  Put them in order of importance.  Become sufficiently expert to understand the ripples that we will cause and the costs of our solution to other people.  And do it.

The interconnnected world is also a moral world.  Sitting around complaining when you have the power to act marks us as parasites.  But action requires moral accountability.

Are we willing to be accountable for the small things we do, and not do?

Positive psychology and an adult response to the financial crisis

The day I crossed the Rubicon to adulthood

It was a hot, in October. The rainy season was approaching but had not yet arrived. A fan was going full tilt in my office. Behind me, my windows were shut. Below my window, our lorries belched diesel fumes as they queued to exit the factory gate and take flour and maize meal for hundreds of miles around.

My phone rang and in the brisk and formal business culture of Zimbabwe, I answered it promptly: “Jo Jordan. Good afternoon.”

My caller came from outside the company. We had been at university together. And she had a lot to say about the local psychological association. I agreed. And said so.

Then I drew myself to a halt. I was the Secretary of the Association and had been for 3 months. If there was anything that needed to be done, it was my job to get it done.

And hence, I crossed an important Rubicon. I was no longer teenager/student/young adult . I was a citizen fully responsible for the way we ran our affairs.

When did you make the transition from adolescent to adulthood?

Some people never make that transition. Forever, everything is someone else’s responsibility.

Today, something in my feed caught my eye and jolted my memory of when I grew up on a stifling hot and dusty day when we were waiting for the rain and for the new agricultural season to begin.   The story was about the general loss of respect for employers in the wake of the banking crisis.

Employment is not a private activity

A feature of employment law is that the manager, representing the owner, knows best. It is an absurd assumption but some people insist upon it. When we do, we take on a mantle of responsibility, not just to the owners, but to people on whom we imposed our judgement. And to deliver, we have to manage events not just inside the company but outside too.

We cannot manage the rains, perhaps. But we are responsible for responding adequately to the weather, whatever it brings.

Our outrage at the bank failures and MP expenses

The reason why the bank failures and the MP scandals have shocked us so is not the professional errors themselves. Few people understand exactly what happened in the banks or the mysterious absence of accountants and auditors in the Houses of Parliament.

But we do understand that both groups claimed status that put their judgement above ours. And they weren’t able to deliver on their promises they made when they arrogated status about ours.

We are hearing arguments from bankers and MPs that the privileges of office must be sufficiently high to warrant the responsibility they carry.  So they do understand what they promised!  But their arguments are back to front, of course. First, they need to show they can carry out even the basic responsibilities of public office before we worry about awarding privileges!

All public office, being a prefect at school, being secretary of the sport club, and for that matter, being a director of a private company carries the same basic responsibilities.

Implicitly, we promise to

  • Speak up when something is blatantly wrong
  • Live up to the procedures of contract and documentation that our culture has worked out over the centuries
  • Understand where the world is going and make adequate provision for the range of events that might occur
  • Show uncompromising loyalty to the people we represent and presume to order about
  • Represent the whole team without whining and making excuses

There is a big difference between nitpicking and exercising our office responsibly

You may feel my argument is completely wrong

It may be that you see no connection between the behaviours I listed and things going right or wrong. If you don’t, I’d be happy to see a rebuttal but experience tells me that you will not advance a logical argument. You may argue that no one will notice any way. You will probably just dismiss me with contempt.

You may dislike nitpicking implied by rules

You may also have an inherent distrust of nitpicking. Exercising judgement and compassion, I would argue, is different. People who exercise judgement and compassion don’t hide behind rules. They judge the situation and manage it so that we achieve the outcome we want and help the person we assisted grow into a leader themselves – responsible, thoughtful, effective, loyal and with good moral & practical judgment.

You may feel you have no responsibility to anyone but yourself

It is also possible you see your job about looking after you and your own rather than every one around you and beyond. You are likely to have made up your mind on this point quite early in roles that you held at school, college and university. Early on, you will have decided how you would execute collective responsibilities.  Is the group there for you, or you for it? Did you speak up when things were plain wrong.  Or did you allow rubbish to accumulate thinking you would be out of the picture before the results became evident.

All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing

You will know your own opinion, of that I am sure, and you might tell me here.

But it is likely that I have divided opinion. One group will dismiss me with contempt and pity.

They other would like to know more about acting responsibly and would like to work in environments where responsibility is more highly valued.

Is it too much to agree with Edmund Burke that we all allowed the system to drift into such disarray?

Where are doing exactly the same thing – keeping our heads-down because we believe so little in the people around us that we don’t believe they will listen or care?  Where are we speaking up contentiously and carping and whining rather than engaging on matters that we are responsible for?

Should we begin by ticking off parts of the system that work well and doing more of them?

Wolf in sheep’s clothing or sheepdog in charge of the flock?

The lottery of Stumbleupon may have delivered an article on “luckiness”. Today, my fingers typed zero zero instead of OO and Launchy retrieved something dubious from the depths of my computer – a post modernist view of management.

Rants that pretend to have substance

Yes, I read that sort of thing, so you don’t have to – and just in case the author knows something we don’t.

I read a little of the article as I tried to figure out what I was looking at and how it came to be on my screen. I found a rant.

In short, Nike pays Tiger Woods as much per day as you or I earn in a year. And more than one of their workers earns in a lifetime. The writer was disgusted. I am sure the writer is correct – factually and morally.

But, when I looked more closely, I thought the pot was calling the kettle black. First, there was the rant. Then, there was some obscure theorizing. The author plainly didn’t see the his argument could be applied to him.  He lives in the West very well.   How many people around the world support his lifestyle with their poverty?

So, I wondered, what is a morally acceptable position?

I think we have to put our money where our mouth is.

Shouldn’t we be honest about what we will fight for and what we are trying to win – at least to ourselves?  Don’t we have to fight for the right we talk about?  Don’t we have to get out there and fight shoulder-to-shoulder with the people we champion?  Don’t we have to risk as much as they do?

Isn’t anything less hypocritical?

My 4 rules of a honest life

#1 It seems to me that as I cannot do everything with everyone, I should choose what I will do with whom, and join them, winning with them and losing with them.

#2 I think I have to tell the story from our own side.  Who did this post-modernist represent as he stood in his Western classroom?  I don’t know.  But I’d better know whom I am representing when I stand there!

#3 I need a clear goal.  And I prefer to be able to say it aloud in other people’s hearing.  I like to think through what the people who pay for my goal will have to say about it.  Not the people who pay me – the people who pay for my good fortune.  Will I be fleeing with them at my heels?  I don’t say this out of cowardice.  I am happy to annoy people if I believe in what I am doing.  But I am not going to pretend that my goals have no impact on other people.  Let me be clear about the inconvenience and upset that I cause.

#4 And not least, I need to respect that other people will pursue their goals equally vigorously.  To expect them to do anything less is crazy.  I may need to defend my projects from theirs.  If I find their projects totally unacceptable, I might feel compelled to stop them.  And I might get hurt in my efforts.   That’s why diplomacy is the preferred first strategy.   Perverting Clausewitz- war is just diplomacy continued through other means.

Player or spectator?

But just to rant?  Not for me.  I talk and write to figure out what I think, so that I can act.  I prefer to be a player.  Always have.

I very consciously chose to teach in Universities and to do consultancy because in these roles I am a line manager. I know that neither look like action to you!  But I am a psychologist, so it is in these roles that I run a business. I set the direction. I allocate resources. I solve problems. I am accountable for the outcomes. I couldn’t bear a role with no responsibility.

But that is my preference. What is yours? Are you a player?

The deep challenge for an ethical positive psychologist

.  .  .  this is all, this is perfect, this is it .  .  .

Words from my friend Anand Raj .  .  .

I had a great sense of relief when I read those words.  But in other times and other places these words would have driven me to suicide.  They would have heightened my panic.  I found the place unacceptable and any conversation I had with anyone needed to begin from that sentiment.

Positive psychology and despair

Because I’ve had these soul-destroying moments in past lives, I have deep doubts about some aspects of positive psychology.

I suspect the best that a positive psychologist can do when someone is deeply miserable is to AVOID theorizing.

I suspect our theory is little more than our distaste for someone else’s misery.  So our garrulous ways add to the alienation and horror felt by our companion.  And thus, is unethical if not immoral.

We need to walk-the-talk and keep the conversation on every aspect of the situation that is positive.   Gradually, we might be able to help a person out of their dark place.

Leading when life is dark

And when life is dark for us too, maybe the best we can do is to exercise leadership.

It is not helpful, IMHO, to deny that we are in a dark place.  We need to walk-the-talk, pay active attention to real threats, and take active steps to protect ourselves.  We need to focus on positive aspects – not to cheer people up but because of the genuine merits of those things – and highlight whatever is under our control.

From that appreciation, we may be able to move forward.

But leadership must be active and sincere – even from a psychologist working for money.  It’s not enough to talk about the people we lead.  We must share the journey.

The post I had planned for this morning is more cheerful.  I’ll post that this evening!

A casestudy of good HRM from Africa; and now from UK please

Giraffe Manor, Nairobi, Kenya

 

Image by Danny McL via Flickr

To keep our heads when those around us are losing theirs

We are living in calamitous times and it is not surprising that people are using strong words.  The essence of the credit crisis seems, for now, while we wait for a thorough post mortem, a bad case of “emperor’s clothes’.   What irony then that we act with scant regard for the technique of our respective professions, or the decorum we expect from people who wield influence.

Using African ‘names in vain’

Yesterday, I was shocked at the language used on Twitter to describe the detention of Corsi in Kenya.  I am not closely acquainted with the case but it seems Corsi arrived in Kenya to promote a book highly critical of Obama, who as you know was born in the USA of a Kenyan father.  Though I am not closely acquainted with the facts of the Corsi case, the accounts seem odd.  A) Would the profit on sales of a book in Kenya even cover the cost of the visit (are any books even on sale there?)  B) Kenya has just recovered from massive and murderous unrest and someone visits to provoke controversy? C) A US citizen arrives on business in a country he does not know well and he hasn’t requested prior assistance from his embassy (or has had his request declined)?

I have no idea which of these is true, if any.  What shocked me was the alacrity with which Tweeters referred to Kenyans as Obama zombies (@SmoothStone) and to the place where Corsi was being questioned as Torture House (@susan_s_smith).  Looking at their home pages, the first tweeter is Republican and the second Democrat.  I suggested to both that they apologise to African tweeters and only @susan_s_smith replied, unless I missed the other.  She was bemused at what might be offensive.

Emperor’s clothes

Returning to the times we live in, there are huge question marks about the way we are managing large powerful companies.  The Economist today summarized an article in Harvard Business Review suggesting managers should be held accountable for the effects of their management, in the same way we hold doctors, lawyers, architects and others to account for their professional competence.  It is time we lifted our game. Not to do so will lead to the equivalent of the credit crunch in other sectors too.

What we can we do

We are all guilty to some extent.  In HRM and related professions, we persist in muddling through and disregarding what we know to be the acceptable standards of our profession.  To link back to the Kenyan theme, follow this link to a newspaper article on HRM happenings in Nairobi.

Note the willingness of the newspaper to call the incompetence.

Note the ability of the newspaper to tutor its readership on what should be done.

Note the coherence and depth of the recommendations.

And above all note the temperate and professional language.

To those that way inclined, please desist from using cheap racist tactics of ‘dis’ing’ someone by invoking stereotypes of African incompetence.

To those of us who care about the professionalism of HRM, let’s move on to use the sound research done by our universities, and run our organizations in ways which we would make us all proud.   The Kenyan newspaper article sets a standard we can meet, should meet, and have no reason not to meet.  It is an excellent example for a university classroom and I have put it into my intranet.

I would like to add British case studies of equal professionalism that model for students

the HRM that we should be

HRM that adds value

and HRM that offers leadership in these distressing times.

If you have a case and you are not a blogger, I’d be most happy to host your article here, and even to write it with you.  If you are a blogger and you have a case, let me know and I will deep link back to you!

Have a winning day!

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“Go get your things. Dreams mean work”

I discovered Paulo Coelho this year. I am amazed I spent this long on this earth without finding his books.

His stories have mystical settings. By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept is about a woman and her childhood sweetheart who meet up again in their twenties to make a hard decision: should they get together or should he follow his vocation into a Catholic seminary and a life as charismatic and healer?

All Coelho’s books (I think) have a happy ending, but not a silly ending.   After many trials, the protagonists resolve to take the high road: living in solidarity with this world. These may be mystical stories, but they are neither fantasies nor escapist.

And the trials faced by the characters are never gratuitous. Each in itself offers a perspective on relating to the world and, I think, the tension between commitment and uncertainty.

They are a remarkably “open” read too. He has a light style that draws you into the story. And then releases you from time to time to ponder what he or one of his characters has just said.

Wikipedia describes the book as “a week in the life of someone ordinary to whom something extraordinary happens”. Read it at the end of a long week to ponder extraordinary people who live ordinary lives.