Category Archives: Reacting

Say What?

Ron White is one of my favorite comedians. He first came to my attention as part of the “Blue Collar” comedy tour (along with Bill Engvall, Larry the Cable Guy and headliner Jeff Foxworthy) some years ago. I remember that the entire night was a fun time, but it was Ron White who stuck in my mind. I have since quoted him several times in various pieces that I have written here.

One particular bit of his dealt with his penchant for mouthing off. This can be a great asset for a comedian, as it can lead to many great stories to relate to an audience. This bit resonated with me due to the fact, that even as difficult as it may be to believe, I too have had the occasional issue with keeping my mouth shut. Sometimes it has actually been beneficial. Some of the time, not so much.

Ron White likes to tell the story about his getting arrested. As part of getting arrested, he was read his “Miranda” rights. These are famously quoted in just about every police-oriented television show, whenever someone is getting arrested….

You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?”  (

Ron has often said that he may have had the right to remain silent, he just didn’t have the ability to remain silent.

It seems that I may have found myself in this same position, having the option to remain silent but not having the ability to remain silent, far too many times in my career, and probably in life in general. With that in mind, I thought I might go through things that I hope I may have learned in traveling down this somewhat bumpy road. There are both benefits and detriments to walking this path.

I guess from a strictly age point of view I sort of qualify as a baby boomer generation. ( Although it is interesting that according to the test, I am not strictly a boomer. I guess I was either late enough in the generation, or enough of a forward thinker that I didn’t seem to entirely qualify.

Being a “boomer” meant I presumably went to school, played sports and participated in activities where there seemed to be very little worry about my self-esteem. Passing was based on what you earned, not based on the issues that would be faced if you did not pass. Trophies were awarded to those who finished either first, second or third, not based on participation. It was okay if there were winners and losers in activities because it was competition based.

I won’t harken back to these times and pronounce them a better time, because it is possible that they were not. It has yet to be determined because there is not enough information on the current status quo for comparison.

There is that fact finding, data-based approach to things that I like to use rearing its head, as opposed to just positing an opinion and claiming it as truth.

It is somewhat interesting in that I have actually heard “OK boomer” which I understand is supposed to be some sort of a mild insult when uttered by someone of a younger generation. I find this to be rather humorous as opposed to insulting. I have been told that I also have something of a “different” sense of humor. However, when I considered the source, and responded in kind, which I usually do, regarding that younger generation’s perceived peccadillos, it didn’t appear that my response was as well received. It seemed that even though I didn’t feel particularly insulted when I apparently should have, that it didn’t mean that the person who uttered the insult wouldn’t feel insulted when I responded in kind.

This is precisely the open mouth approach to things that I wanted to discuss. The learning topic here is that just because someone smarts off to you does not mean that they will take a return comment in kind well. This is usually especially true of management. They might, but don’t just assume they will.

Opening your mouth will usually get you noticed. Believe it or not this will usually be a pretty good thing. Being noticed, or better put, the ability to be noticed favorably can and will be a benefit in your career. Those that choose to keep their mouths shut and go about their work will take longer to be noticed in their roles by management and others, than those who speak up. How people will perceive you when you open your mouth will vary, however getting noticed is an important first step.

“There’s no such thing as bad publicity’ is often associated with Phineas T. Barnum, the 19th century American showman and circus owner. Barnum was a self-publicist of the first order and never missed an opportunity to present his wares to the public. As with many other supposed quotations, there’s no hard evidence to link the ‘bad publicity’ quotation to him.”

The proverbial expression began to be used in the early 20th century…” (

This is a quote that will work well if you are running or working in a circus. Be aware that just because you may consider it a circus, does not mean everyone considers it a circus, regardless of how many clowns you may think are present. This can also become another hard-learned lesson.

Speaking up is one of the best ways to be noticed. Being right while speaking up is even better. It is that second part that has a tendency to trip a lot of people up. Make sure you do in fact know what you are talking about and are able to support your opinion with data and facts.

One of the greatest contributors to how you are perceived when you speak, is the content that you convey. Having command of the subject matter. Being knowledgeable about the topic. Having done your preparatory work will all come across when you talk. “Sounding” like you know what you are talking about may enable some to temporarily pass, but actually knowing what you are talking about becomes apparent to all in attendance very quickly.

How you address topics when you speak will also affect your perception. As previously mentioned, I usually chose a fact and data-based approach. This approach as noted lends itself to doing your homework and being prepared. Again, early on in my career this approach seemed to work well. Bringing data-based facts and solutions to the table seemed to be the right thing to do. I have continued to use and bring forward this analytical approach to my business communications to this day.

This is the part that can start to cause some issues as you matriculate up through management. As I said being noticed can be good when you are providing answers and solutions. As you matriculate up, the breadth and value of the topics discussed increases. Providing fact and data-based answers that do not entirely coincide with management proposed or desired directions can rapidly become a source of friction.

Questions that were once asked looking for an answer, can eventually become questions that are asked in looking for a particular answer. These particular answers usually come in the form of supporting the previously determined direction or solution. It should become quickly apparent that answering a question with what you feel may be the best fact-based answer, may not always coincide with the current or desired direction or response.

In other words, there will be times when management will ask a question looking for validation or agreement with the solution or answer that they have already chosen or would prefer. It may not matter that the facts and data do not fully support their position. It just may not be what they want to hear.

It is at times like these that I have found myself in Ron White’s afore mentioned position of having the right to remain silent, but not having the ability to remain silent.

What I have learned, eventually, was to pause and understand if there was in fact a desired answer that was being looked for, or if it was indeed a direct question. If there is a sought-after answer, look for those aspects that can be publicly agreed with and address those. Then, at a later, not so public time, try and address those issues and concerns that you feel need attention.

Instead of providing an answer that could be viewed as opposing the desired position publicly, you can be seen as providing input that will be thought of as enhancing or strengthening the desired solution.

It has taken a (very) long time for me to learn some of this. I am not so sure that I have mastered it yet. I have the right, I’m just not sure I have the ability.


There are very few among us who get to go through their professional careers without having to deal with some sort of adversity. I think this is pretty much a given. To be trite to the point that it almost pains me to type it, it is how we deal with this adversity that separates the truly top end from the rest of us. Sometimes dealing with this adversity has the added benefit of providing us with something called perspective.

This one is already becoming difficult for me. I think you will understand when I get into why in a little while.

When we think of adversity we normally can think about things such as difficult market conditions. Especially if you are associated with any sort of equipment or infrastructure sales in today’s capital constricted markets. Adversity can take the form of a difficult boss. I like to think about the pointy-haired fellow in the Dilbert comics by Scott Adams. Adversity can take the form of a difficult assignment, or the requirement to find your next assignment or even the next job. Obviously, adversity comes in many forms.

To one extent or another I think we have all been there. All of these examples (and many others) constitute difficult environments and situations to either find yourself in, or experience. They require a certain amount of fortitude and focus to get through. But that is just the point. They are situations to get through. With work, focus, effort and the proper attitude they can be traversed.

I think that deep down we all understand that, even when we find ourselves in those uncomfortable places. We should focus on the resolution, and finding our way to it. It is only when we take our eyes, and minds off of this goal that we run the risk of a longer-term failure as opposed to a shorter-term set-back. Still, I think we have all seen it happen.

I might get into mind-sets and methods of dealing with this type of adversity at another time as well.

I’m going to talk about a different type of adversity.

One year ago, today, my eighteen year old son was diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes.

Now we are talking adversity.

Admittedly it is not as much as many face and endure, but it also has added a great deal of perspective for me when it comes to talking about and dealing with things in the professional world.

Most of the time I talk about issues, topics and observations in the first person, and what I have done, either correctly or incorrectly in dealing with them. However, this is one where I can’t. It didn’t happen to me. It happened to him. For whatever reason, his pancreas stopped creating insulin. Mine still does. His doesn’t.

I like to think of myself as a leader. Someone who solves problems. But this was one issue that I couldn’t find a resolution for.

“Type 1 diabetes, once known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Insulin is a hormone needed to allow sugar (glucose) to enter cells to produce energy. The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown. Usually, the body’s own immune system — which normally fights harmful bacteria and viruses — mistakenly destroys the insulin-producing (islet, or islets of Langerhans) cells in the pancreas.”

Every time we eat our bodies break down the consumed food into components that are used to sustain our bodies. One of the key ones, as noted above, is sugar to produce energy. Diabetes inhibits this process.

A little more than a year ago, we noticed that our son was losing weight, was getting lethargic and was drinking a ton of water. I credit my wife with spotting the symptoms first. At this point he was almost six feet tall, and weighed close to one hundred and twenty-five pounds. We got him into the doctor, and then we got the diagnosis.

After two nights in the emergency room on an insulin drip to get his blood-sugar down to an acceptable number, he was discharged and set out to deal with the adversity of being a diabetic – for the rest of his life.

This was not a temporary set-back. This is forever, for him. I had broken bones, dealt with various sicknesses, had bad bosses, and looked for new jobs, and all other sorts of set-backs. I think as I said, deep down I knew these adversities would pass.

He was dealing with his first real adversity, and it wasn’t going to pass.

As a parent, and the nominal leader in our house (Make no mistakes here. I like to think of myself as the leader, someone who solves issues, however my wife is the “boss”. I refer to her as “The most powerful woman in the universe”. At least in my universe.) this was something that I could not fix or resolve. I had to recalibrate how I dealt with this since it was by no means going to be temporary.

But I am a reasonably experienced individual. I’ve been around. I’ve gone through a lot.

My son was just eighteen. He was finishing his senior year of high school. He was already accepted into a good university. This was supposed to be a great time in someone’s life. The rites of passage. The beginning of the transition to adulthood. The last of the truly carefree times in life.

I don’t quite know what he thought, but I thought it was unfair.

I watched for any telltale signs on how he was taking this. He had gone from being able to eat, drink and do anything, like any other teenager, to having to be totally aware of what he was eating, drinking and doing, in order to maintain a healthy blood-sugar level.

What I watched as time passed, both astounded me, and made me proud.

It astounded me in that I didn’t see any changes in my kid. I was angry at the randomness and injustice of this, but he wasn’t. He was the same laid-back and happy guy that I have always known. He was facing adversity and not letting it change who he was, and is.

I was proud in that when I asked him about it, he was philosophical about it, and it seemed to be way beyond his years to me. He said he decided he wasn’t going to change because he now had diabetes. He would still eat, drink and do what he wanted, but he would now just add monitoring his blood sugar to the process.

I was proud of him in the way he was dealing with it. He said that at first, he was angry, but then he realized that being angry wasn’t going to change his situation. It was something that happened. He realized he couldn’t change it. So, he had quickly come to terms with it. And besides, he really wasn’t the angry type.

I was still angry. I probably still am, to some extent, even a year later.

Here was an eighteen year old who had never faced any adversity to speak of, let alone adversity of this type, basically schooling me on how to handle it. Here I was, someone who had gone through the highs and lows of business, the lay-offs and the promotions, pretty much all of it, and I was learning from him a perspective that in retrospect I probably should have had, to one level or another from the beginning.

He is now nineteen years old, and has finished his first year of college. He is still a diabetic, but he has put the weight back on and is now a healthy, but slender six feet tall and one hundred and sixty pounds. It is still an adversity that he has to face that will never go away, unless a cure is one day found.

We have tried to automate and simplify his regimens with the addition of Constant Glucose Monitors (CGM) and Insulin Pumps that are attached to him so that he no longer has to prick his finger to test his blood, nor use a syringe to inject the required doses of insulin.

Adversity comes in many forms. I don’t want to try and equate the adversity that occurs in business with real adversity. I learned this through watching someone I really cared for come to grips with and deal with the adversity that he faced. I also saw that although I thought what he faced was great, there were those that faced even greater adversities, many of which might not be able to be dealt with, and in many instances despite all efforts might have to be accepted on an even more painful level.

I was going to end this with some nice quote about adversity. None of them felt right, when looking at the adversity that is faced in business when compared to my son. I think this has to do with my perspective that has been gained relative to adversity. I’ll go in a little bit different, but not entirely unrelated direction here. Charles Swindoll said:

“Life is 10% what happens, and 90% how you react to it.”

If that’s the case I think my son is going to do pretty well in business, as well as in life. And I think I have learned a lot about how to deal with adversity from him.

An Acquired Taste

Chances are that if you work long enough for companies in the public domain you are going to get to participate in either the acquiring of another company, or the being acquired by another company. Acquisitions and divestitures are a fact of life in the business world today. Companies continue to grow and change and acquisition and divestiture are one of the fastest ways to rapidly remake an organization. Having already been through a few of these types of management and organizational changes in past lives, it is very clear that both the change itself, and the time anticipating and leading up to the change can be a challenge to your leadership capabilities, not to mention your sanity to try and get through.

There are all sorts of trite adages and sayings regarding change that can be inserted here. I’ll leave to everyone to insert the one that they are most comfortable with. The bottom line here is that when there is an acquisition, you truly have a change.

No matter how much due diligence the acquiring company has done, they cannot be aware of all the capabilities and the people that make up the organization that they are acquiring. And no matter how much communication the acquired organization provides its staff, and no matter how much research has been done on the acquiring organization, no one can be fully prepared for the new management philosophy and new management structure that will be imposed after the acquisition.

Divestitures and acquisitions are interesting phenomena in that there are a disproportionately large number of people being affected by the change, with only a disproportionately very few who actually have any sort of input to or affect on the change itself. So, everybody ends up worrying about the coming change, but there are very few, if any who actually can do anything about it. The fact that they can’t do anything about the change doesn’t stop people from focusing on it almost to the point of total distraction.

Reinhold Niebuhr seems to be the source of the quote that everyone uses in times like these. Oddly enough it is known as the “Serenity Prayer” and it goes:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

I actually like this starting point, so I’m going to look at it in application to a business acquisition or divestiture.

Unless your organizational title begins with the word “Chief” and ends with word “Officer” chances are that you are probably not going to be consulted about any corporate acquisition or divestiture. It may be hard to believe but it seems that there are any number of individuals within an organization that feel this is truly some sort of mistake or oversight.

It’s not.

Unless an individual has the wherewithal to rapidly assemble another, competing acquisition or divestiture bid from another corporate entity or capital fund, this is the way it is going to stay. They are not going to ask for everyone’s, or possibly anyone’s opinion. The acquisition or divestiture is not going to be changed. This is where that “Serenity” portion of the prayer comes into play.

As difficult as it sounds, leaders cannot afford to spend time (read: waste time) worrying about the outcome of the acquisition. They need to remain focused on the achievement of their and the teams goals. At this point the team’s responsibility isn’t changing. Further the leader needs to keep the team as a whole, as well as the specific individuals within the team focused on their objectives as well. It is not an entirely easy thing to do.

This is where the “Courage” portion of the prayer comes into play.

As part of any acquisition or divestiture, decisions regarding who will be a leader in the resulting new organization and who will not, are going to be made. It is somewhat frustrating to all involved in that again a relative very few will be making decisions for the relative very many on these topics. As uncomfortable as that may sound, that is the way it is going to be. However, all is not left entirely to chance.

One of the key aspects that will be weighed and taken into account with these leadership decisions is going to be performance. It probably won’t be the only aspect reviewed, but it will be a key one.

Individual and team performance are items that can be changed. Leaders must have the courage to change their own and their team’s performance. They can probably change it for the worse by worrying about the acquisition or divestiture, or they can change it for the better by maintaining the focus on the business goals at hand. While it may be impossible to ignore the pending business change, it is probably best to acknowledge as an event that cannot be changed and move on to the topics and goals that can be changed.

There is a great disclaimer in just about every financial investment prospectus document that I have ever read. It goes (and there are several variations of it available):

“Past performance does not necessarily predict future results”

We have probably all seen it. It is a US Government Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) mandate that it be included in every investment prospectus.

So what do we do? We go and look at the investments that have done the best over some period of time, and select those to invest in anyway.

If they have done well in the past, we expect them to continue to do well in the future. What else do we have to go on? Are we really going to select those investments that have underperformed in the past in the expectation that they have obviously learned from those mistakes and they will henceforth only do better in the future?

I don’t think so.

My point here is that when the business organizational change is done and the decisions regarding positions and leaders are being made, one of the very few items that a leader can affect is their performance. And despite what the “disclaimer” may say, I think it is probably safe to position that past performance in business and leadership roles is a good predictor of future results.

It may not be the only input taken into account, but it is one of the very few that an individual can change.

That doesn’t seem to stop people from worrying about the outcomes of any acquisition or divestiture based changes though. I guess this is only natural. When there is uncertainty, people will have a tendency to focus on those uncertain aspects. This is also where that “wisdom” portion of the prayer comes into play for a leader.

A leader cannot deny or ignore the uncertainty that their team members or peers for that matter will feel with the pending organizational changes. To do so would only exacerbate the issue and create different forums for these concerns to be aired. That will not be a constructive situation for anyone involved.

As I noted above, team and individual concerns regarding the organizational and structural changes need to be acknowledged. They are real. There may not be much that anyone can do about them, but they do need to be acknowledged. Once the concerns are identified, the leader needs to walk the team through the known information and structure and restate what is currently unknown.

By identifying the unknown aspects of the pending changes, they are in essence then contained, and a brief discussion as to what the team and its individual members can do about them will be in order. The key here is the public acknowledgement of the concern and the discussion about what can be done to correct the situation.

This in turn will drive the team and individual acknowledgement that there probably isn’t much that they can do to address these topics. Neither the information nor the ability to modify these concerns resides in the organization. The team focus can then be shifted back to those topics and concerns that the team can affect and address which primarily are their objectives and performance against those objectives.

Acquisitions and divestitures of organizations are the business equivalent of tectonic shifts. They are truly events that are only dealt with and responded to as there are very few things that organizations can do to plan for and work on to address them. By their very nature, these sorts of changes and agreements are kept from the public eyes for all sorts of legal and competitive reasons. It is always this type of required secrecy that generates concern and disruption in all the organizations involved.

The fear of the unknown and the uncertainty that it generates regarding the future can be debilitating to an organization going through an acquisition or divestiture. In times when this has occurred it is the leader’s responsibility to have the wisdom to keep the team focused on the aspects of the business that the team can change, as well as the courage to acknowledge and address the concerns associated with items that cannot be changed.

I am not so sure that anyone gets to have any serenity in times of pending organizational change, but demonstrating wisdom and courage will probably get the team through.

Darwin and China

I think it is safe to say that we are all experiencing some sort climate change. I am not just saying that because it is one hundred and four degrees here in Texas. It is mid-August in Texas. It is always one hundred and four degrees in Texas in mid-August. Remember Climate is what you expect. Weather is what you get.

What is interesting about this year in Texas is that we had almost four feet of rain in the first five months of the year, and now it hasn’t rained since then. That is a little odd. We have had something of a drought for the last few years where all of the water resources were way below normal. Most municipalities had instituted water conservation rules because of it. Needless to say, there were a lot of dirty cars because we could not wash them and a lot of brown lawns because we could not water them.

We then had a short period of a few months where it rained a lot and filled all the reservoirs to literally over flowing. Everything got green and lush. Most importantly, the golf course fairways were lush and the greens were soft. Life was good. And now we are back to no rain, a drought, but with full lakes. And on top of that it’s August and really hot, again. Go figure.

There are many that would like to point to man as the cause of this perceived global climate change (global warming). I am not entirely convinced of this causality since the geologic record across hundreds of thousands and millions of years indicates that we have had multiple periods of global glaciations (ice ages) followed by significant periods global warming in the past. I’m pretty sure that man didn’t cause these as he (we) weren’t around for most of them. It is possible that man is potentially affecting or exacerbating this cycle with carbon emissions and the like but with a data sample of only a few hundred years (against a historical record of millions of years), as I have said, I am not sure I am entirely convinced.

Be that as it may, this entire introduction regarding environmental change brings up the topics of how do you recognize environmental change, and how do you cope with that type of change. As always there seems to be some significant parallels between what is going on (and has gone on) in the environment and what businesses are facing on almost a daily basis.

Darwin in his “Origin of Species” postulated that organisms either adapt to their environments, or they go extinct. This is pretty interesting stuff when you remember that he figured this out by looking at some little birds in what are now Galapagos Islands. This is now a basic tenet that we all seem to agree on.

It is those that adapt to their changing surroundings that survive.

About ten to eleven thousand years ago North America experienced a period of rapid warming associated with the end of the last glacial period. During this time lions, cheetahs, mastodons, and various types of bears that were present in North America went extinct. It is interesting to think that there were lions, cheetahs and mastodons as little as a few thousand years ago in North America, and that they are now extinct. That is a veritable “blink” of an eye in climate or geologic time.

It is believed that several of these species were unable to adapt quickly enough to the changing environment associated with the post glacial period warming and began to die off. It is then thought that other species in that particular food chain (predators and such) also began do die off as they could not quickly enough adapt to utilizing other prey. The net result is that they are gone, and we only know about them here because of the bone and fossil record.

When we look at what is going on in the various markets, not only in the Americas, but globally, we see similar adaptation and extinction events occurring. Businesses and organizations must be quick to recognize shifts and changes in their environments and be agile and flexible enough to be able to adapt to them.

This adaption – extinction pressure requires businesses and organizations to continually perform a balancing act between their desire to codify and stabilize the activities and functions that allowed them to succeed yesterday into a repeatable format, and the ability to be flexible and change these activities and functions in order to meet the new demands of the environment (and the competition) of tomorrow.

There is an old joke that if you are a member of the group that is being chased by a bear, that you don’t have to be faster than the bear. You just have to be faster than the slowest member of the group.

This idea works for a while, until the bear has caught all the other members of the group that are slower than you. Now you had better be faster than the bear, or able to figure something else out. Just running, like you always do is no longer good enough. If you don’t change, you are probably in line for the next personal extinction event.

All this leads to the rather simple position: Changing environments require businesses and organizations to change.

We have all heard the platitudes that organizations have with respect to change and their ability to change. They have to plan on change. They have to react to change. The only constant is change (a particular favorite of mine). This is all well and good. They may or may not do these things. It appears certain that if businesses cannot accept and come to grips with the idea that the way they are doing things today will not be good enough “to outrun the bear” tomorrow they may not get to see the next “tomorrow”.

Climate change may involve the possible change of tenths of a degree across tens or hundreds of years. It is not constant or consistent, as demonstrated by the fact that average temperatures have actually declined slightly in the last few years. It seems the past changes were small and slow, but it was enough to send multiple species into extinction, rather rapidly when looking at things from a climate and evolution time frame point of view.

Such is not the case in business.

Over the last few days the Chinese government has “officially” devalued its currency, twice. In global warming terms this is the equivalent of announcing tomorrow the world will officially be five degrees warmer and good luck to all you seals, walruses and polar bears. This move in China fundamentally alters a business’s ability to move products from other countries into the world’s second largest market by making them significantly more expensive, and at the same time makes products manufactured in China far more competitive in other global markets by making them significantly less expensive.

A business that finds itself on the wrong side of this type of import-export governmental cost equation manipulation has a very short time to change its model for doing business. Maintaining that a company is flexible and that it prides itself on its ability to change isn’t any good here. When there is a recognition that the environment has changed, there needs to be the accompanying recognition that in reality the bear is now running faster.

The only thing that counts in a situation like this, or just about any other situation where a business is confronted by a reality that is in conflict with its current operating model is, does the leadership recognize the new environmental reality, and do they have what it takes to get to the new required business reality? Discussions, meetings and attention to process improvement do not “change” the need for a new approach to doing business when you find yourself in a change or extinction situation.

Sometimes the changes in the business environment occur like they just did in China. They are blatant, easily recognized and either drives a business response, or extinction. However sometimes they are more similar to the changes associated with global warming in that they have occurred slowly, and somewhat erratically and inconsistently over time. There will be those (like me for instance) that recognize and agree that an environmental change is occurring but differ on the attribution of its cause, and there will be those who deny that any change has actually occurred.

It is very clear though that in either case there comes a business morning where you wake up to an unseasonably hot day, and smell bear breath over your shoulder. What you change and how you change will then decide which side of the adaptation – extinction equation you are on.

I think Darwin would be agree.

When Friends Resign

A friend of mine resigned a while ago, and I don’t know if I have consciously or unconsciously avoided thinking about it as a topic. Enough time has passed where I think I can look at it at least reasonably objectively.

I have often talked about the conflicted feelings that occur as a result of corporate layoffs. On the one hand there is compassion for those that seemingly through no fault of their own are tapped on the shoulder and told that they don’t have a job anymore. On the other hand there is the necessity for the company to adapt, resize and redefine itself for the new market and financial realities that it is facing. The resulting guilt, fear and uncertainty of the accompanying survivor’s syndrome for the employee’s that remain after watching their friends leave, are detrimental to both the employees and the company. Hence the evolution of the preferred corporate approach of making and implementing the changes quickly so that the focus can return to the business at hand also as quickly as possible.

But what happens when your friends leave of their own accord?

There are also many conflicted feelings that occur when a friend leaves, but I think they are slightly different. In a layoff, there was no choice. Friends are told they no longer have a job. When friends resign we all know that they made a cognitive decision. It was their choice. In the former situation there is a little “there but for the grace go I…” and a little of the afore mentioned survivors guilt. In the latter we all ask: What do they know that I don’t?

Successful business has a lot to do with good leadership and the accepted team approach to achieving the goals. Not everybody can be the leader, but everybody needs to demonstrate leadership. Not everybody will be in full agreement with the leaders, but everybody needs to align with the designated objectives. There is always a mixture of satisfaction and gratification along with frustration and dissatisfaction in all that we do in business. It is how well we are able to balance these conflicting feelings and emotions that will usually have a lot to do with our individual and team success.

The usual process is to create the team, assign the roles, define the objectives and begin their pursuit. The team members begin to mesh and friendships inevitably arise. New teams, roles and objectives will come, but the friendships that are established usually remain. These relationships evolve into our “networks” and support systems.

These are the people that we go to lunch with and who will listen to us when we have not yet fully internalized the directions and objectives that we now have.

When they decide to leave it makes us all take a moment to pause and reflect. The inevitable question that comes to mind is: Why did they decide to go when I have not? Have I missed something?

It has been my experience that career change decisions are invariably made in isolation of any friendships. Most of my friends who have made these types of changes did not tell me or consult with me before they made them. The contemplation of any career change is a personal thing and not to be taken lightly. The support or opposition of a friend to a possible change can modify both individual’s behaviors today and in the future.

Plus, once it is spoken of, even as a remote possibility, the potential career change secret is out. The sharing of a potential career change opportunity or decision could also cause issues with peers and management in any current assignment. If the potential change is not realized, the issues caused by the consideration of it would continue to remain.

In speaking after the fact to friends who have left in the past, I have found that they normally leave for basically one of two general reasons: to increase their satisfaction and gratification related to what they do, or to decrease their level of frustration or dissatisfaction related to their current roles and situations. The first reason is looking forward to something better. The second is looking back at something worse.

The increase in satisfaction can come in the form of more money, promotions, more responsibility, titles, etc. This can be seen as part of the normal progress in a career. As one matriculates up the management line, the number of available “next step” positions becomes increasingly small. Sometimes it may be viewed as necessary to step outside of the current structure to keep a career moving.

The decrease in dissatisfaction can come in the form of the desire for a more stable work environment (no prospect of layoffs) better alignment and utilization of individual talents or better alignment between work and management styles. Misalignments in strategies, cultures and management styles can contribute to and accumulate dissatisfaction to the point where an exit may be required just maintain some semblance of sanity.

In many instances it seems to have ended up being a combination of all of the above.

There is normally also some sort of minimum differential barrier that must be overcome in order to get someone to decide to leave their current role. This could be considered the “barrier to exit” (as opposed to an economist’s barrier to entry). Most everyone will put up with some amount dissatisfaction in their current role. Most everyone will also put up with some lack of satisfaction in their current role. This can be due to the time, effort, pay level, etc. that has them vested to one level or another in their current role. Please notice that lack of satisfaction and dissatisfaction are in fact different. The lack of happiness doesn’t mean that you are unhappy. It just means that you are not happy. I think you can go a lot longer not being happy than you can go being unhappy.

But how much does it take to cause someone to go past the barrier to exit tipping point? Again it seems that there are many factors. Careers and career trajectories, corporate positions, directions and performance, and time, as well as the status of the greater employment and opportunity markets will all come into play in either lowering or raising the barrier to exit.

I think that this is probably a long winded way of saying that as individuals we will all react differently to the stimuli, both the positive and the negative associated with our positions. We all create our own barriers to exit. Sometimes there is a desire to leave, but no opportunity elsewhere. Sometimes there are opportunities elsewhere but no desire to leave. Either case could be considered a high barrier to exit situation.

I think we all either consciously or unconsciously keep track of our own barriers. It is only when someone we know has consciously overcome their barriers and resigned that causes us to pause and question. We wonder if our barriers are too high and are we missing something. We also wonder if theirs were too low and were they too rash.

I believe the answer is that anyone that makes a career decision either to stay or to go, has probably made the right decision for them. It is not good to judge your own happiness based on the happiness of someone else. It is probably equally inappropriate to judge your satisfaction with your position or career based on the position or career satisfaction of someone else. They have made a choice and are probably happy with it, just as you may or may not have made a different choice and should be happy (or at least not unhappy) with it.

Still, you can’t help but wonder.

I wish you fair winds and following seas, my friend.


I am pretty passionate about what I do and the responsibilities I have. It makes me opinionated about what needs to be done for the benefit of the business. It drives me forward and I think it has probably been a key element of my successes in business. If I am going to sign my name to it, or be responsible for the results generated, I want to believe in it and have input to it. I understand that I have my point of view. I understand that there may be points of view other than mine. When I encounter these other points of view I usually try to convince these misguided souls of the errors of their ways by demonstrating to them the superior logic and position of my point of view. These interchanges are usually called arguments. I have learned over time that before I engage those with opinions that are different than mine in an argument (or high energy discussion if you prefer), that I need to wait.

Discussions are about participants exchanging ideas. They are usually about a search for something, be it more information or a better solution. Arguments are about the participants trying to convince each other that the other participant is wrong. When you get into an argument basically one of two things can happen. You can be right and win the argument, but at what cost? Or you can be wrong and lose the argument, and again at what costs?

Discussions have a collaborative element to them. There is benefit to be gained by both parties. Arguments are a zero sum gain situation. Someone will win and someone will lose. Like a boxing match in arguments there can be knock outs, technical knock outs, unanimous decisions, and split decisions. Occasionally there can be draws or no decisions, but those are relatively rare outcomes of any argument. Arguments are meant to be won, otherwise why engage in them?

I once worked at a company where culturally the “right” and “wrong” of an argument did not matter as much as the passion and rigor that was employed in the argument. This meant that an acknowledged “wrong” outcome could be the result of an argument if the arguer was vehement and passionate enough about their position. It was a culture of arguing, not discussing. As you might suspect that was quite a learning experience.

Being passionate and opinionated about business are key elements that drive leaders to both achieve and succeed. Left unbridled or uncontrolled these elements can create an argumentative environment. If a leader formulates an opinion and then is unwilling to look for more information or a potentially better solution, there will be no room for discussions. There will only be arguments. Eventually there will be fewer and fewer of those as they are generally viewed as unproductive. With no discussions and fewer arguments, a leader had better hope they are correct in the formulations of all their opinions.

When I was a kid my dad used to tell me that he was not always right, but he was never wrong. I guess I didn’t get to win many arguments with him, despite however I might try. He also told me that he might not always be right, but he was always the boss.

Winning an argument usually means that you have to prove the other person wrong. Depending on how this is done it can be either a constructive experience or a destructive one. I think we have all been in the position where someone is so far out on a limb in their argument and in our opinion so far out of touch with the realities of the situation that it is difficult not to publicly saw it off out from under them. While this act can provide momentary pleasure it causes issue with the person on the limb and it will cause issue for those doing the sawing.

Publically putting someone down in business, regardless of how badly they deserve it, or possibly need it will only lead to a reputation as being someone that puts people down. It will not enhance your image. It will not make you a better leader. It will just make people a little more careful about what they say around you. If this is your object, then go for it; however be prepared to be shown no mercy in the unlikely event that at some time in the future you may actually be wrong.

The key point here is that there is a significant difference between being passionate and opinionated about what needs to be done, and being argumentative about what needs to be done. Very few people will venture into an argument believing that they are wrong. They like you will believe that they are right and will want to do what is best for the business.

We all have a pride of ownership associated with our ideas and plans. This is what makes us want to defend them so vigorously when faced with questions or alternative proposals. The idea here is to wait before engaging in an argument. That is correct, wait.

There will always be time to argue. Once the argument is started it usually can’t be stopped. It took me a while to learn this one. In school as in just about anywhere else, it was encouraged to argue your position. That was because you only had an hour or so in each class and like your favorite detective show on TV a solution had to be arrived at within that hour.

In business you have more time than that. Business does move quickly, but not so quickly that you cannot afford to sleep on any issue that may be the genesis of an argument. If you still feel the same way about the situation in the morning then you can argue. However it has been my experience that you won’t.

You will have had time to cool down and avoid the immediate emotional response. You will have had time to evaluate, even if it is subconsciously, the other person’s opinion and position to see what if any merit it may actually hold. You may be better able to participate in a discussion instead of precipitating an argument.

In short, by learning to wait you may be able to make sure that everyone is a winner instead of having to have someone lose in an argument.

Automatic Default Setting

I have a friend Leif, who lives up in Wisconsin. He used to live in Texas and moved BACK to Wisconsin of his own volition. This fact in itself should provide some insight into the type of individual that Leif is. Be that as it may, I still consider him a friend. We stay in touch via electronic means. I keep track of him in some small way because Leif loves to post on Facebook. He posts a lot more than I do. Sometimes he posts things that I wish I had posted. I don’t post much on Facebook. Many times he posts things that I am proud to say that I had no input into, no contact with and would not have posted even if I did. It could be said that Leif swings at just about every electronic pitch. When you do that there are going to be a lot of whiffs and foul balls, but on occasion you will make good contact and knock one a long ways. Leif recently posted a Facebook link to a Youtube video about a speech given by David Foster Wallace at the 2005 commencement at Kenyon College called “This is Water”.

This was one of Leif’s home run posts.

I have a tendency to look at the interconnected nature of things and how information that may be applicable in one realm is actually also applicable in another. This may provide some insight into what type of an individual I am. The realm that I usually end up trying to apply this interconnected information to is the business environment. Sometimes I see the hyperbole and Monty Python-esque absurdity of what is going on. I know I am dating myself here, but sometimes there just is no other theater of the absurd that can fit the reality of business like the Pythons with their “Minister of Funny Walks” and “Lumberjack Song”. Sometimes I get what I hope is a real flash of insight into something that may be useful in actually continuing to navigate the difficult business waters. I am hoping that David Foster Wallace, via Leif might have provided me a flash, along with a little absurdity, that I will try to apply to our business world and pass along here.

Mr. Waters in his speech discussed the fact many times in life we will find ourselves on what he called our Automatic Default Setting. He described the automatic default setting as the way we deal with things when we are not consciously thinking. This idea struck a chord with me. The idea that we have an automatic setting in how we deal with the world around us seemed to me to be pretty applicable to how we deal with the business environment as well.

The idea of automatic default setting was used primarily in addressing the mundane such as driving in traffic or standing in line. The net of this approach was that it leads to viewing people in these instances as obstacles slowing you down and being in the way. Is this beginning to sound familiar to anyone’s work environment?

I am going to pause here a moment and note that in business I have found that occasionally…okay, more than occasionally, in fact pretty often this automatic default setting is so accurate that it is painful. What I found particularly interesting and applicable is that Mr. Wallace did not dispute this in life either. What he looked at and brought forward was that people have the ability to be aware of their default settings and instead of perceiving the world through them; they can choose to instead to be aware of them. This will affect how you think. This is always a good thing.

Now this sort of discussion of self awareness is usually reserved for some sort of existential high-brow literary artifice. That is not going to happen here, mainly because I don’t think I know how to act high-brow. People who know me can probably corroborate this statement. One of the points that Mr. Wallace did make was that being aware of your automatic default setting and choosing not to operate at that setting takes effort. It takes a will and a willingness to not to just go along without thinking. You have to be able to consider possibilities that are outside the standard way that you think. However, if someone asks or tells you to think outside the box, you can probably be reasonably assured that they are operating on their standard default setting.

It is my experience that there may be some people who may not be able to operate on any setting other than automatic default even if they wanted to. I am not trying to invalidate Mr. Wallace’s supposition here. I’m just saying.

With this rejection of the automatic default setting, we may need to revisit our beliefs that the Sales teams are a bunch of over promising, money driven, lying swine. We need to realize that they may not in fact be lying all the time but probably only when they are talking. We need to reject the setting that all finance and accounting team members are slow moving, detail oriented, conservative, money driven sloths. We need to understand that we only see them in the business environment and that at outside of the office they may not be entirely conservative, particularly when it comes to decisions regarding their footwear and whether or not they get the oil in their cars changed before, after or exactly on the recommended mileage.

All joking aside, I found David Foster Wallace’s approach to being more aware of the everyday items and thoughts that we take for granted, that we utilize our automatic default settings on, to be scarily accurate. It takes effort and will to think of each event, person and process as a potentially new experience that should not be treated to the same default setting response. If we ever wonder why we, our business or our company seem to continually be asked to solve the same problem multiple times, it could be because everyone has their default settings on and we provide the same responses to what we perceive as the same stimuli.

Changing gears just a little here, we come to Albert Einstein who said something along these same lines. Einstein said:

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Is it possible that we seem to do the same things over and over again because we have our default settings on and don’t bother to take the effort to consider the possibilities associated with something new? We have already seen it, or something like it and it is just easier to revert to our default setting, respond and move on. I don’t know if Mr. Einstein and Mr. Wallace would appreciate me correlating their works, but like I said, I do have a tendency to look at things inter-connectedly.

I have already taken the opportunity to put Mr. Wallace’s ideas into practice. We have all had business issues that seemed to have a circular nature to them. Group A was dependent on Group B for an answer. Group B was waiting on Group C for input. Group C could not get the information it needed from Group A. I am sure we have all been in more than our share of these types of solution merry-go-rounds. They seem to becoming more the norm than the exception. They can go on for weeks. By taking the step back and not accepting that these issues were the norm and by relooking at the “standard responses” we were able to break the cycle and start making progress toward a solution. We took the process off of autopilot, required something other than the default setting response, and started to make progress.

I don’t know if Leif will ever be able to provide another post that will resonate with me the way “This is Water” did. After all, the previous several hundred did not. Just since I started work on this topic he has already posted two more items regarding opportunities and drinking. It is interesting in that both of these later posts seem to have several “Likes” whereas “This is Water” did not get that sort of appreciation. Maybe some of these people need to change their automatic default settings too.

Thanks Leif. I thought “This is Water” by David Foster Wallace was excellent.


Businesses prize individuals that work well in a crisis. We have all seen this. A situation becomes very tenuous and the fire drill starts.The fire fighters are called in. A great deal of activity and commotion ensues,and then usually a good result is obtained. The crisis team’s and the firefighter’s reputation continue to grow.


This has always seemed to be a dysfunctional organizational structure and habit to me. Much the same way that the public is urged to “help prevent forest fires” instead of becoming better fire fighters, we should urge management to do the same. Business leaders need to anticipate business situations and take action to avoid a crisis, instead of allowing a crisis to occur and then applauding those that fix it.


There are some very simple steps to anticipating, avoiding and preventing a crisis. The biggest step is to be realistic. Understand the state of the economy and plan appropriately. Understand the state of your industry and plan appropriately. Be aware of your sales and expense monthly/annual profiles and don’t bank on the fourth quarter “hockey stick”. Have a back-up plan ready if you should need to adjust to changing conditions. Track your progress in the numbers. You know that your management will.


Finally, act early. If you are deviating from plan,smaller course adjustments to your business plan early in the year will help you avoid the necessity of drastic changes later in the year. There will always be a need for fire fighters. A good leader who anticipates the needs of his business just won’t need them as often.