Is It Really Better To Ask For Forgiveness…?

I’ve been hearing this way too often lately. “It’s better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.” It’s catchy. It sounds just enough like wisdom to pass for wisdom. But does it have any substance? Does it give us any moral guidance?

I hope no one believes it’s always better to ask for forgiveness. That would justify, for example, date rape in cases where consent was not clear. So let’s consider the statement, “It’s sometimes better to ask forgiveness…”

But this statement is fraught with questions. How do we know whether this situation is one of the sometimes where asking for forgiveness is better? What do we mean by better? Better for whom?

Here’s a headline from an article in today’s issue of my local newspaper: “Native site may delay $3.8B pipeline”. A Native American archeological site has been discovered during the construction of an oil pipeline. Delay costs a lot of money. Should the pipeline company bulldoze right through and then ask for forgiveness? (Assume the penalty would be a fine rather than an order to stop the pipeline completely.)

Your answer reveals something about your value system. In all cases, when you’re asking this question you’re in a situation where you’re contemplating doing something that you believe A) is deemed to be wrong (or at least questionable), or B) will not be well received by certain people. Then you do a cost/benefit analysis. Once I take this action, does the probable benefit outweigh the probable cost to me?

For instance, suppose you have an opportunity to close a very large sale, but the prospect wants a delivery date that the production and service people will view as completely out of the question. Do you call them to discuss it, or do you promise the delivery date and close the deal? You know they’ll be pissed off, but you know you won’t get fired. You’ll get your anatomy chewed and they’ll have to figure it out. Again, your decision reveals something about your value system.

It’s also important to understand that this decision does not take place in a vacuum. There’s always a context. How often do you make decisions where you choose to ask for forgiveness? Is this a truly rare situation, or are you constantly doing it? The more frequently you ask for forgiveness, the more likely your associates will realize you don’t care about them. You care about only what you want and what you can get away with.

I believe there are indeed times when it’s better to ask for forgiveness. Suppose, for instance, that your driver’s license is suspended and someone you’re with suffers a life-threatening injury. Do you drive them to the emergency room? Of course you do.

It seems to me that this issue boils down to a matter of frequency. You might be proud of boldly moving your agenda forward. But be careful; this is a slippery slope. If you too frequently act in ways that require forgiveness, people will know you don’t really care about them. They won’t trust you. They won’t respect you. In my opinion, that’s too high a price to pay. But, of course, that’s my value system.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

How Can You Rapidly Fit In To A New Culture?

This is a question everyone must confront at some time, whether you’re a recent grad accepting your first career position or you’re a seasoned professional making a move after 20 years with the same company. What can you do to rapidly engage with the new culture? The following five principles will take you a long way toward success.

  1. Do your homework to ensure a natural fit between you and the culture.
  2. Demonstrate a consistent positive attitude.
  3. Work hard.
  4. Make your boss’ priorities your own.
  5. Cultivate positive relationships.

Do your homework to ensure a natural fit between you and the culture. The single most important thing you can do to fit in involves knowing yourself and learning about the company before you even get a job offer.

 

During the recruitment and selection process, you must make a determination about the natural fit between your values and style and the company’s values and style. You should look for a situation that requires the least amount of change on your part. You’re in a good fit when your natural style just happens to be what works in the culture. The more you have to change to fit in, the more difficult it will be.

 

Invest the time to clarify what’s important to you, and what your natural style is. During the interview process ask questions that will help you make a determination about your natural fit with the culture.

 

Demonstrate a consistent positive attitude. I realize this appears to be a platitude, but it’s not. Positivity matters, and it’s visible on the surface. It’s one of the first things people notice about you, and first impressions matter a lot. Because positivity is contagious, you’ll have a positive impact on the workplace, which means you’ll be adding value right away.

 

Work hard. This is another apparent platitude. But once again it’s immensely important. Everyone appreciates hard work and it’s very visible. It increases the amount of value you’re adding. If you work hard and you have a positive attitude you’ll immediately earn a positive reputation in your new organization.

 

Make your boss’ priorities your own. I’m indebted to one of my mentors, Sigi Brauer, for this insight. This is about adding value. Value, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Demonstrate a sense of urgency in moving forward those things that are important to your boss. Again, it’s extremely noticeable, and your boss will sincerely appreciate it.

 

Cultivate positive relationships. Unless you cultivate positive relationships, you won’t fit in rapidly, and you might not ever fit in at all. The topic of cultivating positive relationships has filled many books, so I’m just going to emphasize a few basics.

  • Build trust. Be open and honest. Deliver on your commitments. Act in accordance with the following principle, articulated by Jim Meehan: “I mean you no harm. I seek your greatest good.”
  • Get to know people, and invite them to know about you. Learn what’s important to them, both personally and professionally. Take the time to inquire about their weekend, their vacation, and their family.
  • Celebrate their successes and milestones, both personal and professional.
  • Find ways to be help them, to make a positive difference in their lives.
  • Ask them for help. This might appear counterintuitive at first, but it’s very effective. Find ways in which they can help you. This demonstrates that you see the value they can add. It’s a form of recognition. It actually causes them to like you more.

 

To summarize, if you do only these five things you’ll maximize your ability to fit in and achieve success in your new organization:

 

  1. Do your homework to ensure a natural fit between you and the culture.
  2. Demonstrate a consistent positive attitude.
  3. Work hard.
  4. Make your boss’ priorities your own.
  5. Cultivate positive relationships.

 

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

 

Larry Sternberg

What More Can We Say About Building Trust?

Just for fun, I Googled, “How to build trust.” Google returned 523,000,000 results in .38 seconds. I apologize, but I’m going to make it 523 million and one. Most of the conversation I hear or read on this topic focuses on being trustworthy, which is supremely important. But there’s another aspect that doesn’t get as much attention: being trusting.

Being trusting is more nuanced than being trustworthy. Let’s begin by acknowledging that it’s possible to be too trusting. Think about the purchasing function, for instance. The risk of malfeasance is so great that it would be foolish to forego rigorous controls and oversight. Everybody involved in that process understands and accepts this.

But some leaders see every situation like the one described above. This lack of trust is rationalized in various ways: I don’t trust their judgment; I don’t trust their knowledge or experience; I don’t trust their intentions; I’m worried they might commit malfeasance; I don’t trust them to follow up. I’m sure you can add to this list. The result is lack of empowerment and more control mechanisms. People hesitate to take initiative. The organization becomes less agile. Morale suffers. And most importantly relationships suffer. When trust is low, you cannot create a high performing team.

I’ve worked with way too many leaders who are quite comfortable telling me they don’t trust one or more of their direct reports. Does this sound familiar? Why would a leader choose to work with someone they don’t trust? Sadly, often the answer is: they wouldn’t trust the next person either because they can’t bring themselves to trust anyone.

When trust is high relationships flourish, the organization is more agile, morale improves, collaboration improves and productivity improves. Readers might be interested in reading, “The Speed of Trust” by Steven M. R. Covey and “I Mean You No Harm; I Seek Your Greatest Good” by Jim Meehan.

You can’t create a high performing team absent a high level of trust. Being trustworthy is not enough. You must also be trusting, which involves risk. But let’s be honest. It’s a choice you can make. Find direct reports you’re willing to trust. The rewards are well worth the risk.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

Were You Fired Recently?

Some people never have to go through this experience. I’m not in that category. Getting fired is a painful, frightening, embarrassing experience. I don’t have any magic words to make you feel good about it. But I do want to encourage you to embrace it. Like any major loss in life, it happened. Embracing it doesn’t reduce the pain or sadness, but it does open you up to personal growth and wisdom. It does help you move into the future.

I once worked with a guy who told me – proudly – that he had been fired from his two previous jobs. He explained to me that he was not a quitter. He was completely determined to figure how to succeed. For him, giving up was not an option. If you wanted him off the job, you’d have to fire him. As his teammate I knew I could rely on him to give 100% every single day.

That conversation changed the way I thought about being fired. And subsequently it really helped me when I found myself working for a restaurant company and not succeeding in my role. I was a terrible fit for the culture. I told my wife I was not going to give up. It was extremely stressful. Every week I tried a new approach, but I couldn’t find the solution. Several months later, when the president fired me, I was enormously relieved. Although I’m not proud I didn’t succeed, I am proud that I didn’t give up.

Almost every person I know who has been fired finds a better job. And here’s why. What is the likelihood that the job you just got fired from is absolute best job you could find? There’s almost always a better job out there for you, but you’re rarely looking for it. When you’re forced to look, you find. This knowledge is of no help emotionally when you’ve just been fired, but it can help you embrace the situation.

Here’s my final piece of wisdom. At the time of being fired, you can’t tell whether it’s a good thing in your life or a bad thing. It certainly feels like a bad thing. But it’s only in hindsight that you can tell whether it was good or bad. It depends on where it leads you in your life’s journey. I know several successful executives who would tell you that being fired from a previous job was the best thing that every happened to them professionally.

Being fired is painful, and it might well kick off a very difficult period in your life. I encourage you to embrace it all – both the pain and the possibilities. Ask yourself what kind of person you want to be in this situation. Despite the pain, it can be a growth experience.

Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your stories about moving on after being fired.

Larry Sternberg

What Do You Say About Others When They’re Absent?

It’s so easy to criticize, to find fault, to tear others down – in large and small ways. How often do groups of employees go out after work and complain about the boss, or about other employees? This kind of activity is widespread. For some reason it feels good. But it certainly cannot be characterized as constructive. It increases negativity in the organization and hurts the people being discussed. This kind of behavior is most certainly not harmless. It does not reflect well on those who engage in it. There’s a reason people would not want their remarks shared with the targets, or with anyone else for that matter.

By the way, have you thought about what happens when you’re not present? Bulletin: you’re not in some special category that makes you immune. How much time would you like them to spend tearing you down?

I invite you to join me. Let’s quit doing this, and let’s quit condoning it. We’ll all grow in the process.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your comments.

Larry Sternberg

Do You Feel Trapped In Your Job?

There are too many people who don’t like their jobs. Almost every day is a bad day. This increases stress and anxiety, which has a negative impact on physical, mental and emotional health. In many cases, these people bring stress and negativity into their homes, which negatively impacts their family and friends. If you don’t like your job, if you’re frequently experiencing bad days, if you feel trapped in your job, this post is for you.

I firmly believe that organizations and supervisors should be intentional and aggressive about creating a culture where people feel valued, significant and fulfilled, a culture where people truly look forward to going to work. HOWEVER, I also believe that each of us must take responsibility for the outcomes in our lives. Your life decisions have put you in your current situation. You might feel trapped, but you’re not trapped.

I encourage you to answer the following question, “Why do I stay in this job?” Here are a few common answers. “It’s the highest paying job I can find.” Or, “It’s a necessary step to get to my career goal.” Or, “It’s a meaningful mission. I’m really making a difference.” It doesn’t matter what your answer is, but be honest with yourself, why do you stay?

Next ask yourself, “What’s this costing me? What’s it costing my family?”

The final question is, “Is what I’m getting out of this job worth the cost?”

If the answer to the last question is “No,” change something external. Change some aspect of your current job or start looking for another job, a job where you’ll look forward to going to work, a job where you have no problem saying that what you’re getting out of it is worth the cost.

However, changing jobs involves great risk and often great cost. You might not be ready for a life decision like this. You might decide that at this time it’s best for you to stay in a job you don’t like. That’s 100% okay, BUT in that case I encourage you to change you’re thinking. You’re not trapped if you’ve made a conscious decision to stay in the situation.

Embrace the situation and remind yourself that you’ve decided to pay this cost in order to receive the benefits and outcomes you seek. Stress is caused by resistance to what is. I know this isn’t easy, but you can make a commitment to work on it.

Here’s a very practical call to action. When you leave work after a bad day, and your friend or significant other asks you, “How was your day?” – DON’T ANSWER THE QUESTION!!! Answering the question will cause you to create more stress for you and those in your company. Be aware — in that present moment nothing bad is happening to you. Don’t let today’s events poison your evening. Say this instead: “Let’s not relive those events. I’d rather focus on having a great evening with you.” Then, of course, have a great evening.

For the record, I’ve experienced both situations. I used to practice law. I made good money but I wasn’t fulfilled. After a long period of introspection, I decided to make a career change, which required a substantial pay cut. I got into a career I loved, and I’ve never had a moment’s regret about that decision.

Subsequent to that, I had a job where I traveled 200 plus days per year on business. I hated the travel, but I loved what I got to do when I arrived at my destination. I had to constantly remind myself that the unpleasantness of the travel was part of the cost for me to do what I loved. I’ve never regretted staying in that job.

If you’re feeling trapped in your job, change something. Change some aspects of your current job or look for another job. If you’re unable to change something external, change something internal. Change your thinking. You’re not trapped if you consciously embrace your situation.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

Why Do We Need Better Succession Planning At All Levels Of The Organization?

Many organizations have a succession planning process for top executives, but they overlook the lower levels. A robust system would identify entry-level employees who have the talent to be great supervisors, supervisors who can become great department heads, and so on. You’d wind up with a vertical slice of high potential future leaders. Unfortunately, most organizations don’t invest much to identify and develop mid-level managers. The goal of this post is to help you realize the magnitude of the opportunity here.

What would happen if everybody in your organization had a great supervisor? I’ll tell what would happen. Engagement and retention would improve, quality and productivity would improve, and customer loyalty would improve. Those outcomes would increase revenue and decrease costs. Investing money identifying and developing great mid-level managers has the potential to deliver a huge ROI.

The success of your mid-level development program will depend more on who you enroll than on the quality of the development experiences. Regrettably, most organizations aren’t very good at identifying people with the potential to become great supervisors and department heads. They rely on performance metrics that have absolutely nothing to do with leadership potential. The most common example is promoting the number one sales rep to sales manager. The ability to close a lot of sales has nothing to do with the ability to manage others. When a person is assuming a brand new set of responsibilities, past performance does not predict future performance.

What if you became world-class at spotting leadership potential in entry-level employees? You can accomplish this with properly designed psychometric assessments. Then you can look an employee in the eye and say, “Don’t go anywhere. You’re the future of our organization. We see your potential and we’re going to invest in you.”

If you commit to this, you’ll gain a reputation for developing people, empowering them to move forward in their careers. You’ll attract more entry-level applicants with leadership potential, thus increasing your pool of possible mid-level leaders. As you identify and develop better supervisors and department heads your pool of potential senior leaders will increase. In addition to the other benefits I’ve mentioned, these leaders will have grown up in your culture. They’ll know what your stand for. They’ll naturally enliven your core values.

Improving your ability to identify and develop mid-level supervisors presents a considerable opportunity to drive the success and growth of your organization. I hope you go for it. If your organization is already doing this, I’d love it if you shared your lessons learned.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg