I just published an OpEd piece in American Military News after looking at the FY 2019 DoD Budget again. I can’t believe we aren’t asking for more Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles. The Reason? We are going to build a new Land Attack Missile by 2028…..that’s around 10 years folks! Any bets on a 2028 delivery? Anyone? Bueller? Anyone? Anyway, I think the piece says it all, so I invite you to read it. Here’s the link to the article…..Closing the Tomahawk Line is Risky Business.
Today’s missive is about the failure of success. This phrase is a take on the one coined in a paper I often reference by Dean Ludwig and Clinton Longenecker entitled The Bathsheba Syndrome: The Ethical Failure of Successful Leaders. This came to mind once again as I was reading the morning paper and discovered an article on yet another Naval Officer pleading guilty to bribery and conspiracy charges in conjunction with the Fat Leonard debacle. Here’s another sad failure of a successful individual. Perhaps this commander was an otherwise decent guy. But how does a decent guy, a successful Naval officer, wind up in the throes of bribery and prostitution? Before I sound too self-righteous, I should point out that there is a dark side to each of us. I just finished reading a great book by Christian Miller entitled The Character Gap: How Good Are We? The theme of this book was that we all are some mixture of good and bad. Most people wind up between the extremes. Surprisingly, we tend to think we are not a bad as we might actually be, and we almost always overlook our flaws. This problem of human nature gets magnified when we become successful, making it all the more important to constantly evaluate our behavior. The book ends with some strategies to keep one on a virtuous path. There is one interesting strategy worth mentioning here, “nudging toward virtue.” The basic premise is that there are little “nudges” you can make which tend to move one towards a more virtuous life. The analogy used is called “Fly in the Urinal”. There’s an airport in Europe that was having real trouble with maintaining cleanliness in the men’s room. Signs urging guys to pay more attention to doing their business apparently didn’t have much effect. By engraving the image of a house fly in the bottom of the urinals, spillage decreased 80%. The signs were a hammer, the fly was a nudge, but many times more effective than the hammer. (I’m reminded of the sign in the men’s room at Penn Station in New York: ONLY ONE PERSON PER URINAL) Nudges can be little things, giving blood, giving a homeless person a buck at a stoplight, a quick thank you to the janitor, etc. While nudges won’t necessarily turn things around, they are a reminder that each one of us could do better.
Back to failures of success. Examples are everywhere. I always introduce myself as a ‘twice-failed” retiree.” I just can’t seem to get this retirement thing right. Many small businesses fail because they are wildly successful as an 8(a), but fail to make the transition to big business. Football teams can be highly successful for 58 minutes of a game, only to revert to a “prevent defense” for the last two minutes. They stop doing the things that made them successful for most of the game and the opposing team takes advantage of this lapse. Senior leaders destroy brilliant careers by outrageous behavior. They, too, abandon what made them successful all their career.
It seems to me that the worlds of success and failure are very much alike:
Success or failure does not always relate to level of effort. Luck plays a role. Other people play a role. Events beyond your control play role. This is why it is so important to reflect on the results of your labors. Was I just lucky this time?
Success or failure tend to have unintended consequences on those around you. They may be impacted, even though they may have had nothing to do with your behavior or actions.
A single event can make you a success or a failure, but a single event rarely turns the tables. If you are successful, analyze why and keep doing that. If you have failed, realized that there’s probably a long road ahead to turn things around. (Note to self: Insert Luigi the Bridge Builder Joke here)
Success and failure can be unfair. As they say, “A rising tide floats all boats”, but just as easily, one bad apple can ……yadda, yadda, yadda.
Success and failure can happen randomly. Most leaders say one makes one’s own luck by setting the favorable conditions. Throughout my life, I’ve been lucky enough to have the successful surprises outnumber the opposite.
Both always bring the judgement of others on you, good and bad. Some are envious. Some are resentful. Some feel vindicated. Some are happy/sad for you. Regardless, you will be judged.
So how does a successful person avoid the “failure of success”, succumbing to the Bathsheba Effect? How does one stay on the success side of the fine line?(This is a good place to point out that I firmly believe that the more successful you are, the more susceptible you become to the failure of success.) Besides the aforementioned Nudge to Virtue, Here are a few of tips I found useful:
Set the Standard. Make sure all who work for you know YOUR standard. A particularly useful way to do this is to send out a memo on what your expectations are and how you expect business to be conducted. Include topics like who pays for lunch, how you expect gifts to be handled, what can and can’t be in an email, etc. If people know what you expect, they will generally deliver, but you have to tell them first.
Use moral reminders. Set up a system to make sure you are adhering to your moral compass. Have an ethics topic of the day at staff meetings. I found using my EA as a moral reminder was effective. If I was scowling during a meeting, he might pass me a note that said “Smile.” Just think of something to keep yourself grounded and use it.
Seek role models. Nothing beats having a good role model to fall back on. It doesn’t have to be someone who you can talk to (although that helps) Read about those you admire. Study their character traits and think about how they might react to a situation
Attend to “Nagging Feelings.” If you find yourself mulling over tough decisions again and again, or if you are spending a lot of time justifying a decision, then something is wrong. If it’s bugging you, then you probably need to do some more thinking. Someone once said, “A clear conscience is the softest pillow.” It’s true. I suppose the corollary is “A guilty conscience is a bed of nails.” Bottom line is to listen to that little voice in your head.
Fill the “Knowing-Doing” gap. This is a hard one for people that move into leadership positions. One of the “separators” between leaders and followers, is that leaders don’t have the luxury of looking the other way. If you know about something, you must take action. Once people are confident that you take action on the things you know need fixing, they are far more likely to take action themselves.
Seek Advice. This is closely related to having a mentor, but is really all about realizing your limitations and knowing when to ask for advice on an issue. Having another perspective on tough issues can be very helpful and healthful.
Practice Ethical Fitness. Think a little each day about how you are preparing for the next tough decision. Listen to the news and think about how you would react to situations. Work a little daily at making tough decisions so that when the chips are down and you have little time to make a decision, your ethical reflexes kick in.
Get out of the office. Walk around. Talk to people. Watch what’s going on. Read the bulletin boards. Have lunch in the cafeteria with employees. Don’t let the small cloud of sycophants and head-nodders surrounding you keep you from knowing what’s really going on.
Listen to (and value) all opinions. You don’t have to agree with or heed all the advice you are given, but it sure helps to know what others think.
Reflect. Set some time aside for reflection each day. Insist your staff schedules it and protects it. Don’t let them fill it up with other meetings. It doesn’t have to be long…15 minutes is fine. There are plenty of people over you that can intrude on your time for reflection, but don’t let your staff do it.
Be a role model. Pretty simple. You are a role model, rather you want to be or not. Remember that while it may not seem like it, everyone is watching what you do, what you say and how you say it. They are like your young kids sitting in a car seat. They are listening to everything you say and are happy to provide the grandparents with a complete rundown of what was said.
I’ve been meaning to put together one of those “What’s Out, What’s In” lists. Recently I was speaking at an event and I came up with an abbreviated list of outs and ins that I thought I would share. You know the list I’m talking about? The Washington Post usually puts one in the Style section in the week between Christmas and New Years…probably because all the highly-paid writers are off on holiday, so the hoi polloi stuck in the office get the task of putting one together. Lately the list has served as notice to me that I seem to have lost track of what’s hot and what’s not in the world these days. Here’s a link to this year’s list. I got about 10% of the items. Swedish Death Cleaning? What’s that? I did think the “Plastic Bags Stuck in Trees ⇒ Cardboard Stuck in the Gutters” was pretty funny, given the huge number of Amazon boxes in circulation. You could spend all day clicking on the links to try and understand the humor, but why bother when I’m about to give you a much easier to understand list? Feel free to send me some more and I’ll put them in. Here goes:
OK. That’s all I could come up with on short notice, but it’s a fun exercise to think about what seemed to be so critical 365 days ago is all but forgotten now. Every time I do this exercise, I am reminded about the progression on leadership themes I have seen in the Navy since I was a midshipman. Let’s see if anyone remembers: Day-long Sensitivity Training, Management by Objective (MBO), Total Quality Management (TQM), Lean, Six Sigma, Navy Enterprise Model, Accelerated Learning, Business Process Reengineering. I can still see the TQM workshops with the red and white balls in my mind as well as watching videos of Demming droning on. I remember when it was declared that all SES and Flags should be at least a Brown Belt. I’m not quite sure what management fad we are in now, but if you have some ideas, please comment. By the way, I hope this page looks decent. It taxed my knowledge of HTML to get columns into the article…And harder still to get them to stop. By the way, for all you retired Flags and SESers, I will be happy to collect your brown belts and sell them on consignment.
This is the second part of an article on trust. In Part One, most of the discussion was on whom I did not trust and why. Of course, everyone wants to be on the other list, the “I Trust” list. In the last article, I asked that you take some time to make your own list of those you trust and don’t’ trust and to think about why they fall on a particular list. The ultimate aim for you to strive to be on everyone else’s “I Trust” list. It’s a great list to be on.
Whom do I Trust?
I had a tougher time coming up with a list of those I trust because I found that unless someone had done something to violate my trust, most people were on my “I Trust Them” list. There are some obvious ones that I won’t dwell on: parents, brother, wife, children and their families, close friends, etc. There are some outside of my immediate circle of family and friends that I do think are worth mentioning:
My pilot. Many years ago as a Bombardier/Navigator flying A-6 Intruders I found myself completely dependent on the aviation skills of the person sitting directly to my left, my pilot. Over the years I may have trusted some more than others, but I never jumped in a jet without complete confidence that we were going to get home safely. There were no flight controls over on my side, so I guess I didn’t have much of a choice.
The flight deck crew. More than 1000 times I placed my life in the hands of the young Sailors who were responsible for maintaining my airplane,hooking it to the catapult, ensuring the correct amount of steam was dialed in, directing my Intruder back to the carrier via radar control, setting the arresting gear to the correct weight and taxing the jet to a safe parking spot. Over the course of a deployment, I came to know many of them personally….but not all. And still I trusted them completely.
The Post Office. Oddly enough, I trust the Post Office to deliver important mail, almost without question…I send my tax payments, pay bills, and Christmas cards and expect them to get there, on time and intact. If I didn’t trust them, I suppose I could use FEDEX, UPS or some other private courier, but they are expensive. Because I trust the Post Office to deliver, it’s not worth the cost and, in truth, FEDEX has lost a very valuable shipment (my golf clubs). I’m reminded of the scene in Miracle on 34th Street when Fred Gailey does such a masterful job of describing the Post Office. Unfortunately, his main point is the US Postal Service is an arm of the US Government, and that alone should prove that it’s efficient, effective and reliable- not necessarily these days. A recent Gallup Poll revealed 47% of Americans have little or no confidence in their government. (ED Note: The Lovely Mrs. Crenshaw disagrees with me on this one….yet she still sends lots of payments through the US Mail..I’m just sayin’)
Amazon Prime. You can count of one hand the number of times that Amazon has missed a promised delivery date. When they do miss, I get a message letting me know that something’s going to be late. So I trust Amazon not only because they have a track record of delivering on their promises, but also because they let me know when they are going to fall short of my expectations. This is an important concept for leaders to ponder. Those who work for you will not always be right, or deliver on your expectations. But if you let them know that you trust them, more often than not they will deliver and your trust level with them will increase. I always expected that everyone who worked for me was doing their jobs and didn’t spend a lot of time checking up on them. If something went amiss and they had told me about it, then I may not have been happy, but I did not lose trust in them. On the other hand, if something went wrong and I didn’t know about it, not only was I unhappy, but I also lost trust in that person. As a result, I had to check on everything they were doing and eventually I just didn’t give them anything to do.
Banks. Call me naïve, but I just don’t worry about the safety and integrity of my deposits. I’ve had a hiccup or two throughout the years, but unlike my parents, I keep the majority of my money deposited in bank accounts. I mention that because as my brother and I have been going through things in the old family home (My Dad passed away a couple of years ago and my Mom now lives in an assisted living facility) we found some cash just stuffed between the pages various books. My Dad kept a giant safe in the house with a substantial amount of cash in it. They never had credit cards, and on the rare occasion they travelled, they used cash. They were a product of the Great Depression and no doubt didn’t trust banks as a result. I know that there are constant cyber threats which seek to challenge the integrity of the banking system, but I trust my financial institutions to stay on top of things.
The pilots in the cockpit of my next flight. Why not? If I didn’t trust them I guess I would drive. Of course, I have no idea who they will be or what their safety record is. I trust that the various players in that chain have followed all the rules and regulations and that the pilots themselves have enough integrity to know when it’s not safe for them to fly. I know there are occasional reports where a crewmember has been removed for being drunk but they are not frequent enough to affect my trust. In reality, it’s not the individuals I trust, but the institutions which govern the pilots’ behavior. I assume that such institutions are one of those that the 53% of Americans do trust . I just saw in the news that 2017 was an extremely safe year for American-based airlines, with zero casualties related to accidents. My trust seems well placed, for now.
Factors in Trust
So why do I trust those on my list? I won’t comment on my trust of family and friends, except to say that in almost seven decades they have never let me down. It’s why I’m generally a trusting person. I know that not all of you will trust every family member, spouse or certain friends, most likely because they violated your trust. That gets to a point I made in the previous article, lack of trust because that trust was violated. Here are some factors in fostering trust:
Reliability. Many people and organizations I trust deliver on their promises regularly and reliability. It’s important to note that those organizations don’t always deliver, but the ones I trust are really good about keeping me informed when they know my expectations may not be met. When they miss the mark, I have confidence that they are looking into the whys and wherefores and they will do better next time. If you want others to trust you, you have to deliver or “fess” up when you fall short.
Empathy. I trust those that I think are considering my concerns when they are making decisions on my behalf. Those decisions may not always be the ones I would make, but at least they considered my point of view. This is the principal reason many Americans lack trust in the Hill at present. A December 2017 Gallup Poll on approval rating of the US Congress found that 78% of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing. I submit that most of the problems on the Hill come from a lack of trust among them. Neither side of the aisle trusts the other, so nothing really gets done. People compromise when there is respect for and trust in the views of others. Violation of confidentiality, constant partisan bickering and “he said, she said” confrontations all erode trust. To be trusted in your dealing with others, they must feel that you care about their views, not necessarily agree with them.
Honesty. If I find out that someone was not honest with me, I will not trust them. Honesty is fundamental to any trusting relationship. There’s a presentation on Ethical Decisions in the Insights tab of the CCA Website, and it has a section on honesty, truth and truthfulness, so I won’t rehash that here. I do want to say a word about my previous comment about telling the truth and being truthful. I’ve seen this get people into trouble again and again and as a result, they lose credibility and sacrifice trust. You know what I’m talking about here. Remember the old gag in The Pink Panther? “Does your dog bite?”
Same thing here. Carefully crafting answers that are true, but not truthful is a quick ticket to the “Don’t Trust” list.
Track Record of Trust. If I tell you something in confidence, I expect my wishes to be honored. People who have proved themselves trustworthy by respecting my wishes in the past are likely to stay on my trust list until proven otherwise. In the electronic age this is hard to do. There are so many ways that you can inadvertently blab something said in confidence and the next thing you know, it shows up on Facebook. Being able to openly express opinions is part of a healthy debate, but be sure all know the ground rules before getting started. I go to a lot of events with Chatham House Rules. If you want a whole bunch of folks labeling you as untrustworthy, violate that rule. However, a word to the wise. Nothing in the world of public affairs is “off the record.” I am very choosy about whom I choose to speak to “in confidence” and you should be too!
Hope this wasn’t too long. I’m sure you have your own criteria for whom you trust. But spending some time thinking about how you earn and keep the trust of others is very important as a leader or executive. Whether on the battle field or in the boardroom, trust is a key aspect of your effectiveness as a leader. If people don’t trust you, it’s going to be awfully hard to get them on the bus. There used to be a paper floating about with excerpts from British Navy fitness reports. One of my favorites was “his men would follow him anywhere, but only out of sheer curiosity.” Make sure your followers are not just curious, but trusting as well.
PS. Please excuse my misuse of who and whom. I know I have violated the who or whom rules. But “Whom Do You Trust” sounds so pretentious. My old English teachers are all rolling in their graves and I apologize to them.
OK, I know it’s been a while since I sat down and put some thoughts on paper…One of my New Year’s resolutions it to do a better job. Frankly, for me, writing these articles is a way to organize my thoughts and to vent (but not too much). And it seems that of late one risks a great deal by exposing one’s thoughts to the universe of tweet-ers, facebook-ers, linked In-ers, and web lurkers, given the apparent lack of tolerance for anything but the most extreme views. There. I feel better.
On to “Who do you trust?” I think it’s a good time to consider this question, especially in light of the “fake” news craze, endless exposure to unverified “Breaking News”, and a Congress seemingly motived by party politics and reelection fever over trust. I admit that’s harsh, but I’m pretty sure when you make a list of who you trust, your representatives on the Hill won’t be on it. I really don’t know what to think when I hear our elected representatives constantly using the most extreme superlatives, good or bad, when describing each bit of proposed legislation….It’s either “the most devastating blow to the middle class since the Great Depression” or “historic legislation which will restore the American Dream.” Really? Can it be that bad or that good? I don’t think so and hence, I don’t trust what is being said.
I’m thinking this will be a two-parter….There’s too much to cover in one article, so I will focus on who/what I don’t trust and why in this article. Tomorrow, I will follow up with who I do trust and why.
First, I encourage you to make your own list of whom you trust and don’t trust. After you’ve done that write down some reasons why people appear on each list. Here’s my list:
Airline Flight Status. Airlines always recommend you check with them before heading to the airport….I’ve yet to check on a flight that still three hours away that says anything but “On Time.” I’m talking about normal operations, no big storms or computer meltdowns in the offing….just an everyday trip to the airport. So I bop on over to the airport, go through security, check again on flight status (On Time) and head on over to the gate. I’ve got a nifty app on my phone that lets me see where the airplane is coming from so I can check on it….Lo and behold, my airplane is 30 minutes behind schedule ….but at my gate it still says “On Time.” If I ask the gate agent, usually I get a “nothing is showing on my system” reply. Eventually, they have to come clean and the announcement is made that there’s a delay. Now they post a new departure time, usually wildly optimistic, that they have no hope of making….I’d much rather they use technology and post actual status….6 minutes late, or 15 minutes early. By the way, ever had a delay because the aircrew was late arriving from another flight? The airlines know that way ahead of time. Why don’t they put a status up that reflects that? I don’t trust ‘em.
Network News. Ever listen to the Today show? It always starts off with one of the personalities saying, “BREAKING NEWS!!! Blah blah blah”. Gosh, it must be important one would think…But turns out it’s not “Breaking” at all….and it has only a 50% chance of actually being something important. Why must everything be sensational? I just want the news, and if nothing big happened today, well I’m OK with that. My other problem with network news is that they, too, have become slaves to the extremes. I actually can shape the news I get by choosing which channel to listen to, left or right. Not sure I know of a middle-of-the-road channel, so I really have to watch several channels to get some sort of balance. I wind up only watching the sports news, because it’s usually accurate…..Army beats Navy, Redskins lose, etc. They just haven’t figured out how to fiddle with the scores yet. (Although I will say that they have figured out a way to tweak election results so sports score tweaking may not be that far behind). Imagine channel surfing between sports shows to find the scores that you like. “Hey, Navy beat Army on Channel 4!”
Weather Reports. Apparently actual temperatures are not very news worthy, so weather guessers have invented wind chills and heat factors. It’s not so interesting to say it’s going to be 15 degrees tonight. Instead, why not say, “We are going to have serious, life threatening wind chills of minus 5 tonight somewhere is our listening area. Stay tuned as this story develops.” Huh? Why say “There’s a chance of snow tomorrow” when you can say “I can’t rule out the possibility of over 12 inches of snow and blizzard conditions similar to Antarctica will be here tomorrow because the Manchurian model says so.” And why are we naming storms which we used to label northeasters except to make them seem as serious as a hurricane so the viewers will “stay tuned”? Since when has a cold spell become a “Bomb?” Everything the weather reporters say always emphasize the extremes. I’m interested in their best guess about what’s likely to happen, not their speculations on how bad it might be. They seem to be just opposite.
Congress. It’s all about the extremes over there too. Apparently, nothing can be solved by compromise, so they have invented ways to ensure the extremes always win (or lose). I get a kick watching coverage over there. It’s always the leadership slinging superlatives right and left while surrounded by 5 or 6 colleagues looking concerned. I would feel like such a dope standing in the background, nodding my head and furrowing my brow while having absolutely nothing to say. I always wonder what the stand-arounds are thinking. “Do I look concerned enough?” “I wonder if they are having meatballs in the cafeteria today?” “I hope they see me standing here back in the District.” Who knows what they are thinking?
The Internet. Anyone can say anything and it’s all recorded, attributable, unrecallable. Who thinks hitting the “Recall Message” button works? All it really does is highlight a message so that I want to see what was recalled and try to figure out why. By the way, as far as email goes, you don’t even have to send it….It’s still there lurking in the drafts folder just as if you hit the “Send” button. It’s only one fat finger away from being accidently sent. Heck, Amazon knows what you are going to buy before you buy it and they pre-position your future purchase so you can get it quicker. We are not that far away from having your thoughts zipping through cyberspace. (By the way, I do trust Amazon to deliver something when they say they will. Don’t you?)
Factors of non-Trust
I guess I’ve said enough to get me in trouble, but before I leave the subject of non-trust, I thought it might be interesting to think about why things/people show up on the non-trust list. I’m also interested in what’s on your list.
History of being wrong. I guess this one is obvious, but worth a comment. If you tell me something and it was wrong, I’m probably less likely to trust what you say in the future. It helps if you come to me and admit you were wrong and to express a desire to be more accurate in the future. There are plenty of reasons to be wrong, so fess up! Just remember, I tend to trust people who have a track record of being right. The weather is usually never as bad as the worst-case scenario pushed by the TV forecaster, so I tend to take what they say with a grain of salt. By the way, I woke up this morning with a white driveway, yet there was no mention of any precipitation for the next 24 hours.
Shifting reality. I don’t trust people or things that seem to change based on convenience, personal benefit, discovery of the truth, or crowd-think. Airlines know that flights aren’t “on Time” usually well in advance. Why not say so when they know? Sure, they eventually are truthful, but only after they have no other option but to be truthful. People are sorry after they get caught…..not while they are doing illegal or hurtful things.
Inward focused. When people are self-focused, saying and doing what’s best for them, not for others, I don’t trust them. One can usually tell when the “What’s in it for me?” rule is in effect and I find it hard to trust someone who hasn’t at least considered the consequences of their actions on me and others.
Agenda over truthfulness. If I sense that someone is more focused on their own agenda at the expense of being truthful, then I don’t trust them. They frequently are unresponsive to facts, seeking alternate facts (Whatever that means). This results in a situation where the opinion of others is seldom valued or even considered. I don’t trust people who develop solutions that haven’t considered all perspectives. I don’t think that many who seek our trust are intentionally un-truthful. They may “think” they are being truthful, but because they are so focused on their agenda, they have conveniently overlooked facts which don’t contribute to their version of the truth. Remember, one can tell the truth without being truthful.
Violation of Trust. When you have trusted someone who then wrongly takes advantage of your trust, it will be difficult to ever trust them again. This is the most important factor I consider when determining who to trust. Have they ever violated my or someone else’s trust? If so, they wind up at the top of my “Do not Trust” List.
It’s useful to spend some time to think about trust and who you do and don’t trust. More importantly, thinking about why people wind up on one of those lists will serve you well when a new person pops up. What list do you put them on? Is it possible to change lists? Probably the most important outcome of this little drill is to think about where you fall on other peoples’ lists. This article was about a list you don’t want to be on and the things which will put you there. We all want to be trusted, but we must earn that trust by our actions. Next time, how to be on the “Trusted” list.