The Right Stuff (#133)

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the topic of praise and criticism and how it relates to Kim Scott’s perspectives around feedback. Another gem from her book, Radical Candor, is about being right versus getting something right.

Kim writes about a conversation she had with Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel, about Steve Jobs. Grove made the remark, “F-ing Steve [Jobs] always gets it right,” to which Kim replied, “Nobody’s always right.”

Grove’s response was, “I didn’t say Steve IS always right. I said he always GETS it right. Like anyone, he is wrong all the time but he insists, and not gently either, that people tell him when he’s wrong, so he always gets it right in the end.”

The recollection of this conversation from Scott’s book was recently triggered while reading an article about Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. When asked by CNBC contributor, Suzy Welch, what he looks for when he promotes someone into a leadership role, Bezos’ answer was “I want people who are right most of the time.” What can be inferred from this statement is that they are right most of the time because they’ve learned how to make the tough calls and focus on delivering the best results – even if it potentially goes against the opinion or perspective of Bezos.

These are examples of two of the greatest business leaders of our generation putting their ego aside to arrive at the best outcome; and it’s hard to argue with their results. What was most important to them is not that they be right, but that their teams get to the right answers, which ultimately means their company will get it right.

The best leaders want to be challenged and proven wrong by others, a concept that Ray Dalio, author of Principles, refers to as an “idea meritocracy.” The expectation behind this principle is that people be empowered to bring the best ideas to the table and challenge leadership. It honors the reality that the best ideas can originate from anywhere and anyone – regardless of role or position.

Most of us, as individuals and leaders, would find it difficult to honestly say that, deep down, we want to be wrong and for others to be right. Our ego does not readily embrace such perspectives. Deep down, we all want to be right because it’s validating and makes us feel smart.

However, such ego-driven thinking typically leads to suboptimal outcomes and even the repression of new ideas. If two of the smartest, most strategic leaders in the last 100 years were happy to be proven wrong, then the question we really need to ask ourselves consistently in both our personal and professional lives is, “Do I want to be right? Or do I want to get it right?


Quote of the Week

“Right is right even if no one is doing it; wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it.”

St. Augustine



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Taking Responsibility (#131)

I was heading home a few weeks ago after a rare trip downtown when a car suddenly veered into my lane without signaling and hit my rear bumper. This frustrating situation was exacerbated by the fact that it was during rush hour, on one of the busiest roads in Boston, and the only option was to pull over in the high-speed lane, which almost instantaneously caused a major traffic back-up.

As I approached the driver whose car had hit mine, I realized it was a young woman. I was frustrated and ready to ask her what she was thinking, however, she preempted me by saying, “I am sorry, that was totally my fault,” which she repeated several times. She explained that it was her father’s car and that she would tell him what happened.

The young woman, Veronica, and I quickly exchanged information. I thought about asking her to write down a statement or record her admitting fault as I know how these stories can change when people return home and speak with their parents, spouses or insurance agents. But as cars were backed up all around us and because she was so apologetic and a bit shaken, I simply told her that it was alright, these things happen. We quickly got back in our cars and went our separate ways.

When I got home, I realized the damage was minor and mostly cosmetic. A few days later I spoke with her father and told him that I appreciated Veronica taking responsibility (I had expected her to tell him a different story). I also offered to take my car to a body shop for a repair estimate and that they could cover the cost of repairs directly. He appreciated this option as it would prevent them from having to go through insurance, which would increase his daughter’s rates for years to come as she was a new driver.

I called him back after I received the estimates and told him that I was fine with the lower repair cost option as I just wanted it fixed enough so I wouldn’t have issues with the leasing company. I suggested he pay the body shop directly so he’d have confirmation of the repairs, but he said that wasn’t necessary and that he’d just mail the payment. He also commented that it would be a good lesson for Veronica, albeit a costly one.

A few days later, without ever asking to see the estimate, the check arrived inside a card that said, “Kindness is always in fashion” along with a note thanking me for being kind to his daughter in a stressful situation.

We all make mistakes. What’s important is that we take accountability for them, learn from them and not repeat them in the future.

What’s more is how we behave when we take accountability. In her case, Veronica was respectful and sincere, which I believe reflects the values instilled by her parents.

In truth, I had expected the worst. Maybe that was based on past experiences or on my perspectives about the lack of accountability in society today. Either way, this experience taught me a valuable lesson about kindness and the inherent goodness in people. And, I have no doubt that, next time, Veronica will remember to use her blinker and check her side mirror when changing lanes.

Quote of the week

“Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.”

Lucius Annaeus Seneca



The post Taking Responsibility (#131) appeared first on Friday Forward.

Having Potential (#119)

Much of our motivation in life is driven by two feelings that are often at different ends of the emotional spectrum: inspiration and discomfort.

This week, the focus is on discomfort.

A few months ago, a friend of mine spoke to a group and imparted some harsh but salient wisdom that stuck with me. He said, “When you are ten, potential is cute. When you are 20, it’s nice. But by the time you get to 40, it starts to become an insult.”

While this can be painful for some to hear, I think there’s a lot of truth in his words. Here are two definitions of potential, courtesy of the Oxford dictionary:

Adjective: Having or showing the capacity to become or develop into something in the future.

Noun: Latent qualities or abilities that may be developed and lead to future success or usefulness.

Based on these definitions, it makes sense to refer to something as having potential when it’s early in its lifecycle, be it a person, product or organization.

However, as time goes on, using that same phrase moves from something inspiring to something that becomes a crutch to, eventually, an insult.

Don’t believe me? Tell a mom or dad of a 15-year-old that they have the potential to be a great parent and see how they react.

It’s not that a person who has been dabbling in something for 10-20 years without success doesn’t have potential. What’s more likely is that they lack the talent or the conviction to convert that potential into something meaningful.

For instance, when an entrepreneur talks about the potential of their product yet, and it’s been a decade or more since it’s generated any meaningful sales, they are fooling themselves.

The same goes for an organization that’s been doing essentially the thing for ten years and getting the same results. Saying they have “potential” is no longer the right word to use.

Indeed, potential has an expiration date.

Ultimately, we need to decide where we want to convert our potential into achievement. These will likely be areas in your life that are most important to you, not what others decide are most important or valuable.

The question to think about in your own life or organization is, where in the future would it be an insult to look back and hear that you had had potential?

I have asked myself this very question. At no point in my life do I want to look back and feel that I had the potential to be or do better – as a father, a husband or a leader in my business – and not lived up to it.

With that in mind, pretend it’s five years from now and ask yourself the following:

  • Where would I not want to be told I had potential in my business (either overall or for a product)?
  • Where would I not want to be told I had potential in my family and personal life?
  • Where would I be really upset to hear that I had the potential to be an X?

If you’re not on track to live up to your potential in any of these areas, then go do something about it.

Don’t be someone who had potential. Be someone who acted on their potential.

Quote of Week

 “There is no heavier burden than an unfulfilled potential.”

Charles Schulz

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Raising Values (#118)

As a company, we have always aspired to not have a lot of rules. Instead, we prefer to focus on and reinforce our company’s core values. We believe they are key directional markers that can help team members make more thoughtful, sound decisions.

Recently, while reading Adam Grant’s book Originals, I learned about a study done by two sociologists who studied non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust (rescuers) with a group of neighbors who lived in the same town but who did nothing (non-rescuers).

The study revealed that what ultimately differentiated the rescuers from the non-rescuers was how their parents disciplined bad behavior and praised good behavior.

When the rescuers were asked to recall their childhoods and the discipline they received, researchers discovered that the word they most used was “explained.” The focus of their parents was on the Why behind their disciplinary action and the moral lesson or value to be learned, rather than on the discipline itself.

This practice conveyed the values their parents wanted to share while also encouraging critical thinking and reasoning. Grant notes that by explaining moral principles, the parents of those in the rescuer group had instilled in their children the importance of complying voluntarily with rules that align with important values and to question rules that don’t.

The rescuers were almost three times more likely to reference moral values that applied to all people, emphasizing that their parents taught them to respect all human beings.

Another key to creating these moral standards that researchers found is praising behavior or character over the action itself. For example, in one study, children who were asked to be “helpers” instead of “to help” were more likely to clean up toys when asked. Similarly, adults who were asked “Please don’t be a cheater” cheated 50 percent less than those that were asked “Please don’t cheat.”

The same researcher suggests that we replace “Don’t Drink and Drive” with “Don’t Be a Drunk Driver.”

It turns out that values are far more effective than rules at eliciting the outcomes and behaviors that we want. In either a family or an organization, it is virtually impossible to cover all possible rules or monitor the adherence to them. Doing so would create a lengthy process manual or a draconian set of guidelines.

I’ve observed that highly successful families, organizations and companies select and focus on a few values that are most important to them. These aren’t token values that sit on the wall. They explain the Why behind those values to their group and regularly reinforce them, both in terms of accountability for not meeting the standard as well as celebrating decisions that are made which support those values.

These values can cover hundreds, if not thousands, of situations, far more than any set of rules could. Most importantly, people are encouraged to openly question decisions that are incongruous with the values. Enforcement is not top down; it’s made by all the members of the group.

The individuals who acted bravely to save would-be victims of the Holocaust were never explicitly told to do that. It was following the values that were instilled and strengthened throughout their lives that brought them to a logical, courageous decision.

Quote of the Week

“The moral values, ethical codes and laws that guide our choices in normal times are, if anything, even more important to help us navigate the confusing and disorienting time of a disaster.”

Sheri Fink

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Moment or Movement (#117)

This past Saturday, students all around the world marched peacefully in the March for Our Lives. In Washington DC, it was the biggest youth demonstration since the 1960’s.

The symbolism and significance was not lost. One of the last speakers at the event was Yolanda Renee King, an extremely poised 9-year-old granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King.

One of the themes brought up several times by the young speakers was the importance of making this march and the cause behind it a movement, not just a moment.

In an interview after the event, a professional organizer was asked what the difference is between a moment and a movement. He replied, “A movement has to cost you something.”

This is a powerful statement, one that I thought about for a quite a while.

It reminded me of a story a friend shared with me about one of his employees who did not agree with a position that the company had taken on a societal issue. The employee told my friend, the CEO, that he was quitting because of it.

Rather than be upset, my friend told the employee that he respected him tremendously for paying the price of being true to his values. For those values, he was willing to sacrifice his job.

It can be easy to ride the wave of a moment and go with the current. Many politicians specialize in and make a career of this.

But when that moment is over, there is a decision to make.

Truly launching a movement requires sustained action around a deep-rooted purpose, no matter the personal or professional cost. It will involve ups and downs, roadblocks and sacrifices. There will be many detractors and haters. However, what keeps a person, group or team going is the belief that the price of failure is greater than doing nothing.

What I finally grasped for the first time this weekend is that these kids believe that the status quo is threatening their lives, and that’s no longer an option.

A few years back, CVS Caremark rebranded with the tagline “Health is Everything.” CVS then put their money where their mouth was, suspending the sale of all tobacco products in 2014. That decision cost them an estimated $2B in tobacco product sales almost overnight. However, following the announcement, the public rewarded them by driving their stock price to a 34-year high.

As individuals and organizations, we will each have our moments of opportunity. The question is, when your moment is over, do you have the conviction to create a movement?

Quote of The Week

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead

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2017 in Review (#104)

Sometimes, what we need is a reminder of what we already know rather than learning something new.

Because many of you (myself included) are on vacation this week, I thought that, instead of writing a new post, I would highlight the top Friday Forwards of 2017 and give a quick summary of each.

The Human Element: In many ways, our focus on technology and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is causing us to lose our ability to effectively communicate with and relate to each other as humans. It doesn’t always feel like progress.

18 Summers: This post affected a lot of parents. Many wrote to tell me that it inspired them to make similar plans with their family.

BS of Busy: Saying we are busy has become a cultural crutch. Being busy doesn’t make us happier or more productive.

Bad Week: The story of how Dr. Mary-Claire King was able to push forward during the worst week of her life, leading to a medical breakthrough that has saved millions of women’ lives.

Freedom to Fail: Important lessons from a soccer coach on how we all need to have room to fail, learn from our mistakes and grow.

Beautiful Day: This is the story of a man who created a wonderful legacy for his family.

Tri-It: Reflections and lessons learned from running my first Olympic Triathlon, including why you should practice on stage.

RV Reflections Part 1 and Part 29 lessons learned about life and business from a 10-day RV trip with my family though Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.

Burning Bridges: Why it’s never a good idea to burn a bridge, even when you need to walk away from a relationship.

Carpe The Diem: The improbable story of how my son and I ended up together at the greatest Super Bowl in history after I decided not to be a hypocrite and take a chance.

Quote of the Week

“Any idea, plan, or purpose may be placed in the mind through repetition of thought.”

Napoleon Hill

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