Excellence Vs. Mediocrity

So we all know how hard it can be to get ahead.  


The long hours, hard work, and grueling repetition to try to reach near-perfection. 


Even then, of course, we need G-d’s mercy and blessings and a measure of good luck to succeed. 


Also, by definition, not everyone can be “the best” at everything. 


I suppose the expectation for most people is that they try at least to excel at the things that they need to do or are most important to them, as well as maintain work-life balance. 


In this light, it was interesting to hear a story recently about mediocrity (and not excellence). 


When asked to step up on the job, one person responded in the negative saying:

C’s get degrees (too)!


Of course, this must have sounded pretty shocking and off-putting. 


In other words, they weren’t going for the “A” or even a “B”.  A “C” grade was fine for them–as long as they didn’t completely fail with a big “F”.


Who knows what circumstances may have led this person to settle for mediocrity–just wanting to pass.


Perhaps they had serious personal or family issues–and had good reason to be taking a step back (for a while). 


But I think there could also be more tactful ways to say it too–like explaining if there were mitigating or challenging circumstances in their life right now. 

If there really wasn’t mitigating circumstances and the person was just “slacking off” or didn’t care, one has to wonder why–are they just “milking the system” or is there something more fundamentally wrong?


C’s get degrees, but to me the real question is: Are you doing your best given your particular life circumstances?  😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Knees Horror Story

Knees Horror Story

So I’m at a new medical practioner, and he sees on my information sheet that I am scheduled to have some orthopedic surgery.

He comes out of his office and sits down next to me, and he is rubbing his knees.

He proceeds to tells me that he had knee replacement surgery about a decade ago.

I’m watching him still rubbing his knees, and I say curiously, “So how did it go–were you happy with the results?”

He says, “I still have some soreness”–and I’m thinking, after all these years, yikes!

Then he goes on to tell me this horror story about his brother (I think it was) that had double knee replacement.

But after the surgery, the knees got infected, and they had to remove the replacements and put in studs (like placeholders) until the infection cleared with antibiotics.

I suppose he couldn’t walk around without knees, and I was wondering how long this guy must’ve been laid up.

Anyway, once the infection was gone, they put in new replacements for him.

OMG, all in all, the guy had to have 8 surgeries!

Needless to say, this was not the orthopedic success story that I wanted or needed to hear.

But I guess it’s good to know what can happen (bli ayin hara)–in all the gory details. 😉

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Isbye)

What’s Diplomacy Anyway?

What's Diplomacy Anyway?

This was a humorous engraved stone that I found in a gift shop today.

It is a Concord “Words From The Wise,” engraved paperweight, crafted in England.

Diplomacy is generally associated with negotiation, persuasion, consideration, tactfulness, etiquette, and respect. However, this engraved paperweight has a little bit of a different view of it–“The art of letting someone have it your way.”

Diplomacy has traditionally been differentiated from the use of military power in that diplomacy relies on “soft power” (co-opting or winning over cooperation), whereas the military employs “hard power” (coercion). Both are ways of handling relations and resolving conflict.

More recently, some foreign affairs experts have started to use “smart power,” which is situational-based–leveraging alliances and partnerships in some cases and a strong military in others.

In any case, it’s all about working together to bridge differences–and like the “Easy Button” the best way is to maintain a strong relationship, whether you get your way or not. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Don’t Communicate Like A Dump Truckity

Do_not_push
I don’t know a lot about huge dump trucks.

But I wondered what this meant when it says on the back of this multi-ton vehicle–“Do Not Push”.

Don’t worry, I won’t! 🙂

In life, we often communicate things that either we aren’t really clear about, don’t mean, or end up being misunderstood for.

In fact, probably one of the toughest “soft skills” to learn is communication skills.

I don’t know why they call it soft, since when you communicate poorly, you can get hit over the head–quite hard.

One of the biggest issues is people who talk too much (i.e. they dump on others), but aren’t very good at listening. Hey, they may as well be talking to themselves then, because communication is a two-way street.

Good communications skills include the three C’s: clarity, conciseness, and consistency, and I would add–last but not at all least–a T for tact.

Communication skills also overlaps with the ability to effectively influence, negotiate, and create win-win solutions, so actually communication is at the very heart of what we need to do well.

When communicating, don’t be pushy and don’t be pushed around (i.e. get dumped on)–and don’t get hit by that over-sized dump truck–communicate early, often, honestly, and with passion.

(Source photo: Andy Blumenthal)

>What We Lose When We Lie

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If you watch House MD on TV, House always says something sort of striking: “everyone lies.”

Today, an article in the Wall Street Journal, 20 October 2009, says something similar, that we all lie even (some, not me, would say “especially”) in our closest relationships, marriage.

“We fib to avoid conflict. To gain approval. To save face. Or just to be kind.”

Some claim lying is a survival mechanism because “they [lies] allow us to avoid conflict.”

Others feel that it’s okay to lie in order to be tactful with others. For example, a retired financial executive explained that “when his wife ask how she looks, he always tells her she is beautiful. ‘A bad hair day isn’t going to change your life. What’s to be gained by saying something negative to someone that is of such fleeting importance.’”

Even those who supposedly don’t lie, have all these little twists:

One man when asked about lying said: “I don’t lie, I tell the truth…slowly.”

George Costanza on Seinfeld used to say: “It’s not a lie if you believe it.”

In society, we’ve even come up with a terms for lies that are small or harmless and we call those “white lies.”

Even in court rooms, we don’t trust that people will tell the truth, but rather we have to literally ask them “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you G-d?”

Many people have pointed out that even in the Ten Commandments, we are not commanded directly not to lie, but rather “you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”—Hey, just for the record, that’s close enough for me!

Not surprisingly, the mixed thinking about whether it is okay to lie in certain “charged” situations carries over into our organizations.

On one hand, many of our organizations, especially in the public sector, have wonderful core values such as truth, justice, integrity, and so on. Moreover, for certain national security positions, we even give people lie detector (polygraph) tests to ensure their personal truthfulness.

Yet, on the other hand, we all have heard of project managers who lie in order to cover up failing or failed projects—and many implicitly accept this behavior.

I read that the Standish Group recently reported that 82% of our organizational projects are failing or seriously challenged i.e. they are over budget, behind schedule, or not meeting customer requirements. Moreover, we have for years, seen numerous projects end up on watch list for failing projects and even have websites that track these.

Yet, ask many project managers how their projects are doing and you get the spectrum of whitewash answers like “everything is great,” “we’re right on track,” “no problem,” “everyone’s working hard,” or sometimes simply “nothing to report.”

Perhaps, project managers are afraid to tell the truth for fear of retribution, punishment, or other negative impacts to their career, those that work for them, or others who are “implicated.”

As one psychologist says about little white lies: “If you don’t fib, you don’t live.”

How unfortunate this thinking is—rather than encouraging honesty, we develop cultures of fear, where cover-ups are routine and truth in reporting is a practically a misnomer.

By creating a culture where lying is endemic to reporting, we are harming our people and our organizations. Organizationally, we can only manage if we can measure, and we can only measure if people are honest as to what is working and what isn’t. Personally, we hurt our own integrity as human beings by lying (or being dishonest, deceiving, whitewashing or whatever you want to call it) and then justifying it in so many little and big ways.

Sure, there is such a thing as tact, but you can be tactful and truthful at the same time!

Some of this may come down to improving communication and people skills and this needs to be emphasized in our training plans. Of course, we need to work with each other in socially appropriate ways.

But at the same time, at the end of the day, people need to maintain what is really important—their integrity, and at the same time move the organization to make the right decisions, and this can only be done by being frank and honest with ourselves and with each other.

My suggestion is for leaders to surround themselves with those who are not only “the best and the brightest,” but also those with the most honesty and integrity around.