Tag Archives: accountability

Your Right-Hand Man

Everyone wants to have a right-hand man (or woman), right?  Someone you trust implicitly.  Someone who will cover for you in a pinch and make decisions just as you would have made them.  Someone you can groom to be your successor when the inevitable promotion opportunities come rolling in.

The expression “right-hand man” (as well as the tradition of seating the guest of honor at the right hand of the host) originated from times when leaders had to worry about assassination on a daily basis.  Before the days of explosives and automatic weapons, the easiest way to assassinate a leader was to have the person sitting to his right grab his sword arm and hang on, rendering him relatively helpless so that others in the room could then kill him.  If you were a leader, it was in your best interest to put the person you most trusted next to your sword arm. Since most people are right-handed, the “right-hand man” came to be synonymous for someone you could trust with your life.

Leadership can be a lonely role.  Having a right-hand man (person) will encourage you when things get rough.  A trusted “second-in-command” can keep an eye on your blind spots and warn you when you’re stepping into dangerous territory.  If you don’t have one, it’s never too late to develop that person (or to look for someone with the right qualities to fill your next open position.)

(Interestingly enough, the word “sinister” originally meant “on the left.”  Maybe that’s where we get the idea of “hold your friends close but your enemies closer.”)


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Filed under character, conflict, deception, delegation, leadership, management, Protection, Relationships, trust

The Skin of the Truth

Some college students had a final exam coming up, but the weekend before they took the test was a great weekend to head to the mountains and ski.  “The snow was perfect!” they heard.  After some discussion, they decided that they could do their studying at the lodge in between times on the slopes.  So, they packed up their gear and headed for the mountains.

Sunday evening came, and they decided to blow off the final the next day.  They were having too much fun, and they hadn’t done the studying that they had planned to do.  Two days later, they arrived at their professor’s office with a carefully collaborated story about being stranded in the mountains after blowing a tire.  Things went from bad to worse when a blizzard overtook them, and they had to spend several days in a farmhouse off the road.

The professor was very understanding and allowed that they could make up the final.  He put the students in separate rooms and handed them the test.  The first question for ten points was easy – “What is your name?”

They turned the page and saw that the second question was for the other ninety points – “Which tire?”

I heard an expression once that said an excuse is the skin of the truth stuffed with a lie.  If we’re honest with ourselves, most of our excuses are just that.  We show up late and blame traffic but fail to mention that we were running 20 minutes behind before we got stuck in the backup.  We miss a deadline and blame a co-worker for failing to get us the data on time, but we leave out the part about neglecting to ask him for it with appropriate notice.  We fall short of our goal and excuse it by pointing out the tough market but say nothing of the fact that we expected to fail and only gave 60% effort as a result.

If you want to create accountability on your team, it has to start with you.  That means no more excuses.  If you dropped the ball, own up to your part, and commit to getting a better hold on it next time.  While your team many not enthusiastically join you on the accountability train, your integrity will eventually create an accountability ethos on your team.

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Filed under accountability, blame, character

Clever Hans

Kluge Hans (better known as “Clever Hans”) was a most amazing horse!  He had the ability to add, subtract, multiply and divide by tapping out the answers with his hoof.  He could tell time and name people.  He could spell and solve problems involving musical harmony.

His owner, German mathematician Von Osten, began showing him to the public in 1891, and for years, Clever Hans amazed even the stoutest critics.  The horse could perform his tricks for randomly selected people with or without his master present.  It seemed impossible, but no one could deny the horse’s accuracy.

It wasn’t until 1904 when researcher Oskar Pfungst finally figured out how Clever Hans did it.  By testing the horse with a variety of constraints, he learned that Clever Hans was not so clever if he couldn’t see his questioner.  Also, if the questioner did not know the answer to a question, neither did the horse.

Following a hunch, Pfungst started observing the questioners more than the horse.  Soon, he discovered that Clever Hans was responding to subtle non-verbal cues from the people asking the questions.  They tended to tense their muscles until Clever Hans tapped out the correct answer with his hoof.  When he did, the questioner relaxed, signaling to the horse that it had reached the correct answer.  The horse could detect slight movements of a person’s eyebrows or a change in head position or an approving facial expression.  Clever Hans could even pick out a slight dilation of the questioner’s nostrils.

In the end, Clever Hans was most clever when people expected and wanted him to be clever.  Their anticipation of his correct answer provided him all the non-verbal feedback he needed to reassure their trust in his abilities.

Think about the implications for our human relationships.  If a horse is perceptive enough to read our non-verbals with such accuracy – even non-verbals that we are oblivious to sending – isn’t it possible that other people can pick up on them, too (if not consciously, then subconsciously)?  If you have high expectations for someone, it gets communicated in more than your praise.  If you have low expectations of someone, it leaks into every interaction you have with that person.  What you think about a person often creates a self-fulfilling prophecy in your relationship.

When you have negative expectations about someone, you can try to fake your feelings when you are around them, but most people will see through your plastic efforts.  The only real way to make sure that you don’t communicate negative expectations is to change how you feel about that person.  In order to do that, you are going to have to change the story that you tell yourself about them.  You need a positive story to replace the negative one.  This is much easier said than done, but here are some suggestions:

  • Assume positive motive. Maybe the person is the way he is or acts the way he does, because there is a good reason for it.  Maybe he means well and is doing the best he knows how to do.
  • Consider that there may be extenuating circumstances. There may be factors outside of her control – things like the way the person was raised, the limitations on what they know or are able to do, the situation that they are currently in or other people and their behavior toward her.
  • Examine your own accountability. Is there anything that you are doing that is making your interactions with this person worse?
  • Get more information. Don’t make up your mind about someone or about the way someone behaves without first making sure that you have enough information to make an opinion.  Legion are the embarrassing stories where someone reacted to a small amount of information and later learned that they were missing the most important parts of the story.
  • Lower your expectations. If the person can’t or just won’t change, lower your expectations of him.  You will be happier, because he won’t let you down all the time.
  • Tell a bigger story. Maybe your story is too small.  For example, you are distracted by your teenager’s sloppy appearance and can’t help but comment on it each time you see her.  But how important is how neat she looks compared to the health of your relationship with her?  Maybe you could tell a story that says the health of your relationship is bigger and more important than your irritation over her appearance, and you are going to overlook her clothing choices in order to preserve open doors of communication with her.
  • Pray for the person. Nothing is more effective at changing your heart toward another person than prayer.  Even if you struggle to be sincere with your prayers, make a commitment to pray for him or her until God gives you His heart for that person.

Change what you think (your story) about those around you, and you will change the relationship.  You might even find that your negative story has been the whole reason for the problems between you.  Change your story; change your world.

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Filed under acceptance, communication, expectations, Interpersonal, leadership, management, parenting, Pygmalion Effect, Relationships

A Tale of Two Brothers

Dr. Hans Selye, a pioneer in helping us understand stress, once told a story about two boys who grew up in the same home with an alcoholic and abusive father.  Adulthood took them down separate paths with differing priorities and life decisions.

Many years later, both men participated in the same psychological study, though each did it separately.  In-depth interviews with each one showed just how different they had become.  One would have nothing to do with alcohol and had become an upstanding and well-respected citizen in his community.  The other had followed his father’s example and become an alcoholic with a path of destruction in his wake.

When asked what factors influenced each brother’s lifestyle, both men returned the same answer, “What else would you expect when you have a father like mine?”

It’s not what happened to you; it’s how you responded to what happened to you that has created the person that you have become.  Have you chosen to become the victim or the victor?

If you chose the victim’s role, the sooner you accept accountability for your choices, the sooner you will begin to heal.  Blame and resentment over what happened to you only gives the other person or thing a never-ending supply of power over your life.  If you chose the victor’s role, then you undoubtedly know the truth behind the maxim, “That which doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.”

Life has many things to teach us, but we have to show up ready to learn.

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Filed under acceptance, accountability, blame, character, Denial, growth, learned helplessness, overcoming obstacles, parenting, self-image

My Dad’s A Speeder, Officer!

My friend and his family were headed to the mountains to ski one weekend.  They were making the trip with another family from their neighborhood, and everyone was excited about getting to the slopes.  Excitement turned into anxiety, however, when my friend noticed the red, flashing lights of a police car in his rearview mirror.  The police officer pulled both vehicles over and went to my friend’s car first.

“Sir, are you aware of why I stopped you?”

“Yes, sir, officer.  I was speeding.”

From the back seat came the vociferous voice of his five-year-old daughter, “My daddy’s a speeder, Officer!  He speeds all the time.  I tell him not to but he does it anyway.  You should arrest him, Officer.”

The police officer looked down at his ticket pad and began to chuckle.  “Wait here for a minute,” he said and returned to his squad car.

While the officer was at his car, my friend’s wife tried to convince her daughter to be quiet.  Despite the possibility of a ticket, my friend told his daughter, “No, it’s okay.  I was speeding, and I shouldn’t have been.”

A few minutes later, he returned and knocked on the daughter’s window.  When her parents lowered it, the officer asked, “Young lady, is your daddy a speeder?”

“Yes he is.  He does it all the time even though I tell him not to.  You should take him to jail!”

The police officer gave my friend’s daughter a police badge sticker and told her to make sure her daddy doesn’t speed anymore.  To my friend he said, “You know, it’s been a long time since I laughed at a traffic citation stop.  You’re off the hook for this one.”

Between the two families, a daughter’s candidness saved them over $500 in fines.  I guess honesty does pay.

(S – A special thanks to Sydney Epstein for keeping her daddy honest.)

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Filed under accountability, Authenticity, character, family, funny, guilt, humor, Just for fun, parenting, rules, submission

Broken Windows

Malcolm Gladwell tells the story of New York City’s sudden drop in crime-rate during the mid-1990’s in his book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. When David Gunn was hired as the New York City subway director in 1984, he had a plan to reduce crime by using the principles of the “Broken Window Theory.”

The Broken Window Theory states that if you walk by a building that has a broken window, you automatically make some assumptions about the people who own the building and are responsible for its upkeep.  They apparently don’t care enough about the building to keep it in good working order and aesthetically pleasing.

While only a small percentage of people would take the owner’s neglect as license to continue vandalizing the property, most of us wouldn’t feel the need to take special care to keep it clean, either.  If the owners don’t care, then why should you?  If the broken window goes unattended long enough, we begin to transfer our low opinion to the surrounding neighborhood.  We take less and less responsibility, and the environment gets worse and worse.

Gunn’s idea focused on reducing crime by eliminating graffiti on the subway cars as soon as it appeared.  Under his “Clean Car Program,” new cars were introduced to the system one-by-one.  At the end of their routes, they were inspected for vandalism.  If any graffiti was found, the car was immediately repainted before it was put back into service.  Whenever more extensive damage was evident, the car was pulled from the line until it could be reconditioned.  By 1989, every single car had been cleaned.

Gunn’s initiative was taken up by William Bratton when he was appointed chief of the Transit Authority Police in 1990.  Bratton cracked down on turnstile jumpers who tried to ride for free and brought about innovations in the way arrests were processed so that they could be handled more easily and on-site.  Originally, officers were skeptical and even pessimistic of the new measures, but it’s hard to argue with a 75% reduction in subway crime in less than a decade.  By sweating the small stuff, they had signaled to would-be criminals that they cared enough to put up a fight for their subways.

The Broken Window Theory applies in many ways around us.  Any time we don’t care enough to pay attention to the details with our own stuff, it won’t be long before others start to ignore them, as well.  A little neglect on our part is likely to bring about wholesale disregard from those who have less ownership than we do.  In this respect, the small stuff does matter.

I see the principle at work in my own home on a regular basis.  If something gets stacked on the dining room table and stays there for any length of time, everyone assumes that the table is now the designated “stuff dumping site.”  Before long, it’s a mountain of indiscriminate piles that give birth to even more piles while we sleep.

And if we have “broken windows” when the kids’ friends come over, it’s a lost cause to get them to clean up after themselves.  When it looks like my own family doesn’t even care if our rooms or living areas are clean, visitors revert to their baser instincts.  In other words, “let the chips (and salsa) fall where they may.”

So, my new motto is: “Keep your ‘windows’ in good repair, and you’ll save yourself housekeeping despair.”

(S – Gladwell, Malcolm.  The Tipping Point)

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Filed under accountability, ownership

Reset the Zero

Believe it or not, heating water from -1/2OC to +1/2 OC (1 degree) requires 80 times the energy that is required to heat water from +1 OC to +2 OC (1 degree).  Why so much difference?  It’s because changing ice to water (-1/2OC to +1/2 OC) requires a change in state.  When water changes state (from ice to liquid water or from liquid water to steam), all the energy (80 calories) goes into the state change.  None goes into heating the water.

When heating water, it takes 80 times the energy to go from a negative to a positive.  It’s not much different when you are working with people.  For example, consider a scale that ranges from -5 to +5 and measures influencing skills.  If you are coaching someone who feels he is a “-3” on the scale, he’s saying that he feels like he has none of the skill.  He’s so bad at it, that he’s in the negative range.

reset-the-zero-1To coach him to the point that he feels he is on the positive side of the scale is going to require enormous amounts of energy on his part and yours.  He will actually have to go through a “change in state” – from someone who has no influencing skills to someone who has some.  That’s a mental leap across a wide chasm.

But what if you could show him that he already had some of the skill?  (as he most certainly does)  What if your reminded him that he already uses influencing skills when he’s talking to his peers about a common project or when he comes to you to ask for a better assignment.  Then, he doesn’t need a change in state.  He just needs to increase what he’s already got.

With water, once you change from ice to liquid water, all the hard work is done.  It only requires one calorie per degree to heat the water.  With people, the hard work is convincing them that they aren’t working from a state of lack.  They already have all the skills they need; they just need to increase them.  In effect, what you are doing is resetting the zero on their mental scale.  The same amount of influencing skills expressed this way would look like the scale below:


A +2 in the skill is much easier to build on than a -3.  Now, he’s got something to work with.  There’s an influencing skill muscle in there – he just needs to exercise it to make it stronger.

I frequently hear people make statements of lack such as, “I can’t speak in front of people;” “I can’t ever remember names;” “I’m not a people person;” “I don’t have any leadership ability.”  Statements like these allow people to abdicate responsibility for trying to develop these skills.  After all, if you don’t even have the raw materials for the skill, it’s not possible to ever have it.

Show them how they already have some of the skill, and you help them make a huge paradigm shift.  Instead of “strengths and weaknesses,” they start thinking in “greater and lesser strengths.”  Help them to reset their zero, and their eyes will be open to their potential.

(S – http://www.school-for-champions.com/science/heat_ice_steam.htm)

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Filed under Abundance, accountability, blame, Change, comfort zone, expectations, growth, mentoring, motivation, overcoming obstacles, paradigm shift, parenting, self-image