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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: June 2003

Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:

  1. Techniques for balance
  2. The Human Condition: Throwing Dirt Against The Wall
  3. Musings
  4. Alan's Favorites...

  1. Techniques for balance

    Whether addressing a large audience of strangers, a group of business colleagues, a small number of social acquaintances, or a few close family members, we tend to allow the process of speaking (or leading a meeting) to intimidate us and undermine our ability to achieve consensus, resolution, and comity. Here are some "warm ups" for any kind of presiding position, from formal platform speaker to informal dinner table leader:

    • Listen beforehand to something that makes you happy: a comedy tape, pleasant music, a radio program you like. Put yourself in a good mood, and create your own focus and/or enthusiasm, as appropriate for the circumstances.

    • Exercise. You'll feel better physically and mentally. You'll have more of a sense of personal control

    • Eat moderately and healthily. You want to feel top-rate physically.

    • Rehearse, including visualizing alternative possible scenarios, responses, and distractions. That way, there will be fewer unpleasant surprises.

    • Learn something about how the audience or participants view the issue so that you're prepared. Don't be blind-sided through ignorance, and don't be biased due to false assumptions.

    • Never take anything personally. Deal with facts and evidence. Don't make value judgments and don't treat challenges as affronts to your worth or ego. Unlike the Aztecs., don't stake yourself to a position you either have to defend or die trying.

    • Create an effective, engrossing, compelling, and non-threatening opening so that people are motivated to continue listening. This might be eight minutes or eight words. "We have nothing to fear but fear itself..."

    • Focus on cause, not blame, and events, not supposition.

    • Plan for some call to action at the conclusion, whether it's more discussion, accountabilities, changes, or whatever makes sense to move toward your goals.

    • Learn from what took place to be even more effective the next time. Debrief, even it it's alone. Most importantly, solidify and plan to repeat what worked the best.

  2. The Human Condition: Throwing Dirt Against The Wall

    Trust me, no good deed ever goes unpunished. I recently was asked by a good friend of mine for any candidates I might have to fill two lucrative, full-time consulting positions in the non-profit world. He is a superb executive search consultant, so I knew everything was kosher, and everyone I sent to him would be carefully considered. Consequently, I felt a strong accountability to provide high quality candidates.

    As a favor for those in my Resource Catalog (see the very end of this newsletter), I sent an email advising them of the positions, encouraging them to tell their friends, but specifying two strict criteria which would immediately reject anyone not meeting them.

    You guessed it: I received at least two dozen resumes which weren't even in the same hemisphere as the needs. You might conclude "nothing ventured, nothing gained" for those who gave it a shot, but I see a different issue.

    Many people feel that if they throw enough dirt against the wall, some of it will stick. So why not throw dirt, mud, detritus, and other earth products in every direction, not knowing when it might stick to something of value? I'll tell you why: Because it muddies up the landscape and fouls the air.

    The most successful people I know are targeted and focused. I don't mean narrow or specialized, although they may be those also, but rather clear on exactly what they're doing. They spend time efficiently pursuing delineated objectives. The air around them is crystal clear. They're not creating dust storms.

    What kind of employees would people make if they apply for the job despite lack of qualifications, thereby wasting my time as well as their own? Would they perform in a similarly consistent manner, not making crisp decisions but making generalized guesses, and not solving problems but trying the best to live with them? Would they waste everyone's time on blind lunges and unsupported initiatives?

    When I responded to some of these people, questioning why they even bothered applying for a job they were manifestly unqualified to fill, I was told, "You never know," "You might have had something else for me," and, my favorite, "You're right, I didn't bother reading the qualifications closely, but would you keep me in mind for anything else that comes along?" Sure I will.

    Still others were indignant, acerbically writing me at length that I simply had to take their word that they could do well despite the lack of competencies (one of which was extensive organization development consulting experience, something you don't fake very well on the job), and that I needed to be more flexible. So, I should waste my friend's time, who trusted me, and perhaps even endanger his client, in order to be more flexible for people who are hurling dirt at the wall?

    This is a level of self-absorption which is so crass that I scarcely know where to begin with it. We have an obligation to prove ourselves, I believe, not an entitlement to be accepted by others in any way we choose to paint ourselves� actual traits, behaviors, and experiences notwithstanding. People, be they employers or customers, have a right to expect certain qualifications and expertise. I don't want someone adjusting the brakes on my car whose sole expertise is in refrigerator repair, good intentions and total belief in oneself duly noted but not nearly sufficient for my safety needs.

    When people throw dirt at the wall to see what sticks they usually manage to soil everything around them. My suggestion is to get out of the line of fire.

  3. Musings

    It's gosling season on our pond, and three pair of geese have taken their newborns to the duck feeder in the last two weeks. I've watched this process for 18 years now, and learned a lot, but not normally what you might suspect.

    After a torrent of rain last week, the water level crept up over the railroad ties which anchor the banks of our two acres of water. We arrived home from dinner to find that two of the youngest goslings had been dipping in the new "ponds" formed behind the ties, but sighting the dogs leaping out of the truck, couldn't jump over the ties to escape. Both their parents leapt into the water and squawked, but neither confronted us to protect the chicks. That didn't exactly jive with my memories of "Wild Kingdom," where noble parents sacrificed themselves for their young.

    I hovered over the two birds to protect them from Koufax, my shepherd, who fortunately wasn't all that interested in easy pickings or small mouthfuls (but eyed the parents swimming in circles and was considering getting into the rowboat). I knew that I couldn't lift the birds over the ties because if I imparted my scent to them at that age, the parents would kill them. I learned that lesson the hard way over a decade ago. So, we brought the dogs into the house and allowed the parents to fetch the offspring from the land side and humans, canines, and aquatic water fowl all went about their usual business.

    Geese that don't defend their young but run away, and kill their young if they possess a human scent (and also which hiss at me every single day, though I feed them every single day, and these geese were clearly raised on my property by their parents, who also hissed at me): Not exactly what you might expect from Mother Nature, but a great deal of what we expect is not what modern mythology would have us believe.

    We've been led to have faith in science and the meticulous, rigorous methodology of scientists. Yet a hundred million dollar Mars space probe crashed when one set of scientists used metric measures, and another used inches. Contributing to charity is always positive, except when we find that 80% of the contributions sometimes go to the fundraisers themselves and/or to outrageous overhead costs. For many, a deep belief in the near-infallibility of the clergy has been betrayed. In the best of times, our elected representatives from every party have uttered every impressive and humanitarian phrase in the book, only to fail to achieve the goals due to avarice, sloth, partisanship, or lack of planning.

    What are we to believe in, then, if the tried and true often isn't, and the conventional wisdom is frequently not? I think we must believe in ourselves, in our experiences, in our learning, and in our values. At the end of the day, we all make our own decisions. I've created the worst crashes on my model train layout when I've assumed the switches were in the correct positions to keep trains on separate tracks. After damaging four engines, I now check carefully before rerouting trains, even though it takes a bit of extra time.

    Billy Joel, the troubadour of our times, wrote in one song that, in the morning, we always wake up with ourselves. The ultimate reliance is self-reliance. The best changes are self-induced. And the best learning is self-mastery. We can neither assume that the switches are in the right position nor that nature will take the most logical and kindest course.

    Koufax and I spared the goslings, because we both demonstrated restraint. He wasn't hungry, and I wasn't impetuous. His act was instinctual, mine was learned from experience. Wisdom, I think, is the consistent and effective contemporary application of what we learn from past experiences. It's the only reason I'm able to stay a step ahead of Koufax.

  4. Alan's Favorite...
    • Book Title: "Get Your Tongue Out of My Mouth, I'm Kissing You Goodbye"
      (by Cynthia Heimel).

    • Country Song Title: "If I had shot her when I wanted to, I would've been out by now."

    • Theater Review: "He played the king as if under the momentary fear that someone else was about to play the ace." (Eugene Field reviewing "King Lear")

    • Poem Review: "Very nice, but there are dull stretches." (Antoine de Riverol reviewing a two-line poem)

    • Name of Rock 'N Roll Band: Stark Naked and the Car Thieves.