Act on Some of the Facts

Making any decision without having all of the information and facts beforehand can be very tough. I spoke with a young man recently and he told me that some of his professors had changed the rules on him in the administration of his classes. The syllabuses of a couple of his classes had been altered, which switched exam dates. He was also notified of these changes after the semester’s grace period. The grace period in which he could get his tuition money back after dropping a course had passed. Because of the changes, he would have two to three exams on one day.

I agreed to him that it was not a fair thing for them to do and that he wasn’t given all of the facts in order to make an adequate decision. This young man had to make a decision to take the courses the way they had been altered or to drop the courses, forfeit his tuition money and delay another semester until graduation. It was interesting because I was about the same age as this young man when one of my undergraduate professors told me that you are not going to have 100% of the facts needed to make a decision in the real world. He told the class that if we’re lucky, we might have 50% of the facts in order to make a decision. I had told this young man about what my marketing professor had said and he thanked me for this piece of advice.

Months later, I had thought about one of the most drastic decisions anyone has had to make in the 20th Century without having all of the facts before him. Harry Truman became president of the United States in April, 1945 after Franklin Roosevelt died. Roosevelt never informed Truman about the Manhattan Project. Suddenly, Truman had access to three atomic bombs and the authority to use them in World War II against the Japanese. And you think that making some decisions can be tough? Truman had the fate of history in his hands while pondering what to do.

The point is that Truman, like many other decision-makers, was faced with very limited information and had to make a decision and follow-through quickly. At some points in our lives, this happens to us all. But even if you do not decide to do something, your indecision is your decision. Not to decide is to decide.

So, how do you make a decision when you do not have all the facts? Follow this process:

1. Review the facts that you do have. Truman had access to three atomic bombs. Each bomb had enough power to destroy an entire city.

2. Analyze your facts. Truman witnessed the testing of one of the atomic bombs in the desert and was made more aware of the actual intensity of the bomb.

3. Analyze how your facts will affect your future decisions. Truman was given an estimate about the number of American soldiers that might perish in another major battle with Japan. Truman’s option was that the atomic bomb could be used in lieu of attacking a Japanese city and would avoid excessive American casualties.

4. Take action. Truman ordered that the remaining two atomic bombs be used against the Japanese on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Using both bombs in battle ultimately ended World War II quicker and avoided additional American casualties.

Great decision-makers, like Truman, act when necessary and take full responsibility for their actions. Although the outcome may or may not have been what Truman had planned, a decision was carried out. If Truman did not make a decision, the war would have lingered and more American lives would have been lost. Although the decision may not have been a popular decision at the time, Truman knew it had to be made.

None of us have crystal balls and have access to future information and events. Truman was no different. Although we don’t know the exact outcome of a decision, we can take conscious action and make a decision. If we don’t decide, someone or something will decide for us. We decide by decision or indecision. Which one will you choose?

Abe Lincoln: An Extraordinary Leader

Perhaps noted as one of the greatest United States presidents of all time, Abraham Lincoln’s early life may not have reflected his potential greatness. He failed in business. He lost election to the state legislature, Speaker of the House, nomination for Congress, appointment of land officer, U.S. Senate twice and nomination for Vice President. After those eight major failures, Lincoln was elected President of the United States. How many of us would have kept going like Lincoln did?

Many problems that we think of today pale in comparison to what happened in the late 1850’s and middle 1860’s. Lincoln dealt with eleven southern states that had seceded from the Union. Eleven states formed the Confederate States of America during his presidency.

Americans may think that there are divisions among our country today. There was an enormous division during the Civil War era. Americans literally died on both sides of the war: North and South.

There were several key challenges that Lincoln faced as U.S. President:

1. Lincoln was president during the American Civil War, which lasted four years

About five weeks after Lincoln was inaugurated as the 16th United States President, the American Civil War began. Lincoln was president when the country was literally falling apart.

Division may exist between families. Unfortunately, some family members may go years without talking to one another. Are problems within families really that terrible compared to the unrest during the Civil War? Some families were divided so much by the war that one son may have fought for the North while another son of the same family fought for the South.

2. The most American casualties happened during the Lincoln Administration

600,000 to 700,000 Americans died in the Civil War. The American Civil War casualties exceed the United States’ losses in all of its other wars from The American Revolution to the present.

Do any of us think that we have such an enormous responsibility? Lincoln had an insurmountable responsibility of having the most American casualties during his term as president. More Americans died from war during Lincoln’s presidency than all of the other American presidents combined.

3. Lincoln suffered from Depression

Lincoln, who lived in the nineteenth century, did not have access to antidepressants, such as Prozac, to take as prescription medication nor could he go to a drug store and purchase St. John’s Wort over the counter.

Lincoln never had the luxury of having access to modern treatments. Lincoln’s job was to deal with a country that was divided by war. At times, your problems may seem as monumental as Lincoln’s struggles, mainly because you are the one who is currently enduring a particular problem. All of us have common and unique problems. Can you imagine if you weren’t so lucky and had limited access to treatments like Lincoln? Fortunately, we do have the luxury of modern medicine.

4. Lincoln was assassinated

The North, The Union, defeated the South, The Confederacy. The South surrendered to the North on April 9th, 1865. Lincoln was assassinated five days after the Civil War ended and died the morning after he was shot.

Do you think you feel unappreciated by the work you’ve done? Lincoln united his country as president, issued the Emancipation Proclamation to end slavery, inspired numerous people while suffering from depression, was one of the most kindest and good-hearted presidents our nation has ever had and what was the thanks that he got? He was killed.

Numerous times, Lincoln was a leader. He kept America together so we could still be called “The United States of America.” He led by example. In his second inaugural address, Lincoln said that he wanted “malice toward none” and he wanted “to bind up the nation’s wounds.” Unfortunately, Lincoln never got to see any of his efforts and results implemented. The United States owes Lincoln a huge debt of gratitude.

Like Lincoln, every one of us has overcome problems and has achieved greatness in our own way. You may not remember some obstacles that you overcame, such as when you learned to walk or talk. There are challenges you overcame that you probably do remember very well, such as finishing a project, winning a race, graduating from school or establishing a career. Every one of you has a potential for greatness like Abe Lincoln. It is up to you to find the greatness within yourself.

A Whack Up ‘long Side The Head Of Human Resources: The Leadership Obligation

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When we perceive the simple center in the seemingly complex, we can change our world in powerful new ways.

Albert Einstein perceived the simple E=MC2 in the complexities of physical reality and changed the history of the 20th century.

Big Daddy Lipscomb, the Baltimore Colts 300 pound all-pro tackle in the 1960s perceived the simple center of what was perceived to be the complex game of football.  "I just wade into players," he said, "until I come to the one with the ball.  Him I keep!"  — and changed the way the game was played.
Likewise, human resources, despite its complex activities, should have a fundamentally simple mission, yet it is a mission that is being neglected by many HR professionals.  I call that mission the Leadership Obligation — helping the organization recruit, retain, and develop good leaders.

Clearly, without good leaders, few organizations can thrive over the long run.  What characterizes a good leader?  A good leader consistently gets results — in ethical and motivational ways.  Because they interact with all business functions and usually provide education and training for those functions, human resource professionals should be focused primarily on recruiting, retaining, and developing leaders that get results.  Any other focus is a footnote.

Yet working with human resource leaders in a variety of companies for the past two decades, I find that many of them are stumbling.  Caught up in the tempests of downsizing, compliance demands, acquisitions, mergers, and reorganizations, they are engaged in activities that have little to do with their central mission.  Ignoring or at least giving short shrift to the Leadership Obligation, they are too often viewed, especially by line leaders, as carrying out sideline endeavors.

Many HR leaders have nobody to blame for this situation but themselves.  By neglecting the Obligation, they themselves have chosen to be sideline participants.

Here is a three-step action plan to get the HR function off the sidelines and into the thick of the game.

Recognize.  Link.  Execute.

Before I describe each step, let me define leadership as it ought to be.  For your misunderstanding leadership will thwart you in applying the Obligation.

The word "leadership" comes from old Norse word-root meaning "to make go."  Indeed, leadership is about making things go — making people go, making organizations go.  But the misunderstanding comes in when leaders fail to understand who actually makes what go.  Leaders often believe that they themselves must make things go, that if people must go from point A to point B, let's say, that they must order them to go.  But order leadership founders today in fast-changing, highly competitive markets.

In this environment, a new kind of leadership must be cultivated — leadership that aims not to order others to go from point A to point B — but instead that aims to  motivate them to want take the leadership in going from A to B.

 That "getting others to lead others" is what leadership today should be about.  And it is what we should inculcate in our clients.  We must challenge them to lead, lead for results with this principle in mind, and accept nothing else from them but this leadership.

Furthermore, leadership today must be universal.  To compete successfully in highly competitive, fast changing markets, organizations must be made up of employees who are all leaders in some way.  All of us have leadership challenges thrust upon us many times daily.  In the very moment that we are trying to persuade somebody to take action, we are a  leader — even if that person we are trying to persuade is our boss.  Persuasion is leadership.  Furthermore, the most effective way to succeed in any endeavor is to take a leadership position in that endeavor.  

The Obligation applies to all employees.  Whatever activities you are being challenged to carry out, make the Obligation a lens through which you view those activities.  Have your clients recognize that your work on the behalf of their leadership will pay large dividends toward advancing their careers.

Recognize: Recognize that recruiting, retaining, and developing good leaders ranks with earnings growth (or with nonprofit organizations: mission) in terms of being an organizational necessity.  So most of your activities must be in some way tied to the Obligation.

For instance: HR executive directors who want to develop courses for enhancing the speaking abilities of their companies' leaders often blunder in the design phase.  Not recognizing the Leadership Obligation, they err by describing them as "presentation courses."  Instead, if they were guided by the Obligation, they would offer courses on "leadership talks."   There is a big difference between presentations and leadership talks.  Presentations communicate information.  Presentation courses are a dime a dozen.  But leadership talks motivate people to believe in you and follow you.  Leaders must speak many times daily — to individuals or groups in a variety of settings.  When you provide courses to help them learn practical ways for delivering effective talks, to have them speak better so that they can lead better, you are benefitting their job performance and their careers.

Today, in most organizations, the presentation is the conventional method of communication.  But when you make the leadership talk the key method by instituting "talk" courses and monitoring and evaluation systems broadly and deeply within the organization, you will help make your company more effective and efficient.

Link: Though such recognition is the first step in getting off the sidelines, it won't get you into the game.  To get into the center of things, you must link your activities with results.  Not your results — their results.

Clearly, your clients are being challenged to get results: sales' closes, operations efficiencies, productivity advances, etc.  Some results are crucial.  But other results are absolutely indispensable.  Your job is to help your clients achieve their results, especially the indispensable results.  You must be their "results partner."  Furthermore, you must help them get sizable increases in those results.  The results that they get with your help should be more than the results that they would have gotten without your help.

For instance, when developing company-wide objectives for leadership talks, you should not aim to have participants win a speaking "beauty contests" but instead to speak so that they motivate others to get increases in measured results.  When you change the focus of the courses from speaking appearance to the reality of results, you change the participants' view of and commitment to the courses and also their view of and commitment to you in providing those courses.  So have the participants define their indispensable results and link the principles and processes they learned in the course to getting measured increases in those results.

Execute: It's not enough to recognize.  It's not enough to link.  You must execute.  "Execute" comes from a Latin root exsequi meaning "to follow continuously and vigorously to the end or even to ‘the grave.'" Let's capture if not the letter at least the spirit of this lively root by insuring that your activities on behalf of your clients are well "executed," that they are carried out vigorously and continuously in their daily work throughout their careers.  If those activities are helping them get results, you are truly their "results partner."

For instance, in regard to the leadership talk courses, HR professionals can lead an "initiative approach."  At the conclusion of the course, each participant selects an initiative to institute back on the job.  The aim of each initiative is to get sizable increases in their indispensable results by using the principles and processes that they learned.

The initiatives and their results should be concrete and measurable, such as productivity gains, increases in sales, operations efficiencies, and reduced cycle times.

The participants should be challenged to get increases in results above and beyond what they would have gotten without having taken the course.  They should be challenged to get those increases within a mutually agreed upon time, such as quarterly reports.
In fact, if the participants don't achieve an increase in results that translates to at least ten times what the course costs, they should get their money back.

Don't stop there.  Getting an increase in results is not the end of the course, it should be the beginning — the beginning of a new phase of getting results, the stepping up phase.  The more results participants achieve, the more opportunities they have created to achieve even more results.  The leadership talk course should have methods for instituting results' step-ups.

One such method can be a quarterly leadership-talk round table.  Participants who graduate from the course meet once a quarter to discuss the results they have gotten and provide best practices for getting more.  Human resources should organize, direct and facilitate the round tables. In this way, the results the leaders are getting should increase quarter after quarter.  

When HR professionals promote such leadership talk courses, courses that are linked to getting increases in indispensable results and that come with the "results guarantee," those professionals are truly seen as results partners in their organizations.

I have used the leadership talk as an example of how you can greatly enhance your contributions to the company by applying the Leadership Obligation.  Don't just apply the Obligation to such courses alone.  Apply it to whatever challenge confronts you.

When you recognize how that challenge can be met through the Obligation, when you link the challenge to getting increases in measured results, and when you execute for results, you can transform your function.

You don't have to be as distinguished as Einstein or as awesome as Big Daddy Lipscomb, but you will in your individual way perceive the simple, powerful center of things.  You'll be in the thick of the most important game your company is playing — helping change your world and the world of your clients.

2006 © The Filson Leadership Group, Inc.   All rights reserved.