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Is Your Mind Too Closed To See These 3 Brands Objectively?

Today we visited a park nearby. The trip just wasn't worth it.

"It's a great park don't you think?" I said bravely, wanting to make the best of it.

"No," responded my husband. "It's humid today, the park is crowded, and there are dogs everywhere. Plus I can hear the traffic."

"Well I had fun," I scowled. "Some date you are."

"Why can't you ever admit it when something is not right?"

He has a good point there. Because I am not emotionally invested in any brands per se, I can be objective about them.

Along these lines, here is some contrarian thinking on 3 frequently discussed brands:

1. Twitter - negative: Like Facebook it enjoys ubiquity and familiarity. But unlike Facebook there is no higher-level purpose. Not a good long-term investment plus we won't want to see ads or sponsored content on it.

2. Miley Cyrus - positive: Miley's songs are good and she has a relevant, appealing message for parents of Gen Yers: Leave us alone and let us work it out. She also is working her publicity angle well, outsmarting and outshining other attention-grabbing superstars.

3. The Democratic Party - negative: This is a party that enjoys a natural advantage with its promise of protecting the poor, elderly, weak and vulnerable and ensuring a level playing field. Yet seemingly everything they do looks bumbling, foolish, ill-conceived, like amateur hour. They have become complacent and worse, demonize those who offer legitimate criticism and opposition (which only bolsters its opposition).

* All opinions my own. Photo by me.

What If There Was A Shutdown & Nobody Cared?

Photo by Rebecca Wilson via Flickr

It's an unfortunate fact of life: "Man plans and G-d laughs."

From a communication perspective it was clear as Windex: The shutdown was a bargaining chip. The equivalent of: "You see? You see? We're gonna shut down the government, and then everyone will be mad at you."

Reminds me of those years when I tried, really tried to make a homemade dinner. What a good wife and mother I am, I told myself. How much appreciation I am entitled to.

Unfortunately I was allergic to that thing they call a "recipe."

So my kids ate anything but those dinners. Regularly they Tupperware-rotted in the fridge.

They didn't care.

Much like nobody seems to care about the government shutdown, other than those directly impacted in a negative way (note: I work for the government myself; all opinions my own).

For example, take these status updates, from a random Twitter search of "nobody cares" and "shutdown" done today, October 3, 2013:

Back to those dinners, and the psychology of threats and guilt, and how they backfire.

"One day you'll see how much you miss a homemade meal," I used to say. It was a power play of course. I was the mother, it was my kitchen, I decided what to make and how to make it, and they should simply "appreciate" me, i.e. let me mow them down.

What an arrogant attitude I had. But in fact it sounds a lot like traditional government. With its remoteness to what people actually want and need. Its insistence on crafting programs that are bloated, bureaucratic, and not financially workable in the long term.

In fact, the parallel is exact. Just like ordinary people want the government to get out of the business of pretend-business that runs nothing like a business, so too did my family want me out of the kitchen if I stubbornly refused to learn how to cook.

"I love you," my husband would say. "But please stop cooking. Please!"

It's tempting when you have power to make your wish into a threat. The famous red line. "Don't you dare!" "I'm warning you!"

But threats only work under certain circumstances:

  • You see your target as a person not a thing.
  • You clearly understand what motivates them.
  • You are ready, willing, and able to act.
  • The action you take is likely to work.
  • You are prepared to handle the consequences.

In short, you have to know what you're doing.

Here's what happens when you don't:

What will the government say after the shutdown, if the citizens write in with a petition, and calling for all "non-essential" agencies and/or offices to stay shuttered until the economy gets better?

Before you act, see things from the other person's perspective. Because you never, ever know what they are going to do.

And it isn't always nice.

* All opinions my own.

Critics To The Gulag

Photo by Mouse via Flickr

Underneath my door was a piece of white paper, folded in three as if an old-fashioned letter. 

I told the staff to write me with feedback, questions and complaints and drop them in two plastic buckets on my desk. It never occurred to me they would not know when or how to step in to my office.

On leave for a couple of days, the note came in. I unfolded it and read.

My stomach gnawed a little in the negative parts. Need more clarity (ouch). Too much change (ouch again). But honestly I was happy too. Someone actually cared, and more than that felt empowered enough to speak up.

The branch chiefs and I talked about the letter. The staff got a point-by-point response by the end of the day.

Countless studies show that the more helpless you feel, the more anxious and depressed you get. Dr. Martin Seligmann's is head of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania and their work is completely centered on counteracting the depression that results when you believe you've lost control over your life.

Employees must have control over their work in order to be productive.

Disempowerment leads directly to depression and disengagement. In a collaboration-based knowledge economy, your depression leads to my depression and that is why negativity is the worst cancer a group of people in any organization can get. 

This is why great leaders will do anything to get their employees feeling engaged again. Even if it means they have to take some hits. Because empowered, strong, engaged employees actually want to come to work in the morning and do come up with impossibly great results.

The important thing a leader can do is get out of employees' way.

Yet too many leaders fail at this fundamental task. 

Poor leaders thrive on the people's helplessness. 

They know that they are ineffective, so they employ a multitude of tactics aimed at avoiding accountability. These fall into four basic categories (the same four categories as positive leadership would):

1. Strategy
  • Engendering Crisis: They don't have a plan for readily anticipated crises in advance, and they don't seem to care. There always seems to be an out-of-control situation causing panic, fear, and insecurity. 
  • Hired Guns: They recruit credible third parties to represent their positions as brand ambassadors. Even though their positions may defy reality.
  • Trivial Pursuits: Using popular culture to sway public opinion, e.g. focusing excessively on interviews in the press or overemphasizing employee softball games or volunteer events
2. People
  • The Blame Game: It's always somebody else's fault. The leader is helpless in the clutches of whoever is the bad guy (or girl) of the day, or conversely when they exercise their power poorly and engender criticism, it's the other side's fault for opposing them.
  • Sniper Tactics: They carry out negative actions against other people, but avoiding being personally linked to them. 
  • Class Warfare: Defining some groups or people as "good" and others as "bad," "wrong," or "evil."
3. Process
  • Rules Don't Matter, But I Make the Rules: The leader insists that the situation is so dire, or that the rules are so inflexible, that they must simply act without waiting and yet they tend to make new rules that others must follow which support their priorities.
  • My Way Or The Highway: The leader impatiently insists on doing things their way, and threatens implicitly or explicitly that those who disagree or disobey will be sanctioned. 
4. Communication
  • Burying The Facts: Delay, obfuscation, complexity, confusion, jargon, lengthy reports, complication, distorted visual images, avoidance of documentation, and so on.
  • Propaganda: Rhetoric, manipulation, distortion, table-turning, outright lies; anyone who disagrees is crazy, ignorant, or evil. 
  • Silencing The Critics: Silencing, marginalizing, targeting, and retaliating against critics spontaneously and systemically. Establishing a system of institutional groupthink such that no opposition is legitimate.
All of us in leadership roles make a ton of mistakes. A ton of them. But that doesn't mean we are failures.

Rather the failure is in mowing over our employees' feedback. Refusing to give them a direction. Insisting that at every moment we know best. And acting like the skills they bring to the table are irrelevant.

We can move from negative to positive pretty quick. But first we have to read the letter.

* All opinions my own.

Productivity Smoothie, No Sugar

Normally I would not post a literal recipe. Making an exception.

1 can V8
1 can chicken soup ready to drink
2-3 handfuls greens (spinach, kale)

Blend. Heat in mug. Drink.

Other People's Games

"Who do you like better, Dossy?"

That was my Zayde, may he rest in peace and he asked the same question every time I visited.

"I don't like anyone better, Zayde, I love you and Grandma and Grandpa the same."

And he would argue with me.

"Come on, you must like one better than the other."

"Really. I love you and them the same."

A few months later we'd be in the Catskills and I would sit on the comfy sofa in the living room watching my Grandpa give it to my dad, a Hasid.

"I never understood those Hasidim. Maybe you can explain it to me."

It's thirty years later and the toxic conversations around possible government shutdown are the same.

Because Dysfunctional Donnas and Negative Neds simply cannot rest until they draw you into it:
  • "It's all their fault, don't you agree?"
  • "This country has gone completely crazy, don't you think?"
  • "It will never be any better. Sad, isn't it?
It took me a long time to learn: It's their drama, stay out of it. You want to help, but you'll only end up sucked in to their whirling vortex of misery.

A friend once said, "Don't throw that pity party and expect me to attend."

The worst thing you can do is step in other people's quicksand. They're only too happy to invite you, and strangely you end up drowning while they are very much alive.

Yes times are tough and we should face reality.

But no, we don't have to play other people's (sick, and sickening) games.

* All opinions my own.