Final Thoughts on Constructive Criticism

Throughout September I have challenged the value of so-called Constructive Criticism. I have offered the value of dialogue as an alternative approach to performance and relationship improvement. The impact of criticism is far reaching and unproductive. For your consideration, I offer not just my view on the subject but that of a number of luminaries and their thoughts.

“Employees who believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person–not just an employee–are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled. This is true when they simply sit down and talk to them. Satisfied employees mean satisfied customers, which leads to profitability.” —Anne M. Mulcahy

“I have spent a good many years since―too many, I think―being ashamed about what I write. I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction or poetry who has ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent. If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that’s all.” ― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

“Some people insist that ‘mediocre’ is better than ‘best.’ They delight in clipping wings because they themselves can’t fly. They despise brains because they have none.” ― Robert A. Heinlein, Have Space Suit—Will Travel

“Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamp-post what it feels about dogs.” ― John Osborne

“The devil’s happy when the critics run you off.” ― Criss Jami, Venus in Arms

“Tis a strange calling!’ muttered Hawkeye, with an inward laugh, ‘to go through life, like a catbird, mocking all the ups and downs that may happen to come out of other men’s throats.” ― James Fenimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans

“The trade of critic, in literature, music, drama and life in general, is the most degraded of all trades.” ― Mark Twain

“It is not my methodology to engage too much with critics for many reasons: – I honestly believe that my ego is not worthy of my having to defend it. There are far more important things in the ummah than me having to respond to critics. – By and large, criticism is a part of human life and nature and we have ourselves to accomplish more than just responding to what people say about us. – The best way to silence the speech of the critics it through the deafening noise of your own actions. – Criticizing is the job that requires zero qualifications.” ― Abu Ammaar Yasir Qadhi

Dialogue: An Alternative to Constructive Criticism

“Many of the conflicts in our lives and in the world are caused by misunderstandings. Sometimes we jump to conclusions about why others do things. Sometimes we don’t understand the cultural differences of others. Poor communication makes the conflict worse. Real dialogue can often lead to understanding, helping us to get along much better.” – Robert Alan Silverstein

The ability to speak and communicate with each other is something intrinsically linked to human nature. If you agree with this premise shouldn’t this be the alternative to “constructive criticism” which is 9 times out of 10 a one way communication session that is punitive and authoritarian in nature?

Dialogue derives from the Greek word dialogos: logos can be explained as “meaning of the word” and dia means “through.” Dialogue can, therefore, be defined as a conversation between two or more people and also as an exchange of opinions or ideas. Talking together often means debating, discussing with a view to convincing the other, arguing our point of view, examining pros and cons, making the “stream of meaning” flow among and through people, in the whole group. From this, some new form of understanding may emerge.

This dynamic and relation-changing process enables people to talk deeply and personally about some of the major issues and realities that divide them. Dialogue often involves the weighing of various options and the consideration of different viewpoints; all that often leads to both personal and collaborative action.

In a real democratic and “open society,” whose fabric is mainly made up of tolerance and pluralism, the aim of a dialogue is not reaching a unanimous consensus among the people involved or convincing the listener that one’s ideas or opinions are absolutely correct or irrefutable. It is rather sharing one’s perspectives and experiences with one another about difficult issues; the main point is not judging or making decisions, but understanding and learning.

For the leader, manager or supervisor it allows them to put all issues on the table and it dispels stereotypes, builds trust and enables people to be open to perspectives that are very different from their own. In other words it opens the door for employee change. Everyone involved in a dialogue makes a serious effort to take others’ viewpoints into their own picture of the world, even when disagreement persists.

Conducting a dialogue among people advocating different ideas was considered by ancient Greek philosophers, such as Socrates and Aristotle, to be a form of exploration for inquiry into the truth of the context that brings people together for the dialogue session.

The essence of an alternative approach to “constructive criticism” is what this thing called dialogue is all about.

“The reality today is that we are all interdependent and have to co-exist on this small planet. Therefore, the only sensible and intelligent way of resolving differences and clashes of interests, whether between individuals or nations, is through dialogue.” – The Dalai Lama

Make a “Ta Da” List

“This is your life, your one and only life. Don’t miss it.” – Dan Zadra

Many people make “to do” lists to check off items to give them satisfaction that they have life under control. You can find “to do” check list forms at any office supply store or even on line.  I have found that another kind of check list is much more satisfying as well as inspiring and even a bit magical. It is a reminder of what you strive to include in each day of your life no matter what, no matter how, no matter when, no matter what.

This second type of list is called a “Ta Da List.” The “Ta Da” approach is all about mindset and attitude. The payoff is to say “Ta Da” to the following questions at the end of every day.  Here goes, here are some sample questions, ones that I have been using to keep things in perspective and focus on what I consider important. The residual feeling that you get when you say “ta da” to your success helps you focus and tackle the big issues and challenges you face. At first it may seem “fluffy” and not real important. I challenge you to try it and answer some of these questions at the end of your day. See how “ta da” will work for you.

  1. Did I wake up and greet the day?
  2. Did I celebrate simply being alive?
  3. Did I read something interesting and or pertinent today?
  4. Did I find at least one good piece of news today?
  5. Did I learn something new today?
  6. Did I change something for the better today?
  7. Did I stop to thank someone today?
  8. Did I putting something – even just a dollar in savings today?
  9. Did I find something to make me or others laugh today?
  10. Did I help or reach out to someone?
  11. Did I forgive someone (maybe even myself)?
  12. Did I do something sacred (pray meditate or visit someone who needed a visit)?
  13. Did I stand up for to someone or something?
  14. Did I do something ridiculous or fun?
  15. Did I tell a loved one(s) how much I appreciate them?
  16. Did I treat my body well?
  17. Did take a chance on or risk something?
  18. Did I write down a new idea?
  19. Did I review my goals of 1, 5, 10 and 20 years and work toward them?
  20. Did I count my blessings?

I know you are probably thinking how can I do all of that? Practice, my friend it takes practice and while all of the questions may not fit your needs; but I’ll bet most if not all in one form or another will.  At the end of a “ta da” day, you will have a sense of accomplishment for a finished project for the boss, or a presentation to the board because of the positive BALANCED mindset you are developing. I challenge you, make a top 10 list of “ta da” questions that will give you satisfaction and then start the “ta das” at the end of your day!

The Nature of Time

Time. Punctuality. Clock. These three words can be used to map the shift from natural time to mechanical time. Instead of people observing the flow of time (via an hourglass) time found us. The sound of a bell brought our attention to the passing of the hours. Time is rooted in the word di which means to cut up and divide. And by the end of the 17th century the meaning of the word punctual changed from referring to a person who insisted on points or details of conduct to a person who was exactly observant of an appointed hour. As we moved into the 20th century time became machine based and so did we.

In reality Nature’s Time is inseparable from the processes that produce natural change. There is a stark contrast between natural time and mechanical time. The reality of nature’s time is more “real” while the mechanical time is manufactured and does not reflect natural growth which can be biological, chaotic and resists “manufactured timelines.” Manufactured time is not truly reflective of real time. Too often as a result of this disconnect, managers who are too eager to respond to the pressure of competition, customers and investors say we don’t have time to examine, learn of the intricacy of time in the natural sense. They deal with one isolated project at a time as opposed to learning and understanding the interwoven intricacies of how time and nature work together.

“Men who can graft the trees and make the seed fertile and big, can find no way to let the hungry people eat their produce. Men who have created new fruits in the world cannot create a system whereby their fruits may be eaten. And the failure hangs over the State like a great sorrow. ’’  ~Steinbeck

Tips for Time Management

“How did it get so late so soon?” – Dr. Seuss

Start today by thinking about time itself. Time is a mysterious, fleeting thing that has a way of escaping our grasp in the blink of an eye. Ask yourself as you start today’s tasks, “Are you making the most of your time?” If you are like most of us who think we don’t have enough time to get everything we have to do done, you are more than likely wasting time in one form or another. Here are several tips to ruminate on. How you are doing in each of these areas?

Do you have a plan for success? Benjamin Franklin is believed to have said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” What is the point of having a time management plan if you don’t know where you want to go and what you want to do with that time and energy? Do you have a plan, a vision or a mission for your life and your profession?

Do you have focus and a set of priorities? If not, you need to develop what some call, and I agree, a “laser-like focus on the task at hand.” Focus is a deadly weapon that will help you accomplish more work in less time by terminating the time wasters in your life. As Mark Twain said “you can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.”

What is your productivity level? Productive workers can produce higher output in fewer hours, resulting in more free time for much-needed fun and relaxation. Are you one of these high performers? If not, why not? What is holding you back? What chains do you need to break away from?

Plan to cut useless activities out of your life and work. When you do, you are ready to create systems to organize your workflow to avoid wasted time, money and effort. When you think about it, there is most efficient way to live reasonably. Every morning make a plan of your day and every night examine the results. How do you approach each day?

So there you have some tips to consider for better time management. Now is the time to apply an idea or two and do something new with your time!

“Time is what we want most, but what we spend worst.” – William Penn

Is Work Life Balance Possible?

In a recent issue of HBR researcher postulated that in the global marketplace no leader is capable of leading a balanced life. One executive proclaimed that he felt it was “impossible” to have a great family life, hobbies and an amazing career at the same time. Numerous leaders when interviewed by researchers “in one way or another” believed that this is the reality of the business world in 2014 and beyond. The conclusion seems to be that the two institutions of family and the workplace can’t coexist. I say hogwash. It is the choices that we make and while the factors that make this a truism or not are many because of those choices. However, I firmly believe that with reflection, a strategic vision for self and profession, prioritization and focus we can and must have both.

Here’s why. First as I personally have experienced, “life happens,” the ground opens up and shakes you to the bottom of your soul. For me it was a personal matter, my mother passed away at a very, very busy time in my business life and like too many others I found myself ignoring, to one degree or another, all of the events leading up to her passing. I found that, mentality, I suffered from a confidence that everything would work out, yet her actual passing demanded that I take a true pause and face the reality of what I was doing. My mom had taught me a lesson even in death. “Everything in moderation” was one her favorite axioms. In this case it was far too real.

Another lesson learned had to do with my career path. I had it all laid out as to how I would rise to the pinnacle position in my chosen field only to have the reality of having a family jump out at me. I will never forget my son requesting at the time of salary increases at work, would I ask for time off rather than money. He said it would be worth more to him and his brother and sister if they could see me more often than anything that more money could buy. It was then that I realized that you don’t get any “do-overs” raising kids. They are only in kindergarten, middle or high school one time, and those times are fleeting. You get the picture I am sure.

Finally, it became abundantly clear to me early in my career that as the book title, No Man is an Island, intimates nobody can go it alone. Clearly the days of the go it alone, rugged individualist leader are over. In order to walk whichever path to success you want to take, no path can be walked alone. Support systems and relationships are fundamental to anyone’s success either personal or professional. I challenge you to examine your networks. Do you know if the members of those networks can be counted on to be there for you during the tough decisions and challenges you face? If you don’t really know the answer to that question, it behooves you to spend time finding out. When you do make a plan to develop those relationships that you NEED, let them be the foundation of the success and achievement you desire.

The bottom line is to focus on the balance you need to meet the challenges that are barriers to the success you are looking forward to and working toward. It is my belief that the leader who can do this, find work life balance, will be more than successful, he or she will be happy and fulfilled as well.

Work to Live

You will never feel truly satisfied by work until you are satisfied by life. ~Heather Schuck

A recent survey by the Corporate Executive Board, which represents 80% of the Fortune 500 companies, ranks work-life balance (WLB) as one of the most important workplace attributes—second only to compensation. They found that employees who feel they have good work-life balance work 21% harder than those who don’t. That’s the definition of the discretionary effort that comes from engagement. That data kind of blows my mind. How about you? It seems to me that there is a clear message to all of us with these findings. There is a definitive payoff in productivity personally and professionally, as further study shows that company support of work life balance initiatives dramatically increase revenues, reduce costs and drive the best retention.

A good, comprehensive work-life balance program brings all those benefits to an organization. Moreover, it costs little to keep staff engaged, recharged and motivated. Furthermore, WLB minimizes stress, burnout and habits that drain productivity and drive up costs.

Think about it. More effective work means better communication, more teamwork, less stress and more commitment. Studies show that support from supervisors and work colleagues is more important to the work-life fit than support from family and friends.  So as a leader what are you doing to promote and support WLB?

Here is a list of several things you can do. In the coming weeks I will offer specific ideas as to how you can use one or more of these strategies and ideas to initiate more effective WLB.

  • Reframe stress
  • Eliminate burnout
  • Manage out-of-control email
  • Set boundaries
  • Improve time management
  • Develop prioritization skills
  • Boost energy and optimism
  • Deploy the most potent motivation for engagement
  • Improve health and wellness
  • Activate the most fulfilling life

Remember to focus, focus, focus. During the next month pick out two or three of these strategies to work on. Contact me if you have questions on how to find your balance. Building work-life skills is about making the right adjustments and resisting autopilot behavior. Acting without focus and prioritization will push you into an out of balance life style. Clarity of mind and purpose leads to better time management, project management and life management. When you accomplish this you will be better able to take care of your work, yourself and your life outside the job.

A true balance between work and life comes with knowing that your life activities are integrated, not separated. ~Michael Thomas Sunnarborg

Manager as Educator

In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something else. ~Lee Iacocca

The educational component of management is often low on the priority list for many managers and supervisors. The manager must be concerned with teaching the worker and helping him learn what he needs to know in order to do his job successfully. Clarity of expectations is either the ‘Achilles heel’ or the blueprint for success for the employee. Every management position job description should include a listing of this function: 1) instructs employees in acceptable work techniques and skill development; 2) focuses on developing competence through individual and group conferences; 3) teaches and instructs staff in how to achieve high level job performance.

In essence, the educational component of management relates to the transmission of knowledge, skills, attitudes and values needed by the employee to succeed. Consider the following to aid your management efforts to make appropriate and effective use of supervision.

First and perhaps most essential, is to provide your staff with a list of general as well as specific expectations. The understanding of these expectations will form the basis for success or lack of it for employees.

Second, approach your supervisory work with a true and sincere spirit of cooperation. Commit to demonstrating your willingness to work and learn alongside them.

Third, take initiative. Focus on the importance of the key duties of supervision. Know what your supervisory duties are and complete them in a timely and well intended manner. Know what needs to be done not only for the entire team you manage; but also what the responsibilities are for specific individuals. Make sure you know what needs to be done and see to it that it gets done, don’t avoid, put off and hope that things will correct themselves.

Fourth, demonstrate a willingness to be a lifelong learner. As the manager, expect that your staff continues to learn and grow and diligently model that essential behavior to them. You should not be ashamed to say, “I don’t know,” when you don’t have an answer. Then commit to finding out what that answer is. Hold your staff accountable for the same.

Fifth, be conversant about the work your team does. Ask questions about what and how they are doing. Find out what they know and make recommendations as to what they need to do better to experience more satisfying work. As their manager, they expect you to know about their job, be able to talk to them about it and show interest in what they do. When you are aware of these things you can better understand how the policies and procedures of the organization enhance and don’t hinder their work efforts.

Finally, disdain criticism; it isn’t necessary. Commit to and embrace constructive feedback. Look for ways to ask good questions that help you hold the employee responsible and accountable for their performance. Questions like:

  1. Are you satisfied with your work?
  2. At what level do you think you are performing and meeting the expectations of your job?
  3. Please give me several examples of the high level of performance you believe you are demonstrating?
  4. What are two to four specific ways you think you can improve your performance over the next three months?
  5. What can I do to help you?
  6. What tools or support do you need to grow and improve?

I believe, in this way, you as the manager let the employees know that you care.  Just as important, you let them know that they, with your help, have to meet expectations. They also will be held accountable for how they are expected to get the job done. When you treat employees this way, you can give constructive feedback with a smile and in most cases the employee will accept it with a smile as well.

A guy named Charlie Beacham was my first mentor at Ford. He taught me the importance of the dealers, and he rubbed my nose in the retail business. ~Lee Iacocca

Choosing What’s Important

“There are days when my forgetter is working overtime. I remember just as much as I always did, but as I have gotten older I have so many more things to remember and I can’t figure out which button to push on my cranial computer.” ~Marge Jetton, 105 vibrant years old.

Marge Jetton’s words cause me to think about why we forget to follow through, to remember important dates, faces, tasks, meetings or other such things. I believe that in this day and age we have allowed our heads to become overloaded with too much information. Furthermore, we don’t take the time to sort out what, when and who are really, truly important. We spend inordinate amounts of time “downloading” multitudes of information. We over stimulate ourselves with information that is unimportant, nonessential, low level and time wasting. I know for a fact that I have done this in this technological age. I have decided to combat this overload by becoming more strategic in how I approach this 24/7 information dump on my head. I periodically, once or twice a month, spend about an hour or so looking at what I am doing to make progress toward the five to seven personal or professional goals at the core of achieving my vision for the future. If the incoming information isn’t related to those goals I spend little or no time on it. I won’t allow myself to spend precious time on information, activity, or communication that will not get me to my ultimate goals.

As I get older and time is more fleeting, this approach has been most satisfying and energizing. Of course there is much more to my approach than I can explain in this short missive. However, allow me to share a regular activity I use in those twice a month sit downs I have with myself. If you choose to challenge yourself, take a sheet of paper and list out all the activities you have participated in over a two week period. I mean everything, as much as you can remember. Then, review your two week activity list. Put a check mark next to every item that was focused on your top five to seven personal and professional goals for the year. Then star those activities that were unrelated, time wasters, irrelevant, low level activities that seem to come in over the internet, into your office, called in on the phone or those that are piled on the desk.  I will wager that if you do this, you will find that at best three quarters or more of your time will have been spent NOT focused on what is truly important.

You see, I believe information overload, overstimulation, and wasting time is a choice we regularly make. I know it is for me. However, I am learning how to find the right buttons to push on my cranial computer to delete the useless overloads that are coming my way.

Good luck rediscovering your F10 button!

“The essence of self-discipline is to do the important thing rather than the urgent thing.” ~ Barry Werner

Reflection and Focus

“We become so focused on the prize we become oblivious to the impact on the people around us.” ~Scott Spreirer

In the last 10 years or so, I have spoken often regarding my observations that too many leaders subscribe to the “fire, ready, aim” approach to leadership and decision-making. The cost and the negative fall-out from such an approach can be devastating to organizations and the people being lead.

More than ever, today’s leader needs to seriously reflect upon and focus on their specific goals and intentions. To be sure, those who follow can sense a lack of focus and vision making it difficult for them to follow the leader. The lack of focus that emanates from inadequate reflection determines the willingness of the followers to be lead. Followers choose who to follow and where they will go based on their perceptions of what matters most to the leader.

Therefore it is essential that a leader has a clear vision and focus. The focus and vision must be of mind, body and spirit. I believe in order to articulate all three, the leader must take time to reflect, to think clearly, in order to focus and make key leadership decisions. This all takes time. Just as a great invention, a great painting or a great musical composition takes time to create, so do decisions that impact people and organizations. My Dad once asked me as I was being too quick to respond to an issue that would significantly impact my life, “Why is it we always seem to be in a rush and not have time to get it right the first time, but we always seem to make time for the second, third and sometimes fourth attempt to do it right?” Not only do we take time to make the second or third attempt to do it right, but we also take the time to clean up the messes that were created in the initial rush to get it done.

I am reminded that to make good, even great decisions, takes reflection, time and attention to create the most satisfying outcome.

“We always get more of what we pay more attention to…” ~ Daniel Goleman