Nothing Finer than Living in North Caroliner

Nothing Finer than Living in North Caroliner
Blue Ridge Smoky Mountains

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Day 296 - Timing is Everything

My kids used to come and talk to me about something they wanted or wanted to do.  I would understand their logic and then answer with, "I think this is doable but we need to get the consent of your father also."  After all we were raising them together and it is definitely the right thing to do.  Some parents who understand this respect for consent from both governing authorities are stronger in unison as a front than divided.  This is why kids ask only the parent that they think will say yes first.  So as soon as his father got up and it was obvious by the yelling he had begun that he had awoke and arisen from the wrong side of the bed, my son asked his father for consent.   The answer was an abrupt, "No, Hell No."  I felt bad for my son.  So asked if he wanted to come to the store with me.  He said yes and off we went to buy a few groceries.

While in the car, I told him that timing is everything.  For permission from his father, it was best to catch him in a good mood.  Perhaps when he was finished eating or later in the day.  So I convinced him to ask again.  He agreed and came home and volunteered to mow the yard.  Later in the day he asked again and he was granted permission.  So that story came back to me this week when one of my new intern Mentors cited the mantra, "It is not just doing the right thing, it is doing the right thing at the right time."  This is something I can learn from and will try to do a better job of.  Of course as you know I've got the right thing down pat, but the right thing AT PRECISELY the RIGHT time is something I will seek guidance from.  I am in the mindset that if you always do the right thing, it IS always the right time but maybe that is not true.  He likened it to being on a baseball team and playing the catcher position.  And then volunteering to pitch, AND infield as shortstop, AND outfield...all at the same time.  It appeared to others as chaos.

But then I read my Newsweek with the article interviewing Colin Powell.  There is a section about unreliable sources.  He says, "You can't make good decisions unless you have good information and can separate facts from opinion and speculation.  Facts are verified information, which is then presented as objective reality.  The rub here is the verified.  How do you verify verified?  Facts are slippery, and so is verification.  Today's verification may not be tomorrow's.  It turns out that facts may not really be facts; they can change as the verification changes; they may only tell part of the story, now the whole story; or they may be so qualified by verifiers that they're empty of information.  

My warning radar always goes on alert when qualifiers are attached to facts.  Qualifiers like:  My best judgement...I think...As best I can tell...Usually reliable sources say...For the most part...We've been told....and the like. I don't dismiss facts so qualified, but can I'm cautious about taking them to the bank. "

He went on to say that he has four rules to ensure that the process is seen from the same perspective and to take off the burden of accountability from their shoulders for his intelligence staff:

Tell me what you know.
Tell me what you don't know.
Tell me what you think.
Always distinguish which is which.

Colin Powell goes on to explain what he means by these four things and the part about "Tell me what you think" really stands out for me as it is the question that always comes to mind when we think of his testimony to the UN and how ultimately as representative of the USA, he was wrong.  He explains the process of drafting the speech with his intelligence..."They had big don't knows that they never passed on.  Some of these analysts later wrote books claiming they were shocked that I had relied on such deeply flawed evidence.  

Yes the evidence was deeply flawed. So why did no one stand up and speak out during the intense hours we worked on the speech?  We really don't know what?  We can't trust that!  You can't say that!...It takes courage to do that, especially  if you are standing up to a view strongly held by a superior or to the generally prevailing view, or if you really don't want to acknowledge ignorance when your boss is demanding answers.  

The leader can't be let off without blame in these situations.  He too bears a burden.  He has to relentlessly cross examine the analysts until he is satisfied he's got what they know and has sanded them down until they've told him what they don't know.  At the same time, the leader must realize that it takes courage for someone to stand up and say to him, "That's wrong,' 'You're wrong.' Or: 'We really don't know that." The leader should ever shoot the messenger.  Everybody is working together to find the right answer.  If they're not, then you've got even more serious problems."

When you start a new position, it is important to seek out these sources that do these four things well.  It is a process which I have a love hate relationship with.  I want to trust everyone and that everyone will know the importance of these four rules.  I always told my sons, if you tell me the truth, the ENTIRE truth, then I can help you but without knowing the details of everything, I can't help you.  So we had the same view...the same perspective.  Which leads me back to where we started...the question is, is doing the right thing always  at the right time?  or is there a "certain time" to do the right thing?  I still have to go with my gut on this and say it is ALWAYS the right time...I think the perspective from my mentor is not doing the right thing but "being right" at the right time.  Colin Powell would know this perspective well, based on the lack of information about what his sources "thought" vs what they "knew", he was wrong at the wrong time.  The beauty of this was that he became a better leader as a result...

He ends the article with.."Leaders should train their staffs that whenever the question reaches the surface of their mind -"Umm, you think we should call someone?" - the answers is almost always, "Yes, and five minutes ago."  And that's a pretty good rule for life, if you haven't yet set your woods on fire.
With early notification, we can all gang up on the problem from our different perspectives and not lose time.  As I have told my staff many times over the years, if you want to work for me, don't surprise me.  And when you tell me, tell me everything.  

From his book It worked for me: In Life and Leadership by Colin Powell

No comments:

Post a Comment