“New Lows In Customer Service: The Art Of Malicious Compliance.”

As I travel around the country, the epidemic of indirectly hostile behaviours, directed toward consumers/customers, becomes more and more apparent. These are behaviours that say, primarily non-verbally: “I will do what I’ve been trained to do; say what I’m supposed to say; provide you with what you practically want from my company; but not make this interaction either pleasant , nor positive. In addition, it will be hard for you to confront me, since I’m not doing anything overtly rude or offensive.”An example: I recently arrived at a hotel around 11:00 pm, suitcase and briefcase in tow, and approached the front desk. The young lady on duty started out the interaction on the wrong foot, by asking me how she could help me. I’ve always been puzzled by this question. What else would I be interested in doing at that late hour, suitcase in hand, other than checking in to her hotel? (In the last year, I’ve taken to occasionally saying that I’m selling suitcases, and would she be interested in looking at the model I have with me.)Let’s back up a bit. As I approached the front desk, the young woman had a look on her face that could cut glass. Even though I see it more than I’d like to, it’s hard to accurately describe. There is no smile, no animation, and no range of feeling tone. But it is by no means neutral. It says, very strongly; “I don’t like being here; I don’t like my job; and I don’t like you.” I understand, intellectually, that it’s not about me personally. I simply represent an intrusion and an irritant in her life. (The gate agents at the Atlanta Airport have taken this look to its absolute zenith. They’ve made it an art form.)After we determined that I was there to actually spend the night at the hotel, she started going through the motions of doing what she was trained to do. Here is the exact dialogue, word for word:Front deskClerk: “Last name?”Me: “Shechtman – S,H,E,C,H,T,M,A,N”Clerk: “How’s that spelled?”Me: “S,H,E,C,H,T,M,A,N”Clerk: “First name?”Me: “Morris”Clerk: “Method of Payment and Form of Identification?”Me: “It should be billed to my client’s credit card. I stay hereevery month.”Clerk: “It doesn’t indicate that in your reservation. Oh, wait,now I see it.”(I am not abbreviating or altering anything. This interaction had all the panache of a police interrogation.) At this point, I had had it. The following dialogue ensued:Me: “Am I interrupting something?”Clerk: (Somewhat flustered) “No, I just need to ask you thesequestions.”Me: “I don’t mind the questions. I do mind your attitude.”At this point, an awkward silence ensued. Then, the most amazing thing happened. Her whole gestalt shifted. Her face filled with softer feelings, she engaged me in a brief conversation about why I come there every month, and she found the kind of room I preferred (which was not in my reservation).What happened here? First, I established my boundaries and my expectations. Second, I set limits and boundaries for her (that she couldn’t set for herself) and that gave her a sense of safety and a feeling of being cared for. Why is this important? Because 95% of the time we miss the opportunity to grow and develop people, by ignoring irritating and inappropriate behavior. You see and feel exactly what I see and feel. The difference is in what we choose to do about it.I am not suggesting that you become the “feedback police” and build your whole life around confronting people and being a royal pain in the ass. I am suggesting, that you pay attention to your gut, and share with people exactly how they’re impacting you, and how damaging that can be to their future. Most career-compromising behavior is not dramatic. It subtlety drives people away, and neither party really understands what has happened. All they know is that they no longer want to deal with that person. If you truly want to help people, personally and professionally, you owe them the dignity of a genuine and caring response to their self-limiting actions.

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“Pretty Woman Syndrome: Helping Good-Looking People Overcome Their Handicap”

A few weeks ago, I was facilitating an accountability group with eight financial services professionals. As people came into the room, I couldn’t help but notice a very attractive young woman, dressed in a manner that was designed to draw attention to her. What was most noticeable, though, was the look on her face, and the general aura of her non-verbal communication. Her face radiated disdain – a look and feel that dripped disinterest and dismissal of everyone in the room. She took her seat at the conference table, looked straight ahead, and acknowledged no one.
I’ve seen that look before. It says, without uttering a word – “I am beautiful and compellingly attractive; I know it and I’m aware that you see it; and I have no time, or interest, in relating to average looking people.” Having spent over twenty years working and living, part-time, in southern California, I have experienced thousands of women (and men) with that look and that persona. I also see it regularly in my travels, and have had many clinical clients with that aura, in my prior private practice.
What’s particularly noteworthy is that these individuals are often, in one form or another, in a people business. And further, they are often struggling and underperforming, frustrated by results that are considerably less than they would like, and way under their capacity and potential.
So, what’s going on here? First, we need to understand what’s driving this behavior. These attractive and handsome women and men are battling with what I’ve come to call the “single characteristic curse”. The key people in their lives have focused all their attention directed to these people, around one characteristic – their physical beauty. They become, then, their looks. They begin to believe that who they are, fundamentally, is this attractive, noticeably beautiful person. The problem is, that this is all they think they are. This limited identity is scary – sometimes terrifying – and leads to a variety of dysfunctional behaviors, all in the service of protection. Whether it’s disdain, arrogance, withholding or opaqueness, the goal is the same. To keep from being hurt and diminished (by being treated like an object), or even worse, to discover their secret – their belief that there is nothing else of value within them, other than their beauty.
It’s important to understand that when we reduce a person’s identity to a single characteristic – beauty, intelligence, athletic prowess, we undermine self-esteem and sow seeds of self-doubt. Instead of building confidence, it erodes and destroys it.
It is hard to be helpful to people battling with this curse, primarily because it requires one to take a big risk. The risk is to muster one’s courage, cut right through the armor of disdain, and tell the person how it feels to be around them. How it feels to be dismissed, controlled (by the lack of any connection) and completely shut out. And lastly, how their distancing armor discourages people from wanting to engage in a meaningful relationship.
Almost every time that I’ve taken the risk, the reaction is amazing. The facial stiffness melts away, and a look of recognition replaces it. The look is an unusual combination of an embarrassed smile (“you’ve found me out”) and a deep sadness, reflective of staying hidden for so long.
When I confronted the young lady in our group with the feelings about her impact on me, she said an interesting thing: “I know that I do that, but I don’t know why.” Helping her understand her behavior can change her whole life, and create opportunities for great success.
Posted in Articles, Uncategorized Tagged with: , , , ,

March 2012

Are you looking for a life-changing experience – career-wise and personally? If you are, you need to sign up for “The Leadership Imperative: Managing Yourself for Growth and Change;” the Executive Education Seminar that I’ll be teaching this summer through the Graduate School of Business at the University of Montana. “Life-Changing” may sound presumptuous, but that’s the most frequent feedback we get from participants in the course. If you want to get better at what you do; change what you do; or identify and plan for the next thing you’re going to do; this is the course to take. The seminar will take place at the School of Business, in Missoula, on the weekend of June 15th: All-day Friday, the 15th; half a day Saturday, the 16th; and half a day Sunday, the 17th. Saturday afternoon and evening will be spent at Dunrovin Ranch, about 30 miles from the University. Dunrovin is owned by Suzanne Miller, who is to horse training, what Harry Houdini was to magic. These horses are extraordinary animals, who teach adults a lot about leadership, and who bring a true gift to special needs children. If you don’t like the horses, you can fly fish, raft, hike, or just enjoy the beautiful scenery surrounding the ranch. At the end of the day, we have a blowout Montana barbecue; kick back, and enjoy the company. You can sign up online – www.business.umt.edu/leadership – or by calling Kathy White, at the Business School: 406.243.6715. “Picking Winners and Keepers,” our elearning recruiting and selection course, continues to generate rave reviews. (Technically, this is a VILT course – Virtual Instructor-Led Training, which means that it involves a computer and a live instructor.) The most common feedback we get is that the content is absolutely solid – no filler – completely unique, and ready to use. People really appreciate the 24/7 flexibility of accessing the material, enhanced by the live coaching calls. Alumni of the course universally report that their candidate interviewing is more focused, more efficient, more interactive, and more definitive. You can sign up online at: http://performancecounts.com/pickingwinners/ or by calling Marcie Cascio at: 860.653-3575.
Business: “New Lows In Customer Service: The Art Of Malicious Compliance.” As I travel around the country, the epidemic of indirectly hostile behaviours, directed toward consumers/customers, becomes more and more apparent. These are behaviours that say, primarily non-verbally: “I will do what I’ve been trained to do; say what I’m supposed to say; provide you with what you practically want from my company; but not make this interaction either pleasant , nor positive. In addition, it will be hard for you to confront me, since I’m not doing anything overtly rude or offensive.” An example: I recently arrived at a hotel around 11:00 pm, suitcase and briefcase in tow, and approached the front desk. The young lady on duty started out the interaction on the wrong foot, by asking me how she could help me. I’ve always been puzzled by this question. What else would I be interested in doing at that late hour, suitcase in hand, other than checking in to her hotel? (In the last year, I’ve taken to occasionally saying that I’m selling suitcases, and would she be interested in looking at the model I have with me.) Let’s back up a bit. As I approached the front desk, the young woman had a look on her face that could cut glass. Even though I see it more than I’d like to, it’s hard to accurately describe. There is no smile, no animation, and no range of feeling tone. But it is by no means neutral. It says, very strongly; “I don’t like being here; I don’t like my job; and I don’t like you.” I understand, intellectually, that it’s not about me personally. I simply represent an intrusion and an irritant in her life. (The gate agents at the Atlanta Airport have taken this look to its absolute zenith. They’ve made it an art form.) After we determined that I was there to actually spend the night at the hotel, she started going through the motions of doing what she was trained to do. Here is the exact dialogue, word for word: Front desk Clerk: “Last name?” Me: “Shechtman – S,H,E,C,H,T,M,A,N” Clerk: “How’s that spelled?” Me: “S,H,E,C,H,T,M,A,N” Clerk: “First name?” Me: “Morris” Clerk: “Method of Payment and Form of Identification?” Me: “It should be billed to my client’s credit card. I stay here every month.” Clerk: “It doesn’t indicate that in your reservation. Oh, wait, now I see it.” (I am not abbreviating or altering anything. This interaction had all the panache of a police interrogation.) At this point, I had had it. The following dialogue ensued: Me: “Am I interrupting something?” Clerk: (Somewhat flustered) “No, I just need to ask you these questions.” Me: “I don’t mind the questions. I do mind your attitude.” At this point, an awkward silence ensued. Then, the most amazing thing happened. Her whole gestalt shifted. Her face filled with softer feelings, she engaged me in a brief conversation about why I come there every month, and she found the kind of room I preferred (which was not in my reservation). What happened here? First, I established my boundaries and my expectations. Second, I set limits and boundaries for her (that she couldn’t set for herself) and that gave her a sense of safety and a feeling of being cared for. Why is this important? Because 95% of the time we miss the opportunity to grow and develop people, by ignoring irritating and inappropriate behavior. You see and feel exactly what I see and feel. The difference is in what we choose to do about it. I am not suggesting that you become the “feedback police” and build your whole life around confronting people and being a royal pain in the ass. I am suggesting, that you pay attention to your gut, and share with people exactly how they’re impacting you, and how damaging that can be to their future. Most career-compromising behavior is not dramatic. It subtlety drives people away, and neither party really understands what has happened. All they know is that they no longer want to deal with that person. If you truly want to help people, personally and professionally, you owe them the dignity of a genuine and caring response to their self-limiting actions. Political/Cultural: “Election Time: Deciphering The Code” Its election season and it’s time for politicians and the media to pull out all the stops on the use of code words. Both the Left and the Right try to mobilize their bases (and some Independents) with superheated language that has a special meaning intended to mobilize impulsive, irrational feelings. Everyone knows what is really meant by these words and phrases, but no one would own the real meaning, short of torture. On the Left, there are three “hot” phrases that get the juices going: Fair Share, Less Fortunate, and Equal Opportunity. The first two are inextricably connected, both having to do with the doctrine of “unfairness,” that the “Occupy Someplace” movement has been highlighting and trying to keep in the public consciousness for the last number of months. The “rich” paying their Fair Share really means the leaders of the Left arriving at a percentage of income to be taken from the former, in an amount to sufficiently punish those who have the nerve and gall to do what the latter will never do. That’s why those who promulgate the Fair Share concept can never quite arrive at an amount, or an amount that never seems high enough. Less Fortunate is an even more pernicious term. What it really refers to, is those unfortunate people who missed out when the deity of success held its lottery, years and years ago. If they only had the right ticket, they’d be living in the McMansions and driving the upscale cars. What’s really nasty about this term, is the unstated dismissal of the More Fortunate as lucky, “connected,” manipulative, and corrupt individuals, who have what they have through no talent, skills, nor drive of their own. If you have trouble believing this, talk to people in the main stream media (when they’re not working), and visit a working class bar in any major city. Equal Opportunity has been around since the 1960’s (in some ways, since the New Deal), and may, earlier than this era, have had real and genuine meaning. But make no mistake, in our time, it means one and only one thing: Equal Outcome. When this administration talks about equalizing the playing field, they mean, without exception, redistributing wealth, confiscating income, and making more and more cultural and social opportunities, entitlements. You know how Western European countries provide higher education free of charge? They exclude most of the eligible population early in their lives. (When I went to college in England, they still used the “11-Plus” test; which excluded the vast majority of children from any chance at a university education, and relegated them to the remnants of the industrial revolution.) The Right participates in no less mendacity. Their key code words are Social Issues and Conservative Principles. Both of these really mean an adherence to hobby-horse issues drawn from a narrow and exclusionary religious base. And these beliefs intend to be no less controlling of people’s lives, than the social engineering of the Left. When the Right talks about the two hot button issues – gay marriage and abortion – their intention is not to initiate a debate on issues of social policy. On the contrary, their agenda is to impose their religious doctrine on the society as a whole. Whether it is Evangelical Christianity, Fundamentalism, or other orthodoxies, the mission is clear. You either believe what we do, about these issues, or you are wrong and evil. I have never believed that gay marriage or abortion are public policy issues. And I have never seen any convincing rationale for making them political issues. The attempt to do so seems to me, no less arbitrary, controlling, and autocratic than the Left’s attempts to regulate what we eat, how we raise our children, and where we should live. As a psychotherapist and social scientist, I have seen no evidence that gay marriages damage my marriage, or have undermined the resolve of people to commit to heterosexual adult intimate relationships. In terms of commitment and fidelity, there is not one shred of evidence that there is less of it in gay, committed relationships, than in their heterosexual counterparts. The old, still referred to stereotype, of the promiscuous gay guy, flitting from bathhouse to bathhouse, is as invalid as the stereotype of the ideal heterosexual union in which husband and wife never so much as look at a member of the opposite sex. Most people are blissfully unaware of the fact that over 50% of straight marriages experience infidelity. Personally, I don’t care if you marry your horse; as long as you don’t cheat on her. In terms of abortion, I find the practice gruesome and repulsive; and, none of my business. If I wanted to outlaw all the human behavior that I found destructive and repulsive, I’d have to quit working and devote the rest of my life to it. In a free society, there is much opportunity and much pain. Deciding, on a political level, which pain is allowable, and which is not, is a slippery slope to fascism. As far as the “sanctity of life” argument goes, it has always struck me as an unexamined and contradictory canard that is pulled out when all else fails. When I have discussed this issue with advocates of this point of view, I ask them if they extend the argument to capital punishment, self-defense, and just wars. We kill people regularly, across the planet. Sometimes it is inexcusable and tragic, and at other times, it is totally justifiable and necessary. If you were an absolutist about this, during World War II, we’d all be speaking German, and pledging our allegiance to the Third Reich. When it comes to the term Conservative, I get real tired of it being applied to everything short of late night infomercials. It is not about your religious beliefs, your lifestyle, your ethnicity, your geographical location, or any other accidental characteristic. The term should only refer to the basic grounding principles of those astounding individuals who paid an extraordinary price to create a society that has benefitted more people than any other place on earth. Those principles are: Individual Responsibility; Accountability; Freedom of Commerce; and Freedom of Speech and Expression of Individual Beliefs. If you choose to engage in the political process this year, which I believe is everyone’s duty, ask politicians what they mean, by the terms they use. Unfortunately, between career politicians and the main stream media, meaningless clichés have come to dominate our political discourse, and people are reduced to arguing one pointless position against an equally pointless counter-position. We have a choice about changing this. Personal: “Riding The Train: Good And Weird” A couple of months ago, I took the train from where I live, in northwest Montana, to do some lectures for a fast growing and ever-changing telecom company in north central Montana. The ride was for about five hours, and we passed through some beautiful scenery, particularly around Glacier National Park. But for me, the train trip was a kind of sociological journey into a part of our society that I spend very little, if any time, with. To start with, the Amtrak people are disorganized, customer-neutral, and easily overwhelmed. No one could tell me what car I needed to be in, or where I should sit. One employee kept telling me – “We’re oversold, every seat is taken, go sit in the lounge car until some people get off.” I finally figured out what car to sit in, and found a seat. I think that this trip was possibly the only time in the last thirty years, that I appreciated the airlines. On the whole, the trip struck me as a cross between a surreal movie about the circus, and a kind of adult day camp. (If you’re old enough, the movie part would have been directed by Federico Fellini.) A number of people clearly showed no interest in adult conventional dress or behavior. They were not obnoxious or threatening; just oblivious to customary middle class norms and conventions. At times, it very much felt like a circus side show,and, in particular, I would have been challenged to assign a gender to a couple of individuals. Having lived in L.A. unconventional people are not a new experience for me. (However, unconventional people in L.A. all have the goal of making it big in the highly conventional world.) These folks, on the train, did not strike me as having that goal. In one sense, all the people I saw seemed financially constrained. No one was throwing money around, or placing huge orders in the lounge car. (Although the meals in the dining car were pretty stiff, and no one seemed to balk at the prices.) Within that commonality, there were the non-conformists, students, itinerant workers, foreign tourists, and a group of Hudderites or Mennonites. The latter were across the aisle from me, in the lounge car, engaged in some kind of playing card game. Every time something significant happened in the game, there would be shrieks of pleasure and much conversation in a language that sounded like a mixture of classical German and Chaucerian English. They were absolutely in their own world. Sometimes I wish I could do that. Dinner was a fascinating experience. I was seated in a booth with three complete strangers. The last time that had happened to me, was over forty years ago, when I was a student in England. The server saw my irritation and said something snide to me. I had obviously violated train protocol. To my surprise, the experience was enjoyable and informative. I don’t know why I was initially irritated. I have no trouble talking with strangers – I do it on the airlines all the time. The three people I was sitting with, were a construction worker, a truck driver, and a high school senior. The construction worker was convinced that the oil companies and the government were in collusion to make his life miserable, and was looking for allies to bolster his conspiracy theory. Since the rest of us either didn’t agree or didn’t care, he ate rapidly and left. The truck driver was returning from the relatively newly discovered oil fields in North Dakota, headed to Washington State, to retrieve his family and move them to the fields. He was fascinating to talk with. He was making $10,000 a month, and told us stories of signing bonuses of thousands of dollars for working at McDonalds (for $30.00 an hour). He described an environment right out of the Gold Rush Days of the 19th Century. Tent cities, strip clubs, brothels, high crime, and no where to live, with any permanence. He had just stumbled across a mobile home that he was happy to rent for a couple of thousand a month. He knew some strippers (possibly, also hookers) who had made $500,000 their first year in the oil fields. I felt like I was witnessing history in the making. The young girl was beautiful beyond her age, articulate, a straight A student, and an ice hockey player on a highly rated regional team in Montana. Her parents were divorced and she lived with her mother in a very small town in far Eastern Montana. Her mother left every Monday morning to fly to Northern California where she was the CEO of a hospital. She returned on either Thursday or Friday. The girl acted like this was no big deal, and that she did fine essentially living alone most of the time. If I remember right, she had been accepted at the University of Chicago (my grad school alma mater). She seemed to absolutely have her life under control, and meeting all her needs. I left dinner asking myself the obverse question to what I usually ask. What happened to produce this happy, well-rounded, confident, and balanced young person? The train trip was truly a learning experience. I met and interacted with people I never would have, in the normal course of my life. I was also keenly aware of the narrow world I live most of my life in. No regrets, but struck by the challenges of getting away from it and learning from people who I’ve only heard about. Morrie

Posted in Newsletters, Uncategorized

February 2012

This is a Morrie “News Alert”! Unlike the overuse of this term by the media (especially Fox News), this is really important. The date of the Executive Education Seminar has been changed. The new date is June 15 – 17, 2012 (one week earlier than the original date). Everything else is the same. Two days of highly interactive “classroom” work, with a group of successful learner-growers, from a myriad of businesses and professions; coupled with an afternoon and evening at a unique ranch that teaches leadership and communication skills through the interactive talents of Tennessee Walking Horses.
The seminar gives you the opportunity to look at your work life from a fresh perspective, allowing you to examine what you do that gets you the results you want, as well as what you do that gets you the results you’d rather not get. Throughout the seminar, this new information is consistently integrated into your personal choices, with the goal of minimizing compartmentalization, and maximally blending in your life. Given the new, post-meltdown culture we are now living in, the seminar offers you a singular opportunity to leverage the key changes, to your benefit as well as the benefit of the important people in your life.
All the vital details, including how to sign-up for the seminar, will be available by the end of the month. Look for an email in the next four weeks that will have all the cogent information. If you want to be sure to get a place in the seminar, shoot me an email and I’ll make sure that you’re on the pre-registration list.
Now that the economy is conclusively in recovery mode, recruiting is hitting its stride once again. (In the past few years, I have never talked with so many business and professional folks who are doing, or are gearing up to do, heavy-duty recruiting. Consulting firms, professional service firms, mining companies, oil companies, health care companies – all are hiring. And not simply a few people, but in most cases, a few hundred over the course of the next couple of months.) That’s the good news. The not so good news, is that the way people are being recruited and assessed, has not changed. And that means mis-hiring will continue to exact a high price.
If you don’t want to continue to pay for your recruiting mistakes, signing up for “Picking Winners and Keepers”, my elearning course, will give you an assessment tool that will change the way you recruit, and help you identify and attract better people.
At the heart of the course, is the “drill down interview”, a method of interacting with candidates that will leave you with no ambivalence about the appropriateness or lack of fit, of the applicant. In a short period of time, you will know who the candidate is, at a surprising level of depth; and will know, with certainty, whether or not there’s a match with the culture of your organization.
The course is entirely virtual, and involves internet based information, combined with telephonic coaching calls. The computer based aspect of the course is highly interactive, and bears no resemblance to the stultifyingly boring “talking head” training, which passes for professional development these days.
The next course begins February 22, and runs for five weeks. For more information about signing up for the course, contact Marcie at:
http://performancecounts.com (select “Our Programs”)
877-659-8847
Arleah’s book is moving steadily toward publication. At this point, it is tentatively titled – “My Beloved Child: My Journey of Recovery from the Death of My Daughter”. Anyone who has lost a child (at any age) through illness or accident, anyone who is raising a special needs child; or anyone who has a behaviorally challenged child, will find help, solace, and support from this book. She has also created a new website – mybelovedchild.net – to share helpful information about loss and grieving, and to begin to create a virtual community of survivors of loss. We’ll keep you posted as to the availability of the book.
Business
“Pretty Woman Syndrome: Helping Good-Looking People Overcome Their Handicap”
A few weeks ago, I was facilitating an accountability group with eight financial services professionals. As people came into the room, I couldn’t help but notice a very attractive young woman, dressed in a manner that was designed to draw attention to her. What was most noticeable, though, was the look on her face, and the general aura of her non-verbal communication. Her face radiated disdain – a look and feel that dripped disinterest and dismissal of everyone in the room. She took her seat at the conference table, looked straight ahead, and acknowledged no one.
I’ve seen that look before. It says, without uttering a word – “I am beautiful and compellingly attractive; I know it and I’m aware that you see it; and I have no time, or interest, in relating to average looking people.” Having spent over twenty years working and living, part-time, in southern California, I have experienced thousands of women (and men) with that look and that persona. I also see it regularly in my travels, and have had many clinical clients with that aura, in my prior private practice.
What’s particularly noteworthy is that these individuals are often, in one form or another, in a people business. And further, they are often struggling and underperforming, frustrated by results that are considerably less than they would like, and way under their capacity and potential.
So, what’s going on here? First, we need to understand what’s driving this behavior. These attractive and handsome women and men are battling with what I’ve come to call the “single characteristic curse”. The key people in their lives have focused all their attention directed to these people, around one characteristic – their physical beauty. They become, then, their looks. They begin to believe that who they are, fundamentally, is this attractive, noticeably beautiful person. The problem is, that this is all they think they are. This limited identity is scary – sometimes terrifying – and leads to a variety of dysfunctional behaviors, all in the service of protection. Whether it’s disdain, arrogance, withholding or opaqueness, the goal is the same. To keep from being hurt and diminished (by being treated like an object), or even worse, to discover their secret – their belief that there is nothing else of value within them, other than their beauty.
It’s important to understand that when we reduce a person’s identity to a single characteristic – beauty, intelligence, athletic prowess, we undermine self-esteem and sow seeds of self-doubt. Instead of building confidence, it erodes and destroys it.
It is hard to be helpful to people battling with this curse, primarily because it requires one to take a big risk. The risk is to muster one’s courage, cut right through the armor of disdain, and tell the person how it feels to be around them. How it feels to be dismissed, controlled (by the lack of any connection) and completely shut out. And lastly, how their distancing armor discourages people from wanting to engage in a meaningful relationship.
Almost every time that I’ve taken the risk, the reaction is amazing. The facial stiffness melts away, and a look of recognition replaces it. The look is an unusual combination of an embarrassed smile (“you’ve found me out”) and a deep sadness, reflective of staying hidden for so long.
When I confronted the young lady in our group with the feelings about her impact on me, she said an interesting thing: “I know that I do that, but I don’t know why.” Helping her understand her behavior can change her whole life, and create opportunities for great success.
Cultural/Political:
“Recovery and Recuperation: Why Now?”
From everything I see and experience, the economy and the culture at large are in recovery from the global meltdown. Almost all the key statistical indicators are moving in a positive direction, and most every business I work with, or I’m aware of is hiring again. Much of this recovery is a result of a miserable couple of years in which many very difficult, often gut-wrenching decisions were made that corrected, very painfully, the excesses of prior generations. But something else is at play, that is driving our recovery. We have been going through a core change in our culture – a “game-changer” in venture capital language – and we have begun to adjust and adapt to our new culture.
When the roof caved in and the floor disappeared, in late 2007 and throughout 2008, our reaction was very polarized. Almost everyone I knew was singing the praises of the new cultural mantra – “What’s really important is family, and the people we care about. All the material stuff is not really that important.” Lots and lots of people went from constant consumption to survival, in what felt like lightning speed. Many people lost much of what they had worked their whole lives for, and many others lost their dreams. No one had an explanation that either made sense to everyone, or made anyone feel any better. Almost everyone had their favorite villain – Wall Street, Fannie and Freddi, State Governments, Unions, China, ad infinitum. For a few years, blaming dominated our cultural conversation. What we didn’t realize ( and what we’re just beginning to discover) is that we’re in the midst of a global grieving process.
Our cultural grieving was brought about by a perfect storm of societal shifts that happens once or twice a century. In this case, it was the collision of technology and information with a multigenerational bloated lifestyle. This collision raised troubling questions about the worth and value of many kinds of work and business practices, as well as numerous challenges to our personal lifestyle choices. I know very few businesses who have not done an intense audit of their workforce, and, as a result, have trimmed it by 20 – 30 percent, and very significantly, are more productive and profitable. In addition, our technology has challenged the brick and mortar legacy of the industrial revolution, and has exploded the growth of virtual enterprises, with radically different business models. This has come about with a high price and much dislocation. Our modes of distribution of many consumer products, have undergone traumatic changes – the demise of book and video stores, for example, and the rapid rise of online retailers (Is there anything you can’t buy on Amazon?).
In our personal life, the two biggest purchases we make – a home and cars – have been undergoing consistent and significant downsizing. Our notion of the necessities of life has been radically altered. If you can access the world through a four inch screen, the need for a huge house and a lumbering car begins to dissipate dramatically.
In essence, then, we’ve been in collective grief for at least four years. We first went through “Shock and Denial” and minimized the impact of the initial collapse of financial institutions – “It’s bad, but it probably won’t work its way down to me.” We next got into our “Anger”, bitterly blaming our favorite targets for screwing up our lives – looking at everyone and everything except ourselves. We then started “Bargaining” – “If we make some cuts in our lifestyle, we’ll be okay.” Then we sunk into “Depression” – “The Country is finished; we’re not far from becoming another Greece.” And now, as we enter 2012, we’re wrestling with “Acceptance”. That is, picking the choice that sucks the least: “My life has undoubtedly changed, but maybe it’s not that bad after all.”
As is true with all grieving, we will cycle through these five stages a number of times. And, hopefully, knowing what’s happening to us will make it somewhat easier.
Personal
“Some Random Musings”
It’s been almost four months since my mother died, and it still seems weird that I’ll never see her again. I regularly drive by the skilled nursing facility where she lived, and died. It’s strange, but I often feel like I should drop in for a short visit. Intellectually, I know she’s not there, but my feelings haven’t caught up yet.
Dealing with the Federal Government continues to be a surreal and infuriating experience. My mother died on September 26th, and within the next month we received notices from the Social Security Administration and VA, demanding the return of all monies paid to her, for the whole month of September. There is, we found out, no pro-rating with the Federal government. If she had died at 11:59 PM on September 30th, they would still claw back all the money for that month. I talked with the staff of one of our U.S. Senators (Jon Tester) who has been extraordinarily helpful on a number of occasions, and they agreed that the claw back policy was one of the stupidest and nonsensical things that our government does. They also indicated that there was nothing they could do about it. This raises an interesting question: “Who’s making decisions, in our government, that affect our lives, and make no sense at all – our elected representatives, or mindless, faceless bureaucrats?
About a month ago, Arleah was out of town, so I decided to get the mail and run the dogs, using our Kawasaki Mule. (The mail run is a ritual that Arleah has done with the dogs for years. It is, without a doubt, the highlight of their day.) We have three dogs – Trigger, a 96 pound yellow lab, who is probably the most beautiful dog we’ve had. There is a regalness about him and a calmness that is very rare. He will often sit near us in a posture that male lions adopt, with his golden coat gathered around his neck, like a mane. He has his own couch in the media room, where he sleeps, on his back, all four legs pointed to the ceiling, snoring like a sleep apnea patient, with his crotch exposed to the world. Marty, an 80 pound black lab mix, is our rescue dog. He probably has three or four bloodlines in him – lab, hound, greyhound, and possibly something else. He is our “wild child”, our free spirit. He lives to run and explore. When we let him out, we don’t know if we’ll see him in fifteen minutes or in five hours. A while back, it became clear that we had a choice to make with Marty. We could put him on a leash and make sure that he was safe, or we could let him roam and explore, and take our chances. We decided on the latter. It we put him on a leash, it would be like draining all the life out of him – and we couldn’t live with that. If predators got him, or he gets fatally injured, he will have died doing what he loves. So every morning that we let him out, we are well aware that it could be the last time we ever see him.
Our third dog is an eight pound Yorkie that we inherited from my mother a couple of years ago, when she could no longer take care of him, and his health was deteriorating. His name is Dimi (short for diminutive) and his job is to keep vigil for Marty, and let us know when he returns. When he sights Marty (or hears or smells him), he barks hysterically and turns in circles, like a circus dog.
When we go to get the mail (it’s a mile and half, and a thousand foot drop in elevation, from the house to the mailbox), Dimi sits in a little dog bed, often partially covered with a blanket; Marty takes off exploring; and Trigger heals to the mule.
On the way back up to the house, I had one of those unique and cleansing emotional experiences. Dimi was cuddled up next to me; Trigger was healing to the mule, clearly in his element; and Marty was running about a hundred feet ahead of us, frolicking like a small child. We rounded a curve in the road, and there was a view that’s usually reserved for paintings. The lake we overlook was framed by acre after acre of dense evergreens, and above them, were the snow covered peaks of the mountains that encircle our valley.
I felt my eyes filling with tears, and started to have an indescribable mix of feelings – a sense of being at peace with myself and the world; and a kind of euphoria. I can remember thinking – “Maybe this is what my religious friends mean by God.”
If I had a religion, it would be about mountains and trees and dogs running free. I don’t know why, but those things fill me with a sense of joy and hope, that nothing else comes close to. I feel privileged to have that in my life and to be able to share it with Arleah, and the people we care about.
Morrie
Posted in Newsletters, Uncategorized

“The New Normal – Unending Unpredictability”

For a number of years now, I’ve heard people talking about how unpredictable
business has become; with the implied assumption that one of these days, the
unpredictability will finally end, or at least, level off, and we’ll return to
a generally predictable environment.  Well, from everything I see and
experience, that ain’t ever going to happen.  Unpredictability is here to
stay, and the implications are sobering.

First and foremost, is the fact that we have unequivocally entered the Age
of Self-Doubt.  I have never, in my professional life, worked with and
encountered so many talented, highly skilled, and successful people, who are
haunted by self-doubt.  People, who prior to these times, made one
decision after another, with a great sense of clarity and certainty, now
second-guessing almost everything they do. 

Everyone, at times, has some doubts; but now the experience seems to have
become endemic and epidemic.  It has become a part of our daily lives and
our ongoing personal and professional experiences.  So how do we deal with
and come to terms with it?  First, we need to realize that we are not
alone with this feeling.  It is shared by all of us, and has become a part
of the global consciousness. 

Second, we need to look at and assess our inventory of life skills to
determine what personal assets we have that will help us do well and flourish
in this environment, and what deficits we’re going to have to work on.  In
terms of the skills, here are some of the most important:

We need (and we need to surround ourselves with) people who can live in and
perform in, the moment.  We can no longer accommodate colleagues who live
in the past, or are always anticipating the future.  This requires the
ability to grieve well – to be able to say goodbye to what we used to do, and
who we used to be – and the ability to realistically assess the present and
come to terms with what it is, not what we’d like it to be.  In other
words, we need to give up our “hope trips.”

We need to be life-long learners and come to terms with the fact that we’ll
never be “finished’ with working on ourselves.  To be able to do
this, we need to be open to feedback, and open to constantly increasing our
self-information.  One of the things we need to stop doing is to defend
our position, and act like we’re on trial.  We need to get a lot better at
listening to the feedback we get about who we are; and to ask ourselves if what
we’re hearing makes sense, and how we can use it to improve ourselves.

We need to develop an emotional compass that allows us to stay centered and
focused, in the face of ambiguity, uncertainty, and unpredictability. 
That is, the ability to stay with the task at hand, knowing that there are no
guarantees in the near or distant future.

We need to look at our need for control, and our level of trust; and work to
establish the best ratio between the two.  In an Age of Self-Doubt, the
temptation to increase control is heightened, and the tendency to lower one’s
trust is increased.  What we need, however, is just the opposite. 
High control and low trust dramatically inhibits our ability to grow and
increases anxiety and tension.  Low control and high trust allows us to
mediate in this “new normal,” without driving ourselves crazy.

We need to be able to talk about our feelings, in real time. 
Especially when those feelings are about our worries and concerns.  It’s
hard to convince people (especially business people) that talking about things
that worry us, or situations that suck, helps us get through them, and defuses
the anxiety associated with them.  We don’t need to always fix or change
things that bother us; but we do need to talk about them, in order to feel
better and get things done again.  Complaining is fine; as long as that’s
not all you do.

Arleah has a saying in her practice:  “You don’t need to always
get your way; but you do need to always get your say.”

We need to talk about and face, with the people closest to us, our doomsday
scenarios.  Businesses would get through a lot more of their problems if
they trusted themselves, when they’re facing hard times, to talk about the
worst case outcomes.  Verbalizing the worst possible outcomes,
dramatically decreases the anxiety and tension surrounding them, and frees up
an amazing amount of energy tied up in circular worrying.  It allows you
to identify the really important things in your life, and put the worries in
perspective. 

A number of years ago, I was talking with a client in southern California,
about the challenges he faced in the work he did.  We were driving around
(in his Rolls Royce) looking at some of the shopping centers he was involved
with.  What he did, was guarantee, through surety bonds, that immense
construction projects would be finished by a date certain.  If they were
not, he would be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars.  I asked
him if he had any trouble sleeping at night, knowing how much he was on the
line for.  He responded, without any hesitation:  “I sleep like
a baby.  I’m worth close to a hundred million.  After that, there’s
no more to get out of me.  The worst thing that can happen is that I end
up poor.  I’ll live through it.”

I have never forgotten his words.  Arleah and I often talk about where
we started our journey together.  We still remember that we got our first
TV by selling the puppies from one of our dogs first litters.  It gives us
some perspective when we get caught up in worrying.

Posted in Articles, Uncategorized Tagged with: , , , ,

October 2011

By now, I wonder if there’s any point in explaining why the newsletter is so late, since it almost always is. But I will, anyway. First reason: It’s an agony writing them, but I really like the finished product. It helps me articulate all the ideas and stuff rolling around in my head, constantly; and I do mean constantly! Second reason: I’ve gotten busier than I’ve been in probably four years. Main Street has definitely come alive again. I don’t know what in the world is happening on Wall Street. They seem to be experiencing, at best, severe ADHD; and at worst, an ongoing psychotic episode. Wall Street’s reactions, these days, seem to perfectly fit Freud’s original definition of a “hysterical reaction.” The increase in business is both the good news and the challenging news. I feel a lot more productive and impactful, but also, at times, overwhelmed with everything there is to attend to. We continue to get rave reviews for “Picking Winners and Keepers,” our elearning, multi-media program on selecting great people, without ambivalence, regrets, and costly mistakes. For all the details and the program schedule, go to: http://www.performancecounts.com/Picking_Winners.htm We’ve set the dates for the next Executive Education Seminar. It’ll be held June 22 – 24, 2012, at the School of Business at the University of Montana, in Missoula. We’ve gotten great feedback about doing the Seminar at the Business School, and also about incorporating a visit to Dunrovin Ranch. The unique environment that Suzanne Miller has created at the Ranch was a huge hit with past participants. We’ll keep you updated on the specifics of the Seminar. For now, reserve those dates. Business:

“The New Normal – Unending Unpredictability” For a number of years now, I’ve heard people talking about how unpredictable business has become; with the implied assumption that one of these days, the unpredictability will finally end, or at least, level off, and we’ll return to a generally predictable environment. Well, from everything I see and experience, that ain’t ever going to happen. Unpredictability is here to stay, and the implications are sobering. First and foremost, is the fact that we have unequivocally entered the Age of Self-Doubt. I have never, in my professional life, worked with and encountered so many talented, highly skilled, and successful people, who are haunted by self-doubt. People, who prior to these times, made one decision after another, with a great sense of clarity and certainty, now second-guessing almost everything they do. Everyone, at times, has some doubts; but now the experience seems to have become endemic and epidemic. It has become a part of our daily lives and our ongoing personal and professional experiences. So how do we deal with and come to terms with it? First, we need to realize that we are not alone with this feeling. It is shared by all of us, and has become a part of the global consciousness. Second, we need to look at and assess our inventory of life skills to determine what personal assets we have that will help us do well and flourish in this environment, and what deficits we’re going to have to work on. In terms of the skills, here are some of the most important: We need (and we need to surround ourselves with) people who can live in and perform in, the moment. We can no longer accommodate colleagues who live in the past, or are always anticipating the future. This requires the ability to grieve well – to be able to say goodbye to what we used to do, and who we used to be – and the ability to realistically assess the present and come to terms with what it is, not what we’d like it to be. In other words, we need to give up our “hope trips.” We need to be life-long learners and come to terms with the fact that we’ll never be “finished’ with working on ourselves. To be able to do this, we need to be open to feedback, and open to constantly increasing our self-information. One of the things we need to stop doing is to defend our position, and act like we’re on trial. We need to get a lot better at listening to the feedback we get about who we are; and to ask ourselves if what we’re hearing makes sense, and how we can use it to improve ourselves. We need to develop an emotional compass that allows us to stay centered and focused, in the face of ambiguity, uncertainty, and unpredictability. That is, the ability to stay with the task at hand, knowing that there are no guarantees in the near or distant future. We need to look at our need for control, and our level of trust; and work to establish the best ratio between the two. In an Age of Self-Doubt, the temptation to increase control is heightened, and the tendency to lower one’s trust is increased. What we need, however, is just the opposite. High control and low trust dramatically inhibits our ability to grow and increases anxiety and tension. Low control and high trust allows us to mediate in this “new normal,” without driving ourselves crazy. We need to be able to talk about our feelings, in real time. Especially when those feelings are about our worries and concerns. It’s hard to convince people (especially business people) that talking about things that worry us, or situations that suck, helps us get through them, and defuses the anxiety associated with them. We don’t need to always fix or change things that bother us; but we do need to talk about them, in order to feel better and get things done again. Complaining is fine; as long as that’s not all you do. Arleah has a saying in her practice: “You don’t need to always get your way; but you do need to always get your say.” We need to talk about and face, with the people closest to us, our doomsday scenarios. Businesses would get through a lot more of their problems if they trusted themselves, when they’re facing hard times, to talk about the worst case outcomes. Verbalizing the worst possible outcomes, dramatically decreases the anxiety and tension surrounding them, and frees up an amazing amount of energy tied up in circular worrying. It allows you to identify the really important things in your life, and put the worries in perspective. A number of years ago, I was talking with a client in southern California, about the challenges he faced in the work he did. We were driving around (in his Rolls Royce) looking at some of the shopping centers he was involved with. What he did, was guarantee, through surety bonds, that immense construction projects would be finished by a date certain. If they were not, he would be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars. I asked him if he had any trouble sleeping at night, knowing how much he was on the line for. He responded, without any hesitation: “I sleep like a baby. I’m worth close to a hundred million. After that, there’s no more to get out of me. The worst thing that can happen is that I end up poor. I’ll live through it.” I have never forgotten his words. Arleah and I often talk about where we started our journey together. We still remember that we got our first TV by selling the puppies from one of our dogs first litters. It gives us some perspective when we get caught up in worrying.Political/Cultural:

“The Wall Street Occupiers: Les Miserables Without The Music” A number of years ago, Arleah and I walked out of the Broadway production of Les Miserables. Our feeling was that if we wanted to watch a group of people bemoan their plight and idealize their helplessness, we didn’t need to go to the theater – we could just find the closest union meeting. What we’re witnessing now, in a number of American cities, is an amateur reproduction of Les Mis – a blatant distortion of our core values and our bedrock beliefs. I just got back from Chicago, where I saw interview after interview with a handpicked sample of professional victims (interviewed by reporters from the local NBC affiliate – not exactly a right-wing mouthpiece). The content of the interviews was amazingly consistent: “We don’t have jobs because of evil, greedy people on Wall Street. We can’t achieve the ‘American Dream,’ because rich people own everything and won’t share it with us. And lastly, we’re getting the short end of the stick, because our economic system (i.e. capitalism) is inherently unfair.” Before I saw all these interviews, I was just irritated by the news reports chronicling the spreading of this “movement.” I had grown up with card-carrying Communists in my extended family and had heard every Marxist-Leninist slogan, ad nauseum. I had lived through the peace movement of the sixties, and knew, by heart, every cliché about the “military-industrial complex.” And, in my current life, I get to regularly visit the Peoples Republics of San Francisco and Madison. But this current distillation more than irritates me. It infuriates me. The sense of entitlement, the arrogance and self-righteousness, and the ignorance of core American values, is more than I can stomach. Consequently, I have a message for the demonstrators – 1. You wouldn’t know a value if it fell on you. Our country is based on individual responsibility, not blaming others. You own 50% of the situation you’re in. Go home and work on your half. 2. We reward risk-taking in America, not security and guarantees. If you want a piece of the pie, decide what you’re willing to put on the line, and stop whining. 3. If you really want a job, pack up your backpack, and go where they’re readily available. You can start with the Bakken Shale oilfields in North Dakota. There are lots and lots of jobs there, and more are being created daily. (The field is estimated to contain 4.3 billion barrels of oil – a resource only recently tappable because of technological innovations made possible through the genius of our evil capitalist system.) The unemployment rate in North Dakota is 3.5%, a bit over a third of the national average. Millions of Americans, throughout the history of this country, have picked up their lives and moved to where the work is. 4. If moving for work is beneath you, then apply for a job in one of the industries that always has openings, like insurance/financial services, automobile sales, information technology, and, particularly these days, healthcare (one of the fastest growing sectors in our economy). 5. Regardless of what hard skills you may or may not have, do a self-audit of your soft skills and see if you have the four prerequisites for finding and maintaining employment:

  • Can you make decisions quickly and without regret; or does it take you forever and paralyze you with doubt and unending angst?
  • Can you build relationships quickly and deeply, and emotionally connect with people? I regularly run into people who complain about how difficult it is to find work, and who have the people skills of artichokes. They talk at me, instead of with me, and they don’t listen to a word that anyone else says. I call them “mutual monologuers.” They simply wait until you’re done talking, so that they can grab the floor. I can’t wait to get away from them – and they wonder why they can’t get a job.
  • Can you engage in conflict and use it to resolve differences and build intimacy in your important relationships? If you’re a conflict avoider, at best, you’ll always have low paying jobs; and, at worst, you’ll be chronically unemployable.
  • Can you take the risk of initiating constructive confrontation? In other words, do you tell people the truth, and give them feedback that they need to hear, not that they’d like to hear. Or are you painfully polite and so excruciatingly tactful, that no one knows what you’re talking about? Information is rapidly and steadily pushing our culture toward honest and direct communication, and rewarding those who know how to get to the point, quickly.

So, what is this “movement” really about? Well, we know from one inarticulate interview after another, that it’s not about finding any resolution to our economic meltdown. What it is about, is a concerted attempt to avoid the pain of looking at, and taking ownership of, all of our culpability in self-indulgently spending ourselves into communal bankruptcy. No one sector, no one group, no one financial practice, no one piece of legislation, created our economic nightmare. It was massive, collective greed. As a society, we methodically turned luxuries into necessities, privileges into rights, and rewards into entitlements. We have no one to blame for this disaster, other than ourselves. We lost track of what is really important in our lives, and we’re paying the price for it. Instead of scapegoating a group or an economic philosophy, we’d all be well served to start figuring out how we’re going to deal with this global contraction and individual re-orientation of our lives.Personal:

“The Strange Experience Of Death: My Mother’s Passing”

Note: This was written the day after my mother died – Sept. 26th My mother died yesterday. I got a call at 5:30 in the morning telling me that she died in her sleep. Her heart just stopped beating. It was a call I had been expecting for at least the last two years, but I was still surprised and stunned. I wasn’t shocked – we had been told innumerable times that given her medical problems, it was a certainty that her heart would eventually stop. I don’t think there’s any way to reconcile the factual knowledge with the feelings; no way to prepare oneself for the actual news. I sat on the side of our bed, in a kind of fog. I didn’t quite know what to do next, or even how I was feeling. Arleah sat down next to me and held my hand. I tried to remember what the person at the nursing home had said – something about taking our time and that she would be in her room. When we got to the home, I was very aware of being scared to see her dead. I have dealt a lot with death in my professional life, but not much with dead bodies. When we walked into her room, she was laying in her bed, hands folded over her stomach, covered with a blanket up to her shoulders. Her mouth was wide open, like it usually was when she was asleep. There was no doubt, however, that she was not asleep. A grayish pallor had already consumed her head. The staff at the facility, who were extraordinarily kind and sensitive, asked us to remove things of value from her and her room. I can’t tell you, in words, how strange a feeling it was to be opening drawers and cabinets, going through little boxes of trinkets and costume jewelry; doing all this, two or three feet from her dead body. I opened one drawer to find three unused cans of root beer – winnings from bingo. The cans had been there for at least a year and a half. It’s funny what we value and keep around. At one point, Arleah and I realized that we had been whispering to each other while we were looking through things obviously, afraid of waking her up. I became aware of having regressed back to childhood, watching those primitively done horror films where dead people suddenly popped up from their beds or coffins, scaring the bejeezus out of everyone in the room (and in the audience). It was particularly weird and disturbing when it came to retrieving her wedding ring. It is a unique and classy ring and my mother always wanted Arleah to have it. It was, however, still on her hand; and it seemed kind of ghoulish to be trying to take her ring off of her lifeless and limp hand. I felt, for a moment, like one of those grave robbers, featured in those “B” movies about Egyptian pyramids. Thankfully, we were rescued by a nurse’s aide who put some lotion on my mother’s hand, and slipped the ring right off. I did a pretty good job of holding myself together until a few staff members, one at a time, came into the room and told us what a pleasure it had been to take care of, and to know my mother. For some reason, that touched me more than anything else that day. I also lost it when the fellow from the funeral home came to take her body away. He was extraordinarily sensitive, but it felt so crass and mechanistic to put her into a bag, zip it up, and cart her out, like some kind of a package. Seeing her head disappear under the zipper, hit me like a rock in the head. Its over; she’s gone; forever. Later that day, we went over to the funeral home to start the whole process going that would eventually result in a funeral ceremony back in Chicago. If we had thought that we had already experienced some weird feelings, we had underestimated how weird this experience would be. Everything we discussed with the funeral director was necessary to talk about, but felt amazingly incongruous, given the fact that my mother had just died hours ago. We had a protracted discussion about the practical and financial implications of embalmment; the position of the Jewish cemetery (where she is to be buried next to my father) on embalmment and the timing of the burial; the laws in Illinois about embalmment; and the intricacies of transporting her body to Spokane, first, and then Chicago, next. The absolute weirdest conversation was about packing her body in a material similar to dry ice, if she were not to be embalmed. At that point, I was beginning to feel like we were trapped in an Edward Albee play about the absurdities of American rituals around death. In a strange way, this venture into black humor was a welcome relief from the oppressiveness of dealing with her death. To say that I went through a range of feelings that day, would be an understatement. I was on a veritable emotional roller coaster. I felt profound grief and sadness; a sense of relief that it was finally over (I had come to feel, these last two years, that we had been on a protracted death watch); and a feeling of regret and remorse over how irritated and angry I would get over her withdrawal, especially this past year, into her very private and non-relational world. I want to remember my mother for the truly extraordinary woman she was. She was a pioneer in her era; a rebel with a very clear cause; and a no-nonsense lady, who took no crap from anyone. She had an early career in the entertainment industry that perhaps a handful of young Jewish girls ever achieved. She was a “career woman” and a housewife way before it was fashionable. And she took no prisoners when she had an opinion that she felt was the right one. She taught me to think on my feet, defend my positions, and to hold my own in any public forum. When people ask me where I learned public speaking, I tell them that I was doing it at the dinner table every night, from five years old, on. She also taught me “class”; to aspire to be the best; never to settle; and to do things the right way, or not at all. She was a beautiful woman, who had an “outfit” for every possible human activity. She weighed the same in her 80’s that she did in her 20’s, and she had a killer figure well into her 70’s. I’m one of the few people I know who has “cheesecake” photos of their mother (from her Hollywood days). She was a fiercely loyal wife, and loved my father more than anything else in the world. She raised her children to be successful, and taught us a value system that has served all of us very well. When my mother went anywhere (especially with my father), everyone noticed her arrival. That’s how I’m going to remember her. Morrie

Posted in Newsletters, Uncategorized Tagged with: , , , , ,

“The Lost Art of Connecting”

It’s
become clear to me, these days, that we’ve lost the art of connecting – both in
business and in our personal lives.  What I mean by “connecting,” is the
ability to listen to other people’s feelings, understand their importance to
them, and create a direct and impactful link, that shows that you care about
them; not simply their problems.  Connecting is the art of getting beyond
task management and problem resolution, to the establishment of a relationship,
quickly and deeply.
I’ve
had two experiences lately that reinforced my belief that connecting has gone
out of style.  The first involved a hotel stay at a Midwestern property
where I was doing some presentations.  I had encountered a couple of
problems during my stay, and had indicated so on the electronic evaluation sent
to me.  My remarks had obviously been passed on to the hotel assistant
manager, since I received an email asking me to call her, to discuss my
troubled experience. 
I
called her; she answered; and there was silence on the line (after I had
introduced myself and told her that I was calling in response to her email
about my survey responses).  She said nothing to connect with me, or segue
off of her inquiry or my remarks.  I had to literally lead the
conversation, or it would have not gone anywhere.  Her responses to the
problems I had encountered (keys that didn’t work, and my room vibrating for
five or ten minutes) were without emotion, and mechanical at best.  I had
to volunteer the explanations I was given, at the time, and she responded with
a tepid apology and a certificate for a free night.  She had no particular
response to the hotel’s dryer shaking rooms all the way up to the third floor,
or to the supposed dynamiting at a local quarry, about a half mile from the
hotel (the engineer’s  explanation).  We could just as easily been
talking about the absence of a newspaper at my room door in the morning.
It
was clear that the only goal she had was to end the conversation, “solve the
problem,” and get rid of me.  She could have empathized with how weird it
must have felt to have the whole room vibrating (the TV almost hopped off of
its stand); or how frustrating it must have been to check into the hotel at
midnight, schlep all my stuff up to my room, and be standing in the hallway not
being able to get in.  She did neither.  She had no interest in my
feelings, or in salvaging a relationship that was bruised and battered.
The
second interaction involved a staff person at the fitness center I use.  I
went to the office of the center to renew my membership and to cancel
Arleah’s.  I sat down at one of the desks and got a shallow, barely
audible “hello” and then, nothing.  I waited a few seconds and then, when
it was apparent that the staff person wasn’t going to say anything, I told her
that I was there to renew one membership and cancel the other one.  She
said nothing in response to my statement, and pulled out a pad of paper and
started writing.  I asked her if she was going to ask me any questions,
like which membership I was renewing, and which one I was canceling.  She
didn’t like my question, got quite defensive, and the rest of our interaction
was infused with a cool, awkward politeness.  She never thanked me for
renewing my membership, and she handled the whole interaction with the
impersonalness of buying gum at a convenient store.
I
had the polar opposite experience at another hotel where I had a meeting
scheduled with the general manager (part of a consulting project with a new
client).  While I was waiting, at the front desk, for the GM to come over,
a young lady behind the counter, asked me what I had around my neck.  (I
wear a device that controls the volume and programs for my hearing aids, and
links them to my cell phone.  It’s hard not to notice it, although very
few people ask me about it.)  Her question lead to a discussion and
interaction that was full of information, spontaneity, and shared feelings. 
In literally minutes, she had engaged me in a dialogue that felt genuine,
caring, and reciprocal.
What’s
the difference?  Curiosity and risk.  No connectedness occurs without
either one.  The problem is that we rarely recruit for curiosity, or
reward for risk.  Remember, that the greatest risks we take are not
financial or physical.  They involve being honest, direct, and unplanned
in relating to others. 
I
was at a political fundraiser a few days ago and was introduced to a couple
that had just arrived.  The man was almost immediately pulled away by the
candidate.  I had noticed that neither the man nor the woman was wearing a
wedding ring, so I asked her if they were a “couple.”  She could have told
me, right there and then, to buzz off and mind my own business.  Instead,
my question lead to a rather involved conversation about how difficult it was
for middle-aged folks to have a committed relationship, without being married,
given the tax implications, the social mores, family pressures, etc.  The
man joined us shortly, and we all had a fascinating conversation about aging,
intimacy, and the changing culture we live in.
As
we parted, both of them said that this had been one of the most interesting
conversations they had had in years, and the gentleman asked if I had a
business card.
When
you’re developing yourself or others, the primary question to always be asking,
is – “Am I willing to take the risk of truly engaging with others, and what
would happen to me if I offend someone?”
Posted in Articles, Uncategorized Tagged with: , , , ,

July 2011

ITS A HIT!Our first Executive Education Seminar was extraordinary! It turned out to be a business and life-changing experience – a super “think tank,” as one of the participants put it. Here are the exact words of one of the attendees – a financial services professional from North Carolina: “I just spent a week in Montana hiking Glacier National Park: I finished the week with a three-day leadership challenge at the Business School at the University of Montana. While I thought the highlight of my trip would be Glacier National Park, the conference actually upstaged my time there. Glacier National Park was beautiful and amazing, but I took away insights from the conference that were life changing. I came away with insights on managing change, loss, conflict and growth that broke down the barriers of previous thinking and freed me from some of the traditional ‘prisons’ that I had created over my lifetime. The roundtable discussions with other business people facilitated by the Shechtman’s proved to be invaluable.” As a result of this kind of feedback, we’re doing it again; sooner rather than later. The next Seminar will be September 16 – 18. It will be held in Montana, again, but this time, in our neck of the woods – in Kalispell (thirty miles west of Glacier National Park). We will be using the Park for our Saturday afternoon “Montana Experience.” Put the dates in your appropriate electronic gizmos. We’ll have the Seminar website updated and ready for your registration, very soon. Now, for the newsletter –Business Tips “The Lost Art of Connecting” It’s become clear to me, these days, that we’ve lost the art of connecting – both in business and in our personal lives. What I mean by “connecting,” is the ability to listen to other people’s feelings, understand their importance to them, and create a direct and impactful link, that shows that you care about them; not simply their problems. Connecting is the art of getting beyond task management and problem resolution, to the establishment of a relationship, quickly and deeply. I’ve had two experiences lately that reinforced my belief that connecting has gone out of style. The first involved a hotel stay at a Midwestern property where I was doing some presentations. I had encountered a couple of problems during my stay, and had indicated so on the electronic evaluation sent to me. My remarks had obviously been passed on to the hotel assistant manager, since I received an email asking me to call her, to discuss my troubled experience. I called her; she answered; and there was silence on the line (after I had introduced myself and told her that I was calling in response to her email about my survey responses). She said nothing to connect with me, or segue off of her inquiry or my remarks. I had to literally lead the conversation, or it would have not gone anywhere. Her responses to the problems I had encountered (keys that didn’t work, and my room vibrating for five or ten minutes) were without emotion, and mechanical at best. I had to volunteer the explanations I was given, at the time, and she responded with a tepid apology and a certificate for a free night. She had no particular response to the hotel’s dryer shaking rooms all the way up to the third floor, or to the supposed dynamiting at a local quarry, about a half mile from the hotel (the engineer’s explanation). We could just as easily been talking about the absence of a newspaper at my room door in the morning. It was clear that the only goal she had was to end the conversation, “solve the problem,” and get rid of me. She could have empathized with how weird it must have felt to have the whole room vibrating (the TV almost hopped off of its stand); or how frustrating it must have been to check into the hotel at midnight, schlep all my stuff up to my room, and be standing in the hallway not being able to get in. She did neither. She had no interest in my feelings, or in salvaging a relationship that was bruised and battered. The second interaction involved a staff person at the fitness center I use. I went to the office of the center to renew my membership and to cancel Arleah’s. I sat down at one of the desks and got a shallow, barely audible “hello” and then, nothing. I waited a few seconds and then, when it was apparent that the staff person wasn’t going to say anything, I told her that I was there to renew one membership and cancel the other one. She said nothing in response to my statement, and pulled out a pad of paper and started writing. I asked her if she was going to ask me any questions, like which membership I was renewing, and which one I was canceling. She didn’t like my question, got quite defensive, and the rest of our interaction was infused with a cool, awkward politeness. She never thanked me for renewing my membership, and she handled the whole interaction with the impersonalness of buying gum at a convenient store. I had the polar opposite experience at another hotel where I had a meeting scheduled with the general manager (part of a consulting project with a new client). While I was waiting, at the front desk, for the GM to come over, a young lady behind the counter, asked me what I had around my neck. (I wear a device that controls the volume and programs for my hearing aids, and links them to my cell phone. It’s hard not to notice it, although very few people ask me about it.) Her question lead to a discussion and interaction that was full of information, spontaneity, and shared feelings. In literally minutes, she had engaged me in a dialogue that felt genuine, caring, and reciprocal. What’s the difference? Curiosity and risk. No connectedness occurs without either one. The problem is that we rarely recruit for curiosity, or reward for risk. Remember, that the greatest risks we take are not financial or physical. They involve being honest, direct, and unplanned in relating to others. I was at a political fundraiser a few days ago and was introduced to a couple that had just arrived. The man was almost immediately pulled away by the candidate. I had noticed that neither the man nor the woman was wearing a wedding ring, so I asked her if they were a “couple.” She could have told me, right there and then, to buzz off and mind my own business. Instead, my question lead to a rather involved conversation about how difficult it was for middle-aged folks to have a committed relationship, without being married, given the tax implications, the social mores, family pressures, etc. The man joined us shortly, and we all had a fascinating conversation about aging, intimacy, and the changing culture we live in. As we parted, both of them said that this had been one of the most interesting conversations they had had in years, and the gentleman asked if I had a business card. When you’re developing yourself or others, the primary question to always be asking, is – “Am I willing to take the risk of truly engaging with others, and what would happen to me if I offend someone?”Political and Cultural Observations “The Debt-Ceiling Crisis: On The Cutting Edge Of Ignorance” I have no doubt that the folks in Washington will, in spite of their affinity for brinksmanship, come to a compromise agreement on raising the debt ceiling. I also have no doubt that the agreement will have nothing to do with the fundamental issues facing us, as we examine and debate the role of government in our society, and the direction that our culture should be moving in. All this talk about “fairness,” taxing the rich, and passing a constitutional amendment to balance the federal budget, reminds me of a quote from Shakespeare (via William Faulkner): “. . . It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” Our country is undoubtedly at a critical point in our evolution. But what concerns me most is the gross ignorance surrounding what this crisis is really about. It is not about tax rates, raising revenue, capping spending, addressing income disparity, or redistributing wealth. It is about RISK. The United States did not build the greatest society the world has ever seen; a society that has provided the masses of people with a quality of life never seen before; by simply rewarding people for working hard. Arleah and I have been in country after country where people work as hard as you can imagine, and they remain in grinding, gut-wrenching poverty. Nor did we build this amazing society through noble, altruistic work. The Mother Theresa’s of the world may have been admirable individuals, but the people they served are still trapped in a poverty that is beyond comprehension. This country was built by rewarding and incentivizing individuals to put everything they owned, valued, and treasured, on the line; for the opportunity to better their lives, and even, rise to a level of success that they could have never, in their wildest dreams, envisioned. Our culture is rife with stories of people achieving the “American Dream;” starting with next to nothing, and creating success and wealth that legends are built on. What is not so often highlighted is the deception, chicanery, and cruel manipulation, that these risk-takers were exposed to; and which, for many, resulted in their total and abysmal failure. What we haven’t wanted to deal with, since at least the 1960’s, is that both – phenomenal success and abject failure – are equally necessary for a society of unlimited opportunity. Risk-takers can deal with financial challenges, limited resources, and difficult people. What dispirits and discourages them is pointless, politically correct, and downright stupid regulations. That is, rules and policies that, by and large, attempt to protect people from their own irresponsibility, laziness, and idiocy. These regulations not only cost risk-takers inordinate amounts of money, they stunt the very creativity that has produced the number one economy in the world. In addition, they infantilize much of the public, and cripple the ability of millions of people, to represent their own interests and act in their own behalf. The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) has a department that does nothing else but track the regulation of our society; both in terms of its economic cost, and its impact on the erosion of our culture. They put out a publication called “The 10,000 Commandments,” (the amount of regulations imposed just under Obama), and determine their cost to our economy. The cost of complying with this obscene number of regulations, under this administration, is close to a trillion dollars. Yes, a trillion dollars. Talk about throwing money down a rat-hole. The amount of government agencies that regulate the production of marketable beef is staggering, and it takes the efforts of over ten agencies to regulate beehives. If you want to watch your neighbors’ kids, on a consistent basis, you will most likely be harassed and threatened, by the “child protective” bureaucracy, into major construction work on your house to accommodate the toilet needs of phantom hordes of non-existent children. I have written before of my favorite regulatory absurdity that is showcased in my doctor’s office. It is illustrated with a sign above the patients’ toilet that reads: “We have water-saving toilets. Please flush twice.” So, I am not terribly troubled by the negotiations going on in D.C. Whatever kind of financial package they put together will not be terribly relevant to the central issue that has us stagnated, economically and culturally. Under the current regulatory environment, the people who can fire-up and fine-tune our economic engine (and create lots of jobs) are paralyzed and frozen in stride, tired of trying to predict what the next cockamamie regulation is going to be. What we need, then, is a fourth war. A citizen’s uprising against the caretakers and risk-haters. I think that a growing number of people are sufficiently fed up with being treated as helpless idiots, to stem the tide of this regulatory insanity. If there ever was a time, it strikes me as now.
Personal Notes “Aging and Musing” I recently “celebrated” my 69th birthday (“celebrated” doesn’t really capture the experience anymore) and am aware of a bunch of random feelings and thoughts: I still have no idea of how I got to this age, and don’t know where the time went. I don’t have a feeling memory of my 40’s and 50’s. I know I was there, but only in my thoughts. No clear feelings of those days. Aging is a weird phenomenon. There is no way to predict what it will be like, until you get there. The only thought I can remember, from earlier in my life, about getting as old as 60, is that everything fun and enjoyable would probably end. Not so, thank goodness. It’s funny, but I remember watching my grandparents eating, and thinking, that they probably don’t enjoy food that much, at their age. Wrong! A few days ago, Arleah and I cleared our private road up to our house ( a mile and a half long, going up a thousand feet in elevation) of hundreds of thistles. We had an unbelievable amount of moisture this year (300% of our typical snowfall) and everything was growing out of control. It’s been like living in the Amazon. Thistles six feet high and in clumps ten feet wide. I don’t know what got into us, but we were like two possessed people, working our way down the road, cutting and spraying with a vengeance. Our dogs must have thought we were crazy. We bent and stooped for about five hours, and I’ve never been so stiff and achy in my life. We clearly overdid it. Possibly to prove something to ourselves. I’m aware these days, of riding an emotional roller coaster, even more than usual. I still have a thirst for new experiences in my life, both personal and professional. I really like formal teaching again (I’m an adjunct faculty member at the School of Business Administration at the University of Montana), both in the MBA program, and the newly evolving Executive Education Seminars. I have some new and quite interesting consulting clients, and I’m getting re-involved with Montana politics, on the gubernatorial level. At the same time, my grandmother’s “darkness” and my undergraduate nihilism, sneaks up on me, and I wonder why I’m doing all this stuff, since I’m in the latter part of my life, and I’m going to die anyway. Thank goodness, those moments are not long lasting. I’m really touched these days, by my relationship with Arleah. She’s still the hottest 70 year old babe in the hemisphere, and the only one who can also carry on a conversation about archeology and quantum physics after sex. But she is, above all, my hero. No one that I’ve ever met works on herself with the diligence and persistence that she has. Her commitment to writing her book about her recovery from the death of her daughter, after all these years, has been awesome and inspiring. Above all, she is my partner in life. We share everything of importance; we live our values without exception; and we hold each other accountable for growing and learning. I cannot imagine a life any different from what we’ve built together. Morrie

Posted in Newsletters, Uncategorized Tagged with: , , , , ,

What’s Your Interpersonal Impact?”

There are a lot of things that business people learn about and focus on – management, sales, finances, succession. But it is rare for them to pay much attention to their interpersonal impact.What I mean by that is captured in a question that I often ask my clients: “After people meet you for the first time, what do they think about who you are, and how do they feel about you? Do they think you’re pretty smart; not so smart; pretty congenial and friendly; not so approachable; a real professional; or a rank amateur? And do they feel good and positive toward you, and look forward to getting to know you better? Or do they feel like there’s a huge impenetrable wall up that they could never surmount?I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, for a couple of reasons. First, because the most recent research on first impressions, is really sobering. According to a number of studies, you have around 118 seconds to make an impression and impact on another person. This applies to both personal and work relationships. That’s not a lot of time. And it certainly blows apart the old homily about how it takes a long time to get to know someone. In our culture, if it does take you a long time to get to know people, you probably won’t know many. You may dislike this shift in the culture at large, and certainly in the business environment, but not paying any attention to it, can limit your opportunities, and your adaptability to changing modes of communicating with people. Just look at what’s happened with webinars. We’ve discovered that most people lose interest in the typically structured webinar, in under a few minutes; and start fiddling with their favorite form of technology, or start daydreaming.The other reason I’ve been pondering this, springs from a recent encounter I had with a politician in one of our national bodies. We both spoke at a meeting and had some time to interact with each other. Most of the positions he takes I have no problem with. But as a person, I was very put-off and even repulsed. At this point in my life, I’m quite used to political superficiality (someone talking to you, while they’re sizing up the room with their eyes). But this fellow didn’t even make an effort to be superficial. And, in addition, everything about him, non-verbally, reeked of mean-spiritedness. So even though we may be strategically aligned, I wouldn’t vote for him if he were the only person running in a one candidate election. And the saddest thing is, that I’m fairly certain that he is clueless as to his impact on others.So, I have a question for you. “What do you want to accomplish when you meet with someone?”And I don’t mean, here, tactically or task-wise. I do mean, what kind of person-to-person bridge do you want to build, and what kind of feeling tone do you want to create? You’re already doing this unconsciously and automatically. What I’m suggesting, is that you take conscious charge of this process, identify exactly the impact you’re having on others, and ask yourself if that’s what you want to accomplish. If you’re unclear about the impact you have, ask the most significant people in your personal and work life – they’ll have no problem identifying what it is. If part of your work is developing other people, the greatest gift you can give them, is honest and direct feedback on how they impact you and how you feel about that impact. Nothing else will come close to the value of that kind of information, in helping them grow, develop, and succeed.

Posted in Articles, Uncategorized Tagged with: ,

May 2011

RECRUITING IS BACK – ARE YOU READY? If you have anything to do with the assessment and selection of people who want to join your organization, you need to enroll in “Picking Winners and Keepers,” our blended learning, VILT (virtual instructor-led training) course focusing on in-depth, post-behavioral interviewing. If you ever . . .. . . have found yourself unable to make a confident hiring decision by the end of the selection process, or . . . been unsuccessful finding the right people to meet your current and future business needs, or . . . faced the cost and disruption of a mis-hire, or . . . ended up frustrated after a hiring interview because you felt you still didn’t know the candidate this unique interactive learning experience was created for you. The course features on-line self-study combined with instructor-led teleconferences, incorporating 1-on-1 accountability. Here’s some feedback from recent participants in the course – “Liked the format a lot – easy to follow and digest, sequential flow, great structure” “ Morrie’s content helped make uncovering a candidate’s relationship building skills a science” “Provided me with techniques to assess someone’s values match” “It really improved my focus in interviewing – provided structure without the loss of spontaneity” “Morrie gave me permission to go ‘off-script’ and really find out who the candidate is” The next course begins June 22nd – you can sign up at: http://performancecounts.com/programs.html
There are still a few spaces left for the Executive Education Seminar – “The Leadership Challenge,” that I’ll be teaching June 10-12 at the University of Montana. We have a fascinating and diverse group of people, from all over the country, and from a myriad of businesses and professions, already registered. You can register by emailing: Kathy.white@business.umt.edu Or you can call Kathy at 406.243.6715. You can get all the details on the seminar at www.business.umt.edu/leadership Two other bits of interest: The book that Arleah and I wrote on relationships – “Love in the Present Tense: How to Have a High Intimacy, Low Maintenance Marriage,” is now available in ebook format. This is the book for couples wanting to take their relationship to the next level; for couples pondering another commitment; and for young adults who don’t want to experience divorce. We want to thank all of you who have so enthusiastically supported the book, as well as our work with couples. Arleah has written a book of her own. It is tentatively titled – “Sharon’s Doll: My Journey Since The Death Of My Daughter.” It chronicles her recovery over a thirty plus year period, and her extensive work with hundreds of families who have lost children. She wrote it to help those whose lives have been indelibly altered by the most devastating loss imaginable. In the United States, every year, 1,600,000 children die. And that loss has a catastrophic impact on the survivors. The manuscript is out for review and publication, and we will keep you apprised of its status. Business: “What’s Your Interpersonal Impact?” There are a lot of things that business people learn about and focus on – management, sales, finances, succession. But it is rare for them to pay much attention to their interpersonal impact. What I mean by that is captured in a question that I often ask my clients: “After people meet you for the first time, what do they think about who you are, and how do they feel about you? Do they think you’re pretty smart; not so smart; pretty congenial and friendly; not so approachable; a real professional; or a rank amateur? And do they feel good and positive toward you, and look forward to getting to know you better? Or do they feel like there’s a huge impenetrable wall up that they could never surmount? I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, for a couple of reasons. First, because the most recent research on first impressions, is really sobering. According to a number of studies, you have around 118 seconds to make an impression and impact on another person. This applies to both personal and work relationships. That’s not a lot of time. And it certainly blows apart the old homily about how it takes a long time to get to know someone. In our culture, if it does take you a long time to get to know people, you probably won’t know many. You may dislike this shift in the culture at large, and certainly in the business environment, but not paying any attention to it, can limit your opportunities, and your adaptability to changing modes of communicating with people. Just look at what’s happened with webinars. We’ve discovered that most people lose interest in the typically structured webinar, in under a few minutes; and start fiddling with their favorite form of technology, or start daydreaming. The other reason I’ve been pondering this, springs from a recent encounter I had with a politician in one of our national bodies. We both spoke at a meeting and had some time to interact with each other. Most of the positions he takes I have no problem with. But as a person, I was very put-off and even repulsed. At this point in my life, I’m quite used to political superficiality (someone talking to you, while they’re sizing up the room with their eyes). But this fellow didn’t even make an effort to be superficial. And, in addition, everything about him, non-verbally, reeked of mean-spiritedness. So even though we may be strategically aligned, I wouldn’t vote for him if he were the only person running in a one candidate election. And the saddest thing is, that I’m fairly certain that he is clueless as to his impact on others. So, I have a question for you. “What do you want to accomplish when you meet with someone?” And I don’t mean, here, tactically or task-wise. I do mean, what kind of person-to-person bridge do you want to build, and what kind of feeling tone do you want to create? You’re already doing this unconsciously and automatically. What I’m suggesting, is that you take conscious charge of this process, identify exactly the impact you’re having on others, and ask yourself if that’s what you want to accomplish. If you’re unclear about the impact you have, ask the most significant people in your personal and work life – they’ll have no problem identifying what it is. If part of your work is developing other people, the greatest gift you can give them, is honest and direct feedback on how they impact you and how you feel about that impact. Nothing else will come close to the value of that kind of information, in helping them grow, develop, and succeed.
Political and Cultural Observations: “Obama and Usama” I couldn’t let a month go by without commenting on the killing of Usama bin Laden. I think we did exactly the right thing and I’m glad he’s dead. He was definitely in the same category of a Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin, and there’s not much more to say about him. I’m not at all sure, though, that his demise will have a significant effect on the war on terrorism. He was a pretty paltry and pathetic figure at the end of his life – sequestered in his bedroom, drinking Cokes and watching himself on TV. Not exactly the persona of the leader of a world-wide jihad against the West. There are, unfortunately, a plethora of lunatic fanatics still running around looking for opportunities to destroy themselves and others. And they don’t need any kind of figurehead to inspire them.I did have a stronger reaction to two other facets of bin Laden’s death. First, I was really put-off and disappointed in the street celebrations in our country, immediately following the announcement of his killing. If we want, as a culture, to distinguish ourselves from the Muslim fanaticism we see so often, on the “Arab street,” those celebrations were sure as hell no way to do it. This was not Mardi Gras or New Year’s Eve. It was a very necessary military operation to remove a hideous despot. I can’t, for the life of me, imagine what the celebrants were thinking and feeling, that lead them to create street parties. My reaction to bin Laden’s death involved a myriad of feelings, none of which induced me to celebrate and party. I felt a sense of vindication and justice delivered and a good healthy dose of revenge achieved. And I felt a profound sadness for friends and unknown thousands, who had to relive the horror of 9/11. Above all else, I felt a deep grief for all those lost and those left behind, in this senseless war with insanity and supreme irrationality. I know a number of Navy Seals, one of which trained many members of Team Six. They are true heroes, phenomenally trained and disciplined; who do a job that almost none of us would have the courage or wherewithal to do. People jumping around in the streets like a bunch of drunk party-goers, do not do justice to these heroes. My other reaction has to do with Obama’s decision to take out bin Laden in the manner in which he ordered it. The decision has a significance which, I believe, has not been fully noted. Employing Navy Seals, with clear orders to kill bin Laden, represents a major shift, on Obama’s part, from the rigid ideology of many of his advisors and a vocal segment of his political base. From the pure ideological perspective of the far left, a capture of bin Laden would have been their preferred solution. This would have allowed bin Laden to experience due process and preserve his constitutional rights. (I know, as I write this, how crazy this sounds, but this is actually a position taken by many folks – just consult the blog-a-sphere.) In fact, I’m still waiting for the ACLU to demand a trial, in absentia, for bin Laden. On the other hand, Obama could have simply ordered an airstrike to completely obliterate bin Laden’s compound. For another part of Obama’s base that would have been more palatable. In some strange way, for some folks, that seems less brutal and more “humane,” than putting a bullet in his head at close range. Both of these alternatives would have been ideologically more simpatico, but would also have been a propaganda bonanza for the Jihadists. Can you imagine the world-wide media circus that would have been catalyzed by parading bin Laden around in handcuffs? That would have certainly transformed a fading has-been, into a reborn martyr. The avoidance of these choices, and the decision to launch a lethal, surgical strike, signals, I believe, a very substantial move, on Obama’s part, toward leadership, and away from politics. Leadership is fundamentally about risk, and the courage it takes to deal with potential failure. This doesn’t make me anymore a fan of Obama’s, but it does indicate a maturing in a role that, until recently, has been so far over his head, that he’s been struggling to just hit the water line. (I know that this observation may not please partisans – on either side – but I have a greater fidelity to my values and my commitment to the truth, then I do to party politics.) I hope that this shift is indicative of more decisions, in the future, that reflect the true interests of our country, over the strident voices of ideologues. Personal: “Texas Children’s Hospital: The Courage of Kids” I seem to be having a number of life changing experiences these days. A few weeks ago, as part of getting feedback about Arleah’s book (mentioned above), we had a number of meetings with healthcare professionals who deal regularly with the death of children. We were in Houston, at the Texas Medical Center, doing some work with the staff at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. One of our meetings was at the Texas Children’s Hospital, and in particular, at a program that specifically dealt with childhood cancer. What we didn’t know, until we arrived for the meeting, was that the focus of this program, was on children diagnosed with terminal cancer. The director of the program was very gracious and informative, and told us a lot about how they treat the children, and how they help the families, both during the treatment process and after the children die. During this meeting I felt a heavy sadness, not knowing that this was simply a precursor to what I would soon experience. The director offered to take us on a tour of the facility, and show us every aspect of their program. We accepted her invitation, and began the tour. I cannot put into words, effectively, what it felt like to move through the facility and see what we saw. Everything there was child-centered. Open spaces, play areas, brightly colored, and a buzz with activity. The staff were amazing – upbeat, positive, involved whole-heartedly with the children and their parents. I was holding myself together pretty well, until we entered an area with a bunch of children assembled for a kind of learning activity. Until that point, we had pretty much walked past children and staff and not really focused on them. When we got to this area, time seemed to stop, and everything seemed to go into slow motion. I started to really look at the children, and what I saw hit me straight in the heart. Almost every one had a shaved head, and many had surgical scars running from one end of their head, to the other; like a horrific zipper. These were kids that were five, six, seven, maybe as old as ten or eleven years old. I was stunned at first, and then overwhelmed with sorrow. How could this happen – to so many children? We left this area – I was reeling at this point – and went to a smaller room. In this room, were three mothers with infants in their arms. The babies were receiving chemotherapy through IV’s in their legs. I don’t remember now, how long we stayed there, what I did, or exactly what I was feeling. Just a brief glance at those courageous mothers and their helpless babies was devastating. I’ve never experienced anything like that in my life. I can’t imagine what it would be like to hold my child in my arms, watching them endure pain, knowing that they were dying. Arleah and I left the Institute, and went downstairs to wait for our ride to the next meeting. We didn’t talk a lot. There was not much to say. We have certainly been through enough in our life to have some perspective on what’s really important, and what, in the long run, is inconsequential. And this experience certainly reinforced , and for me, took it to another level. I don’t believe, as I’ve written before, that I take any of the important relationships in my life for granted. Or that I feel sorry for myself for some of the losses and challenges we’ve faced. After this experience, I am more than ever grateful for the people in my life – for Arleah, our kids, our families, and our friends, and will cherish them forever. Morrie

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