Just days before the horrific massacre of 20 innocent children and the 6 heroic adults who tried to save them, a friend asked me to imagine what I would wish for if my words could change people’s hearts and minds. After some deep reflection I said that I would wish that children would be safe in the world.
I’m sure the Connecticut school shooting, which is every parent’s nightmare, has affected you with the same sadness and heavy heart that I have been experiencing. We can only pray that the love and compassion that we each express for the families of the victims and the entire community of Newtown will bring them some peace during this confusing and desperate time.
In the past few days I’ve heard several conversations about why this tragedy happened. One dangerous myth that is gaining traction and that needs to be dispelled quickly is that the cause of this ruthless killer’s behavior was Asberger’s Syndrome. Millions of people live well, high-functioning lives challenged with this developmental disability. The fact that Adam Lanza had Asberger’s Syndrome did not make him pull the trigger, multiple times, of a semiautomatic rifle and murder 26 people. Adam Lanza had the mindset of a deranged criminal. He represents a classic case of untreated mental illness. I find it difficult to believe that no one noticed how sick this man was prior to this tragic event. We are told to say something if we see a strange bag sitting in a subway station. When do we say something when we see bizarre, potentially dangerous criminal behavior in another human being?
Another pressing issue to address is how to help our children cope with their fears about the shooting. Children are asking questions about whether or not they’re safe, especially at school.
Perhaps the most disturbing single piece of data found in Daniel Goleman’s groundbreaking book, “Emotional Intelligence” comes from a massive survey of parents and teachers showing a worldwide trend for the present generation of children to be more troubled emotionally than the last. They are more fearful, lonely, depressed, angry, unruly, nervous, prone to worry, more impulsive and aggressive. These children are not emotionally prepared to deal with all the confusion and chaos in their lives. This is not a time for children to be left alone to fend for themselves. The emotional education of these children cannot be left to chance. It is too hard for these kids to feel all this despair, hopelessness, and confusion on their own. Right now, more than ever, they need our love, guidance and attention. They need to know they are safe.
I’d like to offer these five suggestions to help your children through this difficult time:
1) Stay close. Your children need to know they’re protected. They need to be in environments of loving relationships. Stop arguing if they are around. Don’t worry about coddling them– they need it if they are anxious or afraid.
2) Touch. Expressions of affection produce a calming effect on adults as well as children. Be emotionally present and sensitive to acting out behavior that is based in fear.
3) Communicate. They have questions: “will a killer come to shoot me at school?” “Why did that man hurt those children?” Give them age appropriate answers. Talking won’t increase their anxiety—it will help to reduce it. Make it safe to ask you questions.
4) Honesty. Tell them the truth like.. “Not everyone in the world is bad. You are loved and you are safe with people who love and care about you.”
5) Give Them Time. We cannot ignore this incident and hope that with time the feelings will go away. It is important to keep life as normal as possible. Consistency and routine reinforce the message of safety for children. That stability over time will help to dispel their fears.
When you’re thinking about the perfect gift this holiday season and what you can do that could really make a difference, hug someone you love a little tighter and then say a prayer for the innocent children, heroic adults and their families in Newtown, Connecticut.
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According to a study reported in the Harvard Business Review, what separates a great company from a mediocre one is the compassion of its leaders.
But what exactly does it mean to be compassionate? Dictionary.com defines compassion as “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” It is this latter phrase, the “strong desire to alleviate the suffering” of another, which gives us a clue about how compassion can become a TRAP in organizations.
In my experience, many managers mistake enabling for “compassion”; they excuse employees’ poor performance or tolerate inappropriate behavior. Conversely, managers who truly care about their organizations push through their own discomfort to have hard conversations with their employees. One of the roadblocks to being a great leader is wanting to be liked so much that you tip-toe around difficult conversations. I’m not suggesting that we say things in ways that are mean. I’m just suggesting that we say what we mean.
Suppose you have an employee who is not doing their job—it’s a pattern, not an isolated incident—but you feel “compassion for them, as they are having “personal problems”. In the spirit of “compassion”, you give this person special considerations, constant support and advice, and a respite from the rules you’d impose on others. However, your coddling of this employee means they NEVER really put full effort into their work, even as their “personal problems” resolve, or are replaced by new problems. Now, your compassionate feelings are replaced with buried resentment, anger, and frustration. Worse, your other employees have begun slacking as well; seeing that the rules do not apply to everyone, morale has decreased, and your authority has been eroded.
Avoid the trap. Check what behavior you are enduring and why. Often you will find that you are being held hostage by means of your own generosity and innocence. Your generous nature responds to their cries of despair. And your innocence is unable to conceive of their real motives. You want to give them every benefit of the doubt. You want to understand and yet you cannot begin to comprehend motivations such as theirs. Your dedication to the company you built makes you believe that they are dedicated to it too. Consider that they are committed to their own needs—and that’s it. True compassion may mean understanding that personal issues prevent an employee from functioning well. As a business leader, you have to deal with how that is affecting the business. We have interdependent relationships with our employees. What they do affects us; we have a stake in their success and we want them to succeed. Success often depends on our being courageous enough to have tough conversations.
Holding ourselves and others accountable to be and to do the best is an example of TRUE compassion for our organizations and the livelihoods of everyone in it. Let’s stop allowing adults to be small and start directing them to be the giants they really are.
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U.S. Representative, Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s running mate on the Republican presidential ticket has said that Ayn Rand, novelist-philosopher, inspired his entry into public life. For those of you who are not familiar with Ayn Rand, she was best known for her books The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged which launched a powerful philosophic movement known as objectivism.
As anyone who knows me well is aware, I too have been a passionate admirer of Ayn Rand and her philosophy has had a profound effect on my view of life’s possibilities. Like millions of other people, I discovered her writing at a young age and wholeheartedly embraced her heroic vision of human potential, free enterprise and enlightened self-interest. Obviously there is a good deal more to her philosophy that this brief article can begin to convey but those are the core ideas at the base of everything else that she wrote.
In the last two weeks, the media has exploded with incredible distortions and misrepresentations about the implications of Ms. Rand’s influence on Paul Ryan’s character. For example, when he said that while she inspired him, his catholic background would be a major disagreement with Ms. Rand’s point of view on religion, he was accused of “flip flopping” and of “being a hypocrite”.
One of the unfortunate consequences of oversimplification and reducing complex ideas to sound-bites is that it allows people to form opinions on subjects of which they have no knowledge. Perhaps that is the media’s intent. One unpleasant fact I’ve needed to learn about people is how low in their priorities telling the truth becomes when they have strong feelings about a cause and want to make their point. People in the media are no worse than anyone else, they merely perform on a more public stage.
Ayn Rand offered me and the millions of other people who have been moved by her work, a frame of reference to understand the world along with an uplifting vision of human nature and relationships. In my opinion, she was not right in all respects of that vision, but she had one and it provided radiantly rational answers to a lot of burning important questions about life. Although there are elements of her vision that need to be changed, omitted, added or amplified, I am convinced that the major part of her view will stand the test of time.
Her work encourages people to understand the nature of their own power and possibilities; she assures us that we are competent to learn and understand, and that achievement and happiness are not only possible but to be exalted. For this she was denounced as a materialist, accused of advocating for a dog-eat-dog world and smeared as being a fascist. I’ve never heard of any other philosopher who has had their ideas quite so brazenly attacked and misrepresented. Regardless, her books have sold and continue to sell in the millions.
Ayn Rand taught that our highest virtue is our ability to think rationally. She discouraged distorted all-or-nothing thinking—that is looking at things in absolute, black and white categories without examining the premise. An example of this sort of twisted thinking is the media’s claim that being moved and inspired by Ms. Rand’s work means that Mr. Ryan must be in agreement with everything she ever said or wrote? As we mature we learn that the best of human beings are human at best. They make mistakes. Ayn Rand would turn over in her grave to hear me say this, but she did have the right to be wrong sometimes. If we only see a person’s greatness and deny their shortcomings, or visa versa, we remain blind.
If you would like to understand the fundamentals of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, I suggest you consult the Ayn Rand Institute. What I’d like to address are the four major ways that Ayn Rand’s philosophy and my own differ. This list is by no means an exhaustive explanation of our different views but even touching on them strikes me as important.
1. Ayn Rand was an atheist who rejected any form of what she called mysticism. She dismissed anyone who was a “believer” as a crackpot or charlatan.
I don’t think she understood spirituality very well—she certainly never studied the subject. She was profoundly secular and she had a closed mind about any power greater than oneself. Another view did not fit into her model of the world.
2. She was also off in her view of the relationship between reason and emotion. She advised that we always be guided by our conscious mind. Such council does not adequately deal with the fact that in my experience the subconscious mind might be right when the conscious mind is mistaken. There are many occasions in my life when I refused to listen to my feelings and followed my conscious beliefs—which were wrong. Denying, disowning or repressing our feelings sabotages our ability to think clearly because it cuts off access to vital information. We can only grow after we accept who and what we are right now.
3. She had no real appreciation for human psychology, more specifically how people can change. She placed enormous importance on the virtue of justice and she had no compassion for a person who does something they know is wrong. The behavior is simply branded as evil and she offers no useful advice of where to go from there.
In my view, we cannot lead people to morality by treating them with contempt. It is far more effective to give people a realistic path to follow to become more moral human beings. I am also a strong believer in kindness, benevolence, generosity and being mutually helpful to other human beings. To me, it is a virtue to assist people who are struggling to live. That view is entirely compatible with Ms. Rand’s ethic of rational self-interest.
4. Where Ayn Rand was totally off the beam was her belief that no woman should aspire to be president of the United States. As a follower of Ayn Rand, I found this to be one of the most disappointing lapses in her thinking.
Ayn Rand’s work has so much that is truly extraordinary to offer all of us. On a personal note, I am deeply grateful for her wisdom, insight and inspiration. I appreciate that Paul Ryan acknowledged her greatness as well as some of her errors and mistakes. Now we all have the responsibility to sort out the true from the false as we choose the next Leaders of our country.
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Watching the Olympics is always a thrilling experience, yet this year’s Games have been particularly riveting. The victorious athletes have been winning their events by mere seconds or fractions of seconds. The difference between champion and runner up, first place and second best, has often hinged on a nano-moment, leaving us fans with bated breath and exuberant cheers.
With such close competition occurring among the best-of-the-best, we are left asking, “What makes a champion?” “How do these athletes stay so dedicated to winning under pressure” and most importantly “What lessons can leaders learn from these Olympians’ examples?”
Two books come to my mind: 212: The Extra Degree by Sam Parker, and Good to Great by Jim Collins. In 212: The Extra Degree, Parker uses the properties of water as a metaphor for success in business and in life. Parker explains how the difference between very hot water (211 degrees F) and BOILING water (212 degrees F) is only a single degree! From this, he posits that the difference between worldwide success and mere solvency in a business happens within the same small range. Some effort: some success. EXTRA effort: phenomenal success. Similarly, in Good to Great, Collins extolls the virtues of greatness and dedication to goals, while actually criticizing half-effort and being “good enough”. According to Collins, good-enough is the ENEMY of great; if we settle for good-enough, why would we ever push ourselves further to attain greatness? These ideas offer insights as to why our Olympic champions succeed, and how we as leaders can implement their singularity of purpose as a business strategy.
Becoming the best at anything is never easy. I read recently about how our champion Olympic gymnast, Gabby Douglas, often made sacrifices and endured discomfort, as did her family. On one particular occasion, Douglas was away from home training, and felt very homesick. She called her mother asking to come home, a plea that many parents would quickly cave to. However, Douglas’s mother believed in her daughter’s potential, and lovingly but firmly told her that she would not be picking her up, and to stay and continue her training. While Douglas almost certainly did not like her mother’s response at the time, she now possesses an Olympic gold medal. The road to success is not always comfortable or easy; we must be hard on ourselves, and sometimes on those around us. How often do we quit because we simply let ourselves off the hook, or others around us tell us to take it easy, to take a break? That road might lead to good-enough, but seldom will it lead to GREAT. As leaders, do we push ourselves to achieve more than is comfortable, to strive for our ultimate best? Furthermore, once we ourselves push our limits, do we demand the same from our employees, colleagues, community members, or fellow leaders? Would we have the courage to say to them, “You are not bailing out on this one; you need to stay and finish your training?”
However, I have also recently learned that not everyone views this success-at-any-cost model in the same way. Where I view it as inspiring, some other business people I have spoken with take a different view. For example, one psychologist I spoke with feels that the fate of Olympic athletes is a tragic one, that the athletes are “like trained animals who never learn to do anything else” and that their “life’s purpose is essentially finished by the time they reach their mid-20’s”. Besides being a pretty cynical view, her focus was on the “heartbroken poor losers” who get “rejected and forgotten”. Another professional, a writer, observed that the Olympics are “only about money and advertising” and expressed a conviction not to watch the Olympics “ever since the tragic massacre in Munich”. I was surprised by how these professionals’ views of the Olympics so radically differed from mine. I understand the importance of treating the people who lose with compassion and the concerns about the over commercialization of the games. But, I think these comments represent two disturbing trends: that we shouldn’t acknowledge exceptionalism based on who actually performs the best because it makes people feel bad; and bashing the private sector for finding ways to distinguish their products. I say, there are winners and different levels of winners: gold, silver and bronze. The best of the best get the gold. Regarding the financial support of the games by Corporate America, I say, without it the Olympics wouldn’t exist! To the athletes who have sacrificed so much, I express my deepest gratitude for giving the rest of us a glimpse of how much we all can achieve with hard work, discipline, perseverance and a heart to win!
Continue the conversation: What do you think of the Olympic games? As a leader, what lessons do you take away from the games or this blog post? Do you find fault with any aspect of the Olympics, as some of my colleagues did? Please, share your perspective; email your responses to email@example.com.
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In the wake of the Colorado theater tragedy, many voices have been clamoring for our attention. Some are criticizing the victims who brought their young children to the theater: this argument both insults what these parents have endured, and defies logic. Others have used the shooting to reopen the perennial gun control vs. citizens’ rights debate. But we all know that guns do not kill people; people kill people. Amid this loud media frenzy, one important point has been conspicuously absent: this tragedy was perpetrated by a disturbed individual in need of intervention and services. This man never got those services; he slipped through the cracks. Now 12 people are dead, 58 are wounded, and one young man’s life will be forever defined by his heinous crime.
Crimes of this nature have increased in recent years, and seem to leave us asking the same questions again and again. “How did this happen?” “Why did no one intervene?” and “How can this be prevented?” We all know the old adage, “Hindsight is 20/20.” This idea is never more relevant than when we encounter massacres, shootings, and large-scale violence. The seeds of these tragedies are sewn in small, day-to-day encounters. Criminals who go on to commit these atrocities begin merely as people with issues, in need of help. That disengaged and depressed student in your English class who is mercilessly tormented by their peers? That co-worker of yours who’s prone to bouts of rage, and seems to be at the end of their rope? When we look at how we treat the disturbed or difficult people in our lives, it becomes much clearer HOW these things go unaddressed until it is too late. Sadly, we often do not have the courage to voice concerns about the people around us. Or worse, we DO bring our suspicions to leaders in our community, and those leaders do nothing.
Speaking up about someone’s potentially troubling behavior is uncomfortable; we are concerned with being politically correct, with not offending anyone. And for leaders who have been informed of a problem employee or community member, this difficulty is magnified. When you are a leader, you’re all to familiar with the saying “The buck stops here”. It is certainly a hefty responsibility, but a crucial one. As a leader, you have the power to prevent tragedies by responding to concerns sensitively, but with firm and decisive action. Looking the other way is tantamount to aiding and abetting the wrongs being perpetrated, as seen in the Sanduski case.
In response to safety concerns within New York’s mass transit system, the Long Island Rail Road launched their now-famous “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign a few years ago. This same idea can be applied to workplace relations, classroom dynamics, and community interactions. If you encounter a person whose demeanor or behavior seems not-quite-right, speak up to your supervisor or a local office that can address the issue. Fears of offending the person should be far outweighed by a sense of responsibility for preventing needless violence later on. Obviously, I am not advising you become an agent of the Thought-Police, or persecute others just for being outside the mainstream. But when you get that gut-feeling that something’s not right, go with your gut.
And if you are a leader to whom such a concern is brought, address it. Perhaps we can tweak the Long Island Rail Road’s motto to apply to leaders: “If Someone Says Something, Take It Seriously!”. You can avail yourself of workplace resources such as sensitivity training, having other leaders to support you when you confront the individual, etc. But please, whatever you do, do not allow concerns about disturbed persons to go unaddressed. The lives of community members, perhaps even the lives of yourself and your family members, may hang in the balance.
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