FranklinCovey Consultant Blogs | James Cathcart | Uncategorized
As I watch the evening news of late I am once again dismayed at the apparent arrogance and foolishness of some in positions of leadership. Lately of course, it’s been Congressman Anthony Weiner’s debacle that is making headlines. He’s only the latest in a string of potentially great leaders who lose their way however, and eventually lose everything that matters. Congressman Weiner may recover from this political suicide attempt, but if he does, he will forever be known as that leader who made a real difference, BUT…
Too many powerful people have that “BUT” associated with their legacy and it leads many to ask, “how could these guys be so stupid? How can these men be Rhodes Scholars, or Harvard Law alumni, or professors at Columbia University and yet be so dumb?”
While I believe that these men’s actions are colossally stupid, I don’t think that they are necessarily stupid people. I think they are careless however.
Imagine, in your mind’s eye, an oak tree. The trunk looks strong and hearty, the branches look robust and flourishing. Sadly however, and unseen to the naked eye, the roots are beginning to wither, either through malnourishment or disease. The tree can sustain the image of health for quite some time, but once the winds begin to blow and the rain pounds, that oak is going down, and going down hard.
Many public figures, if they are not extremely vigilant, pay so much attention to the trunk and branches of the tree that they neglect the roots. They are so concerned about their charisma, their communication skills and their image, that they ignore matters of character. They do this because the surface stuff is the stuff people see. No one sees them in private, so they believe they can lead double lives and get away with it. And they do…
for a while.
Eventually however, it all falls apart. Always.
So, let these incidents on the evening news serve as a wake-up call for those of us playing the duplicity game. At the very least then Weiner, and those who have tread the same path can at least know that they served as an excellent bad example for the rest of us.
Over the last several months, I have been teaching a lot of content based on Stephen M.R. Covey’s book The Speed of Trust. As I have immersed myself in this curriculum, I have begun to more clearly view the world through the “trust glasses”. When one does this, they begin to become acutely aware of the high trust taxes that we as a society are paying due to low trust. I have also noticed, in a few situations, the wonderful dividends that accrue in high trust relationships, but unfortunately they seem more and more scarce.
There are many reasons why trust is eroding in the world, and Stephen illustrates them well in the book. One of the causes that I, and certainly many others have become sensitive to is the steady decline of respect and common courtesy. In fact the term “common courtesy” is somewhat of an oxymoron today.
Media opinion shows are clear examples of how common discourtesy has become. One popular broadcaster has a regular segment where he berates people who have a different opinion than his. Are these demonic souls advocating the torture of the innocent, or the destruction of civilization as we know it? No, most of them are good people who simply see the world differently. Yet, this broadcaster ends each of these sarcastic segments with the words “Shut the hell up”. Nice. This guy must be a hoot at parties.
Another broadcaster, on the other end of the political dial, often refers to individuals that he disagrees with as morons and imbeciles, refering to them using demeaning derivitives of their names. Remember when you were in third grade and you would call your arch nemesis “Bobby” “Bobby-snobby”? Same thing, only this broadcaster isn’t in third grade anymore.
To me the political, religious or social point of view of a person isn’t nearly as revealing of their character as how they treat those who see things differently than they do.
While none of these individuals have the power to directly affect society on their own, their example stirs the anger and hatred of millions of weak-willed viewers. These viewers then begin to speak to those who disagree with them in the same manner. Soon we are living in a cacophony of contempt and contention.
If we as a society were more concerned with civility, rather than whether or not we agree with the offending person, and we expected our media, political and social representatives to set a good example for the rest of us, discourse in the world would have a very different tone indeed.
Until we are willing to set such a standard, and hold ourselves accountable to it, I think we can expect trust to continue to wane to the point where we stop talking to each other altogether.
And that would be the end of civilization as we know it.
The title of this entry probably sounds like something the great Jedi Master Yoda might say, but it’s actually a quote from Stephen R. Covey. A couple of times over the last week, I’ve heard people say that they tried the FranklinCovey methodologies for time management in the past, but they didn’t work for them. When I asked why, they said something like, “well, I would write stuff down, but then forget to look at it, so…what’s the point?” I explained to one of them, in a lighthearted way, that this breakdown wasn’t so much a problem with the system, but with the user!
So often, we take great pains to accumulate vast amounts of practical knowledge, but never really apply it. We take pride in the fact that we “read the book” or “attended the seminar”, and that’s the end of it. The question I posed to one individual, when he told me that he had “gone through The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People some years ago” was, “yes, but did the 7 Habits go through you?”
I sometimes wonder if we need to stop frantically searching for fulfillment in the latest fads and trends in the marketplace, and start rolling up our sleeves and getting down to the hard work of applying some of the simple truths we’ve already learned. I firmly believe that people should always have a thirst for learning, but also recognize that to learn and not to apply, is wasted effort.
In the fall of 1843, Charles Dickens was in a slump. His last published work was not faring well, and debts were mounting. Overwhelmed with the knowledge that his own father had suffered in debtor’s prison, and fearing for his own family, writer’s block set in and things gradually went from bad to worse. Sleepless, he took to walking the London streets, night after night, hoping to find something to spark his imagination. Several times, he came face to face with a side of the city that was hidden from the eyes of most. Everywhere he went during those dark nights, he saw the homeless living in the alleyways, and the children working long hours through the night to help their families make ends meet. While Dickens was aware of the plight of the poor, and had, in fact, written about them in some of his earlier works, these nights had a profound impact on him.
He began to realize that he was not the victim here. He, with his relative wealth and power to reach thousands, was in a position to serve those less fortunate than himself. Thus began the feverish writing of one of Dicken’s most famous works, A Christmas Carol. This famous story of a selfish man obsessed with his own wealth and accumulation, and his subsequent transformation was the story of Dicken’s own life. The more he focused on the plight of the impoverished, the more creative he became. His own problems were put into perspective, and after a period of time, completely diminished in comparison to his mission, which was to bring to light the terrible conditions that existed in England, and rally those who had the resources to end it. Each holiday season, following the publication of this little book, Dickens would do a public reading in theaters all over the city. When he finished the story, and the applause died down, he would implore the theater-goers to learn from the character of Scrooge, and find joy and fulfillment by giving to those less fortunate.
As we wade through the economic crisis we are facing, it is so easy to withdraw and start hoarding in the spirit of personal survival. Times such as these demand that we remember Dicken’s masterpiece. We are an interdependent species and, contrary to our instinct, will thrive only when we reach out and help others.
In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People , Stephen R. Covey introduces us to a model we call The Maturity Continuum. This model shows us how the 7 Habits work together as a synergistic team, rather than as seven separate and disconnected ideas. Anyone who has attempted to live a few of the habits for an extended period of time has probably learned that you can’t live one habit, without understanding it’s relationship with the other six.
One of the most important concepts taught in this model is the idea that in order to achieve the highest degree of maturity, which is interdependence, or the ability to work effectively with others, one must first achieve independence. In other words, if I’m dependent on a single employer for my livelihood, I’ll never truly feel free to talk straight or give honest constructive feedback when asked for my opinion. I’ll tend to “suck-up” and say what I think everyone wants to hear, rather than be intellectually honest.
As I watch the challenges of this new century unfold, I am becoming acutely aware of many whose dependence on their employers is becoming glaringly evident. Consider this story from The October 1950 Reader’s Digest:
“In our friendly neighbor city of St. Augustine great flocks of sea gulls are starving amid plenty. Fishing is still good, but the gulls don’t know how to fish. For generations they have depended on the shrimp fleet to toss them scraps from the nets. Now the fleet has moved. …
“The shrimpers had created a Welfare State for the … sea gulls. The big birds never bothered to learn how to fish for themselves and they never taught their children to fish. Instead they led their little ones to the shrimp nets.
“Now the sea gulls, the fine free birds that almost symbolize liberty itself, are starving to death because they gave in to the ‘something for nothing’ lure! They sacrificed their independence for a handout.
“A lot of people are like that, too. They see nothing wrong in picking delectable scraps from the tax nets of the U.S. Government’s ‘shrimp fleet.’ But what will happen when the Government runs out of goods? What about our children of generations to come?
“Let’s not be gullible gulls. We … must preserve our talents of self-sufficiency, our genius for creating things for ourselves, our sense of thrift and our true love of independence.”
It’s hard to believe that article was written almost 60 years ago. And yet, it’s message is as viable today as ever. In order to truly be able to give our very best to any organization, we must first be independent of that organization. When we have our own needs taken care of first, it’s much easier to reach out and take care of the needs of others.
A common question that we FranklinCovey consultants ask participants in our Focus and 7 Habits classes is whether or not their values and mission align with the values and mission of the organization they work for. In a day and age where we have almost unlimited choices as to what to do for a living, why would we spend 8-10 hours a day doing something we absolutely hate?
Frequently I’m concerned that we’re leaving people with the impression that unless their job is perfect, where every single day seems like play, they need to keep looking for another job.
Here is something I like to remind my participants. All jobs have downsides to them. While someone else’s career might seem perfect to you, I guarantee that to the other person, there are tough, tough days and weeks sometimes where their jobs are anything but fun. For example, I love working for FranklinCovey. I’ve wanted to work for Stephen Covey since I was a freshman in college and heard him lecture on The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It took me a very long time to acquire the skills and credibility for the work I do, but I was relentless and eventually achieved my goal. I have not been disappointed. For the past 15 years, I have had my dream job, but do you know what I hate?
Oh sure, at first it was awesome. During the first couple of years I was living the James Bond fantasy, travelling to 10 different cities each month, checking into hotels, and when asked for my name replying with “Cathcart…James Cathcart. I had the perfect job.
Then I got married and had children. That beats the James Bond fantasy big-time, and the travelling lost a little of the luster. Now, in 2009, I absolutely loathe airports, airplanes, airline food (which you now have to pay extra for), hotels and taxi cabs. I find no pleasure in any of that. If Star Trek transporters existed and I could beam to Boston from Seattle in the blink of an eye, I would then have the perfect job.
But such technology doesn’t exist, and so I travel…a lot. But here’s the thing: the upside of my job (teaching this incredible content, meeting such interesting people and tapping into my unique talents and voice) is so fantastic that it swamps the downside of my work. No, I don’t love everything I do, but man do I love the teaching part.
You don’t have to have the perfect job. You just need to find work that taps into something that you are passionate about. Something that fulfills a need that others are willing to pay for, and lends itself to your talents and gifts. When you do, treasure it. Don’t take it for granted. Put your heart and soul into it and watch what happens.
Someday, someone will look at you and say to a friend or colleague, “See that person over there? Now they have the perfect job.”
To find out what some of your talents and values are, consider the FranklinCovey Mission Statement Builder found at the following site:
Recently, I heard a speaker named Tom Perry give the following counsel:
“Those of us who have been around a while…have recognized certain patterns in life’s test. There are cycles of good and bad times, ups and downs, periods of joy and sadness, and times of plenty as well as scarcity. When our lives turn in an unanticipated and undesirable direction, sometimes we experience stress and anxiety. One of the challenges of (life) is to not allow these stresses and strains to get the better of us, (but instead) to endure the varied seasons of life while remaining positive, even optimistic. Perhaps when difficulties and challenges strike, we should have these hopeful words of Robert Browning etched in our minds: “The best is yet to be.”
As I travel around the United States and take note of how various individuals and organizations are coping with the challenges brought about through these troubling times, I have noticed that those who are most unaffected by the economic downturn, and are maintaining the sort of optimism Perry talked about, are those who have pared their lives and institutions down to their core values and needs. They have lived within their means, with a clear focus on what matters most. They have spent a lot of time in Quadrant II (back when times were booming), and prepared for the eventual downslide (which is always inevitable, if not precisely predictable). To these people, it is easier to reach out and help others, because their own fundamental needs are already met.
I’m reminded of Henry David Thoreau’s book Walden, in which he describes his 2-year experience at Walden Pond, near Concord, MA. He lived alone with no calendar and no clock, trying to simplify his life down to it’s basic needs. Contrary to popular belief, he did not live in isolation. He made daily visits to Concord, and frequently had guests over to his small cabin for lively conversation. Explaining his sabbatical, Thoreau said the following:
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately. To confront only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what they had to teach…and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Near the end of his life, Thoreau was asked if he had made peace with God. His response was “I wasn’t aware that we had ever quarreled.”
As I ponder Thoreau’s lessons from Walden, and plan ahead for the future, whatever that future may bring, I believe that I too will “confront only the essential facts of life”, and do without some of the Quadrant III things that seem so compelling at the time, but really have nothing to do with what matters most.
Over the last year, I have immersed myself into some of the time-management literature that is wildly popular right now. I began with David Allen’s Getting Things Done.
First of all, let me state for the record that I like and respect David. I think that he has a lot to offer. His distinction between projects and tasks (or, The Next Action Items as he would call them) is an excellent observation. I believe that ignoring such a distinction is one of the primary reasons people get overwhelmed by their goals.
But, as I read some of the blog and forum comments of those who are impacted by this new batch of organizational literature, I cannot help but think that we are taking a few steps backwards.
People are becoming overwhelmed with the sheer weight of information that constantly presses upon them. In a desperate attempt to alleviate the pressure, they turn to efficiency programs for aid. “I just need to learn how to organize my inbox” one might say, or “If I could just get my desk uncluttered, then I’d have a handle on things”.
Many of the new authors in the field of organization and time-management share some excellent tips to help us get more things done, but there is a component missing from these approaches if we’re not careful. That component is “should I be doing a lot of these things in the first place?”
The clock is the tool that we use to measure the amount of time that we have, and drives us towards efficiency. “What time is it?” or “When will this meeting be over?” are both clock-related questions.
The compass indicates our direction, and helps us know whether we are on or off course. This is the symbol of effectiveness.
As Stephen R. Covey has often said, “It doesn’t really matter how fast you are going if you’re headed in the wrong direction.”
So, as we move forward into the 21st-century, and as time-management evolves into its next incarnation, I believe that one thing must never change. That one thing is the price that we all have to pay to understand what our primary purpose in life is, and whether or not we are adhering to the principles that help us to achieve that purpose.
When we focus first on the compass, then the clock, we truly begin to unlock our potential and set ourselves on a course for fulfillment and greatness.