The Argument For Moral Failings

I was recently in Las Vegas, Sin City, the City of Lights,……Glitter Gulch.

I stepped into an elevator with what was clearly a mother with her attractive 20-ish year old daughter.   A few floors up three young 20-ish aged boys stepped into the elevator.  They had been drinking and you could kind of tell that they were relatively new to the drinking life.  One of them, for example, had a beer in one hand and a glass of wine in the other.  They were a little loud but mostly harmless I suppose.

Up the elevator went and the door opened on the floor that the mother and daughter had selected.  They exited the elevator and, after leering at the daughter, the two-fisted drinker waited until the elevator door started closing, leaned out and said…

“You’re doing a great job raising your daughter, ma’am…(snicker, snicker)….”

As he turned back into the elevator he was confronted with a middle aged father figure (me) staring at him in disbelief.  We had about 15 floors to go and I stared at him for the entire ride while he went back and forth between nervous giggling and contriteness.

He scurrried off the elevator first when their floor arrived followed by his two friends.

The third boy stopped as he exited and turned around.  He looked me right in the eye and said…

“Sir, I apologize for….us.”

Now you can take this story and decry the youth of America, misogyny, the evils of alcohol, or a host of other cultural shortcomings that a trip to Las Vegas will put on full display for you.

But I’m an optimist.  Boy #3 gives me reason for hope.  He didn’t owe me an apology, of course.  But I’m convinced that he recognizes that he and his friends were unnecessarily “unkind” to those ladies and it was wrong.

I hope the incident stays with him for the rest of his days as a moral failing.  Not because I want him to suffer…but because it can serve as a reference point for what is right and what is not going forward.

We all make mistakes.

At 17 I was a very popular kid in a large crowd of kids in the high school band.  One day when a bunch of us were out having fun somewhere there was some horsing around among the boys in the group and I purposely tripped a socially awkward kid that wasn’t really well accepted by the group.  He was a couple years younger than me.  He fell onto some gravel and got scraped up.  I played it off like it was no big deal.

But it was a big deal.

It was a big deal because, particularly at that age, a couple years means a lot.  That kid looked up to me as a leader in our small circle and I betrayed that trust.   I do not remember his name but I will never forget his face.

To this day that moment haunts me as a moment of moral failing.   I have made mistakes since but none that I can remember without making it right or apologizing.

I don’t need anymore nightmares.  That one keeps me honest.

Moral failings.  We all have them.  It’s what you do with them that makes all the difference.


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Every Meeting Needs a Hero

That’s brilliant.  Tell me more.  Uh huh….yes,…I see.  Hmmm….interesting.  Well thank you very, very much. It was a pleasure.  Good day.

I have no idea what that guy was talking about.

Ever been there?  Ever left a meeting or finished listening to a speaker and thought to yourself…I’m totally lost.  Or I’m totally not getting what the heck they are talking about up there.  I’ve been there.  Sometimes I think I LIVE there!

My mother used to say “It is the responsibility of the communicatOR, not the communicatEE, to clearly enunciate the idea.”  Mom was right about that, of course.

So one might leave a meeting like that and think what a waste of time it had been.  One might think that the speaker needs to work on his or her communication skills…..per Mom.  But just exactly what is the responsibility of the communicatEE in a scenario like this?

There is another side to the coin that I think is worth exploring.

If you are an attendee of a meeting in which the leader/speaker is not making any sense or not clearly communicating their idea….I say you have a responsibility, an obligation no less, to ask questions.

Seriously, why wouldn’t you?   I’ll tell you why you wouldn’t:

“I’m probably the only one in the meeting not understanding.”

It is more likely that there are several people not understanding what is being discussed and you are doing everyone in the room a favor by asking clarifying questions.  That will sometimes give others unspoken permission to ask questions as well.  You know that expression…”misery loves company”?  Well so does confusion.  Everyone in the meeting will benefit as a result.  A meeting hero is born.

“The communicatOR will be offended or think less of me if I tell them I don’t understand what they are talking about.”

I actually think that a serious leader who is trying to communicate an idea is less concerned about whether his or her audience understands what he or she is saying the first time around….and more concerned with whether or not the audience understands the idea correctly and thoroughly by the end of the meeting.

You are actually doing them a favor….and a leader worth their salt will recognize and acknowledge that fact.  There is nothing worse than spending time and energy trying to communicate an idea that no one absorbs.

“I am not interested or lack curiosity about the topic.”

Not interested?  Leave the meeting.  Don’t waste your time or theirs with meetings for the sake of meetings.  Not curious?  Stop it.  Be curious.  Don’t miss opportunities to learn.

That’s it.  Any dumb questions?

(Nope….no such thing.)


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True North

Point north.

If you ask a room full of people to do that you get a lot of different people pointing in a lot of different directions.  It’s not surprising in these days of GPS technology.  We mostly don’t need to know that anymore. It is known for us.

But identify true north for that same room of people and then ask them again to….point north.  A couple interesting things happen.  Most of the room will point to north in a lockstep, highly synchronized fashion…because it was just revealed to them.  But then there is a subset of folks who will not point at all.  They might think it is a waste of energy to point north when everybody already knows which way is north.

And that secondary behavior is the one that stands out to me.

Conserving energy, insisting on efficiency, not wasting effort or time….that’s the value of true north.

When you intuitively know “true north” there are a multitude of answers that are known before questions can even be asked.  If you have it at your disposal you can calculate direction, temperature, time, etc.

If I know true north….then south, west and east are understood.

If I know true north….then I know what direction to travel to find cooler or warmer temperatures.

If I know true north….I can look at the position of the sun and estimate the time of day.

Strong leaders understand the value of true north.  They clearly and concisely identify true north, the goal or purpose that their team should be striving toward.

According to , burger giant McDonalds averaged $2.5 million per restaurant in sales in 2015.  That’s an impressive number!

Now consider the 2015 results of the Chick Fil A company.  They specialize in chicken, of course, so you might think them to be focused on competing against other chicken specialty restaurants as opposed to the Goliath, McDonalds.

Wrong.  They are competing with the big boys and doing just fine thank you.  They averaged $4 million in sales per restaurant in 2015.

Oh,….did I mention that they are not open on Sundays…and not a 24 hour operation?

Chick Fil A has famously worked hard to create a strong company culture that focuses on…..well, the customer.  Their employees know EXACTLY what to do when a customer issue arises.

I can’t tell you how many times I have gotten free chicken from this company despite my insistence that it is not necessary over some small error.

Are they the cheapest alternative?  Nope,  a little more expensive than a burger.

Are they the most convenient alternative?  Nope, not as many locations around town.

Is anyone who works at this company confused about where true north is in their team culture?   Nope.

What is true north for YOUR team?

And more importantly… THEY know the answer to that question?


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Calling Practice

“Bring it in, team!”  the coach said.  The young, tired legs all assembled at the pitchers mound….

A colleague of mine runs a local non-profit Little League organization and recently described a scenario like this one.

“What are we doing here, guys?”

One particularly outspoken player said….”We’re practicin’, coach.”

“Not really, Jenny…..that’s not what I’m seeing.” the coach said shaking his head.   “You guys are just mailing it in today.  No hustle, no focus, no sense of urgency.  What are we doing, guys?  What is the point of practicing if we’re not trying to get better?  I mean, seriously, why are we here doing this?”

Why are we here doing this?

That strikes me as a BIG question.  Do you ever feel like you are in a rut?  Like nothing is really changing, that it’s the same routine day after day, week after week, month, year?

I’ve been there and I’m sure you have too.  And I think once you start to get mentally run down by the seemingly pointless, carefully orchestrated, unconsciously maintained, day after day monotony that life sometimes provides….it might be time to closely examine this question of “Why are we here doing this?”

Sometimes the answer is “because people are depending on me” or something along those lines.  That’s fair.  But I would ask…

…what are they depending on you to provide them?

If the answer is “a roof over their heads, food, drink, educational opportunities, etc.”…I say fair enough.  But I would also ask whether they are depending on you for anything else.  For instance, are they depending on you to model a particular behavior, or inspire some level of creativity, or teach them some important values beyond just hard work?

Are you responsible for modeling how to be “happily” productive?

Or maybe you don’t have responsibility for anyone else but yourself.  And if that is the case, well, the question still remains.

Why are we here doing this?  More specifically why are YOU there doing THAT?

What is the purpose?

Do you have a good answer?  You probably do.

If not, it might be time to call practice and think about it a little bit.


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