Jeff Bezos, the Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Amazon.com answered this question during a speech to Princeton Grads this May.
Bezos, Time Magazines 1999 Man of the Year, has built a remarkable company. It has profoundly changed commerce in general and publishing in particular. During his talk Bezos emphasized that cleverness is a gift but that kindness was a choice. He tells the story of his grandfather’s wisdom in counseling Jeff, an obviously gifted child, that he would one day realize that it is harder to be kind than clever. Bezos used that lesson to guide his actions in life.
We are made up of the choices we make throughout our life. At the end of our journey they add up to define what we’ve become. While our gifts are important, they often come resident within us. But the choices we make, like kindness, are acts we choose.
So at work every day we make so many choices that define us as team members. How do you want to be defined? At one level it is great to be recognized by how well we apply our gifts as accountants, engineers, sales people, and so on. But the more telling story and legacy may be about how we chose to treat others. If you asked 10 people you’ve worked with, how would they describe your choices versus your gifts?
Self accountability is a choice. Being respectful is a choice. Thinking and acting abundantly is a choice. This is harder than being just clever. But the payoff is how we feel about the “story we’ve written” at 80 years of age.
I guarantee you that all the people I’ve written about, including those in the Character Hall of Fame and me, struggle to apply the Character Triangle (CT) all the time. The CT is a framework to live but not blind to our realities. The objective is NOT perfection but to live more the way of the Triangle than less. This is not about saving the earth or humanity at a macro level, but in a modest way, it is at an individual level. This is about the everyday lives you and I have. We yell at our kids and/or colleagues. We sometimes avoid doing things we should and do things we shouldn’t. We horde things, are prone to petty feelings of jealousy, and sometimes even revenge. We can feel overwhelmed by credit card debt and/or the needs of others. We secretly stand and look at the mirror in disgust and yell at ourselves. Yup… that’s us.
My blogs are for information and reflection …hopefully occasionally for inspiration, and not a guilt trip around perfection. It is about trying most times and failing sometimes. The best part is the relentless pursuit; dusting ourselves off and going forward applying these 3 values as a system of behavior. When we do it, there is almost always a positive out come and self accountability, respect, and abundance connects with every religious or spiritual tenant. These three values are agnostic and representative at the same time.
So while the “big” examples of applying the CT provide perhaps the most memorable and referencable examples, it’s the cheerful “good morning” to our team mates, fixing something that has been nagging at us, giving our neighbors a jar of jam, that accumulates to the crescendo that matters …every day life.
So yes the CT is accessible, and while it applies to all aspects of life, the work place is my laboratory of observation.
The small things …every day.
In my July 21 personal blog I referenced the remarkable percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie. She teaches the importance and beauty in being ultra sensitive to people’s “vibrations.” The following are some practical tools to help us connect with those vibrations when we have a miscommunication. I’ve drawn them from the recent Harvard Business Review blog written by Peter Bregman, CEO of Bregman Partners, Inc.
“Who is responsible for making the first move to clear up a miscommunication?” Peter’s response, “Whoever sees it first.” I couldn’t agree more. It is not about who is right or wrong or who makes the first move. It is about clearing up the misunderstanding. And as I stress so often, it’s the self accountable thing to do.
“How do we know that there is something deeper going on in a communication process?” Peter’s view is that “tone” is a clue. When the tone of the discussion has an edge to it there is probably something not right. That may seem so obvious but how many times do we just run by that signal? My view is that this is a good time to really be present and try to take in those vibrations Evelyn talks about.
If the other person’s response or view does not seem reasonable, especially when that person is normally reasonable, this is an alarm bell that something deeper is driving the response. Bregman’s advice: “Don’t slam the other person for being unreasonable. And don’t make the mistake of telling that person what they’re really trying to say. Instead, even if you think you know what’s going on, ask a question.” Holy cow… I couldn’t agree more. And don’t ask a patronizing or loaded question. First ask yourself what’s going on and then ask the other person genuinely what is going on; you need to understand their feelings at a much deeper level.
The Respect value of the Character Triangle is based on listening and understanding. At work we come from such different angles and today much of our contact is remote. Fighting for understanding is the best for our team mates and the best for us too. It is however, hard work. It may be easier at the outset to ignore the miscommunication but it has a negative cumulative effect on our relationship. Be self accountable; take the action to address it. Respect means asking a lot of questions for understanding. Bregman gives us a few good practical guides.
This is the sequel to my previous blog. If you haven’t already, I suggest you read Clayton M. Christensen’s christensens article in the Harvard Business Review Magazine.
“Like employees, children build self esteem by doing things that are hard and learning what works.”
“The marginal cost of doing something wrong “just this once” always seems alluringly low. It suckers you in, justification for infidelity and dishonesty, lies in the marginal cost economics of “just this once.”
“It’s easier to hold onto your principles 100% of the time than 98% of the time.”
“It’s crucial to take a sense of humility into the world. Generally you can be humble only if you feel good about yourself, and you want to help those around you feel good about themselves too.”
My favorite quote of all…
“Don’t worry about the level of individual prominence you have achieved; worry about the individuals you have helped become better people.”
If the Character Triangle helps one person, including myself, become a better person then every moment I’ve spent thinking and writing about this has been worth it.
How will you measure your life? Clayton M Christensen wrote an article with insight and impact addressed to his outgoing 2010 MBA class, and published in the July-August edition of the Harvard Business Review Magazine.
The following are just a few Dr. Christensen’s thought provoking statements:
“Doing deals does not yield the deep rewards that come from building up people.”
Referring to the many students who return to their Harvard reunions years later unhappy, “They didn’t keep the purpose of their lives front and center as they decided how to spend their time, talents, and energy.”
“People who are driven to excel have this unconscious propensity to under invest in their families and over invest in their careers… even though intimate and loving relationships with their families are the most powerful and enduring source of happiness.”
“Culture, in compelling but unspoken ways, dictates the proven acceptable methods by which of the group address recurrent problems, a powerful management tool.”
Being self accountable means having a strategy for life, of which work/careers are only part of the story. We need a strategy and ways to measure success. Self respect includes having the courage to be balanced. Abundance is being confident enough to know that managing your time, talent and energy will turn out ok; you will have what you need.
Christensen has so much to say, I’ll have more on this in my next blog.
There are a number of behaviors that are enemies of self accountability. One is procrastination and the other is the trap associated with planning.
1. Procrastination. When I put things off it’s a big red flag. Sometimes it is stuff I don’t like to do, like my expense account. However when it involves that tough project, difficult conversation, doctor appointment to deal with a troubling symptom, etc. the consequences can be significant. If we make putting things off the norm, as with all habits, one procrastination leads to another and soon we get used to watching deadlines slipping by. This can lead to self blame and that good ole victim feeling. Self accountability has more of a do it now than a do it later attribute. It is a mindset.
2. The Planning Myth. It’s our tendency to vastly underestimate the amount of time we’ll require to complete a task. We think something is going to take X hours and it takes 2X as long. I’ve seen this so often and unfortunately participated in it. We think we have a plan but it’s a myth. We actually did not do the detail work to really go through all the elements that impact time and resources. People like me in CEO roles are especially dangerous. We can delegate projects and set unreasonable expectations because of incomplete planning. The Japanese developed some great planning tools that forced planning to go “five levels” deep to get closer to the detail required to have a complete plan well executed. When we make assumptions that a plan exists without the detail work required, it’s a myth that a successful roadmap has been developed.
So to support our self accountability ethos, let’s do it now (watch for the avoidance red flag) and overcome the planning myth (go 5 levels deep). This way we become effective executors on what is most important to us …our agenda.