Categotry Archives: Values

The Mentor Myth

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Looking back on my business career, I wished that I would have had a mentor. How much more could I have accomplished by having someone to better guide me?

That statement is the myth of the mentor. Myth you say? It certainly sounds reasonable to me.

I think the myth comes from my thinking that if I had had a mentor, I would have actually listened to him or her.

As I think back, although I was definitely confident in myself, I can safely say I wasn’t secure. Isn’t confidence the same thing as being secure? I used to think so but what I did was use my confidence to mask my insecurity.

Confident people who are not secure don’t need help or advice, their plans are clearly better than anyone else’s. Confident and insecure people don’t need to listen to other ideas or solutions because their way is the best way. Confident yet insecure people look at others, shake their head, roll their eyes and think “they just don’t get it”.

Confident yet insecure people think they are the smartest person  in the room even when they are not. If their ideas are challenged they have a tendency to belittle the challenger instead of offering sound reasons for refuting the challenger’s ideas. They rarely answer direct questions and have learned to obfuscate by either not answering or answering a question with another question of their own.

If something goes awry, instead of taking responsibility for their actions, insecure people always look for someone or something to lay the blame on.

Confident secure people seek out advice and help. They are secure enough in themselves to want to search for better and more ingenious ways. Secure people are open to other reasoned ideas that may be better than their own. When they make a decision they own their decisions. They do not blame others if there is a problem and they do not have the need to always take credit when things go well. When asked a question they answer it in a direct reasoned manner they do not have a need to obfuscate.

To this day, asking personal and business friends for help is difficult for me. This is true even when I know that fundamentally, people like to help. I certainly know I enjoy strategizing with others about their personal or business plans and directions.

The moral of the story? Don’t make the mistake of thinking being confident is being secure.  This way, if you are blessed with having a good adviser, you may actually listen to and benefit from listening to them.

Accepting Consequences of Choice

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When I was a small kid of around 6 years old I wanted to go to see a local house-fire with some of the older kids in the neighborhood.  My dad told me not to go. If I did go, it would be my choice and I would have to suffer the consequences of my choice. Using the short term thinking of a child, how could I possibly get in trouble if I went with a group of older, wiser 12 and 13 year olds? So, I traveled the three or four blocks to see the house on fire. When my dad noticed I was gone he came looking for me. He found me standing with the other kids watching that fire! I then had to pay the piper for my actions!

My dad made me cut a small switch from one of the fruit trees in our yard so he could spank me with it. Although he gave me one quick stinging tap on the touche for my punishment, the real punishment was my having to endure the shame of cutting my own weapon of punishment! He also said something I didn’t understand until years later. My dad told me that “this hurts me far more than it will hurt you”. That day I learned a few valuable lessons from my dad. He may not have been mindful of his teaching but I never forgot his disappointment in me. My dad only delivered the punishment for the poor choice I chose to make.

To this day, I believe in the importance of accepting the political consequences of the choices we make in all walks of our life. I think that whether you are in the workplace or in our country’s capitol, people believe if they own up to their poor choices that they will lose their power. In reality, they would gain more power because the electorate would actually believe them. Same thing happens in the workplace. If you are honest and take your medicine, you build the trust people have in you.

#3 – Tell the Truth: Pelzie’s Principles (Part 4 of 4)

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Tell the truth … the third Pelzie Principle, seemingly simple but possibly the most difficult for his kids or anyone else to authentically grasp.

I think the reason telling the truth is difficult is because we can so easily rationalize and convince ourselves that we aren’t stretching the truth. The easiest lies, and possibly the hardest to detect, might be the lies we tell ourselves. Jonathan Haidt from the University of Virginia says that the greatest moral philosophers are the best at rationalizing their own lies. We see this in politics and business all of the time but, can we rationalize and lie to ourselves about our own authenticity?

In the late 90’s our company, Ex Officio, Inc., attended the Outdoor Retailer trade show, an important four day event held twice a year in Salt Lake City. Our company had nonstop appointments from the beginning of the show to the end. After one meeting, I noticed our National Sales manager was having an intense discussion with two women from one of our smaller accounts. I didn’t know the account so I decided I would go over and introduce myself. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that I had interjected myself into the middle of a difficult discussion about short shipping this customer. Short shipping is when a company does not fully fulfill a customer’s purchase order.

As it turned out, our customer who was short shipped was extremely angry because the shirt style they didn’t receive was one of their best selling styles. I apologized and asked our customer what we could do to make her happy. She did not want to hear anything we said other than that we would ship her store the shirt style we weren’t able to ship. She went on to accuse me of holding shirts back for our largest customers in order to curry favor with them instead of shipping the smaller accounts. I told her this wasn’t true but she continued to insist that it was.

After accusing me of being deceitful, I stopped the conversation, took a breath and said “we were at fault for not shipping you your product, but if you are questioning my integrity, I don’t think we should continue to do business with each other. Thanks for coming in, good-bye!” She and her partner got up and left. You can safely assume the atmosphere in the booth wasn’t exactly jubilant.

Well it wasn’t long until the work day was finished. My two business partners, our VP of Sales and I decided to have a fine meal and a few beers at one of our favorite Italian joints. And guess what? We were seated at a table right next to the two customers we had earlier clashed with! We gave them a polite nod and sat down. Fortunately the place was boisterous enough so our respective table’s conversations couldn’t be heard. After a few moments, I had an inspirational thought. I told my partners we were going to pick up their dinner tab. I thought they might not go along with this idea if I simply offered so I discretely found their wait person and told him I wanted to pay for their dinner. When our customer went to pay their bill, the waiter told them that we had already picked up their tab. As I thought, they weren’t very happy about it, and grudgingly they came to our table to give us a quick one word “thanks” before leaving the restaurant. Now I wish I could say my suggestion of picking up their tab was because I was being genuinely nice and trying to make amends. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. I expected this gesture would grate at them.

The next day, the woman who accused me of deceitfulness came to our trade show booth. She apologized for her actions the previous day and genuinely thanked me for picking up their restaurant tab. Making a special trip to our display booth to apologize and thank me for dinner had to be extremely difficult for her, but she did it anyway.

After she left, who do think felt like the jerk? Although I rationalized that picking up their check was simply “comical”, in actuality it was done to make these people feel uncomfortable. It certainly did not represent the esteemed integrity that I fought to defend the day before. I think you could easily make the case that my authentic intention for picking up the check was far closer to being unkind than being upright.

The lesson I learned from this experience was the importance of being completely authentic as a person in all facets of my honesty and integrity. I hope I never forget that the biggest lie may be the one I rationally tell myself.

The last of the three Pelzie principles, number three “tell the truth” … not as simple as we might think!

#2 – Listen: Pelzie’s Principles (Part 3 of 4)

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“Listen” … the second of Pelzie’s three principles. I sometimes ask myself how that simple word “listen” can end up to be so complicated. When I was as young as Pelzie’s children are now, I remember being pretty prolific at talking, and I certainly had my share of difficulties trying to master the other half of communication that I wasn’t accustomed to: listening.

After I retired as CEO of Ex Officio Inc., I used to think, “I wish I could have had someone like myself to coach me.” But, honestly, I’m not sure if I would have been secure enough to listen even if I had. Secure enough to listen? By all appearances, I was a secure and confident guy. After all, wasn’t I leading a successful company? Sure I was but, my typical modus operandi was listening so I could rebut instead of listening so I could understand.

Once while I was CEO, I had the bright idea to separate Ex Officio’s domestic business and its international business into two separate companies. My attorney clearly didn’t think the idea was great, but I thought, “What did he know? I know my business better than he does!” At one of the trade shows we attended, I met a gentleman who had terrific connections in Japan. His authenticity within the Japanese market seemed beyond reproach and I wanted to hire his firm to represent us in Japan. During our discussions, it came out that he was “tired” of building up other companies and wanted a “piece of the action” if he were to represent us. This seemed reasonable to me. And, because of my brilliant plan to separate the domestic business from our international business, it was eminently doable. Six months later it became clear to everyone at Ex Officio that this great idea of mine was a complete mess that took a lot of time and money to rectify.

If only I had learned Pelzie’s second principle – listen – my mistakes in this transaction would have been minimized. First, I should have listened to my attorney to understand the possible pitfalls in separating the company. Because separating the company fragmented and complicated finance, potential financial partners and investment bankers were not thrilled by my great idea. I also should have done a more thorough background and reference check on the new Japanese representatives before becoming business partners. One of my friends who owned a thriving travel bag company later said to me, “Why didn’t you ask me about this guy, I would have told you about his volatile personality.”

Why didn’t I listen? I think I made the fatal mistake of confusing being secure with being confident, and I certainly had no shortage of confidence! As it turned out, my confidence was a mask for my insecurity. Secure people are secure enough to listen to other opinions without judging them. Listening without judgment doesn’t mean you have to accept all of these opinions. Intently listening simply means you have a much greater opportunity to make informed decisions.

What a lesson in listening! So I guess you might think that after that incident I became a great listener, but that is not the case! Even to this day, I often need to remind myself to listen. Unless you are a natural listener, listening is rarely fully mastered.

#1 – Be Nice: Pelzie’s Principles (Part 2 of 4)

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Be nice …. I don’t think it would be a stretch for the majority of us to envision my friend Pelzie’s young 6 year old son and 5 year old daughter arguing, provoking and skirmishing over any number of things.

Remembering a time when my brother Walt and I were about the same age, whenever we took a trip in the car we could be found sitting in its spacious back seat. My idea of spacious wasn’t always the same as Walt’s (to his chagrin, I used to call him Wally). Predictably, Wally would draw an imaginary line delineating his theoretically protected area. To me this line only represented a place where I had to go to cross over! To this day, I vividly remember “consistently encroaching” on my brother’s territory. I can’t imagine how we must have driven our parents crazy! Be nice, to whom, my brother? Looking back, those were fun times for a kid but was I being nice to my brother? No, I can safely say, I wasn’t! Did Wally and I learn how to exist together? I sometimes wonder! I knew my older brother Wally’s emotional hot buttons and, ostensibly to survive, I was relentless in pushing them. My parents would put up with us to a point and then my mom or dad would speak. I don’t think they said “be nice” but the tone of their voice certainly implied it!

Be nice … as we grow up, I think that simple be nice takes on a myriad of meanings. Personally, I think be nice includes the basic core values of respect, empathy, fairness.

We might not understand those words when we are 6 years old but we should understand them once we enter into the real world. I think most of us have a basic understanding of respect, empathy and fairness but, I’m not so sure if we consistently live these values.

Is there a reason we don’t live them? When I was a kid, it was very easy for me to rationalize that I needed more backseat territory and, if I could pester my brother into giving it to me, well … wasn’t that Wally’s problem?

I sometimes wonder if many people today easily rationalize to not be nice, respectful, empathetic or fair by deluding themselves into thinking “in order to survive, this is how the big kids must act”! We see and hear this every day in the financial industry when certain investment banks don’t play nice by indiscriminately selling flawed financial instruments, large hedge fund managers not playing nice by using insider and unfair trading practices to manipulate markets, national politicians, on both sides, not playing nice by utilizing dirty politics. In essence, aren’t these businessmen, bankers, hedge fund managers and politicians giving all of us permission to not be nice?

Too bad these unprincipled men and women didn’t have Pelzie as a father when they were growing up.

Pelzie’s Principles (Part 1 of 4)

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What I received out of college that was far greater than my education, were lifelong friends. There is no doubt in my mind that I learned more from my friends and their families than I did from any one of my classes.

To this day, I still call one of these close friends by his college nickname, Pelzie. Pelzie’s 30-year old son Bobby is my godson. Bobby and I have been extremely close since he was born. Fifteen years ago Pelzie unfortunately became a widower, and 8 years ago he remarried. Not long after his marriage he and his new wife Joellen, courageously I think, decided to adopt a sweet Mexican-American baby boy. A year later the adoption agency called Pelzie and Joellen to let them know that their baby son now had a baby sister and asked if they would be willing to adopt her too. “Why not, how much harder can raising two be?”

Their rhetorical answer brings us to today’s topic: Pelzie’s Principles.

The two little ones are now 6 and 7 years old. Like most kids this age, adorable as they are, they like to tease and provoke each other. These two are keenly aware of each other’s emotional hot buttons!

To save themselves from the emotional turmoil of their two kids, Pelzie and Joellen decided their children were old enough to begin to learn a few of life’s principals.

Conceptually, these principles had to be easy enough for a 6 and 7 year old to grasp, and simple enough for them to actually remember. After long discussions, Pelzie and Joellen settled on three key principles for their children to learn.

Number one: Be Nice.

Number two: Listen.

Number three: Tell the Truth.

After Pelzie shared these three principles with me, I thought they were genius in their simplicity.

In the coming days we’ll examine each of these three simple principles that even a 6-year-old can begin to understand and delve deeper into the question:

After we have grown up, are these three principles in reality that simple or not?