Thursday, September 11, 2008

Hot, flat and worth reading: lessons on time- and anger management

NPR has an interview with author Thomas L. Friedman about his new book Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution and How It Can Renew America. It lays out his argument for why America needs to embrace 'Geo-Greenism.'

The excerpt has a great quote: As they say in Texas: "If all you ever do is all you've ever done, then all you'll ever get is all you ever got."

Boy, that really speaks to me related to some issues I've been mulling over. To me it's a folksy reminder to keep learning, growing, and challenging yourself. As anyone with a lot going on in their life knows, it can be hard to carve out time to grow personally or try new things when you're so busy keeping up with the old things!

But I'm trying to re-focus my efforts on things that are important, not just urgent, and being really clear with myself and those around me about how I spend the limited time I have available to me.

I'm realizing that the people whose accomplishments, successes and even failures I admire are very focused on their areas of interest. They don't waste time on things unrelated to their core mission and passions. It's a good lesson for organizations as well as individuals. There are always sexy projects or opportunities that catch your attention and could pull you away from what you need to be doing. But I believe by being clear about where you spend your time and personal capital, you see better results, faster.

Of course, saying 'no' to folks you've said 'yes' to for so long is the hard part. But I'm taking a lesson from that other great leadership guide "Nanny 911." Watching it this week, I saw a family with five kids who walked all over the stay at home mom and ignored the dad. When the Nanny came in with her firm attitude and made it clear to them that the whining, disrespect and misbehavior were simply not going to be tolerated, it took a couple days but they finally stopped in their tracks and fell in line, despite the mom's firm belief that it wouldn't work. Amazingly, their parents had never called them on their behavior, which I believe often happens in difficult adult interactions too: people get used to a dysfunctional way of being and forget that there might be another way.

I once worked with a guy when I was in the TV news business who was quite good at his job, but who would lash out at those around him if things went awry, as they inevitably did in small market news, which is generally chock-full of newbies and aging equipment. Soon after taking over a new shift that put me in direct contact with him, I realized that everyone just seemed to accept that putting up with him being a jerk was a necessary part of working with him, especially since afterward he acted if nothing had happened.

One day, during a live broadcast, something didn't go according to plan. Hearing him in my earpiece blustering and cursing at those around him in the control booth to fix whatever the glitch was, I knew a fix wasn't imminent, so I improvised, cracked some self-deprecating joke about it and told folks we'd be right back. No biggie, right?

During the commercial break, he continued his tirade, cursing and carping about how inept everyone on the production and on-air team was that day, how working with us was like being a babysitter, etc. Just totally unacceptable behavior.

I finished the show, unplugged my earpiece and went straight to the newsroom where I proceeded to violate my "praise in public, criticize in private" credo because of this guy's very public tantrums and because it was an open newsroom with no real private space.

"Hey (insert name of jerk who shall remain anonymous), can I talk with you?" I began. "So I could hear you over the IFB (earpiece) when we had that glitch during the show. That didn't really warrant all that yelling and going off."

"Well I was just upset," he stammered. "I mean, these guys need to get their crap together. I'm trying to run a clean show with no mistakes and..."

"We all are. But regardless, they didn't deserve that, neither did I and it was unnecessary. So let me be clear: do not talk to me like that again ever. Is that clear?"

"Well I didn't mean... I was just mad that..." he started stammering and making excuses for his behavior again.

"I said ever," I repeated. "And I don't care how mad you were, you shouldn't be talking to anyone like that. So from now on, if you have a problem with something during the show, tell the people in the booth, tell me once in my earpiece and let it go. We'll deal with it after the show. But the yelling and going off is unacceptable. And if you have a problem with this, we can go talk to (our boss) and let him figure it out."

"No, that's cool. I understand. I didn't mean anything by it..." he mumbled.

Those around us who overhead seemed a bit shocked, as if they'd accidentally walked in on a fight in the schoolyard at 3pm. But I let it go and never mentioned it again and he never went off again around me. In fact, he seemed to treat me with a new respect and a bit of deference from then on.
So the lesson I took from that was that you confront bad behavior at the outset, nip it in the bud, and be clear about what's acceptable or not. It worked with a 20-something year old. I'm pretty sure (I think) that it'll work on my one year old over the next few years.

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