Monday, November 22, 2010

Nothing Hidden!
What I Learned from Journal Entries...

"For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing,whether it is good or evil." Ecclesiastes 12:14

In 1989, when I assumed the reins at the loss prevention training department of the insurance company where I ultimately worked for 30 years, I became responsible for a rather large budget. On the second day of my assignment, the morning mail delivered a tall stack of mainframe computer printout that contained my department's budget reconciliation report for the previous month.

As I began to make my way through nearly 70 pages of material, I kept seeing the words "Journal Entry" in the Expense column with various amounts deducted from quite a few specific accounts. I counted them. There were 27 Journal Entries in all. Not knowing what a Journal Entry was, I picked up the telephone and dialed the number for the Accounting Department.

"Hi. This is Dean Wilson calling from the Training Department. I just received my budget reconciliation report for April and I note that I have 27 Journal Entries scattered throughout the pages. Just what is a Journal Entry?"

"You don't have to worry about that," the accountant who answered the phone replied. "A Journal Entry is a device we use in accounting to allocate expenses and balance the books. You don't need to concern yourself about them."

This hardly gave me a satisfactory answer. I decided to total the amounts of the Journal Entries. I was startled to learn they totaled over $7,000. "Wow!" I thought to myself. "That's a lot of money!"

In a short while I went downstairs to my boss' office for a regular weekly meeting. I thought that surely he, as the Senior Vice President of Loss Prevention, would be able to give me a better explanation for the Journal Entries.

"I just reviewed the budget reconciliation report for April and I found 27 Journal Entries totaling over $7,000. I called Accounting, but they couldn't really give me a satisfactory explanation. Just what is a Journal Entry?"

"I don't have any idea," my boss replied. "Let me look at my report and see if I have any. Yep. I have one-two-three-four...seventeen Journal Entries."

With that, he picked up the telephone and dialed the Vice President of Finance.

"Bill," my boss spoke into the phone. "Dean Wilson is in my office and we're reviewing our budget reconciliation reports. We both have a number of Journal Entries totaling a significant amount of money. What the heck is a Journal Entry?"

A rather long silence ensued. I could hear the faint voice of the VP of Finance coming from the telephone.

"Well, that's not a very good explanation," my boss intoned.

More silence as the VP of Finance talked further.

"Well, I'm not happy with that explanation. I think we'll have to talk about this some more later."

As my boss hung up, he turned to me. "Bill says that a Journal Entry is a device they use in accounting to allocate expenses and balance the books. He insists that we don't need to concern ourselves about them."

Somewhat mystified, I went about the many other tasks on my plate. When the calendar pages turned and I received the next month's budget reconciliation report, I begin scanning for Journal Entries. I could not find a single one. I called my boss and reported this phenomenon. He quickly scanned his report and found that he, too, had no Journal Entries.

And, so it was from that day until the very day that I left my job at the insurance company some ten years later. Never again did any of the budget reconciliation reports that I received have any Journal Entries. But, there's more to the story.

Four years later, one of the accountants joined his local volunteer fire department. When his fire chief learned where he worked, the chief asked him if he knew several of us in the loss prevention training department. The chief had met each of us at various times when we had served as instructors at fire training seminars. Knowing that we operated the largest fire protection teaching laboratory in the United States, the chief asked the accountant if he could arrange for the fire department to take a tour of our lab.

Suddenly, we had a new lunch companion. The accountant began to sit at our table in the cafeteria. He was an amiable fellow and soon became a welcomed lunch buddy.

Several months after he began to sit with us at lunch time, he mentioned that the accounting department had special rules for the loss prevention department and for the loss prevention training department.

"Special rules?" I replied.

He went on to explain that the accounting staff had all been instructed that under no circumstances were they to record any Journal Entries against any of the accounts managed by either my boss or me.

"Exactly what is a Journal Entry," I asked our new friend.

"A Journal Entry is a device we use in accounting to allocate expenses and balance the books," he replied.

"Yeah. But, what is it?" I insisted.

"A Journal Entry allows an accountant to make legitimate corrections to the current financial records for mistakes in previous records, especially once the previous records have been closed for a particular accounting period. But, we also use them in another way. Journal Entries allow us to allocate various expenses and spread them across as many accounts as possible, so that no one can easily determine the exact amount of money we're spending on certain items.

"For example, the country club memberships for management and some other perks they receive are expensed as Journal Entries across hundreds of accounts. Since your budget was one of the larger budgets in the company, and since you have so many accounts, your department was an ideal place to put Journal Entries. That's why you had so many. Most managers only get one or two a month, so they never even ask what the Journal Entries are for. I guess all those years of you managing fire protection engineers/inspectors, and your years in the research department, made you skeptical enough that you wouldn't let it go."

Once again, I learned a valuable lesson: "Everything hidden will eventually be revealed." So, don't hide what you're doing. Operate with absolute transparency. Don’t plot, plan, or scheme how to get your ideas adopted by your team members or the members of management. If you try to operate in secrecy, your secrets will always come to light.

On the contrary, when you have come to a decision on how to move forward with some major matter, present your thoughts openly to your team members. After you have presented your ideas in a fully transparent manner, lead your team members in a careful, thoughtful, and respectful analysis.

Don’t withhold any information from them whatsoever. Share openly how you have examined the problem, what alternative solutions you have considered, and how you have arrived at the solution you have chosen. Let your own, personal thought process become fully open and transparent. After all, what do you have to hide? Are you ashamed of how your mind works? Do you have so much self-doubt that you do not trust the scrutiny of others?

Likewise, insist that the members of your team follow your example and fully disclose their own thought processes regarding the matter. Let them share what they have discovered. When you reach a final decision—supervisor and team members together—share that decision in full transparency with management. Tell management how, as a team, you have arrived at your decision. Allow your collective thought process to have full transparency.

At all times maintain strict transparency, particularly when you deal with matters of finance. Do not hide anything from anybody.

As a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, maintaining a strict transparency will aid the Holy Spirit in teaching you how to keep your insecurity and arrogance at bay. It will help build trust with your team members and with management. It will force you to focus on major issues and leave the nit-picking details of your department to other team members.

I can summarize in a sentence what I am trying to share as follows: “A supervisor does well who keeps his or her decision-making process fully transparent.”

Copyright © 2010 by Dean K. Wilson. All Rights Reserved.
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Thursday, November 11, 2010

"Whose Idea Was That?"
What I learned as a managing editor...

Each year while I attended college, the student body elected the editor-in-chief of the weekly newspaper. But, the English Department, in order to maintain some consistent level of quality from year to year, appointed the managing editor.

The managing editor had to work as harmoniously as possible with the editor-in-chief and with all the section editors that the editor-in-chief appointed. But ultimately, the managing editor reported to the head of the English Department, Dr. Josephine G. Rickard (known affectionately as "Doc Jo"). I had the privilege of serving as managing editor for two years. It was an amazing learning experience.

One particular section editor sticks in my mind. She was a firebrand of enthusiasm backed up with hard work. I made it my practice to stop by the newspaper office first thing in the morning, during the noon hour, and last thing at night. Seldom did I arrive at the office and find that she was not hard at work. I remember asking her once if she ever went to class.

In spite of her diligence, she exhibited one quality that almost completely nullified her efforts. She seemed to have an overwhelming need to control every aspect of her section's creativity. It's important to note that because she had inherited her sub-editors from a previous section editor, she was working with a staff that she did not select.

As the year wore on, I began to notice that her section editors would often meet somewhere other than the newspaper office. Once, when encountering the sub-editors holding a strategy meeting in the foyer of the Chapel, I asked them why they were meeting there rather than the newspaper office.

"We've found it's better to brainstorm off-site and then take our completed plan back to the office to present to the section editor. That gives us the opportunity to hash out the details and then come with a united front."

"United front?" I queried.

"Yeah. If we come with a united front, she's less likely to completely shoot down our plan."

I walked away from this exchange deciding to make certain I was in the office for the next section meeting to see if I could observe what was sowing an apparent seed of discord. Soon enough, the section gathered to plan a special feature. I sat in the corner, explaining that my presence was part of the evaluation process for which I had responsibility.

Right away I saw the problem. Every time one of the sub-editors began to explain some portion of the proposed feature, the section editor would interrupt with the words, "Whose idea was that?"

Apparently having rowed through this particular sea before, two or more of the sub-editors would answer in unison, "We came up with the idea together."

"Yes," the section editor would respond, "But who came up with the original idea. Whose idea was it?"

The sub-editors would insist that they had arrived at the idea together. Their answer did not seem to satisfy the section editor. But, she would permit them to move ahead with their presentation.

When they finished their explanation of how they would develop the new feature, the editor closed the meeting by saying that she would get back to them the next day. I was aghast. In the newspaper business a section editor doesn't have the luxury of taking even a few hours to make a decision. A section editor must develop a very decisive decision-making process.

Nevertheless, I decided to attend the next day's meeting. When the time came around, the section editor and her sub-editors gathered. Instead of accepting the proposed feature as the sub-editors had created it, the editor came to the meeting with a significantly modified plan.

Again, I was aghast. From my perspective of much more experience in putting together a newspaper than any of those present, I thought the proposal from the sub-editors was brilliant. It had all the creative elements that a section editor should look for in a feature. In contrast, the proposal from the section editor did not have nearly the spark and verve that the original proposal had. Frankly, it was sort of lifeless.

As the meeting ended, I cornered one of the more senior sub-editors and asked to meet with her privately. When we met, I bluntly asked, "Are all your meetings like that? Does the section editor ever accept one of your proposals without changing it dramatically?"

The sub-editor explained that every meeting was just like the one I observed. Each single meeting became two meetings. In the first, the sub-editors would present their proposal. In the second, the section editor would present her modified version.

I asked the sub-editor for a fleshout on the history of the "Whose idea was this?" bantering. She explained that, early in their relationship with the section editor, they learned that no one person should acknowledge ownership of an idea. Any idea coming from a single individual was rejected out-of-hand by the editor.

I thanked the sub-editor for her candor. Next, I asked to meet with the section editor.

In my meeting, I asked the section editor why she was so concerned about who came up with any particular idea. "I'm the editor," she responded. "The section is my responsibility. I don't want anyone else claiming responsibility for something that's my job. I was appointed because of my creativity. I'm the boss of the section and I have the final say."

I then spent over a half-hour trying to reason with the section editor. I talked about teamwork. I explained that she had very competent sub-editors who had served the previous section editor extremely well. They had all the knowledge and skill needed to run the section. All they needed from her was her support and her willingness to trust them to do what they knew how to do.

Sadly, she would have none of it. I next contacted the elected editor-in-chief and asked to meet with her. At our meeting, I laid out what I had observed. She explained that she was very fond of the section editor. After all, she had appointed the section editor and considered her a friend.

I explained that if she allowed this pattern to continue, the section would suffer and, likely, the sub-editors would resign. She had to choose between supporting her friend or making a decision for the good of the newspaper.

I waited to see what would happen. The editor-in-chief decided to take no action. As I had predicted, in just a few weeks, letters of complaint began to arrive about the uselessness of the section of the newspaper. Because I had filed a written report of the incident with "Doc Jo," the English Department was aware of what might happen.

Doc Jo summoned the editor-in-chief and me to a meeting. "I understand you are receiving complaints about a section in your newspaper," Doc Jo began the meeting. "What do you intend to do about it?"

"I'm not sure," the editor-in-chief replied. "I've talked to the section editor about the complaints. She tells me that the complainers just don't have any taste. She says that she knows what's best for the section and that there really is no need to do anything. She claims she has it all under control and asked me to just trust her."

"Did you find that answer satisfactory?" Doc Jo asked.

"I'm not sure. I've read the complaints and those who wrote seem to have some good points. I just don't know what to do."

"Mr. Wilson," Doc Jo turned her attention to me. (She always called me "Mr. Wilson" except one time, just before I graduated, when she spoke to me as, "Dear Dean.") "Do you have any suggestions for the editor-in-chief?"

"Yes," I replied. "Replace the section editor immediately. She does not appear to the have the necessary leadership ability to develop a smoothly operating team. The teamwork is critically necessary for the section and for the entire newspaper."

"Did you hear what Mr. Wilson recommended?" Doc Jo asked the editor-in-chief.

"Yes," the editor replied.

"Then do it!" Doc Jo said, ending the meeting.

In any business situation, a supervisor must integrate with and build a team in order to truly succeed. Any supervisor, willing to learn, can learn how to integrate with and build a team.

The more freedom a supervisor gives his or her team members to be creative, the more dynamic the results. It doesn't matter who comes up with an idea! If the team analyzes and polishes that idea, it becomes the team's idea. Worrying about the ownership of an idea is usually a foolish venture. And, a supervisor who must be the source of every idea is wasting company time.

In virtually every work situation, the most expendable member of the team is the supervisor. Good team members are really hard to come by. Supervisors are a dime a dozen. Whenever a supervisor cannot build an effective team, especially when he or she is given team members who have proven their value and worth through past performance under some other leader, then it's time to replace the supervisor.

As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ we have the most magnificent example of a team leader in the Lord Jesus, Himself. Study carefully the passages in the Gospels that describe His interaction with His team, the disciples. Notice how He related to them. See how He allowed them to grow and develop. After all, He knew that once He returned to the Father, the disciples would have to carry out His work on earth.

As the Apostle Paul urges us in Philippians 2:1-11,

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus..."

I learned many, many valuable lessons from Doc Jo and from the experience I gained during college as the managing editor of the newspaper. But, this particular lesson has served me very well down through the years. It doesn't matter who thought up an idea. Every creative impulse comes from God as a gift to those He loves.

And, it most certainly doesn't matter who gets credit for an idea. If we're working as a team, every success belongs to all of us, just as every failure belongs to all of us. We succeed and fail together.

That's what true leadership is all about. True leadership that consistently honors the example of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Copyright © 2010 by Dean K. Wilson. All Rights Reserved.
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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

My Dog Taught Me!

I'm not a "dog person." I suppose this stems from two facts. Within a few months of my parents adopting me in the summer of 1947, their beloved collie, Runabell, died. I grew up hearing the story of how my coming into the home diverted attention from Runabell until she died of a broken heart. Of course, I now know how silly that supposition was on the part of my parents. I also realize that this story was their way of honoring their long-term pet and expressing their fondness and affection for Runabell and the joy she brought to them during the fifteen long years of childlessness until I came into their lives.

The second reason I'm not a "dog person" stems from an unprovoked attack by a rabid dog in the early fall of 1952, as I made my way home from Kindergarden. I was rushed to the hospital and there endured the old-fashioned multiple stomach injections of rabies vaccine.

So, I'm not a dog person for good reason. Or, at least it seems like a good reason to me. Nevertheless, I do recognize the deep bond that can occur between someone and his or her pet. Such a person is my dear friend Marcia LaReau. So, with great joy and with her permission, I am pleased to share with you an anecdote that she sent me this morning.

Each day, Ernest, my dog, has a checklist of activities. We try to do them each day—not always in the same order or time and succeed most of the time. The list is:

  • Each morning— trip to the back yard. Ernest is responsible with his bodily functions and Marcia cleans up. Then we play with "Ring" and "Tire" toys for about 10 minutes.
  • Run next to bicycle—about 1.5 - 2 miles. I use words: "Look, look!" to indicate there is a squirrel sighting. "Mush" to go-faster (I think that is a universal word in dog-language). And, "take me home" or "let's go home" when we are almost done.
  • "Time for a 'Bootie?'" ("Bootie" is a rawhide treat in the shape of a boot.) Ernest goes to his room and Marcia delivers his treat.
  • School: Ernest has several toys, each with a name: "Blue," "Star," "Bow-tie," "Frisbee," "Bone," "Squeeky-toy," "Greenie," "Rattle," and "Rope." He's learning each by name along with some verbs. He's also learning how to extract those words from a sentence: So: "Find 'Bone' and put it in the bucket. Find 'Star' and put it in my lap. Hand me 'Squeeky-toy'," and so forth. There are other things, too. We play "Which hand?" I put a treat in one hand and show him both closed hands. He chooses one by nudging it with his nose. If the treat is there, he gets it, if not, he has to try again. We also play hide and seek with his toys, etc., etc.
  • After dark we go out front of the house—no fence—and I have two lacrosse balls that I throw across the cul-de-sac and he chases them and brings them back. We bounce them all over the tarmac and he jumps and chases them. He loves this particular time. The session ends with the best part of his day—the "Popsicle!".
  • "Wanna popsicle?" At that, he runs to the house and waits for me. Once in, he runs to his room and waits patiently. I go to the freezer where I have a set of seven marrow bones. Each one has canned dog food on each end, and cereal or whatever in the middle—all frozen. This is more than just his favorite treat. He only gets it when he is in his room. The idea is so compelling that even if he decides to chase a squirrel, if I say, "Wanna popsicle?" he will come running to me. I believe he is at the point where he will now come every time. It's really a security and safety measure from my point of view. And, I've worked hard to find something that would cause him to give up a squirrel chase.

So that's his routine. I suspect that he has a small smartphone somewhere on which he's tracking my progress each day and checking off his appointments. Perhaps he uses Google-calendar.

So, one day in the yard, he's doing his shtick of not wanting to give me "Ring-toy." I haven't been happy about that. I just wanted him to give it to me so I could throw it and get some of the energy out of him so he's comfortable for the rest of the morning. Yet, he always wants to play "Keep-away" and by having at least two toys, I can usually entice him with the second toy. That way we don't waste time while I try to get him to give me the toy, so I can throw it again. I also didn't like that he wasn't minding me when I said, "Bring Ring. ...give Ring."

This day I saw the look on his face when he was playing "Keep-away." It was so funny. He was engaging me, inviting me to chase him. I realized that I just wanted to get him exercised. But, he wanted to enjoy being with me. I gave chase and everything changed. I got him into the corner of the fence and he darted past with the "Ring." We were thoroughly enjoying each other and laughing, too. After five minutes of "chase," he actually wanted me to catch him and hug him. After a hug, he willingly relinquished the "Ring" on the ground and stepped back. Now it was time to chase "Ring" and exercise.

My life changed. It was now about giving him a good time. It was about enjoying each other. It was about (dare I use the word) being happy in our relationship.

It's been a few weeks since this revelation. Instead of having a good dog, and praising him and being pleased with him because he was minding me—all about control—I now look for ways to give him a good life, that we have fun and quality time together each day. School time should be fun for us both. For the first time, I've started really enjoying him. It dawned on me that some parents actually raise their children this way—wanting each day to be comfortable and filled with good things.

And, so it is with my relationship with our Father and Lord. I realized that they want to enjoy being with me, they want me to enjoy being with them. This whole "relationship" thing is much more than the obedience, and of course, never-ending gratitude. God wants to have an enjoyable time together with me.

This morning, it occurred to me that Jesus has overcome the world. So, I don't have to fear. And, since there is nothing that can change His dominion—"I am convinced that there neither things above, .... shall separate us from the love of Christ," Romans 8:38-39—that nothing need get in the way of an enjoyable relationship. It isn't about what I need, my concerns, etc. Those are taken care of. It's about finding ways to enjoy being with the Lord.

All the "stuff" in my life— health, physical pain, relationship issues— they are like "school-time" with Ernest. It's a time for the Lord to show me His path. He's already solved the problem. We can enjoy being with each other and I can learn how to live in a pleasing way.

This whole idea of enjoying each other—that God wants enjoyment in our relationship—is a huge shift in my understanding. Wow! God wants to enjoy His relationship with me, no less. He likes me! He loves me! And, He wants to spend time together.

As I was riding my bike with Ernest this morning, I realized that in my new relationship with him, I want every interaction to be a good one for him. I want him to always enjoy being with me because it's always a good time of affirmation. This is a huge change in the way I've raised my other four dogs. Then it dawned on me that God is not only "for" me and has only my best good in mind, but that He wants every interaction with Him to be a positive one as well. That makes it really easy to run to Him and "hide" in Him.

This is quite a paradigm shift for me, and I hope it is the path to that "abundant" life that I read about, but feel like I've been missing in terms of my "happiness." When I ask the question, "Where is the abundance of peace, joy, happiness?" I'm beginning to find the answer! So, the journey continues, but it is a much different, much better journey now.

Copyright © 2010 by Marcia LaReau. All Rights Reserved.


I hope you enjoyed reading Marcia's anecdote as much as I enjoyed posting it for you. God truly is at work to will and to do of His good pleasure. It's wonderful to see how He moves to intersect with our lives and draw us irresistibly into His marvelous grace.

Incidentally, if you appreciate the "person" you sense in Marcia's anecdote and need help in finding a career, I would urge you to visit her website. Just click here to check out the variety of services Marcia offers at Forward Motion.

Copyright © 2010 by Dean K. Wilson. All Rights Reserved.


Monday, November 8, 2010

"Welcome to Buffalo!"
What I learned from a new supervisor...

One of the most interesting developmental experiences of my early business life, way back in 1970, occurred when a young insurance engineer from the New York City office received a promotion to district supervising engineer and moved to join our Buffalo Office. As a relatively recent employee, I looked on with anticipation as this newly "knighted" supervisor began the task of coming on board an office that consisted of extremely close employees.

To say that the fourteen members of the Buffalo Office were a tightly knit machine was to somewhat understate how smoothly and effectively this group of fire protection engineers worked together. Several employees had labored side by side for over 20 years. As new employees joined the staff, the older members warmly welcomed them and took great pains to instill the "Buffalo culture" into the newbies. Within the insurance company, the Buffalo Office had a reputation for excellence. It also had the unique position of having within it's boundaries the widest possible variety of industrial and commercial facilities. That made the Buffalo Office a spectacular training ground. Many top officials in the Hartford, Connecticut, main office had begun their careers in the Buffalo Office

Into this well-oiled fire protection engineering machine stepped a brash newcomer from New York City. He came with all the bravado and arrogance that we upstate New Yorkers expected. He was a likeable enough fellow. He had a hearty laugh and a delightful Queens drawl. He seldom got angry and rarely seemed flustered. He also brought with him a wealth of learning experiences that I recognized at the time could serve me well when I eventually received a similar promotion.

(Of course, I viewed the new supervisor's actions through the lens of a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. I knew that Jesus was the most excellent example of a leader. And, while the new supervisor made no claim of belonging to Christ, I simply could not help but compare his performance with what I have observed about Jesus in reading Scripture.)

So, please allow me to narrate some of what I learned by observing all the things the new supervisor did wrong.

As a new supervisor comes into a new workplace, some business school training and certain management books seem to suggest that he or she should “turn the workplace upside down.” Those sources suggest that the new supervisor should quickly discard as much of the employees’s connection to the past as possible.

This may include eliminating rituals or traditions the workplace may have practiced under previous supervisors. It may include discarding key staff members. It may include making all kinds of decisions, major and minor, with absolutely no consideration for how those same decisions may have been made in the past.

To justify this faulty practice, proponents often quote a time-worn cliche, "A supervisor should be able to choose his or her own team members." I could rather easily argue that this cliche has no basis in actual practice. Harvard Business School and The Wharton School of Business of the University of Pennsylvania have both conducted significant research over a fifty year span of time that validates the best supervisor can enter a new situation and assimilate himself or herself into an existing team in such a way that the team becomes strengthened. (Click here to read just one such report.)

Obviously, without a detailed knowledge of each individual situation, I cannot determine the true motivation of every new supervisor who has chosen to come in and turn the workplace upside down. But, I can make an educated guess. I think it generally stems from a sense of profound insecurity. The thinking goes something like this: “If I can break all ties with the past, if I can really turn things upside down, then management will not have anything to judge my performance against except those things I have created of my own volition.”

William Shakespeare in The Tempest wrote: “What is past is prologue.” The past has a great deal of influence on the present. In fact, as each person walks along the road of his or her life, every moment in the present has inexorable ties to the past. To try to discard the past, to minimize its value and importance, can only end with a workplace consumed by confusion and torn apart by unrest and discord.

As certain employees push back against the changes the new supervisor makes, he or she will try to manipulate those individuals to leave the organization. The new supervisor will begin to marginalize them, speak against them with members of management, remove them from positions of authority, and generally try to turn others against them. Once a new supervisor starts down the road of breaking a workplace’s connection to the past, he or she has little choice but to do everything possible to justify his or her behavior.

George Santayana wrote “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” I would modify this quotation slightly to assert: “Those who refuse to honor the past are condemned to be harmed by it.”

Now I am not suggesting that a new supervisor should never introduce a new idea, a new program, a new policy, a new concept, or a new whatever. Quite to the contrary. Each new supervisor should not see himself or herself as someone who simply maintains what has gone before. Nor should the new supervisor take on the mission of turning the workplace upside down to quickly establish himself or herself as the sole creator of policy and practice.

So, I learned from my experience in the Buffalo Office that new supervisors, in making changes in any situation where they assume leadership, should carefully consider taking the following careful and thoughtful steps:

  1. Make every effort to learn as much about the past as possible. Talk to employees who have been around a long time. Explore the reasons behind why policies, practices, and programs exist. Get to know the underpinnings of the workplace. Find out what makes the employees tick. Find out what bonds them together. What are their traditions? What are their common values? What are their common experiences? Get to know the culture of your new workplace. Find ways to assimilate yourself into the very core of the employees who populate your new workplace. Reach out with a gentle, thoughtful caring. Come along side your employees. Treat them with respect. Value their past.
  2. Make changes very, very slowly and carefully. Don’t change anything, even things that you view as trivial, for at least 12 months. And then, only make changes after carefully exploring those changes openly with your support staff and other members of management. Gauge and anticipate the response of the employees to the changes. In fact, involve as many people as possible in developing the scope and nature of the changes. Norman Shawchuck has long asserted: “People tend to support what they help create.” So don’t be a “Lone Ranger.” Don’t make decisions alone or with just a “Tonto.”
  3. Whenever you do decide to make changes, do so in a way that acknowledges and honors the past. Give gentle and careful verbal assent to the value of the past practice. Provide a fully truthful, completely accurate, forthright, and totally transparent explanation as to why you have decided to make the changes.

Learning how to become an effective supervisor becomes even more important if you are a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Great King sets a very high standard for leadership. His example gives each Christian supervisor a unique insight into how to become an effective leader. So, consider doing the three simple things I have suggested and you will prove the lasting value of your supervisory leadership. You will build harmony in the workplace. You will win support for your ideas. You will also find that the care you exercise in decision-making will sometimes influence you to change your mind about some idea, concept, policy, or program. And, most importantly of all, you will honor the testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ who lives in your heart by the power of the Holy Spirit.

After all, you should want to learn and develop, so that you can better serve God and the business organization or company to which He has called you. Don’t ever think that you alone have all the answers. The fact is you don’t. You can’t. You won’t.

You will best serve when you form a prayerful, thoughtful, careful partnership with the Holy Spirit, the employees whom you oversee, your fellow supervisors with whom you work, and with the management of the company you serve. God will reward you for the gentleness and caring you display when you make a conscious and determined effort to honor the past and smoothly integrate yourself into your new workplace.

As a postscript, if you're wondering what became of the new supervisor, let me share that he continued all through his career to perform with the same "New York City" bravado and arrogance that marked his first months as a new supervisor. Still, he remained quite likeable as a person. Sadly, later in his career, he developed a reputation that caused one colleague to speak of him as follows: "He's the only man I've ever met who burns his bridges before he comes to them." I will give him credit, though. He certainly taught me a lot of valuable lessons. I remain grateful.

Copyright © 2010 by Dean K. Wilson. All Rights Reserved.
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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"I Need You To Trust Me..."

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

"A good investigator has to maintain a healthy skepticism in order to find the truth. But, as an investigator, you must guard yourself against becoming cynical. So, become skeptical, but not cynical."

Those words begin a lecture I gave hundreds of times over the years to new fire protection engineers about to embark on a career as insurance inspectors. The words came from my own lifetime of experience inspecting the facilities of the Fortune 1,000 companies.

When you have responsibilities that demand you must find the truth, you must always begin from a position of skepticism. You simply cannot accept as "truth" anything that you have not personally verified from first sources.

From a practical standpoint that means I cannot accept as "truth" what one person tells me about an event he or she witnessed. That's why investigators always interview as many people as possible. A good investigator weaves together a truthful understanding of an event by correlating information from many interviews. If one person tells me what he or she saw, I must verify that information by putting the person's observation into a larger context.

Similarly, I cannot accept as "truth" what one person tells me some other person did or said. If someone reads a document to me, I must ask to see that document for myself. If someone quotes a portion of a letter or memo to me, I must ask to see the entire letter or memo, so I can put the read portion into the context of the entire document. You see, context is always a key to the truth.

"Do you mean to tell me that you shouldn't trust anyone?"

That's right. If I want to find "truth," I have to verify all information for myself. I must ask questions and seek details to support what I'm being told. Let me give you an example.

To help preserve the properties we insured against damage from fire, we asked the management of each facility to designate someone to make weekly self-inspections of all fire protection equipment. Then, as a part of our periodic insurance inspections, we would ask if the facility was making those self-inspections. Over the course of several thousand inspections, I never had a manager tell me that his or her facility was not making those inspections. Yet, when I asked to see the copies of the weekly inspection reports, I often found significant discrepancies between what the manager thought his or her employees were doing and what those employees were actually doing. And, this is just one item from a list of hundreds of items that go into the effort to preserve a facility against destruction by fire.

So, I wonder. When someone tells you what they saw someone do. Or, when someone tells you something about another person. Or, when someone gives you some information. Do you accept that information without question and make decisions based on that information? Or, do you verify that what you're being told is really the truth? Do you dig in to find the context in which that information resides?

"Surely, there is someone you trust?"

Yes, I trust God and His Word, the Bible. I trust the inner nudging of the Holy Spirit. I trust the gift of discernment that God has chosen to give me with regard to sensing the presence of evil. Apart from those, I trust no one. Does that seem harsh? Perhaps it does. But, I have arrived at this position through a lifetime of experience at working diligently to find the "truth." Finding the truth is hard work. Most people give up before they dig deeply enough to discover the truth. Skeptical persistence pays off, though, when you want to discover truth.

Now, please don't misunderstand. Just because I treat all information skeptically does not mean that I treat the person delivering the information disdainfully. Quite to the contrary. The Bible teaches us that we must do our best to treat all people with respect, kindness, generosity of spirit, gentleness, and God-breathed love. So, even in my quest for the truth when I treat information with skepticism, I still treat the person supplying the information in a manner that honors God.

At the same time, if I discover that the information a particular person has given me has proven false, I am much more careful when receiving information from that person in the future. This is particularly true when I deal with decision-makers. Most leaders have an agenda. In fact, I will state that every leader has an agenda. That agenda could be good, noble, selfless, and worthy. Or, a leader's agenda could be tainted by selfishness, or some other less honorable motivator. In many cases, a decision-maker's agenda can color any information that leader supplies. So, I always carefully verify information that comes from decision-makers.

And, in my effort to maintain a healthy skepticism, I also make a conscious effort to guard myself against becoming cynical. I try to always keep an open mind. If someone gives me information that my verification process discloses is not fully truthful, I don't treat that person with suspicion until he or she has given me untruthful information several times. Only after someone has given me distorted information repeatedly, do I begin to treat what he or she says with suspicion.

In addition to verifying all information by going to first sources, use verbal cues to help you discern the truth. For example, in making inspections at many facilities, I have learned to be hesitant whenever I hear someone say, "You need to trust me..." I have found that people who punctuate their pronouncements by imploring their listeners to trust what they say, often have distorted the truth to fit their own agendas.

I'm certainly not suggesting that you follow my pattern. No. As a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, you must make your own judgment on this matter. But, I would urge you to listen carefully to everyone who speaks with you. And, I would most respectfully suggest that you make it a practice to verify what you're told. If someone tells you that a certain person said something that merits action on your part, go to that person and ask them to give you the context. You may find that the information you received was intentionally or unintentionally distorted by the person who first told you.

In the final analysis, measure all information against God's Word. Let your own study of Scripture give you the tools to make sound judgments, particularly about behavior. After all, you can trust God and His Word. Even as Jesus prayed in John 17:17:

"Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth."

Copyright © 2010 by Dean K. Wilson. All Rights Reserved.