How to Act Like a Human - Mindful Firing Part 2

If you are a leader you're going to have a decision to make and the rules aren't necessarily going to help you.

What do I mean? I mean this: when you run up against a personnel problem that has escalated you start to think about having to let the person go.

There are laws and organizational rules for all of this, and you need to follow them, whatever they are for you.

But, whatever rules you must follow, there will be plenty left to your discretion in many organizations. AND this is where we come to it: If you are a leader you're going to have a decision to make and the rules aren't necessarily going to help you.

So what should you do? My advice is to act like a human, and I will give you my guidelines of what that means:

  1. Is anyone else doing anything? Sometimes complaining to you is all anyone's done. If that's the case you may (or you may not) owe it to the person in question to say or do something. Or you may want to make sure that others are saying something. You may need to sit in on a meeting with the employee to help.

  2. Think about what can be done about it. There are times where remediation can help with a challenging or failing employee. Some times strong messaging, encouragement, support, or an improvement plan can help. If it can help do it.

  3. Be aware of team impacts. When team members begin to struggle - through negative outlook, non-productive behaviors, incompetence, or material failure - you need to think about acting for the morale of your other employees. Leaving a negative or failing person in place creates drag on and possible resentment from those around the troubled person - they may not admit it all the time, but it does. Be aware of it. Don't wait to act until others have quit. This is something you have to weigh when thinking about number 2.

In my opinion, 3 outweighs all the others. But that doesn't mean you should overreact every time there is bump. But you must protect your best employees, and you certainly must protect your best employees from being impacted by those who are struggling.

How are you going to get the best from your best if you have someone around them with a negative attitude always slowing them down.

What It Means to Get Fired - Mindful Firing Part 1

I was fired from a job in 2002. I deserved it.

This isn't what the HR team or my boss at the time would have said. They would have said, "We let him go."

In fact, through the rest of these posts, I will use the same euphemisms because that's the world we live in.

But, since this one is about me specifically, I can tell it like it is or was.

I was not "let go." I was fired. And I'm not saying that about how it happened, or what someone else did to me.

I'm saying it because I deserved it. I had skill deficits. My attitude was not great. I wasn't making the company money. I didn't want to help with sales.

The company needed to make money, and they needed more adaptable employees with a better outlook. So they fired me. It's as simple as that.

I didn't see it that way right away of course. I was mad. Things had changed and it wasn't my fault. The new office didn't understand my value, blah, blah, blah.

All of it true up to a certain point, and all of it - all of it - ultimately beside the point.

Fortunately for me, I realized I had changes to make and I started to make those changes.

I started quickly, but I'm still not done. I never will be.

The world keeps going all the time. You can decide that you're done learning or pushing yourself if you want to, but that isn't going to help you stay competitive.

So we push ourselves, we learn new things, and we work to stay competitive. That was my choice in that moment and I'm glad I made it.

I wish that I could say that this was a mindful choice for me. I wish that I could say that I recognized the need to be proactive, stop blaming others, and move myself forward. That did come with time, and today I try to handle things that way. But the truth is that initially this was all driven by fear.

My skills weren't competitive, my attitude was problematic, and the labor market, even for developers, wasn't that great in 2002. I had to change and I had to change fast to stay competitive, so that's what I did.

Today I recognize this as a significant turning point that led me on to a lot of great opportunity I wouldn't have had without it. But it's hard to see it that way right away. Right away I was just fearful about my job prospects and started making changes that I felt would make me more competitive. And I took contract jobs at a significantly reduced rate to get some experience.

Today I can see it their way. But it took a long time. I understand that the best path to change and to managing these type of stressful, life-altering situations is with mindfulness and distance, though of course urgency remains important.

Fear can be a good source of urgency, but if you use fear to generate urgency you get all the stress and distrust that come along with it. Even if that stress and distrust are only pointed at yourself.

Looking back on it, I was fortunate to have had the upbringing I had. I think that is what made me react with a mostly 'can-do' attitude toward the challenges I had as a young person in my career. It wasn't mindfulness back then. It was Mom and Dad. Thanks Mom and Dad.

What does this tell us about letting someone go, if you are the person in the position of having to do that?

It tells you that it can be for the best. But almost no one will see it that way in the short-term.

It tells you that it isn't your place to tell anyone that. You absolutely are not in a position to tell someone "It's all for the best," because only they will be able to come to those realizations, and only on their own or with the help of good friends or family. And only in their own time. You can't rush that and you certainly aren't in a position to try.

And it tells you to be as kind as you can because inevitably this will be hard and scary for anyone impacted by your decision.

Mindful Firing - A Leader's Perspective

If you have been a manager, director, or executive for any length of time you've probably let someone go. If you haven't you will.

Most of us agonize over these decisions and the difficult conversations that follow. They have a big impact on individuals and families, with possibly long lasting effect.

But sometimes you have to. Sometimes letting someone go is the best option. Sometimes it's what's best for everyone. I say that as someone who has been on both sides of the table (firer and firee). I'm glad now (many years later) that I was fired. It changed the course of my life for the better.

So here you are. You've tried everything and it's come to this.

Can letting someone go be a mindful act? Can you reside in the present moment? And would it make a difference?

Everything I've described above is really about NOT being present.

Worry (which boils down to fear, mainly) doesn't help. It certainly won't help you see clearly what's best, and it doesn't help you deal with a situation in the best way possible.

Being present without being overwhelmed by emotion is precisely what this type of decision making needs.

When you actually let someone go, though, listening and interacting with them has limits. The least mindful thing you could do in that situation is to give someone the impression that a decision is not final when it absolutely is.

I'm going to spend a few posts on this subject, from the decision making through the process itself, and think about what it means as a Mindful Leader to be involved in terminating an employee.

It is an important, if a bit sad, function of the leader to make and execute these kind of difficult decisions. It's worth thinking about and preparing for.

How the Cloud Works

Here is a picture of how the cloud works:

Rockets holding up a cloud

Those are rockets and they hold up the cloud. Those black hash-mark areas are patches in the cloud where things didn't work right. Because of these flaws someone needed to sew the cloud together. The patches are comprised of 81% code and 22% duct tape.

Why don't the cables burn up in the rocket exhaust? That is because of trained monkeys wearing asbestos suits. When the cable breaks or one monkey burns up, a monkey is added to the chain.

This concludes our brief tutorial on the cloud.

Here's the deal. This was inspired by a discussion with a client about a large cloud service provider. The service provider informed the client that the hardware that their instances ran on was bad and needed to be replaced. This is not the first time this has happened.

To me this revelation of 'hardware problem' feels tone deaf because everything about the cloud (which I mostly love) is predicated on us (the customers) not caring about hardware anymore: pricing structures, product offerings, marketing materials, billing. It seems wrong to then blame the hardware when it is convenient. My client didn't ask for you to tie their instance to some faulty hardware. My client had previously been entirely oblivious (and rightly so) to what hardware the instance ran on. Why don't they just quietly move the VM and fix the problem themselves?

Even if it was totally manual, it would give me a lot more faith in the magic and that they have their stuff together.

Truly, I love the cloud. Even if it is imperfect, it powers a lot of the modern world (including this site). I love it mostly because it is a technical marvel and it empowers business, but this customer service flaw makes me doubt the technical greatness. Why do that?

I really believe that cloud, IoT, and mobile technology are job creators in the long run, because there will just be so much of it.

Just, please, don't blame the hardware when the rest of the time you don't want me to think about it.

Blink(1) The Doctor is In Light

I just got my Blink(1) and because my office configuration makes it hard for people to see if I am there or not, I wanted to rig something up so that when I sign in to my computer it turns the light green.

Here is how I accomplished this:

I am running the current version of Blink1Control2, and I activated the server.

Now all I need is two small programs that can be called when the Lock and Unlock events fire.

Enter Node.js and node-libcurl - with them I was able to write two simple programs two flip the light to red and green. Here is the crux of the green light program:

var Curl = require( 'node-libcurl' ).Curl;

var curl = new Curl();

curl.setOpt( 'URL', 'localhost:9997/blink1/fadeToRGB?rgb=%2300FF00' );


Think that's the real port? Guess again!

Lastly you just need a way to call these when you lock or unlock your computer (Windows 10 in my case).

This StackExchange/SuperUser article was very helpful in figuring that out.

After some quick debugging and testing, I locked and unlocked and the light turns red/green. Boom!

All told, it took about an hour, but most of that was figuring out how to plug the pieces together. I was not envisioning using Node to solve this at first, so that took me a minute.

Blink(1) Green Light Image

That was some good fun. When I get it set up in my office I will post a picture of that also.

I don't love running the control program, but I think if I want to go deeper it will take more time and I think what I have will work.

Thinking Big Versus Big Thinking

After writing my last post on Seth's blog, I think it is very important for all of us to Think Big and to seek out, encourage, and adopt 'Big Thinking'.

What's the difference you might ask?

  1. Thinking Big is thinking about how we can make a big impact. Many things are changing in the world and every day there are new tools we can apply to do more, make changes, and make things better. It's easy to look around and see big thinking in action:
    Smart phones, internet, airplanes, automobiles. Thinking big is identifying trends and figuring out how they impact you and what to do with them. Hey there's a flying carpet and I want to get on that thing.

  2. Big Thinking is understanding the interconnections between things and identifying relationships. In an ever-more inter-connected world, understanding connection can be the biggest of all big things. It is looking at what makes up the trend (or anything really) and seeing if there is a thread in there that you want to grab a hold of and see how it relates to other things. Hey there's a flying carpet. How did they make that thing? I'm interested in that.

Neither of these skills are easy to improve, but it can be done. Both have potential dead ends and frustrations, and you need to improve resiliency and openness to other ideas.

Both are important, but I think the Thinking Big is the more celebrated and that Big Thinking, which is usually quieter, is the one that most needs improving.

Being able to think curiously about common place things (chairs, concrete, people, etc) allows us to appreciate our lives - it also allows us to see the deep connections that can also lead to lasting value - both emotional and monetary.

Canaries and People: What's the Difference?

If your canary is dead it is time to leave the coalmine.

Human reactions, on the other hand, (putting death aside) have a range of possible motivations and need to be interpreted.

It will be hard to tell what to do from a human's reaction without more detail or a good knowledge of the person.

Seth's Blog - Conclusion and Moving On

Here are links to the earlier pieces:

Here's what I've learned from all this:

  • Define your core themes. Find something that is broad enough to give you latitude in your topic choices so that you can:
  • Understand and make an emotional appeal to your audience. What is it about your blog that will connect with your audience?
  • Write with a broad view of your subject matter and do it intentionally (not out of sloppiness). This will help you appeal to your audience - they think about their own work the same way.
  • Surprise is a useful tool - a number of his good posts rely on an interesting setup (fences, gravity) with a very engaging reveal in the last sentence.
  • You can use multiple voices (first person, second person, third person). Probably best to use first person singular sparingly - good for when you have a strong point to make, but it will sound too familiar if you're always doing it.
  • By contrast, starting with first person plural (we) is a good way to involve your audience in your post.
  • Change voices with intent and good reason, or don't do it.

All of this is predicated on knowing your core theme(s), without that the rest of this stuff is probably mechanical.

If your core themes aren't clear to you yet, start writing anyway. But until you can write your core theme(s) down, you are working toward having one and you need to keep this in mind.

You aren't really writing this type of professional blog without a solid understanding of the core theme(s), knowing what you want to say, and figuring out who you want to say it to.

Dissecting Seth's Blog - Part 4 - Emotional Appeal

Underlying a lot of what makes Seth's Blog appealing is that he makes a very strong connection with his reader.

What makes this work is what I wrote about at the tail end of Part 3 - his expansive notions of how creativity and work can have a profound impact on the world. This is easy to identify with and get excited about.

This has intellectual components, but is largely an emotional appeal.

I don't agree with all of his blog posts, which is to say, intellectually some of them don't connect with me. However, I do keep reading his blog because of the connection I feel with the core themes: I also want to be a person doing important, creative work and changing the world.

Here is where theme selection probably matters most. To use my earlier example of desk chairs - it will be much harder to write an emotionally engaging, attention grabbing blog on the subject of desk chairs than on the subject of 'creativity at work'.

Here's a blog that makes a strong point:

Cursing Gravity

The logic of this doesn't hold up great if you spend too much time reading into his analogy. After all, are we going to seek to have gravity banned? No, we aren't.

But because it's short and because paragraph 2 packs such a punch against the backdrop of paragraph 1 - you feel a deep connection to it and its theme of 'focus on what your trying to accomplish, not on the forces you need to overcome.'

It rings true on an emotional level. We can all say 'ah, yes' and think of times or places when we ourselves or others got too focused on the wrong (usually negative) thing and wasted a lot of time and energy.

There aren't a lot of words here to get hung up on. Just the message and a strong emotional message in the last sentence that reveals why we shouldn't waste our time on the other stuff.

On the emotional appeal (which most of us want and need to have with our reader) you have some key points to think about:

  1. Choosing a theme that lends itself to this sort of broad connection.
  2. Making emotional appeals to those themes with our readers in addition to intellectual appeals.
  3. An element of build up or revelation is useful to make that connection.

That's it. I will probably write a short conclusion to all this with what I've learned. But after that I will leave Seth alone.

Dissecting Seth's Blog - Part 3 - Taking the Broader Perspective

Here is the 'Toward Civilazation' blog post from Seth's blog:

Toward Civilization

This is Seth at his most profound, making a case for something important. What intrigues me about this is how he links these posts into his primary theme. I mentioned in my initial intro that I sum up his primary theme like this: 'Creativity in the workplace.'

Here is the link in this article: the challenges to the agent of change (the person thinking creatively about a problem) are the same whether you are seeking to make a change in a workplace or in the culture at large.

And the forces of the status quo or inertia or 'we've always done it this way' apply the same back pressure, regardless of where the conflict arises.

Because of these similarities Seth can take his theme (creativity in the workplace) and carry it to a much broader audience on a much broader stage (creativity in the culture and its generally civilizing influence).

As a writer, it is very appealing to have this freedom, and by choosing your core themes carefully, you can find ways to do it.

But even more important than what you choose as a theme is your own thinking and writing. How you execute and what you choose to write about affects your ability to do something like this.

You might choose the theme desk chairs. If you mostly blog about the price of desk chairs at local stores, it is hard to make the leap to suddenly consider the importance of sitting in civilization.

But, if you choose to write sometimes about price, sometimes about design, sometimes about your personal experience, sometimes about the experience of others, and sometimes about the desk chair you saw on the side of the road, then you give yourself the freedom, and your audience the mental latitude, to consider desk chairs in a broader perspective.

By writing this way, you also give your audience a vision of themselves as part of something larger. In Seth's case he is saying, "You can see that what we do is part of something bigger. Our desire to make things better is part of the civilizing influence which ties us to the forward movement of mankind and the great motion of history."

That is a powerful method to motivate people in their own individual struggles and to keep them coming back to you for more thoughts and more writing.

Here is my favorite quote. It is worth thinking about, on its own:

Every day, with every action, to make something more civilized.