Spit Out the Seeds

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leading Leaders

Life is about enjoying the sweet stuff and getting rid of stuff you can’t digest.

There is something very “summer” about having a slice of ice cold watermelon on a hot summer day. Seedless watermelons are ok, I guess, but nothing beats a good old Big Stripe watermelon for sweetness. There’s really no way to eat around the seeds, though, or cut them out. In most cases you just have to take a bite and spit out the seeds.

Life is Like That Too

Anyone who tells you they never meet with adversity or have to deal with unpleasantness is either lying or lives in alone and never goes outside. Life is not always fun, and embedded in the sweetness of it all are the seeds of conflict and vice. There are many ways to approach those things: we can avoid the sweetness and live in solitary, or we can start eating lots of “seeds” and embrace life that’s not perfect. A better way to live, I think, is to take a big bite and then spit out the seeds we don’t like.

Life is just too short to miss out on the melon because you can’t stand the seeds. The lie of the modern age is we have to live in a world where everything lines up with our beliefs. Trust me, that ain’t happenin’ this side of Heaven. Our world is full of the seeds of vice, cruelty, and despair. Misery and sin are simply part of the human condition as a consequence of our fallen nature and our human freedom. The question we should be asking ourselves, however, is whether we’re going to let that get us down, or prevent us from being the leaders and the persons we are meant to be.

I Don’t Want to be Around Those People

I have a friend who would never want to live in certain parts of the country because they don’t believe they could handle their neighbors’ views on lifestyle and politics, even though the climate and scenery suited them. In the parlance of my Dad, I think my friend is “cutting off his own nose to spite his face.” In other words, my friend’s decision to isolate themselves from people who he disagrees with is in the end, self defeating.

There is probably no place on earth where one can be surrounded by others who agree with them on everything. Trying to find that place is ultimately isolating and self-defeating. We have to re-learn how to “spit out the seeds.” One of the ironies of the Information Age is it’s far too easy to isolate ourselves and live in an echo chamber of our own biases and beliefs. If we are to truly grow as a human being, and therefore be more effective as a leader, we need to learn how to listen to other points of view. We needn’t abandon any of our principles, but we should understand that none of us is perfect.

There’s Plenty of Melon for Everyone

Too often people present leaders binary choices where the choices are not “either/or” but “both/and.” The more senior we get, the less the choices are binary. Sometimes there simply are no “best” choices, only “bad ones,” and we have to choose between the “worst, less worst, and the “least worst” choice.

It’s the same when dealing with people we disagree with. You can (usually) pick your friends, but you can almost never pick your neighbors or business associates. We don’t have to agree with everything our friends and neighbors do, we can only control our own behavior and how we respond to others. I’ve written about this before (see my post about Andy Taylor) and the gist is this: learn to get along with people you disagree with, even vehemently.

We don’t have to agree with each other on everything; heck, we don’t even have to like each other. But as leaders and adults, we have to learn how to get along and get our work done. Be moral, be ethical, and by all means be lawful, but learn how to talk to people you don’t agree with nicely.

It’s just like that watermelon: there’s plenty for everyone, no need to quarrel over how it’s cut. Just enjoy the melon and spit out the seeds.

Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate of the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.
Mickey is the author of eight books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating TeamsMickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’s: A Straightforward Guide to Life.

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How Not to Get Unfriended

Posted Posted in Practical Leadership

I don’t need to tell anyone that sometimes people with–shall we say strong political views?–have difficulty communicating below the 100 decibel level, especially on social media. Navigating the office and social media environment in the age of the 24 hour news cycle while maintaining your sanity and your friendships is not as easy as it once was.

But it should be. It’s not that you shouldn’t have opinions, it’s just that it’s not always necessary to share your opinions. It’s important to know when to speak, to whom, and on what subject. To that end, and as a public service, I’ve developed a set of “rules” to guide online and office behavior.

Before I get into the “rules” I’d like to take a moment to quote Founding Father James Madison’s Federalist 10 on the virtue of republican democratic government for resolving the inevitable “faction” that develops among people attempting to govern themselves. I also want to point out that when Madison refers to “republicans,” he’s referring to the idea of a republic as a form of government not the political party by the same name.

In the extent and proper structure of the Union, therefore, we behold a republican remedy for the diseases most incident to republican government. And according to the degree of pleasure and pride we feel in being republicans, ought to be our zeal in cherishing the spirit and supporting the character of Federalists.

– Madison, Federalist #10

The Federalist Papers are a collection of what we’d call today blog posts that made the case for the form of government we have today in the USA. In Federalist 10, Madison writing under the pen name Publius described both the inevitability of developing “factions” among people, and the virtue of a “republic” over a pure “democracy,” and offered a remedy for moderating the passions of the day. It’s worth the read, for sure, and is a great reminder to be optimistic about our country’s ability to work through issues and (eventually) reach a solution. You might not know it sometimes, and the Civil War notwithstanding, but Americans have a remarkable resilience and ability to solve problems peacefully, although usually loudly. OK, end of preamble, now on to the rules.

The Rules

1. All humans deserve to be treated with respect. Someone else’s lack of respect doesn’t justify you doing the same.

When someone is being disrespectful or rude the natural reaction is to return fire and as we say in the military, “establish fire superiority.” Resist the urge–either remove yourself from the situation or return rudeness with kindness. Trust me, it’s a far better place to be. You might feel good in the moment by “winning” but in business and in life relationship is not about “winning” or “losing,” but rather about mutual respect.

2. Public figures are humans, not messiahs and not devils.

It’s very important to remember the people we see on TV are, you know, actual people. They have virtues and flaws, friends and family who love them, and their own thoughts. They make mistakes. They do good work. Public pronouncements and actions are fair game for discussion or disagreement, but be careful to separate criticism or praise of an action from criticism or praise of the person. Always give people the benefit of the doubt. We’re always free judge a person’s actions, but we’re not to judge a soul–leave that to God.

3. If you’re partisan before you’re a patriot you are part of the problem.

The good of the country should always be a primary consideration, and we should always be ready to change our minds if presented with enough facts, so long as we don’t violate our values.

4. The first report is usually wrong; remember the real work of politics gets done in committee and in board rooms, rarely in public.

This is also one of “Mickey’s Rules for Leaders,” and it applies to political discussions as well. Remember that just because someone told you something is true, or you saw it reported a certain way on your favorite news outlet, doesn’t necessarily mean you have the whole story. Avoid rushing to judgement.

5. Always check multiple primary sources before believing and passing on a link, no matter what the source and especially if it seems to confirm something you believe.

Avoid taking someone else’s word for something; seek out primary (original) sources of information. Modern search engines online allow you to read what a person actually said and in context. If a particular report seems to confirm something you think you know already, be doubly skeptical.

6. Data doesn’t care who you are. (Corollary: if you torture the numbers long enough they’ll confess to anything).

Data is data, and there’s as many ways to parse numbers as there are to count. Be open to changing your mind when presented with facts, rather than dismissing data simply because someone with an opposing ideology presents it to you.

7. I never learned anything while I was talking.

Listen first, second, and even third. Then speak. This is harder than it sounds.

8. Being “pro” something isn’t necessarily the same as being “anti” something.

Remember that being  for something isn’t the same thing as being against something else. Begin by assuming the best about someone and asking questions, like “Did you mean to say…?” You might be surprised at the common ground you have with someone you might have thought was your polar opposite. Not always, but often we merely disagree on method, and agree on goals.

9. Insulting people guarantees they’ll ignore you.

Strong language is generally a bad idea. If you’re looking to severe a relationship, that’s the quickest way to do it. There’s a reason it’s polite to use gentle language. I think us moderns have become far too comfortable throwing verbal bombs and profanity. Again, the benefit of the doubt and a little kindness goes a long way.

10. No one changes their mind based on your political Facebook post.

Frankly, I generally avoid political discussions altogether, especially online. I do this not only because as an officer I respect our institutions and our military apolitical tradition, but because people need space to believe what they want and change their minds if they like. The greatest voice we have is a vote, no one is going to change their minds based on your ten-links per day from “MyPoliticalOpinionIsRighteousAndYoursIsEvil.com.”

Remember, we’re all in this together!

Mickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

Sign up for my mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders as a thank you!