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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: March 2003

Balancing Act® is in three sections this month:

  1. Techniques for balance
  2. The Human Condition: Turfdom
  3. Musings

  1. Techniques for balance

    Birthdays are natural opportunities for reflection, change, and growth. If yours isn't imminent, then mark some of these ideas on the calendar.
    (Yeah, mine is March 3...)

    • Take the day off. Make it special. Indulge yourself.
    • Ask yourself how you are different from a year ago. If your life is in a rut---or descending on a slippery slope—you're talking to the right person if you want to change it.
    • Don't grouse about a lousy present or the people who forgot. You're the one who has to celebrate. Only you can allow the day to be undermined.
    • Rejoice in your accomplishments. The fact is, increasing age allows you to accomplish things you simply couldn't do when younger, through immaturity, lack of opportunity, or blissful ignorance.
    • Get out of the box. Eat the chocolate you otherwise deny yourself, sing in a karaoke bar, order a great wine, test drive a new car. What's the harm?
    • Suit your personality, it's your day, not someone else's. If you want to be with family or friends, fine. But if you'd like to be alone or walk solo in the woods, that's fine, too.
    • Choose something new to learn. Whether it's an instrument, art, a language, a hobby, computer skills, or video games, add something to your repertoire.
    • Go to a spa. Have some people fawn over you. Get a massage.
    • Obtain some feedback. Talk to people you respect and trust, and find out their perception of your talents and traits. If patterns emerge, they are probably valid. Consider what they mean for your growth.
    • Write down three things you want to accomplish before your next birthday. Keep them someplace visible and obvious. Don't let another year go by without some influence over how it proceeds.

  2. The Human Condition: Turfdom

    I made a request to a woman recently to reserve a spot in a convention she was chairing for someone who was providing tremendous pro bono services to our organization—services we could never otherwise afford or secure. I assured her he was high quality and explained that we had to reciprocate his kindness by providing a workshop for him to conduct on his highly relevant specialty.

    "Well," she huffed, "I reserve my right as chairperson to demand he complete an application and to assess whether I believe he should appear. You can't order me to accept a speaker."

    Even though I'm a member of the board of directors, I never perceived I was ordering anything, but merely explaining a pragmatic necessity which she would surely support. After all, we were benefiting tremendously from this individual's generosity and had to repay his kindness.

    Apparently not when it comes to defending turf. Her personal "reserved right" was far more important that our organization's general well being.

    What creates such maniacal turfdom, (viz.: defense of one's turf or presumed area of authority)? I think it's a massive insecurity and chronic unhappiness about one's sense of self. That is, if you don't know who you are and believe that others might not respect you, then you stake out tangible or intangible boundaries which you will defend to the death. Your turf becomes your identity, and is therefore to be defended against any breach. (Ancient Aztec warriors literally staked themselves to a battle position, either to defend it or die in the attempt without possible retreat.)

    We see this phenomenon in tyrannical bosses, possessive spouses, and schoolyard bullies, insecure people if there ever were any. I met a woman once who forbid her husband to drive the Mercedes he had purchased for her, because it was "her car" and she didn't want him moving things around and messing it up. I actually worked for a guy at one time who would open every single piece of office mail, no matter whose it was, and search the garbage cans after people had left for the day. That may be classified as paranoia, but it's also advanced turfdom.

    The worst turf tyrants, however, are those who defend and protect their realms of responsibility: the purchasing agent who told me that her general manager didn't have the authority to sign a proposal with me without her review; the sales manager who won't honor a legitimate deal a sales person struck with a customer because it wasn't pre-approved by the manager; the administrative assistant who claimed that I might as well deal with her because she would intercept every voice mail and email message I left for her boss.

    The more status conscious we are, and the more we believe that our business card or office dimensions authenticate our legitimacy, the more turf-sensitive and the more insecure we become. Conversely, people who are truly confident and self-possessed readily grant exceptions to policy, step out of the way if they feel they don't add value to a transaction, and never threaten to vindictively delay or subvert a deal.

    Medieval autocrats used to surround their turf with walls, moats, and buttresses. Today, confident people are comfortable with ambiguity and porous organizational boundaries.

    It's not about defending ever-shrinking turf. It's about expanding limitless horizons.

  3. Musings

    The Columbia Shuttle disaster is horrific. However, like nearly all tragedies, it provides some superb learning, in this case about heroism and courage.

    In an age when the nightmare of 9/11 has resulted in too many people debasing the word "hero" (those sitting at their desks in the towers, flight attendants, news reporters, the hijackers themselves according to comedian Bill Maher's utterly distorted logic), the Columbia enables us to pause and take stock.

    I think heroes deliberately move into harm's way. They do so in causes that advance freedom, humanity, and human knowledge. And they do so knowing in advance that they may surely die in the attempt. Hence, the firefighters in turnout gear trudging up the World Trade Center stairs in the full face of calamity qualify to me as heroes.

    The shuttle astronauts, from the earliest forays of John Glenn to the present, have essentially strapped themselves to tons of highly volatile fuel in order to travel at speeds faster than sound to expand our knowledge of the heavens. They have done so with risky machines, the inevitability of human error, and the uncertainty of a hostile environment we barely understand.

    There are no heroes in basketball playoff games, though there may be outstanding players. Making a 25-foot putt to win a golf championship that pays $400,000 for first place and $300,000 for second place is not heroic. It's simply a good pressure shot. Flying solo across the Atlantic (or even the Pacific) today, with sophisticated navigational equipment, survival gear, and extensive air/sea rescue forces available is definitely not heroic. I could easily make a case, however, that Charles Lindbergh's trip was quite heroic (which was why he was lionized for the rest of his life, even after exhibiting Nazi sympathies prior to World War II).

    It's heroic to stand up to a gang, but not to be part of one; to accept blame at times, but not to claim credit; to perform under pain and hardship, but not to boast about it. And heroism often ends in spectacular failure or abject defeat, as in the case of Columbia. The greatest hero in the Challenger Shuttle disaster was an engineer from Morton Thiokol who tried in vain to have the flight scrubbed because he believed the "O rings" to be deficient on the engines. He failed, even though he was absolutely right. But he was heroic in his failed attempt.

    As opposed to the multitude of terrible examples we've seen lately in the executive suites of corporate America, Jim Burke was a hero at Johnson & Johnson. He took a tremendous risk by stating that although his firm was not at fault for the Tylenol tampering, it nevertheless had the responsibility to stand behind its product, and all Tylenol would be recalled at company expense. He gave his word to assure the public. That ethical stance could have resulted in disaster for J&J and CEO Burke. But the public responded the way he hoped it would, and soon drove sales to previous high levels.

    Where are the Jim Burkes today? Where are our heroes? They are still here but they aren't on the ball fields, or in the theaters, or even on the tips of our tongues. They are strapped to rockets, assuming tremendous risks, staking their very lives, but always looking toward the heavens.