My Remarks On Leaving Cub Scout Leadership

On Monday night, the Cub Scout pack of which I have been Cubmaster for the past four years held its annual Blue and Gold banquet. We’re a large pack, and when all the families get together it’s about 200 people.

This was my last meeting with the pack, as my son has grown and is now too old. He can now enter the Boy Scouts. 

Since it was the last time I had a chance to address all the families at once, I took the opportunity to say a few words. Here they are.

As I retire tonight, I’m glad to know that Pack 928 is thriving.

When our family joined Pack 928 back in 2005, there were 32 boys. Just a few years before, the Pack had considered closing up shop. Today there are 55 boys and you can see that we are near capacity in this very large room. When we go family camping there are 120 people and more. Almost every den is full.

How did this happen? I believe it happened because of all the parents who have stepped forward in leadership of the Pack. The only way we can keep going is if people pitch in. And the more people participate, the stronger the Pack becomes.

I got involved in leadership with this Pack not because I stepped forward but because I was pushed. I was terrified when they asked me. But being a part of the leadership of this Pack has been one of the most fulfilling parts of my life for the past few years.

Very soon after I became Cubmaster, Cindy Griffiths became Committee Chair. Cindy is better organized than me and has a far better memory. Her work is what really makes the Pack run. Her good example has kept pushing me.

Some days, I could not have gotten up if it had not been for my wife Andrea Jarrell, who has had faith in me. That faith has kept pushing me.

After each Pack meeting, I drive home with my son Daniel. I can tell he’s proud of his dad. That pride has kept pushing me.

Those pushes have kept me going. Left to my own devices, I might have never been here.

***

There’s another thing that has kept me going too.

You may remember that last year we had a parents’ pinewood derby. My car did not do very well. I was disappointed and it showed on my face. One boy came up to me and said “It’s hard to hide your tears, isn’t it?” This boy had lost a race just a few minutes before and it had been hard on him. Now, here he was, reaching out to me out of compassion, trying to help me out. He wasn’t thinking about himself.

That episode has had me thinking ever since.

We like to talk about how prepared Scouting can make boys — and it does. We like to talk about how much fun it can be — and it is. But in the end, Scouting is about making boys into the best people they can possibly be.

So, I think of how I have watched so many boys grow in Scouting. How I have seen so many boys learn to do things they were initially scared of. I think of the older boys who are beginning to learn to be leaders, helping out the younger boys. I think of the boys who are learning how to take a deep breath and plan instead of rush forward. I think of the younger boys, who are just learning to wear their uniforms and sit still.

I think of my son Daniel, and how he has grown so well.

These boys are why we are all here.

So, boys, I want to thank every one of you. You may not realize it, but every time you learn something, we adults grow a little too.

I am going to miss this Pack but I know you are in good hands with Cindy Griffiths and my successor Michael Mangum.

But most of all, the Pack is in good hands because you boys keep growing.

I am so very proud of you.

Thank you.

Sorry Somehow: How To Apologize

Like many Americans, I have kept a weather eye on two public figures’ recent fall from grace. Of course I am talking about Michael Phelps and Tom Daschle.

Each had to apologize for having been caught being less than perfect, engaging in behavior they should not have. Most of what I have read about these two has not interested me, but Harvard article by John Baldoni crossed the transom and piqued my interest.

Baldoni examines Phelps’s and Daschle’s apologies and teases out lessons for leaders — anyone in the public eye will eventually have to apologize. How to do it?

Here are the takeaway lessons:

Own up to the issue. Like Phelps and Daschle, admit what you have done wrong. Be explicit and truthful. . . .

Make amends. Words set the stage for doing the work. If you have hurt someone’s feelings, acknowledge their hurt and say you are sorry. . . . Stand up and be accountable. . . .

Get off the stage. Do not turn a simple apology into a Verdi aria. . . . Get back to work and prove that you still have what it takes to make the grade. The sooner you do this, the sooner you will restore your good name. . . . 

Sometimes a little forethought can prevent problems. It has been said that when NHL great Wayne Gretzky was at the peak of his fame he would never step into a hotel elevator with a woman he did not know. He would always ask a teammate to accompany him. . . .

Read the full piece here.

Seven Things We Can Do These Days

My friend Ed Corr forwarded this note from Stephen B. Polo, a partner at his firm:

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

“What looks large from a distance, up close ain’t ever that big.” — Bob Dylan

Our current economic crisis is causing companies distress and uncertainty. None of us know how long or how deep the difficulty is or will be. And even the experts have trouble explaining the ever changing problems or potential solutions.

A few weeks ago, I saw a photograph on the front page of The Washington Post. The photo was taken from the Hubble Telescope and it showed two galaxies in close proximity to one another. The caption said that it appeared that one of these galaxies had passed through the other!

Unbelievable. And nearly impossible to fully understand. As I looked at the photo, I realized that each of these galaxies contained billions of stars, and that each of the brightly colored lights in the background were also galaxies, each with billions of stars. It was more than I could get my mind around, so I did the only thing I could do: I turned to the sports section!

It seems like the complexity of the financial crisis is much like looking at these colliding galaxies – it’s too big and too complex to understand.

So what do we do? Should we do the equivalent of turning to the sports section and focus our attention on something else? Is there anything we can do?

Well, there are some things each of our companies can do. Here’s a starter list:

  • Stay focused on your mission and values – We must continue to do the things our clients, customers, partners, advisors and employees expect from us. Continue to do the things we do well and focus on them.
  • Continue to live your values – They are the real you and guide your actions: trust them.
  • Help others – You’ll need help sometime down the road so be aware of how you can assist other people and companies.
  • Stay positive – There will be more than enough “realism” or negativity to go around. We need the balance.
  • Look for opportunities – Keep your company’s eyes peeled for the next place to help your customers and clients build value.
  • Stop listening to complainers – They have their own reward.
  • Take a hard look at the facts, but don’t give in, or up.

I don’t know how long this difficulty will last, or how deep it will be. What I do know is that we’re all in it together.

We need to stay focused on what we do best and how we can support each other.

Being Wrong

One recent week, I had occasion to say publicly I’d been wrong — not once but twice. I like to think, each time, that it’ll be the last time I have to do that. But, if past performance is the best predictor of future behavior, then the likelihood is that I will need to publicly admit to being wrong again in the not-too-distant future.

I used to think such admissions were momentous occasions to be avoided, that they reflected some fundamental problem that could have been avoided. Better planning, more precision, be more careful, those were the answers. Sure, that will all help improve things. But more recently, I see public apologies differently, as an increasing part of public life. I believe this is for the best.

The conventional wisdom, which still holds sway with many, is that an admission of error is to be shunned. Even if forced to retract something, or (worse yet) apologize, it’s always “mistakes were made,” or there was an “appearance of impropriety.” Why is it so hard to just ‘fess up and get on with things? While it can be very painful, it’s not the end of the world; just try harder next time.

My good friend Rich Harwood likes to say that leading in public life takes courage and humility — courage to place a stake in the ground, and humility to know that, later, you will more than likely have to publicly pick it up and move it.

The Internet, and the transparency it has driven, has accelerated this. Statements get made, articles get published, and responses appear immediately. Things that are far off the mark increasingly stand out, and the original speakers will often need to make corrections, issue retractions. The ability — the imperative — to do this is one of the chief differences between the “old” guard of journalism and the “new.” Think of CBS’s response to what is now known as “Rathergate“: lengthy refusal to admit that key documents in one of its high-profile stories were likely forged. Digging their heels into the ground, they increasingly opened themselves to criticism. By contrast, in one of my recent episodes of contrition, my article was updated based on feedback received the same day it was originally published. I don’t hold this up to point out how groovy I am personally, but instead to show this as an example of what a different approach to public life might look like.

But, maybe it’s ingrained in people not to admit mistakes. When hiring someone, I have a favorite interview question. I ask them to describe something that was a failure. I make sure to say the word, “failure,” too. People have a hard time with that one; they typically don’t want to point to anything they did that might have been a mistake.

My subjects will squirm and then discuss situations that went awry due to others’ idiocy, or due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control. They will almost never say, “I did such-and-so, and later saw that this was a bonehead move, so instead I did this-and-that. Here’s what I learned.” Maybe it’s too much to ask for someone to admit error in an interview situation. No one has ever asked me that in an interview; maybe I couldn’t answer. But if someone ever gives me a straight answer to that question, I am hiring them on the spot.

I like to believe that, as communications technologies continue to erode the barriers between the opiners and the opined-to, and between the leaders and the led, that we will see more and more instances of public correction. It is already expected in many quarters, and the holdouts are slowly becoming fewer in number. It may be a bitter pill, but it is also strong medicine in public life. It erases many divisions, so that people can hear one another better.

Since we are all likely to be wrong not once but many times, we all will have a chance to be part of the movement away from the bunker mentality and towards a more productive way of relating in public life.

The question is whether we will find the guts to follow it. I fall short more than I would like to admit. How about you?

The Tyranny Of Leadership

This article by me first appeared in Pajamas Media.

The Cub Scout pack that I lead decided, for the first time, to hold a parents’ race at our recent Pinewood Derby. We did it as a fundraiser.

My car, while creative (I made it look like a rock), did not do very well in the race. I did not come in last, but I was not in the top half of finishers. I took it all right; about as well as other boys in the pack took their losses. One youngster beckoned me down to his level and said, with concern, “It’s hard to hide your tears, isn’t it?” He had lost a race a few heats before, and had almost cried. His simple kindness cleared my head.

My head did, indeed, need clearing, but not due to tears.

I have led this pack for about three years now. I do a pretty good job, if I say so myself. I know it’s not just me; we have a terrific group of parents. But I know they like me and think I am doing a good job, and generally feel secure in my exalted position. After all, it’s a task that few really want — perhaps I am odd; I recently signed on for another year.

In any event, my young friend’s words knocked me out of a tailspin of doubt. I had been thinking to myself, “Perhaps I should not have raced. My status is now diminished because of this loss.”

The power of this thought, its immediacy, and my inability to put it out of my head through my own efforts, all shook me. If you had asked me the night before how I would feel if my car did not do well, I would have told you that I am a collaborative enough leader to be able to withstand something as silly as a model car-racing loss. If you had asked me even earlier, hypothetically, how a leader ought to approach a parents’ race for charity, I would have told you that a true leader would jump at the chance to sign up and would cheerlead for the cause, not caring a whit about how the standings turned out. And, I would have believed to my core that I would act as that kind of leader when it came to it.

But there I was, fretting. You really don’t know how you’ll react until something happens. It’s so easy to make decisions in the hypothetical. It’s even easy to imagine how you would behave in a given situation, but the truth is we really only know how we like to think we would behave.

I was shaken to realize how selfishly my thoughts had turned, and how quickly. Where was my collaborative leadership style? Where did this Great Santini, for whom winning was everything, come from? I know I should not be too hard on myself, for such thoughts are natural. But I will always remember how — unlike my own view of myself they were.

As I watch the presidential debates and the candidate interviews, I can’t help but think how I would answer certain questions, how I would parry certain jabs. It baffles me why certain candidates don’t just say this, or that. But, my Cub Scout friend reminded me that it’s not me talking to Wolf Blitzer or Tim Russert, and there’s really no saying what I would do under those circumstances. For all our self-satisfaction of how enlightened we are, the urge to self-preservation is strong.

I may disagree with what they say or how they say it, but my hat is off to the people who choose to run for office, and daily place themselves in situations that would turn most of us to jelly. I hope that some of them have the chance to meet people like my Cub Scout friend.