The Stranger (Calvin Trager):
Dana, I’m what the world considers to be a phenomenally succesful man, and I’ve failed much more than I’ve succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, “Where are we going?” And it starts to get better…
I don’t even know what the hell Quo Vadimus means.
It means “Where are we going?”
(from the final episode of Sports Night. Calvin Trager buys Continental Corp, decides to keep Sports Night on the air — and then, alas, the show was cancelled. Quo Vadimus was the name of the fictional company founded by the “stranger.” Aaron Sorkin at his very best!)
What is wrong?
What will we do to fix it?
These are two important questions to ask – to always ask, and keep asking, continually.
I was reminded of these from a letter included in the February 20, 2012 Parkland Now newsletter, written by Tom Royer, MD, Interim CEO of Parkland Hospital in Dallas: Closing the Gap: Part II of our CMS journey. (from the physical copy of the newsletter; I could not find it on-line).
Things are not good at Parkland. Safety and quality have slipped – – badly. So, Dr. Royer is addressing the troops, and he includes these thoughts:
We must continue our efforts to implement every improvement plan and monitor them until they are hardwired into our clinical operations… (He refers to) a “gap analysis” identifying the gap for the challenges we have not fully addressed between “where we are” and “where we need to be” to assure we are guaranteeing a high quality and safe encounter for each patient.
His entire letter is a pretty good example of a call to the troops with thoughts like: “things are not what they need to be; we’ve got our work cut out for us, and we need everyone – every one! – to step up and do his/her part to close every gap, for every patient, every hour of every day.”
And if you study the history of Parkland, you know that they have had some golden years. What happened? Slippage happened. And slipping back, slipping behind, slipping in general, is so very easy to do, and so very easy to “miss.”
And, I’m pretty sure that every company or organization (yes, that means your organization, and mine!), has some gap analysis to perform.
Is anything wrong? What is wrong? What will we do to fix it?
And, most of all, where are we going?
The organizations that answer these questions well, and constantly, will have better futures than those who wait too long before they notice the slippage, and the oh-so-costly consequences of such slippage.
I don’t think it’s personal, Dana.
Oh it is personal, Jeremy.
(A scene from Sports Night – How Are Things in Glocca Mora, when Pete Sampras allowed an unknown to take him to five sets – thus delaying the airing of Sports Night)
Here’s the lesson. There is no business encounter, no business transaction, that the customer does not take personally. Thus, a company must view each business encounter, each business transaction, as a personal encounter.
In other words, humanize each and every business encounter and transaction.
I’m reading Prescription for Excellence: Leadership Lessons for Creating a World Class Customer Experience from UCLA Health System by Joseph Michelli for next Friday’s First Friday Book Synopsis. It’s good. (Bob Morris says it is Michelli’s best book – read his review here).
In the book, Michelli states:
It can be argued that certain business transactions, such as fueling your car or buying a product online, are impersonal. By contrast, businesses like childcare and healthcare are high-touch industries.. In healthcare, personal connections obviously matter, and the ability of staff members to create authentic caring relationships leads to success. However, even in businesses where service seems secondary to product, strong customer connections drive brand differentiation and other positive business outcomes.
In other words, all business encounters are taken, and experienced, personally.
So — how are you doing?
Honored and not diminished. That’s how we all want to feel.
James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Pozner, Encouraging the Heart: A Leaders Guide to Rewarding and Encouraging Others
I have probably presented my synopsis of Encouraging the Heart by Kouzes and Posner more than any other book synopsis. (I presented this again at a conference this week). It is the “perfect book,” the best book I have read for building people, for knowing what to do to help people get better at their work. The subtitle says it well Encouraging the Heart: A Leaders Guide to Rewarding and Encouraging Others.
There is so much great value in the book, but here is one point that is crystal clear, and critically important — a leader has to notice, to pay attention, to give credit, in order to successfully and effectively encourage others.
Recently, I thought of a scene from one of my all-time favorite tv shows, Sports Night, that reinforces a critical lesson from this book. It was the first television show created by academy award winner Aaron Sorkin (he later created The West Wing and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. He won his academy award for The Social Network). Many still believe that Sports Night was his greatest work.
One of the characters is Casey McCall (Peter Krause), something of a self-absorbed jerk… In this particular clip, you can see his flaws – flaws close to deadly for a man in such a top position on a team:
1) He is totally self-centered.
2) He is oblivious – oblivious to practically all other folks around him He does not see their value; he does not acknowledge their gifts or skills; he does not share the credit.(in fact, he does not give the credit where the credit belongs). In fact, he simply does not see them.
3) And he is “deaf” – he will not listen, and seemingly can not hear.
So how do you solve a problem like Casey? You create a “stasis moment” – you bring him to a standstill, a moment when he is slapped in the face with the reality of his own self-centeredness.
Enter the brave, brilliant, Monica (Janel Moloney). She confronts Casey in an assertive, yet humble, moment as she acts as a champion of others — teaching him a valuable lesson, in just the right way.
If you lead a team, or serve as a leader of manager, this is a great video excerpt to watch. A clip is worth a few thousand words. Take a look. (it is just over 6 and a half minutes. It is worth the look).
• here’s the key moment, from the script (it’s from a truly wonderful episode, The Six Southern Gentlemen of Tennessee):
My name’s Monica. I’m the assistant
wardrobe supervisor for Sports Night
as well as two other shows here at
CSC. I think you hurt the feelings of
the woman I work for. Her name is
Maureen and she’s been working here
since the day you started.
I know Maureen.
Can I ask you another question?
I’m sorry I didn’t know your name.
(HOLDING UP A NECKTIE) Do you know
what color this is?
It’s called gun metal. Grey has more
ivory in it, gun metal has more blue.
Can you tell me which of these shirts
you should wear it with?
I don’t know.
No you don’t. There’s no reason why
you should. You’re not supposed to
know what shirt goes with what suit or
how a color in a necktie can pick up
your eyes. You’re not expected to know
what’s going to clash with what Dan’s
wearing or what pattern’s gonna bleed
when Dave changes the lighting. Mr.
McCall, you get so much attention and
so much praise for what you actually
do, and all of it’s deserved. When you
go on a talk-show and get complimented
on something you didn’t, how hard
would it be to say “That’s not me.
That’s a woman named Maureen who’s
been working for us since the first
day. It’s Maureen who dresses me every
night, and without Maureen, I wouldn’t
know gun metal from a hole in the
ground.” Do you have an idea what it
wouldn’ve meant to her? Do you have any
idea how many times she would’ve
played that tape for her husband and
(BEAT) I know this is when it starts
to get busy for you, and I hope I
didn’t take up too much of your time.
Please don’t tell Maureen I spoke to
you, she’d be pretty mad at me.
You can purchase my synopsis of Encouraging the Heart, with audio + handout, at our companion web site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.
Collaborators aren’t born, they’re made. Or, to be more precise, built, one day at a time, through practice, through attention, through discipline, through passion and commitment – and, most of all, through habit… Like creativity, collaboration is a habit – and one I encourage you to develop.
Collaboration guarantees change because it makes us accommodate the reality of our partners – and accept all the ways they’re not like us. And those differences are important. The more we can draw upon our partner’s strengths and avoid approving our partner’s weaknesses, the better the partnership will be.
You need a challenging partner. In a good collaboration, differences between partners mean that one plus one will always equal more than two.
Twyla Tharp, The Collaborative Habit: Life Lessons for Working Together
With God, there are no little people.
Here’s a snippet of a scene from Sports Night, Aaron Sorkin’s first television series (Sorkin won the Academy Award for adapted screenplay last night for The Social Network. You can read the script of this Sports Night episode, The Six Southern Gentlemen of Tennessee, here). Casey McCall, one of the two fictional Sports Night co-hosts, had appeared on The View in the episode. A big deal had been made about the color of his tie by the women on The View. Monica (played by Janel Moloney) came to see him…
MONICA, A VERY SWEET 25-YEAR-OLD, APPEARS AT THE DOOR.
SHE’S HOLDING SEVERAL DRESS SHIRTS OVER ONE ARM AND SEVERAL NECKTIES OVER THE OTHER. IT WOULD APPEAR THAT SHE’S HAD TO SUMMON MOST OF HER COURAGE FOR THIS MOMENT.
Excuse me, Mr. McCall?
CASEY TURNS OFF THE TV.
I’m sorry, is this a bad time?
I’d like to ask you a question, but if you’re preparing the show, if this is a bad time, I can come back.
What’s your question?
What’s my name?
(BEAT) What’s your name?
What are we doing right now?
If this is a bad time —
I’m sorry, I’m not very good at remembering names.
Who was the number two man on the Boston Red Sox staff in 1977?
It was Ferguson Jenkins.
My name’s Monica. I’m the assistant wardrobe supervisor for Sports Night as well as two other shows here at CSC. I think you hurt the feelings of the woman I work for. Her name is Maureen and she’s been working here since the day you started.
I know Maureen.
Can I ask you another question?
I’m sorry I didn’t know your name.
(HOLDING UP A NECKTIE) Do you know what color this is?
It’s called gun metal. Grey has more ivory in it, gun metal has more blue. Can you tell me which of these shirts you should wear it with?
I don’t know.
You’re not supposed to know what shirt goes with what suit or how a color in a necktie can pick up your eyes. You’re not expected to know what’s going to clash with what Dan’s wearing or what pattern’s gonna bleed when Dave changes the lighting. Mr. McCall, you get so much attention and so much praise for what you actually do, and all of it’s deserved. When you go on a talk-show and get complimented on something you didn’t, how hard would it be to say “That’s not me. That’s a woman named Maureen who’s been working for us since the first day. It’s Maureen who dresses me every night, and without Maureen, I wouldn’t know gun metal from a hole in the ground.” Do you have an idea what it would’ve meant to her? Do you have any idea how many times she would’ve played that tape for her husband and her kids?
Let’s start with the obvious. The Academy Awards gives out Oscars for a number of different categories – all of which point to the obvious truth there is no such thing as a good movie that is not a team project – a true collaborative product. It takes a lot of people working together, with great and diverse skills, to make an Oscar-worthy movie. So there is no best actor, best director, best actress, without a really good cinematographer, or screen writer, or make-up artist, or, composer, or…you get the idea. And the Oscar telecast is filled with such reminders, as every winner thanks people who helped him or her win this coveted award.
But, within each category there is excellence all the way down to the smallest behind-the-scenes bit-part. And it was this truth that Natalie Portman so eloquently stated. Even though one winner (Randy Newman) reminded the audience that reading off a list of names is “not good television,” Portman’s list reminded us that people — real people, behind every name in such a list of “thank-yous” — are the reason a movie is made well to begin with.
Ms. Portman thanked many people, but near the end of her acceptance speech, she added this (from transcript, here):
And also there are people on films who no one ever talks about that are your heart and soul every day. Margie and Geordie who did my hair and makeup, Nicci, who dressed me, and Kate and Laura Mulleavy, who designed the beautiful ballet costumes, Joe Reidy, our incredible AD, first AD, and our camera operators J.C. and Steve who gave me so much soul behind the camera everyday, you gave me all of your energy.
Here is the business lesson (and yes, movies are big business). It takes a team — a diverse team, made up of people with a life-time of carefully honed skills (the 10,000 hour rule!) to make a world-class movie. Collaboration, with gifted, skilled, trained, people, at every level of the organization, produces excellence – even magic. And shoddiness, anywhere on the team, can lower the quality all the way through the endeavor.
And for every leader (or, those with “leading roles”), take a lesson from Natalie Portman. Don’t forget to include, and thank, the “little people.”
Folks, a lot of people got killed last night. Let’s try to keep our eyes on the ball, okay?
(Fictional President Andrew Shepherd, The American President, after the press corps wants to know more about his private life than about the international incident that prompted the press conference).
If Aaron Sorkin wrote a business book, I would immediately buy it, consume it, and then most certainly put it at the top of any list I compiled as the best business book ever. Not because he knows much about business (I don’t know if he does or not), but because I am addicted to anything/everything he writes and puts on the screen. Take your pick: The West Wing, A Few Good Men, The American President, Charlie Wilson’s War, and of course the greatest program in the history of television that never found enough of its audience, Sports Night. (and this is not all).
I realize this is a business book and business issues blog. And I’m quoting from an article by Sorkin written about quite a controversy regarding a Newsweek contributor’s opinion regarding a gay actor playing straight — definitely not on subject for this blog.
But… the article is Now That You Mention It, Rock Hudson Did Seem Gay, written for the Huffington Post. And, here’s the paragraph:
When I need the audience to know that a piece of information they’re about to hear is important, I can use words, a close-up, a push-in, music… when the authors of the no-longer-private-lives “A” story want the audience to know that something’s important, it shows up on our Yahoo homepage. (The third story on my homepage yesterday was that Britain, our closest ally, has a new Prime Minister. The first story was about Justin Bieber. Unless the new Prime Minister is Justin Bieber, something’s obviously gone wrong.)
And here’s the lesson. It is an old lesson. A society that becomes consumed with trivia is a society that really does need to pay attention to the right issues. And Sorkin rather passionately makes that argument in this article.
And for business people, the lesson is this: focus on the right things, and do not, ever, get bogged down on the wrong things. Your moments are incredibly precious. Do not waste any of them on inconsequential trivia. You’ve got important matters to think about and plan and implement. Stay focused and get to it!
Let’s try to keep our eyes on the ball, okay?