Practice the 5 to 1 Ratio

Maybe the greatest moments in parenting are those threshold moments – the firsts: first smile, word, step, word read out loud, or first day of school.  But those first adult thoughts are especially cool.  Not just the unconscious brilliance of a four-year old, but the moments of self- and other-consciousness that happen before the teen years bring on defiant challenge.  On Saturday, during one of those great car rides, with the distractions of TV and Blackberry gone, Jack started to tell me about what really rankles him.  It really annoys him, he told me, when the adults in his life tell him “no” and won’t give him a reason.  “I just don’t understand why they can’t give their reasons,” he said.
It made me think about when – if ever – authority is justified in answering the “why?” that all kids and followers ask, by saying “because I said so; that’s why.”  I told him there may be times when his babysitter, or his teacher, or Jennifer or I are under so much time pressure that we won’t give a reason.  Or, maybe his teacher or sitter can’t give an explanation at a moment in time, because there are hidden reasons: For example, they don’t want to embarrass someone else, or there is something in their personal needs that they just shouldn’t have to divulge.  But Jack and I also agreed that followers lose respect for managers who can’t or won’t say why.  Trust grows when management explains their reasons.  And trust really grows when management – in explaining their reasons – actually listens to what you’re saying, sees your point of view and even changes course as a result.  Those of us who have authority have work here: We have to cultivate patience to hear people out, and we have to cultivate open-mindedness to listen fully.  Perhaps most of all, we have to develop the self-confidence to overcome our fear that those who challenge us may show us up, embarrass us, or stump us. 
Shannon Deegan, Director of People Operations for Google, spoke at our Next Great Companies conference this past week.  During the Q & A , a man pointed out that Google and the other renowned companies* at the conference had great cultures.  He asked what is the central prescription Shannon would give for those Michigan companies who are not yet so enlightened. Shannon said: Focus on being transparent.  The Google founders have a happy hour every Friday where all employees can attend – live or online – and anyone can ask anything of them.  Employees get access to all the reports the chairman makes to the board.  Anyone can ask any manager anything about the business strategy and decisions.  Openness abounds.
So, guess what people feel like?  The same thing Jack is striving for: They feel like respected adults.
At work and at home – leading your staff, your children, and your aging parents – you gain insight, trust and buy-in by being intellectually open,
Leading with your best self!


  • A positive attitude and approach to the elements of life makes common sense. In my profession, teaching parents that ‘positive reinforcement’ helps instill in children ‘good behavior’ is a fundamental principal of Pediatrics. For example, in teaching a child anything from toilet training to remembering chores ‘positive feedback’ reinforces good patterns while ‘negative feedback’ reinforces negative behavior. “if you go around yelling all the time at your child about what they did wrong” you are ‘giving them attention and feedback’ which keeps them on the wrong path. Its interesting, thought, that we often forget this simple principal, and resort to yelling, punishment, and negative feedback. Short term frustrations are counterproductive and for long term gains a clear head with positive messages pave the way for success.

    • Ahhhhh, looking at the current predicaments of our economic woes with rose colored glasses. I commend you for having that ability, but that might be due to you having a job!! Better yet if it is supported with a paycheck derived from the government instead of the private sector. You know, that “job security” thing! This may or may not be your scenario. One of the issues that I raised recently in my opposition to a new 20 year comprehensive plan in the county where I reside was the unprecedented, unwarranted and unnecessary growth of county government. Census data showed that a whopping 32% of the working class/age citizenry worked in the public sector, ie., government services of one type or another. That statistic is downright scary, showing that there is not a balance between private enterprise growth and minimal government principles. It conjurred up a vision inside my head that mirrored USSR/USSA.
      It is time for our “Leadership” to say ……TIME to lead by example, not rhetoric!!”

      • Mark,

        You might find yourself and others more energized if you looked for the good in things. Call it rose-colored glasses, if you will. But the research is overwhelming that people who build on the positives build better, faster, higher. Do you work better and more productively around people who see the good, or around people who constantly whine, moan, complain? Further, the power of positive thinking has as much relevance to the public sector as the private. Or to put it differently, does your ideological interpretation have anything to do with the topic of the week? I had trouble following that.

        Right now it appears that your glasses are not rose-colored but the glasses of ideology. So, even simple facts look twisted to you. You begin by implying that my opinions are somehow diminished because I am supported by my wife’s public sector job. Like I must be out of touch, and if I were in the private sector or unemployed, then I wouldn’t think this way. Do you really think that, Mark?

        Then you start your riff about the terrible growth of public sector jobs. So let me ask you: Are schools – on of the largest components of that public sector – evil government? Do they produce value, or is the private sector the only thing that creates value? I’d say they are one of the greatest producers of a great economy possible (and why we need to get better at them if we are to remain globally strong). On the other hand, how much value do you think the CEOs of AIG and Lehman destroyed? Or today’s whipping boys – the Big 3 – did they make briliant moves at every turn? This ideology that all government is bad, and that we can do nothing well socially is a pair of glasses you choose to wear, and so you seem to see everything through it. I can see no other reason why you respond to a research-based passage on the power of the positive, by brushing it aside as “rose colored” glasses.

        – Dan

  • When you have your creative juices flowing, it helps to have
    people accessible that can compliment your ideas/suggestions.
    Nothing will take you down and cause you to drop your positive
    initiative faster than having negative people weigh in. Don’t be afraid to fail, keep on it and make it happen. If it doesn’t work as you envision, I’m sure you’ll learn something and perhaps can revise things and come up with a winner. Keep trying.
    For instance, I hope to have the First Family join at the Chef’s Challenge for Challenge Mountain Event next April. I know that after they attend the first time, they will look forward to it every year. It’s just part of enjoying Spring Break in Michigan.

  • Practicing to be more positive than negative is always good advice. Our really work begins when Obama takes office and we hold his feet to the fire to not renege on his promise to carry out change. To date in listening to his words will we hear of another failed presidency? He is back tracking on his promises. With politicians that is par for the course.

    • Gerald,
      I think it is a little bit premature to make the assessment that you have. However, with regard to the softening of his stance on lobbyist involvement in his administration and transition team, Mr. Obama needs to be very careful about sending the wrong message to America. We, the citizens of America, have had it up to our noses with the complicity and corruption that has pervaded in Washington D.C. leading to the debacle on Wall Street and the unprecedented socialist movement to help out ONLY the fat cats with taxpayer funded bailout programs….case in point….AIG…..$150B given while they try to hide their extravagant junkets to high dollar resorts in CA, UK, and now AZ. This mindset of arrogance with impunity typifies the exact cause of why our country is in the condition that it currently is in. I can’t help but to think of how a few years ago it was considered a fringe element thought process to say that a NWO (new world order) is on the horizon. This is basically the downfall of civilization as it was regarding achievement, pursuit of goals and (the American) dream(s), turning the word into one evil empire. Maybe the Bible IS right. I noted on last week’s blog where it was posted that the $700B “bailout” plan has earmarked $70B for executive bonuses on Wall Street for their wonderful achievements of 2008. What a disgrace and slap in the Main Street American’s face.


  • Perhaps President-Elect Obama and Governor Granholm are not responsible for everything that happens in this country and this state, nor everything that will happen. Perhaps we all need to take responsibility for our part in a shared and positive vision. Perhaps some are old enough to remember President Eisenhouwer’s vision for an Interstate road system that would allow goods to travel from city to city at rapid speeds, and how much money and effort and energy was invested to make that happen, resulting in the highways we are so accustomed to today. Looking back, we can see how this caused urban sprawl, destruction of farmland, untold hydrocarbons spewed by untold vehicles as the U.S. became a nation that relies primarily on private vehicles for transportation. Perhaps President-elect Obama and Governor Granholm could lead our nation and our state in a new great vision that would require investment, energy, and effort: a rapid transit inter-city public transportation system that is accessible and affordable, where dowagers in mink could ride to the opera along with indigent immigrants on their way to a job, as they do in Paris. Perhaps the Big Three could be persuaded to understand that they are in the TRANSPORTATION business, not the private vehicle business, and learn to build buses and trains. Perhaps the amount of Public Act 51 funds devoted to transit could be funded to a full 10%, even though this would not subsidize public transit nearly as much as private vehicle transit has been subsidized over the years with government money to sustain the Interstate system, snow plowing, raod maintenance, parking ramps, etc. Perhaps all of us could come to understand that public transit is an economic engine that is eco-friendly, a way to build community and find time to read and relax, rather than engage in exhausting and solitary road rage… Perhaps now is the time for a new, positive vision that we can accomplish, as we did when we put people into space.

  • I say, become part of the solution instead of the problem. These are the times that tries men souls.

    Thomas K. Burke

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