In English, Observation, Opinions

Taking Charge

I’ve been learning, applying, even teaching Dale Carnegie’s principles for years. And it is not until the past few weeks I began to understand the underlying philosphy.

A co-worker spent about 10 minutes complaining to me about her boss. As I was listening I began to wonder why she didn’t do something about it. It wasn’t something that’s beyond her influence. Even obstacles that she said might be keeping her from doing so, were actually things that she could overcome. She only needed to stop assigning blame, and to use the time to find ways by which she could correct the situation.

Looking into other people’s problem provides me a mirror to look at my own situation. Are there situations where I wait for somebody else to do something? Have I been blaming others without taking responsibility to do my own part?

Embarassingly, the answer is a loud, resounding ‘YES!’

The next question is, “Why?” Why do we choose to blame others instead of taking responsibility? Why do we wait for the other person to do something?

1. Because we feel it is not within our power to take action.
2. Because we feel helpless.
3. Because the situation is already there when we first arrived.
4. Because we don’t want people to dislike us.
5. Because we would rather let someone else do something and if anything goes wrong, we won’t get blamed.
6. Because we would rather let others do the difficult thing.
7. Because it’s not our problem.
8. Because we are afraid things would backfire.
9. Because we don’t like to take chances and endanger our position in the constellation of the office politics.
10. Because we are afraid.

It’s like arguing who should pump the water as the boat is sinking.

Participants in a management leadership program that I had the privilege to teach, complained about their current boss and reminisced about their former CEO. They said, “He’s got guts. He would take risk and say, ‘The worst thing that can happen is I got fired.'”

Of course people are eager to stand in line behind the person who is willing to take the bullet. The question is, are they themselves just as willing? Are we?

I began to see the value of taking charge of our situation, instead of waiting for other people. Yes, there are probably things that we cannot influence directly. But why bother about stuff that we can do nothing about?

In a selling skills class that I co-taught last year, I asked the participants to list the challenges they were facing in making a sale. Some of the items they mentioned were ‘lack of management support’, ‘need better promotion program’, etc. Things that were externally controlled. As the list got longer, I could almost feel the Sales Manager, who were sitting in the back of the room, shifting in his seat, trying hard to keep himself from cutting into the discussion.

I then asked them to identify from the list the items that they could control. And they picked almost half of the items on the list! “These are what we need to focus on in this program,” I concluded.

Taking charge is not taking control of everything, but of things that we can directly influence. That, in Dale Carnegie’s philosophy, means people. We may not have power, but we can build relationships which can produce bigger effect that if we try to do things ourselves.

We were evaluating the first session of our Saturday weekly class when the discussion focused on one participant who asked to be re-registered in a workday class because he felt attending a class on weekends cost him his time with his family. A senior trainer in our team said, “That’s out of the question. He must remain in this class because his boss asked me to give him my personal attention.” We could not ignore the fact that the guy lived in a city 600 miles away and only had time to return home every weekend.

The senior trainer said, “I will talk to the boss. I am his godfather when was baptized. He listens to me.”

Our senior trainer was able to pull this off not because he had the power, but because he had strong bond with the person who had the power to make it happen.

We may not have the power to take charge, but we can take charge of the relationships we have, and ultimately, we can influence any situation we are facing.
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In English, Lessons, Personal Observation

Lessons from the Man of Action

The title on his business card said “Executive President – Asia Pacific.” It was quite intimidating for us, the three young visitors.

For me, it was the first time I had a meeting with a client in which I met the top man himself. No subordinates present, just us and the man. From what the title sounded, he’s not only the boss for the country, but also for the entire Asia-Pacific operation of the company. It did carry a lot of weight.

The broad forehead gave him the appearance of a scientist or an academic faculty member, instead of a corporate executive. His tall build, broad shoulder and tanned demeanor immediately commanded respect. He was there strictly for business.

“I assume you would like an introduction about our company,” I said, several handshakes, introductions and business card exchanges later. He nodded, and I quickly turned my 10.1-inch netbook to face him. I already loaded my presentation, and I meant to present it right from the device.

“Wait, you’ll need a projector,” he said, standing up. I thought he was going reach for the phone and call someone to get it.

Instead, he walked up to a sideboard cabinet, opened a drawer, and pulled up a small, black bag. He then proceeded to put the bag on the table, unzipped it, and took a small projector, about the size of a standard Bible. Without a word, he began to connect cables into it.

We were taken by surprise. It was an awkward moment. Should we help him, or not? It was apparent that he was the hands-on type of guy who didn’t mind doing all the work if needed, regardless of his title.

“It’s.. It’s the smallest projector I’ve ever seen..” I blurted weakly. But he didn’t seem to notice. He handed one end of the VGA cable for me to attach to my netbook. No time for small, insignificant talk. It was time to get the show on the road.

It was a no-nonsense meeting. Unlike interactions with fellow Indonesians, this one proceeded seriously. He listened to my presentation, asked questions, and he in turn explained what he wanted.

He had a clear idea what he wanted to see and what he wanted us to do. He knew the kind of people he believed to be capable of giving him the results he was looking for. No doubt, no nonsense. He chose to meet us ourselves instead of delegating the task so he could be sure that we got it fresh and direct from him.

In an hour, the meeting was concluded.

There was much to learn from the experience.
1. Being the boss sometimes mean you have to get down, get your hand dirty and do the job to be sure that it gets done right. Delegation is important, but there are things that you have to do it yourself to get it right.

2. Title is just a title. It shouldn’t stop you from doing what needs to be done. Goal oriented action is more important than your job description.

3. Knowing what you want, where you are going, and taking the necessary action to move towards that direction is what leadership is all about. Planning, organizing, directing, and the rest of management are just tools.

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