Character Matters: Principles for Raising, Becoming, and Choosing Responsible and Effective Leaders

By B. Kim Barnes
Reprinted from LinkedIn, January 2, 2016

As we enter another U.S. presidential election year, we have a chance to think about what’s important to us as we choose a new leader. I have been reflecting on the ethical and behavioral qualities the candidates are displaying and how they learned them. And related to that, I think about how are we raising our children to be the political, civic, and organizational leaders and citizens that we will need in an increasingly complex world.

My mother, Lorraine Shalett Shapiro, was loved, admired, and deeply respected by her friends, co-workers, and the patients she worked with at a Kaiser Hospital in Southern California. Though not in a formal leadership role, she influenced the people around her to be stronger, kinder, more honest and more self-confident. And so she did with her family. After her death some years ago, I took time to consider what she taught all of us and identified a set of character-building principles that she represented – with a light touch most of the time – and called them “Lorraine’s Laws.”

Here they are, my New Year’s gift to leaders, parents, and especially to those who believe we ought to elect them to our country’s highest office:

  • Treat everyone with kindness and respect.
  • Don’t cry over spilled milk. Acknowledge mistakes and failures; then move on.
  • Contribute in a positive way to your community. Do what needs to be done without looking for an immediate payback.
  • Avoid defensiveness. Accept responsibility for what you have chosen to do, even if it didn’t turn out as you hoped or expected. Ask for and listen to feedback and learn from it, especially if it’s critical.
  • Avoid self-righteousness and judgment. Be self-critical; don’t let yourself get away with getting “too big for your boots.” (I should mention here that my mother was born in Minnesota- though not Scandinavian, she resonated with many of the values that they brought to this country.)
  • Avoid self-dramatization and self-importance; don’t pout and don’t whine.
  • Use both your mind and your heart in making decisions. Think about the impact of your decisions on others.
  • Learn all the time. Keep an open mind; always listen to new ideas and information even if it conflicts with what you think you already know for sure.
  • Forgive those who have wronged you.
  • Forgive yourself for the wrongs you have done in the past once you have done everything you can to repair the damage.
  • Love and appreciate your family and provide whatever support is needed for one another to be successful.
  • Look for and expect the best from people (family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, etc.) – pass on compliments and positive feedback; let people know what they are doing right. Avoid gossip and negative comments about people.
  • Be proud of your heritage; respect and show interest in the heritage of others.
  • Use your talents; they are your gifts to the world.
  • Stand up and speak out for what you believe in even though you know your opinion may be unpopular.
  • If you have an issue with someone, talk it out. Don’t hold on to resentments, especially within the family or team.
  • Be interested in what others have to offer, regardless of their age, position, occupation, education, ethnic background, etc. Seek a diversity of opinion; value and seek to understand people who are different from you.
  • Bring your whole self to your work, whatever it is. Demonstrate your love and commitment to those whom you touch in your work every day.
  • Don’t come down to the level of people who treat you rudely or unfairly. Find a way to rise to the occasion and keep your dignity.
  • Enjoy your life; it is a blessing.

Read more ›

Share Button
Posted in Inspirational leadership, leadership, Leadership development Tagged with: , , ,

The Fire this Time: A Metaphor for 2016 (and 2017)

by B. Kim Barnes
Reprinted from LinkedIn, published on November 12, 2016

Twenty-five years ago, my house burned, along with 3000 others, in a huge firestorm that struck the hills of Oakland and Berkeley in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was unexpected – though, in hindsight, it could have been anticipated. It was an event over which I had no control. It changed everything about my life and those of my neighbors. Being a writer and an educator, of course I felt driven to draw lessons from the way all of us responded to this event – to begin to understand how to deal productively with sudden, imposed change. I wrote an article with some ideas about how we were able to get through the difficult days and months that followed the firestorm and published it as part of a manual on change leadership.

Ten years later, after the awful events of 9/11, I revisited and revised the article in response to a client’s request for something to offer the people in her company who were so deeply shaken, as we all were, by the experience of watching and living through the terror attacks.

Today, many people in the U.S. and around the globe have been profoundly affected by the upending of expectations in what is usually a predictable series of events leading to the selection of a new leader. While it is a different type of event in most ways from a firestorm or a terror attack, the reactions to it are amazingly similar: shock, anger, grief, fear, confusion, depression. Even for people who voted for the winner, after the initial joyful reaction, there is a sense of concern about unanticipated consequences and potential conflict and division.

So today, I thought I would once again share some of the lessons I learned all those years ago and which have been helpful to me ever since. Here they are.

Let go of any illusions of control or “magical thinking.” I believe that consciously letting go shortened the “neutral zone” time for me. Friends who did not do this later reported that they stayed in a suspended state for many days and delayed taking practical actions to recreate their lives. Visualization of a positive future which you can help bring about is productive; imagining that you can control the forces of nature, of the economy, of human nature or global politics is not. Letting go is a conscious choice of “mental action.” I found it helpful to use a mental image of letting go, such as opening my hand. Until you are able to do this, you will remain fixed in the past. Time spent reviewing how you or others could have prevented the disaster or how you might still rescue the situation is not productive. That time is better spent in grieving and then getting on with life after the firestorm. The time for learning how to prevent repetition of the loss will come later in the process when you can make a realistic assessment of what you can control and what you can’t.

Take time to grieve, but not more than you need. Two days later, after the fire was out, we were allowed to walk in to see what was left. Although we really knew what we would find, it was a shock to see our neighborhood looking as if it had been bombed out, in a war zone. Our home was gone; in its place a strangely beautiful ruin. We cried and hugged. Then we got out the shovels we had brought and began to dig. There was more grieving to do, of course, but it happened from time to time as a natural part of the work of remembrance, healing, and rebuilding and never after that day was the central focus of our lives.

Celebrate the best of what was lost; bring it symbolically with you toward the future. The first thing I found intact was a plate my grandmother had painted in the 1920s. The glaze a little rearranged but otherwise perfect, it seemed a loving message from the past. Later we found our favorite breakfast mugs, re-cast as multimedia pieces. That night the sunset was especially glorious, almost echoing the fire of two days earlier. The full moon shone at the same time through what had once been our bedroom window. We brought fruit and flowers (for life) and candles (for hope) and had a small, quiet ceremony in which we appreciated all that the house had meant to us, then let it go and made a promise to ourselves to keep that which was best in our hearts until we could build it again. Read more ›

Share Button
Posted in Change Management, Decision Making, Envision, Inspiration, Inspirational leadership, Uncategorized Tagged with: , , ,

Bad, Wrong, or Stupid: How Not to Influence

by B. Kim Barnes

“How can you believe a thing like that?” “That’s completely irrational.” “You’ve joined the lunatic fringe, I see.” “If everyone thought/dressed/acted/voted that way, we’d be in big trouble.”

How many times in the past few months have we wanted to say something like that to a friend, a relative, or a colleague? Whether the topic is politics, business, fashion, or even the choice of which sports team to support, it’s difficult to imagine that a person we work with, like, or are related to can possibly see the world so differently from the way we do. Family ties, friendships, and working relationships can be strained or even broken by the way we react to one another’s opinions and actions. A lot has been written recently about how “tribal” we have become: living in a bubble or an echo chamber, watching, listening to and reading the media that aligns with and reinforces our own opinion. We try to avoid difficult conversations – which may mean avoiding speaking with people with whom we assume we will disagree.

In this new world of “alternative facts,” people on each side of a dispute or difference feel entitled to their own truth. More than ever before, taking it for granted that we start with a common data set with another can lead to confusion and miscommunication. It also can lead to escalation; moving rapidly from discussion to argument to personal conflict, featuring an attack-defend spiral. Once this process begins, it becomes difficult, even impossible, to influence one another.

The more we spend time with like-minded others, staying within our comfort zone, the less conflict we experience, the more supported we feel, and the less likely we are to question ourselves, to learn anything or to change anyone’s mind.

In our Constructive Debate seminar, we begin by asking participants to consider how they and others reach conclusions. We distinguish among three types of statements or self-talk: facts, values, and assumptions.

  •  Facts are data that can be objectively observed
  • Values are beliefs about what is right, wrong, good, or bad
  • Assumptions are the inferences we make and the meaning we then assign to the data we have selected to pay attention to, often informed by our values.

Read more ›

Share Button
Posted in communication skills, Debate, Influence Tagged with: ,

Five Tools for Successful Risk-Taking

Intelligent and effective risk-taking can be successfully executed by following a set of tools. This five blog post series will feature one tool per post so that by the end, you have acquired a toolkit for risk-taking.

The first tool in planning for Intelligent Risk-Taking is the compass.

man on a thin line walking toward knotted rope

Man walking tightrope.

Where are you going? By choosing your direction and envisioning success you are more likely to stay focused on results and avoid dangerous detours.

Try envisioning the success of your current risk-taking endeavor by following the envisioning mind state that is explained in the  Envisioning That Inspires: MLK’s Dream blogpost.

Please contact us if you have questions about tool one. And stay tuned for step two by subscribing to our posts or checking back in a few days.

And if you are attending HR West, check out Intelligent Risk-Taking and Decision-Making, a presentation by Kim Barnes and Nelson Soken.

Contribution by,

Rebecca Stern

Share Button
Posted in Envision, Envisioning, Risk, Risk-taking, Uncategorized Tagged with: ,

Influencing a Reluctant Friend to Watch the Super Bowl With You

As we’re all aware, the Super Bowl is this weekend. If last year’s viewing statistics are any indication, over 111.5 million people will be watching this year’s game. Of course, many of them are American football fans – maybe that includes you. But people are influenced to watch the game for many other reasons, even people who aren’t football fans. Maybe you have a friend, spouse, or partner who doesn’t see why she or he should spend a perfectly good Sunday afternoon watching extremely large men trying to destroy equally enormous guys over the possession of a fully – or partially – inflated pig bladder (or whatever she or he thinks it is.) And maybe you would enjoy his or her company and/or believe that watching the game together will “hook” the other into enjoying the next season.

MIAMI - FEB 4: People gather for Super Bowl XLI between the Indi

So, how do you influence that skeptical person to watch the game with you?

A good approach is to consider the situation from the other person’s point of view. Rather than the common, but mistaken approach of trying to convince or persuade him or her that it’s important or fun – that they should think about it the way you do – put yourself in their shoes. Think about or ask the following questions:

  • What does the other value or want to achieve that might be relevant to your request? Together time? A chance to learn? An investment in a “quid pro quo” exchange that can be collected on later? How can you connect these values or goals to your invitation?
  • What issues might come up for the other person related to your request? How can you respond? For example, can you offer to help with a task they had planned to do that day or agree to participate later in an activity the other enjoys more than you do?

Good luck on achieving your influence goal. Of course, you can use this approach for influence goals unrelated to football!

And if your friends are influenced to watch the Super Bowl with you, then enjoy the game!

Contributed by,

Rebecca Stern

Share Button
Posted in football, Influence, intimidation, Super Bowl 2015 Tagged with: , , ,

Barnes & Conti on Twitter

Subscribe to Our Blog