Skepticism Is Necessary For Good Decisions!

Skepticism is critical to solid decision-making!

skepticismSkep – ti – cism …. A skeptical attitude; doubt as to the truth of something; doubt regarding claims that are taken for granted

The fact is that skepticism is a positive force that successful managers apply regularly in making decisions. All managers as well as those that are asked to follow a particular path need to be able to test the conclusion if the impact of a bad direction or decision could make a difference or have a negative impact on organizational mission or people.

As individuals, those with real-world smarts accept few things at face value, while organizations tend to accept without questions the decisions made by “the system”, especially if they are based on reams computer printouts.

There are six common sense rules that guide decision-makers in the skillful application of skepticism.

  1. Don’t be a knee-jerk skeptic. Establish a basis in fact before voicing skepticism, rather than acting on gut reactions.
  1. Double check all facts and assumptions, especially those introduced with “As everybody knows…”. Look for the underlying facts and trends.
  1. Use skepticism  particularly when he outcome of an issue is really important.
  1. Be tactful and constructive when expressing doubt. Use terms such as, “I wonder if you have thought      about…?” “Have you considered…?” What would happen if…?” “Are you sure you want to do that/proceed in that direction….?”
  1. Turn on the skeptic’s radar when a presentation is loaded with sweeping generalities. Remember, there are no sure bets; no gains without risks.
  1. Be skeptical about your skepticism. A healthy level of suspicion is needed to survive and thrive, while at the same time, you must suspect this attitude if it crops up constantly about all things.

Ask yourself if a claim, statement  or pitch which you are being asked to weigh in or implement makes sense? Is it based on a re-play of history? Are the facts being used to support it logical and sound? There is no substitute for organizational history. Does it pass the smell test?;  I refer to it as my “crap-detector”!

Skepticism Can Be An Uncomfortable Role

The role of the skeptic is not easy. It is often uncomfortable as well as hazardous. “Group Think” is hard to resist. Too often the call for team play means the suspension of healthy doubts.

No one is comfortable and happy taking the heat of doubting the steamrollers that come running through a meeting when all of the “facts” and “conclusions” are projected on the screen in dazzling slides and printouts, enclosed in handsome three-ring binders, are passed around for further study. Especially if a senior executive – or your boss – is doing the presenting!

To paraphrase a popular adage, “To question the presentation when the majority is applauding is to be the proverbial bastard at the family reunion.”

Skepticism Wins Over Blind Faith

Nevertheless, common sense says you’ll get farther along the career path with a healthy dose of skepticism than you will with blind faith in what the organization says and does.

Bertrand Russell, the renowned British mathematician and philosopher, had this to say about the place of skepticism in career success:

“For my part, I should wish to preach the will to doubt…what is wanted is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out, which is the exact opposite. In all affairs, it is a healthy thing, now and then, to hang a question mark on all things you take for granted.”

If you are skittish about using skepticism as a tool to accelerate your trip on your career path, run a test. For the next 60 days observe those whom you respect for their prowess in mastering the dynamics of life in organizations. See how many times they act as skeptics and how they do it.

If you find skepticism working for successful managers, what makes you think it won’t help you reach your career goals?

Use skepticism as one more tool in your quest for success and building your career. Good luck!!

This essay is an adaptation of an article written by John Barney and that appeared in an issue of Business Time Zone Magazine ( )

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5 Very Positive Things that Successful People Do!

5 Very Positive Things that Successful People Do!

thumbs up“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Michael Jordan

Successful people have developed very powerful and deeply held habits.

Here are 5 of them:

1. They live for the future and they don’t dwell in the past. They learn from mistakes and errors but they never brood over “what could have been.” Successful people know that the past is history and that taking risks involves the possibility of failure…but taking reasonable risks is also necessary to succeed.

2. They don’t obsess over perfection. It is not attainable in any measurable way and making perfection the objective is a Sisyphean task and sets one up for failure. Successful people are realistic in their goal-setting and apply themselves and do the best they can. When the job or task is done…it’s time to move on. History will judge if it was good enough.

3. They associate with successful people. And avoid people who are “downers” …those who are negative. Just as a positive attitude is contagious, so is a negative attitude. Negative people can poison a team or an organization. Putting up with negative people is a waste of time and energy that can be used to build positive relationships and networks. Associating with winners helps people become winners themselves. You can’t pick all you interact with … but you sure can for a lot of them. If you are a supervisor – don’t tolerate it in any of your reports. If you supervise supervisors, instruct your people to not tolerate it and train them how to eliminate it from their domain.

4. They never stop learning. Successful people learn on two different tracks: first, studying the components of success and failure and secondly learning more about what interests them personally. The first one is the same for all successful people; learning what the dynamics of success are, how to achieve them as well as learning from past mistakes. One way to do so is to study the success and failures of others. What were the habits, practices, mindsets, and strengths of the great successes of history; Winston Churchill, George Washington, Andrew Carnegie (Carnegie Steel that became U.S. Steel),  Steve Jobs (Apple), Jack Welch (GE)…and Michael Jordan, to name just a few. These great success also made mistakes – big ones along the way. Learn from these greats.

The second area of learning will also make you a more interesting and personable person! In my case, it is history – especially of the American Civil War and the two World Wars. My two universes of learning are therefore reading  biographies and military history. The lessons to be learned overlap. Every now and then, however, an Elmore Leonard novel sneaks in!

5. They bring a healthy amount of skepticism to the table when it is appropriate. They have a bit of “Missouri” in them – Missouri being the “show me state”. It helps them separate the “wheat from the chaff” – the useful from the not-so-useful when absorbing information or needing to decide a course of action. The world is full of people with agendas. A certain amount of skepticism helps to get through that minefield. They know not to take things at face value without probing the details and understanding the consequences of the action being considered. They challenge claims that just don’t seem to make sense.

Step back mentally and evaluate how well  you do in these five dynamics. Make them part of your personal planning journal and incorporate them into daily thinking. Good luck!

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10 Guidelines for Success; “The Best Advice I Ever Got!”

Dirk Hoffius

Dirk Hoffius

10 Guidelines for Success; “The Best Advice I Ever Got!”

I recently stumbled over an interesting article entitled “The Best Advice I Ever Got”. I got in touch with the author (Dirk Hoffius)  who gave me permission to share it with you in an abridged manner as well as giving you the link to the entire article. Dirk is an attorney with the law firm of Varnum in Grand Rapids, MI. His title is “The Best Advice I Ever Got”. I added that it seems to me to be 10 great guidelines for success! Read on……………….

1. Do something. In other words – act, make and do. You have three choices in life: you can make things happen; you can watch things happen; or you can wonder, “Hey, what in the world happened?” Do it. Get it done. Turn your energy into plans, actions, and deeds. People will be impressed, and so will you.

2. Find a mentor. Do this as early and as often in your life as possible. You will know your mentor when you meet him or her. He or she will be smarter than you are, more talented than you are, more sophisticated than you are, and wiser than you are. Yet, somehow, for all that, he or she will believe in you. The better your mentor, the faster you will grow.

3. Be nice to everyone. Assume the kid in the mailroom is your future  boss or client, because he or she may well be. You can’t be too nice, but that doesn’t mean you should be a pushover. Nice people don’t finish last; they just don’t talk about winning on the way to the finish line. The more important you get, the nicer you’ve got to be.

4. Be on time. Ninety percent of life, according to Woody Allen, is showing up. People who show up get a 95, and what they do after they show up is the rest of the grade. Be committed to the task at hand because everyone’s time is as important as yours. Agreeing to be somewhere is a promise. Keep it.

5. The magic words. Growing up, your parents made you learn the magic words. “Please,” “Thank you,” and “I’m sorry.” If you want someone to do something for you, say :Please.” If they do it, say “Thank you.” If you do something and it’s wrong, don’t sit around waiting for everyone to forget about it. They won’t. Say you’re sorry and move on.

6. Never point your finger unless you’re giving directions. There is no payoff for laying the blame on others, events or the weather. There is no time for it and the press of events is far more important that who or what is to blame. Be part of the solution, not the problem. But, never be afraid to ‘fess up to your own mistakes. Strive for fairness in all things. Even more important is to give others the credit they deserve. You will need them for the rest of your life.

7. Stay curious. Ask questions. Whenever anything is unclear to you, never ever worry about appearing dumb. The dumbest question you’ll ever ask is the one you never ask. It was your missed opportunity to learn. People love someone who’s not afraid to ask a dumb question. They were waiting with the answer anyway. Don’t be intimidated by expertise and don’t be afraid to challenge jargon. Jargon is the mask of the insecure, the fortress of the overeducated.

8. Keep is simple. Strive for simplicity in everything. Think about it. Have you r every heard someone say, “I love the guy, he makes everything sound so complicated?” Simplicity means using plain English and always thinking how to make what you say and write  as easy to understand as possible.

9. Love what you do. Do what you love. This is absolutely critical. If you don’t love what you are doing, you probably won’t perform as well as you could. And even if you are successful, you’ll be miserable, so what’s the point? What if you don’t love what you are doing? Maybe you aren’t doing your best because if you do your best, one of two things can happen; you may have a new opportunity or you may find you like the job.

10. Learning is forever. No matter what we do in life, we are always learning and that’s a good thing because the more we learn, the better we do,, and the more we enjoy what we do. More importantly, our careers and our lives do not become boring if we continue to learn, to explore new things, and to grow. The result of always learning from classes, mentors, competitors, and anyone with whom you come in contact, is that someday you can be the best in your field. When that happens, whether you  recognize it or not, you became a mentor.

Americans love lists; these ten things are important if we are to be the  best we can be. They are lessons for life. Everytime we think we “got it” we find we can do better. We can and we will.

Dirk Hoffius

The entire text of this essay by Dirk Hoffius can be found at:

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5 Sure-Fire Ways to Lose Your Job!

5 Sure-Fire Ways to Lose Your Job!

Getting a new job is hard work…and you don’t want to undo it by either adopting or reverting to some really bad career habits! Whether you are new to the job….or you are a tenured employee…here are five habits of highly unsuccessful people. Purge them bad habitsfrom yourself and safeguard against them creeping into your daily behavior. These on-the-job-habits are often fatal to jobs …and careers if not corrected.

Fact – when your behavior becomes disruptive to team performance, attitude, moral and overall harmony – the boss’s job is to “fix it”. Often that means firing you if earlier steps of progressive discipline have failed to resolve it.

Fix these five factors in your mind and do a self-examination to see if you are guilty of any of them. Ask trusted co-workers if you are guilty of any of them. Job and career success are dependent on you NOT wearing any of these “hats”.

Keep in mind that the business section of the newspapers and publications such as The Wall Street Journal and Business Week have story after story of CEOs that have lost their jobs due to “management style”. This really means that they couldn’t get along with the right people; they have behavior habits similar to anyone of these five factors!

Ford Motor Company Chairman Henry Ford II fired the very successful Ford President Lee Iacocca with the comment “I just don’t like you” ending years of disharmony between  the two. An extreme example of mannerisms costing someone a job!

1. Gossip. Don’t participate in the chatter than can pollute a workplace. A comment or observation leads to someone turning it into a fact. People start discussing the non-fact and speculating on outcomes. At its extreme it undermines reporting relationships, creates distrust and can destroy the harmony of a team. Rest assured if you participate you will be quoted and if  your boss catches wind of your involvement one too many times … out you might go. The reason?….  “enough is enough”.

Use as your benchmark the “Momma and Washington Post (or your local newspaper) Rule”. Say nothing that you aren’t prepared to see quoted on the front page above the fold and delivered to your mom’s (or your boss’s) front door.

Stay away from those do gossip and if you must interact with them do so only in conjunction to the job to be done. When they raise the gossip factor, simply say “I do not want to discuss that or get into that….and you’d be wise to also do the same”.

2. Assertive or Aggressive Body Language. When making a point don’t stab your index finger in the air like a dagger – it is insulting and overly aggressive. Don’t cross your arms when others are talking – it says “I don’t agree”. Don’t roll your eyes when someone says something your disagree with – it mocks the point they are making. You need to avoid judgmental body language; when it gets to the point that no one wants to interact with you… it might be time for your boss to clean house.

3. Offensive and Inflammatory Statements. Avoid inflammatory statements such as “Let me tell you something” or “Trust me on this”. It isn’t just the words… they are usually accompanied by an assertive approach. When that occurs, it is a total annoyance at best on the part of whomever you are talking to. Purge from yourself those annoying (and predictable) statements and comments.

4. Mood and Attitude Swings. When you are up and enthusiastic one day and moody and uncommunicative the next, it confuses and annoys people. Consistency of behavior is important to teamwork and understanding co-workers. When your presence becomes a drag on others you have become a supreme annoyance to others. No one wants to work with a team member for whom the glass is usually  half empty! When it impacts productivity, it is not uncommon for a boss to step in to solve it…often by termination.

5. Poor Clock Management. Tardiness, late for meetings, reports and work not done on time, not returning phone calls in a timely manner (or not at all!) Reliability and dependability is critical to a team. You waste the time of others when you are not on time. It drives those that are on time nuts! Think “Lombardi Time”* …. 10 minutes early is ON TIME!

OK… unless you have an extremely tolerant boss, five  sure-fire ways to lose your job is to participate in any of these areas. Keep them in mind as you go through the work day and be determined to not let any of them represent who you are!

* “Lombardi Time” comes from a characteristic of the legendary NFL coach Vince Lombardi (the Super Bowl Lombardi Trophy is named for him). There are lots of different versions of what constitutes “Lombardi Time” as it became known. One is “Ten minutes early or it’s too late.” It became well known that Lombardi expected his players to be 10 (some say 15) minutes early for all meetings – what he actually told them probably varied, so an exact quote may not be possible to determine.

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Successful Delegation Requires a Process

Career success and job success is a function of your skills and abilities. If you are – or ever will be – in a supervisory job… in charge of a project…or chairing a committee… delegation skills are critical to success. Someday getting the job offer you want might hinge upon your ability to answer successfully  the interview question “Tell me about how you delegate – how do you go about it?”! Interview preparation is job search tip #1!

Delegation is universally understood to be necessary to the success of any organizational unit. For delegation to be successful,  however, it must be structured –  a process must be determined and then followed.

To delegate successfully follow these guidelines from MindTools:

1. Articulate clearly the desired outcome. Specify the results that will make the effort a success. Include any “stakeholders” in the discussions leading to the definition of success for the effort. Provide initial timelines and deadlines.

2. Identify the degree of authority and accountability of each person involved.

3. Define who and when are the people involved to:

a. Develop a plan and ask for approval?…or

b. Develop a plan and proceed to implement, reporting status/results on what frequency?

4. Be sure authority and responsibility are in sync; if someone has the authority to act in a particular aspect of the project – he or she is also responsible for the results.

5. Delegate as far down in the organization as possible; the people closest to the action are in the best position to know what will work and what won’t.

6. Make answering procedural questions and clarifying issues a priority of all. You don’t want the process to come to a halt because someone can’t get an answer to a procedural question.

7. Don’t permit “upward delegation” to take place; where someone shifts responsibility upward or to you. When someone comes to see you with a problem  – picture the issue  as a monkey on his/her back. Don’t let that monkey jump on your desk, and then you are left with the monkey (the problem or issue)! Don’t answer such questions – ask questions instead as to possible approaches/solutions until they arrive at one you would agree with….then just nod approval!

8. Focus on results – not procedure, so long as procedures don’t exceed pre-determined parameters (cost, not a violation of any law, etc.). How you would do it is not necessarily the best way – if the right people are in the mix, the “how” should not be an issue.

9. Every now and then – there will be a glitch. That is, “the cow will get in the ditch”. This can be a great learning exercise – instruct whomever of the three-step process:

a. Get the cow out of the ditch.

b. Find out how the cow got into the ditch

c. Develop and implement procedures so it can’t happen again!

10. Have periodic meetings to discuss progress, stressing the objectives and what the desired results will have in terms of payoff for the organization and the team members. Review timelines and deadlines. Be sure to give recognition when earned. Document progress and distribute to all involved.

Successful delegation can only be achieved by understanding that it is a process that needs to be put into place and then followed religiously.

For further reading on the subject – go to

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