God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.((1))
This prayer written in the 1930’s by Reinhold Neibuhr is now widely known in large part because it is a staple of the drug addiction recovery world. It is widely referred to as the Serenity Prayer though Neibuhr did not give it a title.((2))Continue reading →
Major Works on Religion and Politics by Reinhold Neibuhr, edited by Elizabeth Sifton, Library of America [↩]
Thanks for inspiration for what follows to Adam Kirsch’s article “The Ironic Wisdom of Reinhold Neibuhr in the 8/13/15 edition of New York Review of Books, pp. 74-75. [↩]
In most settings we avoid saying “No” to a request or suggestion in both business and personal domains. In US culture there is a moderate avoidance of saying “No” compared to a culture like Japan where saying “No” is seriously avoided. Here “Yes” is used widely in conversations as an interjection to keep things moving, to encourage further exchange of information, to forestall making a decision. All of this because “No” is inherently negative and indication that the subject or issue is closed.
On June 19, 2012 the New York Times published an article, “The Body’s Protein Cleaning Machine” about the Nobel Prize winning chemist Dr. Avram Hershko. His life work has been on understanding how the body’s cells rid themselves of old, defective proteins. Every cell has a protein ubiquitin that tags old and degenerated proteins for destruction. “Maybe you’ve heard of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s? There we have bad proteins accumulating in the brain and destroying brain cells. The reason we don’t get Alzheimer’s when we are 10 is that when we are young, the bad proteins are disposed of quickly. With age, the cell’s machinery may lose the ability to do that.”
This very interesting notion that the body has a built-in mechanism to rid itself of bad proteins reminded me of old lessons about the need for our businesses to have a similar mechanism. Product obsolescence is a terrible drag on sales and gross margins. A better strategy is to have an end of life process to drive out product obsolescence. Peter Drucker ((Peter Drucker, The Effective Executive, Harper Colophon Books, p.108)) put it this way:
Systematic sloughing off of the old is the one and only way to force the new. There is no lack of ideas in any organization I know. “Creativity” is not our problem. But few organizations ever get going on their own good ideas. Everybody is much too busy on the tasks of yesterday. Putting all programs and activities regularly on trial for their lives and getting rid of those that cannot prove their productivity work wonders in stimulating creativity even in the most hidebound bureaucracy.
In earlier posts in this series on Peter Drucker’s book The Effective Executive: the definitive guide to getting the right things done, we reviewed his list of basic practices:
“….know where their time goes.”
“….focus on outward contribution”
“….build on strengths….”
“….concentrate on the few major areas where superior performance will produce outstanding results.”
“…. make effective decisions.”
This posting is devoted to the third practice, build on strengths.((1))
The effective executive makes strength productive. He knows that one cannot build on weakness. To achieve results, one has to use all of the available strengths – the strengths of associates, the strengths of the superior, and one’s own strengths. These strengths are the true opportunities. To make strength productive is the unique purpose of organization. It cannot, of course, overcome the weaknesses with which each of us is abundantly endowed. But it can make them irrelevant. Its task is to use the strength of each man as a building block for joint performance.((2))
How many times have I asked clients, “Do you have insurance on your business assets? Do you have liability insurance? Key person insurance?” For many small business people these questions are a combination of absurd and uncomfortable. Frequently I am brushed off with, “I can’t afford that.”
Learning how to be an effective manager is a primary task for every manager. However, most managers learn management skills on the job without guidance and in a haphazard fashion. A few companies have formal mentoring programs but, of these, few have a structured approach. Very few courses are offered in business schools on how to be an effective manager. To the extent that a manager becomes an effective manager, it is learned by stumbling about and reinventing the wheel.
Peter Drucker’s The Effective Executive: the definitive guide to getting the right things done((1)) has been a continuing resource for me in learning how to be an effective manager and teaching others these management skills . I find myself re-reading it in parts and all of it every year. To spread the wisdom around and reflect further on this guide for the general manager((2)) I will devote a series of postings here to its content on how to be an effective manager. Continue reading →
I am using the 2006 edition published by Harper Collins. I will also refer to The Effective Executive in Action by Drucker and J. A. Maciariello published by Harper Collins, 2006 [↩]
I use the word “manager” throughout in place of “executive” because I believe that Drucker’s ideas scale up and down the management hierarchy very well. These are lessons for everyone one from front line supervisor to CEO [↩]