Saturday, November 21, 2009

Self-absorbed Bastards Destroying Our Futures

Them's Gettin' Fired Words
One night, while out to dinner with our friend Paul from the Netherlands, Paul, in describing having attempted to connect with some people said, "But they never got back to me!"

When I asked him what he meant by that, he explained that he had called them and that they'd never returned his calls. When I asked him about how many times he'd called them, he said, "Once."

After a few more questions, I mentioned to Paul that, in past lives, I had fired people for just such a statement, i.e., "I called so-and-so, but he never got back to me!"

In each case, the firee had been assigned an important task that they had agreed to complete quickly and effectively. When asked about having completed the task, effecting a manner of earnestly having taken every possible action to accomplish it, they responded with this lamest of all excuses, or some variant like, "I sent him an email, but he never replied."

Paul seemed a bit dumbfounded that I would actually fire someone for something so trivial, but for me the words symbolize the epitome of victimhood and lack of ownership.

My management style has always involved recruiting strong people, setting the tone for what we want to accomplish, ensuring that they have the resources they need, and then giving them room to work. Doing this creates teams that can run circles around larger, more bureaucratic organizations, but it also puts your team in a position where any one of you can sink the boat. So, with the freedom and empowerment comes a lot of responsibility. Making mistakes is acceptable; not owning mistakes is not.

A keep-your-job response would look something like, "Hey, I called him once, but I didn't really put enough effort into tracking him down and connecting. I'll go right now and figure out a way to get this done!"

Many see firing someone as a terrible act performed by cold-hearted bastards who don't give a damn about people; I see not firing someone who is not owning up to their role on the team as a disservice to the rest of the organization (sorry about the double negative).

Destroying Our Future
Yesterday, I listened to a news report on the radio regarding the California Board of Regents deciding to increase student fees to cover a $1.2 billion state funding gap. The reporter spoke of large student gatherings protesting the 32% increase in fees. He played recordings of angry taunts from students repeatedly shouting at the regents, "Shame on you!"

He played interviews of teary students lamenting their helpless state and expressing righteous indignation at the Board of Regents for "destroying their futures and the future of California."

As I listened, I wondered, "Just how much money per year are we talking about here? Are these kids going to have to pony up another $10 thousand, another $20 thousand?"

Finally, after all the big numbers and large percentage gaps, I heard the actual dollar amount of the tuition increase, $2500 (twenty-five hundred dollars). I thought, "OK, $2500 is a lot of money for someone going to school, but it's not even close to future-destroying. It's like $50 a week. It's like an extra two to four hours waiting tables, or if you're really good, an extra one hour."

Then I thought, "Wow, California is going (or has gone) bankrupt and kids can still go to a University for $10 thousand per year! That's pretty amazing. What's up with these students! Have they become so entitled in their attitudes that everything that disrupts that entitlement is evil and insurmountable? God help us if they're the future!"

Well, I probably wasn't thinking that dramatically, but you get the point.

Now here's the kicker. At the end of the report, the reporter played a interview with one of the Regents who said, "These kids are blaming the wrong people; they should be marching in Sacramento, not Berkeley!"

Sigh... so according to the regent, the kids should all go march on the governor's office or the state senate (or whatever they have in California). You've got a basic situation in which there's not enough money to cover expenses; it makes sense that the primary beneficiaries of the services would help cover the gap, and even this regent is buying into the students' sense of entitlement and victimhood.

Cold-hearted Bastard
A friend of mine who recently divorced has subsequently had a rather rocky relationship with his two kids. Both are in college and both blame him for "ruining" their lives by divorcing their mother and "breaking up" their family.

My friend has been doing his best to connect with his kids, but can't seem to find any common ground. For them, he's an uncaring, self-absorbed, cold-hearted bastard who has totally disappointed them and they'll never forgive him.

Now, we're not talking about kids who've been left high and dry with their future on the rocks (like the poor children of California). We're not talking about someone who's run off with all the money, leaving his ex-wife with nothing. We're not talking about someone who's acted vindictively when working through the divorce. In fact, we're talking about someone who has always provided everything that his kids wanted, who has invested lots of time in helping them and working with them, and who has shown amazing patience in trying to reconcile his wants to those of his children.

And yet, his kids, who themselves exhibit incredible powers of self-absorption, are now victims with no sense of ownership in terms of what comes next.

So What?
Lately, through my work with relate to autism, I've been blessed to meet and converse with parents who exhibit the exact opposite of what I've described above: parents who would never say, "but, he never called me back"; parents who after finding all the doors locked, start checking the windows; parents who despite all the naysayers and doubters, display unrelenting faith; parents whom even I would hire!

As I consider the contrast, I think about the pervasiveness of entitled victimhood and wonder if it's increasing or if I'm just more aware of it or if it's just me. My belief is that people who choose not to be entitled victims also empower themselves to choose happiness and to overcome amazing challenges. The solutions to the energy problem, global warming, and other challenges facing our planet are clearly not going to come from the entitled victims at University of California; they're going to come from self-empowered dynamos that own the problem regardless of who or what caused it.

I guess I feel pretty strongly about this whole thing.

What about you? Are you the embodiment of self-empowerment and ownership, or do you occasionally say, "but they never called me back?"

As a boss or coworker, are you inspiring others to show up and be great, or are you letting things slide when people don't own up? As a parent, who are you helping your children to become?

What do you think?

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