Potential: Revealed

Strategic Thinking, Innovative Ideas, Growth Marketing, and Revealing of Potential

Archive for integrity

A Great One Passes

The most indelible memory I have of growing up in Michigan was listening to Detroit Tiger games late at night throughout the summer. I’d be in my bed with the window open and possibly a slight breeze blowing in. The lights would be off and my transistor radio was under my pillow — so I could listen to the games even though my parents had long earlier told me to go to sleep. If it was a West coast game and well past midnight local time, I often fell asleep with the voices of the game playing in my dreams.

The voice I remember most clearly for all those games – I probably listened to 100’s of them — was of Ernie Harwell. He was the voice of the Detroit Tigers for 40 years. Ernie passed away today, May 4, 2010. He was 92 years old.

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As America seems to regularly produce, his life story is one of rising to great heights and reaching potential not clearly evident at the start of his life.

He was born in 1919 in Washington, GA a younger contemporary of Ty Cobb, also of hot, flat and sparsely populated area of rural south Georgia. It is interesting he would end up, as Ty Cobb did, with the Tigers. Where Ty Cobb was ornery and remembered as a difficult man. Ernie Harwell was almost completely the opposite.

He was born with a severe speech defect. Through therapy and forcing himself to participate in debates and classroom discussions, he had overcome the handicap by the time he graduated from Emory University.

Harwell’s big break came in unusual fashion.

Brooklyn Dodgers radio broadcaster Red Barber became ill in 1948, and general manager Branch Rickey needed a replacement. After learning that the minor league Atlanta Crackers needed a catcher, Rickey sent catcher Cliff Dapper to Atlanta and Harwell joined the Dodgers. It is the only time a player was traded for an announcer in major league history.

Through his challenges with his voice, growing up in rural and relatively poor south Georgia, and needing a break as lucky as the one he got with the Dodgers, it is amazing he ended up making a living with his voice, doing so at the highest level of excellence. And what a voice it was. I don’t think I’ll ever forget its sound. And I hope I don’t.

He announced in September 2009 that he’d been diagnosed with inoperable cancer of the bile duct. He took the news with characteristic poise, saying he planned to continue working on a book and other projects.

“Whatever happens, I’m ready to face it,” Harwell told The Associated Press on Sept. 4.

“In my almost 92 years on this earth, the good Lord has blessed me with a great journey,” Harwell said at a microphone behind home plate when honored by the Tigers at a home game immediately after he announced his cancer diagnosis. “The blessed part of that journey is that it’s going to end here in the great state of Michigan.”

On Tuesday, Senator Carl Levin said this on the floor of the U.S. Senate: “All of Michigan will miss the sound of his voice telling us that the winter is past, that the Tigers had won a big game, or that they’d get another chance to win one tomorrow. We will miss his Georgia drawl, his humor, his humility, his quiet faith in God and in the goodness of the people he encountered. But we will carry in our hearts always our love for him, our appreciation for his work, and the lessons he gave us and left us and that we will pass on to our children and grandchildren.”

Perhaps one of the greatest facts about Ernie was that he was married to his wife, LuLu, for 67 years. I’m sure she misses him more than any of us possibly can.

But for me, I know I will miss that voice. God Bless You, Ernie Harwell.

Trust, Integrity, Accountability

Recently I was working with a client on preparations for an important meeting. The exact details of the meeting and the content are unimportant. What my client sponsor was wrestling with was concern that his peers would not act on the recommendations we were making. As I asked him more probingly about the root of his concerns he blurted out something about “our leadership team often agrees in a meeting but follow through is poor.”

Through further discussions I came up with a framework for the meeting that he seemed to like and gave him confidence that his concern about follow through could be overcome. I described the framework like this:

– ultimately establishing clear Accountability for decisions and actions is required in order for follow-through to be ensured. I said we should start off with asserting this to the meeting attendees (all of them S and E level VPs, along with the GM of the overall business unit) and giving a definition of accountability that everyone could agree to: “a willingness to be held to account for one’s promises and actions“.

– next we would say that accountability requires two foundations, first is Trust. Trust can be simply defined as “a relationship of reliance“. The team of executives, we would say, would see in a few moments that our recommendations revealed the clear interdependencies between each of their respective areas of the business. They were reliant upon each other and their teams to achieve success. While this may go without saying, we would invite them to openly discuss any areas where they felt they could not indeed “rely” upon each other or where weaknesses existed between business area linkages. Those areas would be addressed in the meeting and cleared up or an action plan would be devised to address them as output from the meeting.

– the second foundation element for accountability was “Integrity. Integrity can be defined as an undivided or unbroken completeness or totality with nothing wanting“. We would say that often accountability is desired and trust exists yet ultimately accountability falters because what someone or some group is held accountable to lacks integrity. Sometimes this is personal integrity but more often it is the integrity of — or the lack of a factual, fact base for — what is recommended and decided to be implemented. So our final activity before dealing with the recommendations was to spend more-than-usual time on the facts behind the business problem and opportunity we were dealing with. We said grounding all the participants equally and giving all a chance to develop a solid “fact base” was critical for them to hold one another accountable for follow through. If during our discussion, we said, the facts did not hold up, additional facts were needed or more clarity was required, it was better that we postponed final decisions and reconvened with the missing data ready to present.

What was interesting was that A) everyone seemed to appreciate the open recognition of the accountability issue. It had clearly become a sort of “elephant in the room” problem, which led to B) a reasonably candid discussion of some real, but solvable trust and integrity questions and challenges, and resulted in C) a preliminary acceptance of the facts and recommendations but request for the postponment of final decisions until a few important additional facts and factors could be brought to the table for consideration at a subsequent meeting. That follow up meeting was, I’m told, one of the most productive they’d had in quite some time which they attributed to the framework my client presented and used faithfully throughout the discussions.

As most of us have learned, often it is not just what we say but how  we say it that can ultimately matter. Revealing and capturing the true potential of an idea or recommendation, in this case, depended upon it.