Hard-Won Wisdom

Janove, Jathan. (2017), Hard-Won Wisdom.  New York: AMACOM Publishing

Janove has written a book full of true-life professional examples, wisdom learned from his own experiences, and specific suggestions for dealing with issues.  He has done so with humor which makes the reading entertaining as well as informative.

Included in this book are acronyms to increase retention.  Being a principal for many years I could have used many of these ideas in the past.  These strategies will be used for coaching leaders and when doing professional development activities. The following are a few examples included in this book.

As always, words that are in italics come directly from the book.

Most workplace relationships are transactional. Most of us ’go along to get along.’ We might even avoid confronting issues.  In the real life of our organizations are made up of the transactions and most of us want a relationship too.  The “EAR” Method can help the relationship by listening and increase understanding.  Remember, you have two ears and one mouth.  We should listen twice as much as we talk.

EAR” method

  • “E” stands for “explore,” which means asking open-ended, exploratory questions; “What do you think?” “How do you see it?” “What are some examples?’
  • “A” is for “acknowledge,” by which the listener confirms his or her understanding with the speaker. Move to acknowledgment, confirming your understanding of what the person thinks is important: “So if I understand you … Is that accurate?” “So your main concern is … Is that right?’
  • After the speaker confirms that the listener’s understanding is correct, the listener “responds,” the “R.” After the person confirms that you understand what matters, respond. Start with the What/Why Ratio: Every time you tell an employee what to do, explain why, the purpose served by the action.  Make the What/Why Ratio  1:1  and watch what happens to the relationship.

I would add an “R” for reflection.  Once we truly understand and are understood, conversation become deeper and more meaningful.  As Donald Schon (1983) wrote in the ‘Reflective Practitioner’ there is reflection-on-action (feedback), reflection-for-action (planning ahead), and reflection-in-action (on your feet).

We spend most of our time reflecting on the fly.  That is why I recommend improv classes.  If you want to follow up on improv, one source is www.stevierays.org for individual and group classes.  Most of us have had meetings to review behavior, projects, and past performance.  I suggest reading Marshall Goldsmith and his concept of FeedForward.  Discussing plans for the future can change direction by making the midcourse adjustments required in most projects.

Another concept Janove presented is in selecting personnel.  An example from education is we think a great teacher will be a good principal.  Sometimes.  There are two following points to consider:

  1. HIRING – (Don’t Conflate an Applicant’s Ability to Get a Job with the Ability to Do It)
  2. PROMOTIONS (Beware the Peter Principle)  Stupid Switch, Part Two, where you conflate the ability of employees to do their current job with their ability to do a different job.

I am working with a leadership team of a food business.  They are trying to decide which of their employees are best to promote into leadership roles.  There was a meeting with me and the top three people in the restaurant, the owner, day manager, and the night manager.  They came up with nine characteristics they wanted to develop.  That seemed a big stretch in a short period of time.

I used the idea of Star Profiles identified in “Hard-Won Wisdom.”  Write down three to five specific qualities first before investing in a longer term development process.

Star Profiles possess few words but create a powerful, action-oriented pictures of what’s most important in a particular job from the perspective of the person to whom that position reports.  

The three following were given as an example

  • Generates and files documents promptly and accurately.
  • Takes charge of professional and administrative compliance.
  • Puts himself or herself in my travel shoes, making arrangements that consider time, cost, who I need to see, and what needs to happen.

Same Day Summary might be something you already do.  It is a brief summary of a meeting, phone call, etc.  The summary which is provided to those in attendance gives a written record on paper or email to clarify events and agreements.  This can keep you out of big trouble in the future.

“This letter summarizes our conversation this morning regarding..

  • The document summarizes only the key points actually spoken by you or the employee. You’re not making meeting minutes.
  • It’s prepared and given to the employee within a day (24 hours) of the discussion. Given how quickly memories fade, the sooner the better.
  • It’s no more than a page. Most Same Day Summaries are shorter than a paper, often just a brief paragraph with a few bullet points.
  • Instead of requiring a signature, confirmation, or agreement with the substance of the discussion, informed if the recipient disagrees with the accuracy of the summary.

In most instances, email works fine. It gives you time and tracking information and can easily be stored.

  • No lengthy treatises. No creative writing. No racking your memory. No arguments or debates. And no having to track down your employee for a response

Performance reviews can be growth producing or something to avoid like the plague. Jathan outlines some tips for what to do and what to avoid doing. A really good list follows:

The Don’ts

  • Rational lies. Too often managers rationalize or tell themselves “rational lies” that although honesty is the best policy, the performance review is an exception. It should never be.
  • Gunnysack feedback. These managers save up feedback like farmers slowly filling a gunnysack with potatoes—only to drop them over the employee’s head at performance review time. Not exactly a bonding moment.
  • Report card. Like schoolteachers at the end of the term, these managers give feedback looking entirely backward, underscoring their superiority and the employee’s inferiority.
  • Creative writing. The performance review is not a time to exercise your writing skills (such as the manager who wrote, “Maybe you’re getting too old for this job.”)
  • Disciplinary tool. “Needs improvement” is not the same as “Last-chance warning.” If you have a disciplinary problem, deal with it directly. Don’t use the performance review to tiptoe around it.

The Dos

  • Behavior that matters. Avoid the plethora of categories and subcategories. As with Star Profiles, zero in on what really matters and concentrate your feedback there.
  • Process, not event. Here’s a simple rule: Create a surprise-free zone. A performance review should summarize prior feedback given in real-time.
  • Participation of all managers. All managers should commit to using the performance review process to help their employees succeed. Otherwise they shouldn’t be managing.
  • Two-way feedback. The discussion should be two way—the manager gives and receives feedback. What succeed together? The Triple Two technique from I’ll Do It with Anybody but Monique!”

If you are dealing with people, conflicts with inevitably surface. How conflicts or difference of opinions are handled will signal how safe the workplace is and how honest people want to be.

This quote The best fight is the one you avoid  is so true. Leaders don’t survive very well if all you do is put out fires.

I really liked this statement.  “So if I understand you, what makes my idea stupid is ‘X.’ If we can resolve ‘X,’ then my idea is no longer stupid, is that right?” This can go a long way to identifying the real issue and save time.  Below are three questions Jathan suggests to help end a feud.  He calls is the Triple Two

  • What two things should I start doing?
  • What two things should I stop doing?
  • What two things should I continue to do?

The ‘Triple Two :’

  • Give you valuable information about the boss’ priorities.
  • Signals the boss that you’re an employee who can be trusted.

A couple more important strategies: An Insincere Apology Is Worse Than No Apology.  So use the MIDAS Touch apology

  • “M” is for “Mistake.” Acknowledge the mistake you made, the ball you dropped, and the poorly worded email that inflamed the situation.
  • “I” is for “Injury.” Instead of focusing on the fact nobody was hurt, focus on the injury caused in making the person mad.
  • “D” is for “Differently.” This is what you will do differently going forward
  • *A” is for “Amends.”  Do  something to  make amends—contact the person directly to apologize. The idea is take concrete action to show that you really want to heal things.
  • “S” is for “Stop.” After you finish saying the first four parts, stop talking. Don’t say another word. Let the other person ask questions if they want to.

Now, apply the 72 hour rule.  We know the reviewing within 24 hours increase retention.  You can review by telling someone what you learn.  Even better is try some of these out within 72 hours.  It will help solidify the learning.

Here are questions to get you going. I encourage you to answer them in writing.

  • Having read this book, what concepts or tools strike you as worthy of using?
  • What specific steps will you commit to take, and by when?
  • What results do you expect to see?

Go forward and do good work


Goldsmith, Marshall. (2015). Triggers.  New York:  Crown

Schon, D.  (1983).  The reflective practitioner.  New York:  Basic Books, Inc.