Stan Slap – 2 books

You May Need a Slap in the Face – Two Summaries

A couple of years ago, our Learning Omnivores group, spent time with Stan Slap, the author of Bury My Heart at Conference Room B.  After reading this book and his second book, Under the Hood, I felt there were many messages for our learning and coaching network.  Specifically, returning to focus on our values drives our decisions and behaviors.  Here are some of the thoughts and theories in Stan’s work helping us understand what is going on behind the scenes, above the clouds, and under the rug as individuals and in our organizations.

Slap, Stan. (2010).  Bury My Heart at Conference Room B.  New York:  Penguin.

Stan facilitated an activity, based on his writings, that re-grounded many of us to why we came into leadership roles, why we stay in our organizations, and how that connects to our deeply held beliefs and values. Most of us have spent a career where we are frequently invited to deviate from our personal and professional values to accommodate the perceived needs of others or to get to the financial bottom lines.

Examples, drawn from my work as a principal, are parents asking me not to suspend their child for drugs, knives, and assaults.  I have been asked to change grades, even from an “A-” to an “A.” I have been asked to grant credit for a student who did not attend a class so they could graduate and the list goes on. It is not just students, there are colleagues and supervisors who have asked for special favors or modify policies and procedures from what I believe is ethical behavior. I am sure, in your organization, you have had some similar requests that are on the edge or questionable in nature.

In some organizations leaders have been asked by those in positions above and below to change actions to alleviate political pressure. Enough of this.

The activity described in his book, I have used with individuals and groups. I have found this exercise to be very useful when forming a new team, or existing team, can increase trust by making deeper connections between individuals.  Stan says the values most people identify as important are family and integrity.  These two, under pressure, people are asked to compromise most often are family and integrity.  I can relate, can you?

A key value Stan holds in his company is family.  He writes about how that became a focus from his own experience growing up with the difficulties of dealing with a sick parent.  Learning at an early age how important family is, his company is a family.

Here is the short form of the process which is described in more detail in the book.

  1. Show a list of values, 50 or more. (one list can be found in his book)
  2. Ask the group to choose 5 or 10 they feel most connected to
  3. Narrow your list to three
  4. Share with the group (or as an individual) what your three values are, AND, this is the most important part.
  5. How did you get those values?

What I have found is there are new and deep connections from sharing values AND the story behind those values.  What a way to start a short or long-term project allowing

people to understand the history of others.  What a way to find out the deep values of the person you are coaching or collaborating with on a project. Getting people in the room, building strong connections and understanding their history before tackling difficult tasks is beneficial to saving time and energy.

When coaching individuals, and asking similar questions, the people can identify what are the most important values to him or her and help them connect at a human level. One of Stan’s quotes that struck me was, “Let the walls come down. Don’t lead from your head. Lead from what you believe in. If they can’t trust you, you can’t lead them.”  Amen.

Leadership is not for the faint of heart.  Charles Bukowski said, “What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.” Everyone is watching leaders. I believe people watch what we do, less by listening to our words. Our values are demonstrated by what we pay attention to and how we behave.

Stan Slap reminds us that it is the emotional commitment necessary to do people work. He states that the good news is – it’s not your fault.  The bad news, as a leader, is – it is your responsibility.  Building a learning culture for your organization requires taking off our armor, talking about what’s important, including our colleagues in the process, and making communities better able to prepare for a future.

Another point presented is, most of us know what the company wants from us. The following, from the book, identifies what some people want from their company.

What do you really want from your company? Most of them want to serve and build their companies, and they want to win. But none of them wants success completely defined on their company’s terms; they want it defined on their own terms, too.

  • I want to live my most important personal beliefs at work. I want enough personal energy left at the end of the day, so the rest of my life isn’t just a work-release program.
  • I want respect. I want to be recognized for having a job that’s often unrecognizable on a day-today basis. I want to be paid to think, not just to comply. I want to be trusted.
  • I want control. Want to know that I’m creating a dependable sanctuary with my hard work, and I want to know that the harder I work the more sanctuary I’ll create. I want to trust.
  • I want impact. I want to know that there’s some actual lasting value to how I spend my time and that I’m contributing to something that won’t always be immediately forgotten in the rush to the next urgent priority. I want a legacy. I want affiliation. I want to be in a healthy relationship, not one where it seems like I’m constantly begging for love and forgiveness for mysterious sins.

I obviously recommend this book.  I end with a request.  My request is that you read the story of Florence Taylor which is inside this book on page 182.  Florence Taylor is a pseudonym.  It is a story of an executive that has the value, if you go down [have trouble] I will come back for you. Wouldn’t you like to work for a person like that?

Slap, Stan. (2015). Under the Hood.  New York:  Penguin.

People who are paid a high salary and are not committed, and, there are those who are paid low salaries or volunteers who contribute mightily to a mission. Emotional commitment of colleagues could be the most important asset to your work group and the company at large.

There is a high cost in money and contribution when we have employees who are uninvolved, demonstrating emotional detachment     in their position. The bottom line is, we live our personal values at work in our own role and as a member of our work groups. Emotional commitment is the biggest thing we have to give to our family and company as a human being.

“I’ve rarely met managers who’ve come into their jobs with a cynical worldview, but I’ve met plenty who’ve adopted one as a protective mechanism.”  So, how do we keep a fresh, positive, and energetic culture with a learning attitude and engage those around us?

Chapter 3 has the title, ‘Time Waits for No Manager.’  How many hours a week do you spend working—meetings, e-mail, people problems, crazed customers, not to mention any actual work that accidentally occurs in between? It’s about fifty. How many hours a week do you spend traveling to and from and for work? It’s about ten. How many hours a week do you spend thinking about work? It’s about fifteen hours a week. At seventy-five hours a week, you’re spending more than double your waking hours working, than not working. These are the irretrievable hours of your personal life—you do not get this time back.

Most individuals and companies want life and work to run smoothly. When a problem surfaces, we tend to reject what is happening and want to reclaim homeostasis. CEO Jim Goodnight said. “Trust people, give them a good place to work, expect a lot out of them and they’ll do the right thing,” I think this only happens with good leadership and commitment between people for the people and the company. “We make decisions based on people rather than based on prescriptive business philosophy.” Maybe, we make decisions considering both.

In some ways, your company really has to work for you, before you’ll really work for your company. This is a reason why culture is so important in creating a workplace that honors people while pursuing common goals. Our values guide us in sustaining a workable culture.

WHERE ARE YOUR VALUES? Being a leader means being able to sell your values to others. Where do your values come from?

  • Early upbringing
  • Big decisions and the consequences of those decisions
  • Personal beliefs and priorities placed under extreme pressure
  • Religious and spiritual doctrines
  • Intimate mentors and role models
  • Significant life events

Here are a few questions worth stating:

  • What is the legacy I want to be known for?
  • What are the three things most important to living a fulfilled life that I would tell a child?
  • If I could do it all over, what do I wish I’d known sooner and why?

WHY JOHNNY CAN’T LEAD. There are 380,687 titles in print about leadership—83,524 about “business leadership”—and U.S.-based Fortune 500 companies alone spend an estimated $12.3 billion each year on leadership development for their managers. A lot of that exposure was useless, generalized or wrong. , we might be better off.  I am reminded of an African Proverb.  “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

So, how do we enlist people in our culture for better results? There are three ways to get your people’s attention.

  1. One problem: Doesn’t work. The carrot may achieve short-term results, but it won’t inspire the honest, sustained effort a leader needs. The successful leadership battle is fought for your people’s hearts, not their pockets.
  2. One problem: Doesn’t work. The stick may achieve short-term results, but it’s the longer-term results to be concerned about since anger is the natural psychological reaction to fear.
  3. Your hand, reach out that hand to your people. “Grab hold,” you are saying, “and I’ll take you to a Better Place.

At the end of most chapters, Stan has a HOW TO DO IT list.  There are many actionable ideas for you and your organization.  A company must let leaders and the people in the organization live their values which will positively affect work/life balance.

Stan ends with a couple of quotes:

“Be human first. A manager second.” I have found this always build trust. If I get those two out of order, I usually get in trouble.

“The bravest act of a warrior is to allow someone to reach past his armor to touch his heart.”  Yes, this is scary, and vulnerability can also lead to increased trust and emotional commitment.

To summarize:

  • It is important to the successful work of individuals and the organization to be able to know and articulate and share your personal values;
  • Avoid using fear and bribery in creating a culture. Instead, use trust and other interpersonal skills to create a culture that helps get better results for the people and the organization.