Dueling Politicians

American politicians have always had a close link between their politics and their personal lives, even from America’s first days as a nation. According to Gentlemen’s Blood: a History of Dueling by Barbara Holland, “In our early years a man’s political opinions were inseparable from the self, from personal character and reputation, and as central to his honor as a seventeenth-century Frenchman’s courage was to his. He called his opinions ‘principles’, and he was willing, almost eager, to die or to kill for them.”

As such, any insult to or disagreement with a politician was seen as a threat, and the politician usually responded by challenging his opponent to a duel. According to Joannie B. Freeman in Affairs of Honor, “Longtime political opponents almost expected duels, for there was no way that constant opposition to a man’s political career could leave his personal identity unaffected.”

The best known example of a political duel was the Burr-Hamilton Duel of 1804. Vice President Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton had been political enemies for some time, when rumors that Hamilton had been saying “despicable” things about Burr prompted Burr to challenge Hamilton to a duel. 

The accounts of the duel are somewhat conflicting, however, it is generally believed that Hamilton fired first, aiming high and missing. Burr then returned fire – his bullet pierced Hamilton’s torso, lodging in the man’s spine. Hamilton died the following morning.

Other famous American political duels included the Jackson-Dickinson Duel, the Clay-Randolph Duel, and the Lincoln-Shields Duel.

Strengthen their bond

hralliancedc(dot)org. January 21, 2015. A blogpost: Feedback: Its All Personal and Why That Matters

Performance Reviews. “There aren’t many scheduled professional activities that can generate such an array of feelings for managers and employees alike…. Regardless of how one feels prior to and after receiving feedback, one thing is certain: Feedback is always personal.

Conventional wisdom and typical management training try to remove the personal aspect of feedback, even encouraging us to not take feedback personally. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Done well, the performance review is an opportunity for the manager and the employee to strengthen their bond, to commit to working on themselves individually and together, to continue to strive toward desired results. 

It’s Always Personal

It’s Always Personal. Random House. 2013. Author Ann Kreamer writes about emotions in the workplace, especially during evaluations formal and informal. Statements about the book from amazon(dot)com:

“Ms. Kreamer comes down on the side of accepting and expressing one’s authentic feelings, though in sensible and constructive ways. It’s a stimulating read bolstered by snippets of some of the best recent work on emotional intelligence and the science of happiness.” The Wall Street Journal

“Kreamer demonstrates why emotion matters so much in the workplace–and, with practical advice, she identifies ways to be happier and more effective at work.”  New York Times

“What’s the role of anger, fear empathy, anxiety and tears?  This book explains them in ways that will make you a better worker, boss and human being.”  Walter Isaacson, President and CEO, The Aspen Institute and former CEO of CNN

 “Kreamer makes a solid case for her philosophy in the most compelling way possible, by appealing to rationality and the bottom line.”

— Publisher’s Weekly Review 

Performance Appraisals For Dummies

amazon(dot)com listed 22,000 books about „giving feedback“, 62,000 titles on „performance reviews“ and a total of 127 how-to books alone about „performance review phrases“, including Performance Appraisals and Phrases For Dummies. 

Its profile states:

„Whether you’re a manger looking to implement employee appraisals for the first time, concerned with improving the quality and effectiveness of the appraisal process, or simply trying to save time and mental anguish Dummies provides the tools you need to save time and energy while presenting fair and accurate evaluations that foster employee growth.

This convenient, portable package includes a full-length appraisal phrasebook featuring over 3,200 spot-on phrases and plenty of quick-hitting expert tips on making the most out of the process.“

A reviewer commented:

„… This book gave me ideas on how to properly phrase what I was trying to communicate during the review process. There is a scenario for just about everything you’d cover in a employee review and it was so very helpful when I knew what I wanted to say, but wasn’t quite sure how to write it clearly….“

Wrongful termination

The Human Resources departments in American companies – especially large ones – have become very careful in how they handle employee performance appraisals. Not only because they strive to develop their talent, but also in order to avoid lawsuits. Even well-designed appraisals can lead to a lawsuit if they are poorly implemented or applied in an inconsistent manner.

Because U.S. labor courts continue to make exceptions to the once solid At-Will doctrine, employers face greater requirements to prove legitimate business reasons for many personnel actions.

At-Will employment is a term used in American labor law for contractual relationships in which an employee can be dismissed by an employer for any reason and without warning.The rule is justified by its proponents on the basis that an employee may be similarly entitled to leave his or her job without reason or warning.

At-Will employment gradually became the default rule under the common law of the employment contract in most states during the late 19th century. Over the 20th century many states modified the rule by adding an increasing number of exceptions, or by changing the default expectations in the employment contract altogether.

Inspirational Coaches

Herb Brooks – coached the American men’s ice hockey team in the1980 Olympic Games when they won against the Soviet Union, who had won almost every world championship and Olympic hockey tournament since 1954. Inspirational quote: “You were born to be a player. You were meant to be here. This moment is yours.”

Tommy Lasorda – managed four All-Star games, and led the Los Angeles Dodgers to 8 National League West titles, 4 National League pennants, and 2 World Series championships. Inspirational quote: “The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in a man’s determination.”

Vince Lombardi – head coach and general manager of the Green Bay Packers. He led the team to 3 NFL championships and victories at the first two Super Bowls. Inspirational quote: “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”

John Madden – became the youngest head coach in the American Football League in 1969 at age 33, and led Oakland to 7 AFC Western Division titles and a victory over Minnesota in Super Bowl XI. Inspirational quote: “When the going goes tough, you don’t quit. And you don’t fold up. And you don’t go in the other direction.”

Bill Russell – first as a player, then later as a player-coach, he led the Celtics to 11 championships. Inspirational quote: “The most important part of winning is joy. You can win without joy, but winning that’s joyless is like eating in a four-star restaurant when you’re not hungry. Joy is a current of energy in your body, like chlorophyll or sunlight, that fills you up and makes you naturally want to do your best.”

Bill Walsh – nicknamed “The Genius,” coached the 49ers to 3 Super Bowl wins and was named coach of the year twice. Inspirational quote: “Failure is part of success, an integral part. Everybody gets knocked down. Knowing it will happen and what you must do when it does is the first step back.”

„I work for Mary Smith“

When two colleagues meet and the one asks the other what they do in the company, it is typical for Americans to state who their boss is: „Oh, I work for Mary Smith.“ The next statement might be: „in the new product marketing“ or „in global supply chain“ or „in corporate finance.“

Americans work outwards from their work, their team, the organization in which the team is imbedded, and so on. It is also common in the U.S. to hear the statement that „your most important customer is your boss.“

American team leads have influence and power over their team: strategy, organizational structure, roles and responsibilities, and, of course, compensation and professional development. The relationship with the team lead is for the team member a very important one. It influences them very personally.

That working relationship, however, can also be one which extends beyond the workplace to their private lives. It‘s common for American colleagues to be friends, close friends, friends who do things together, whose spouses and children know each other. Americans mix their work and private lives. This can include the boss.

In fact, many Americans would say that the ideal team is made up of capable people, who work hard, support each other, reach their business goals, but in addition know and like each other outside of  work. Colleague and friend. Boss and friend.

Team Lead as Defender

Team leads are also expected to defend the team against criticism, whether internal or external. The lead is „out in front“, shielding the team from attack, „taking personal ownership“ of the problems. An American team lead does this also out of self-interest. For any and all criticism of the team is direct criticism of that team lead. „Your success is my success“ has an opposite. „Your failure is my failure.“

To „take ownership means“ to take responsibility for one’s actions; not blaming others. To „take the heat“ means to listen and accept criticism or blame. Take „the bull by the horns“ means to confront a problem head-on, as it is, and deal with it openly.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”, John Quincy Adams – America‘s sixth president, 1825-1829.

“No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit for doing it.”, Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919), an American industrialist who led the expansion of the American steel industry in the late 19th century and who was one of the highest profile philanthropists of his era, whose 1889-article on wealth remains a major advisory for those who aspire to lead philanthropic lives.

“Your success is my success“

It is difficult for Americans to see the relationship between team lead to team member as anything but personal. This for three reasons.

“Your success is my success.” Every American team-lead thinks this, and often says this, to their team members. For it is literally true. The team lead’s success or failure is dependent on her team’s success or failure. Co-dependence is by definition personal.

An American team lead sees himself as coach, mentor, in some cases perhaps even as friend. Each of these roles – in sports, education, relationships – is deeply personal.

Finally, Americans consider it to be next to impossible to have a working relationship between lead and team which is purely business, objective, impersonal. In fact, Americans would not want to work in such an atmosphere. In the U.S. feedback talks, both formal and informal, are personal.

But, in Germany, also. The approach, the logic, the shared operating assumptions are different, however. The more objective, impersonal and neutral the feedback, the more accurate, fair, therefore helpful it is.

“I want you to succeed. Therefore, I will be as clear, analytical and precise as possible.” The German team lead seeks to take herself and the working relationship out of the equation. The focus is on what the company is trying to achieve and the team member’s important role within it. This is neither about her as lead or about their personal relationship.

Fair Critical Feedback

Germans consider critical feedback to be unfair if it does not include concrete recommendations on how to improve on weaknesses. They believe that people can only improve on what they understand to be suboptimal. Critial feedback, the Germans believe, should therefore be communicated clearly, avoiding any use of politically correct language.

The more objective and impersonal the critical feedback is stated, the less chance it will be taken personally. Feedback experts in Germany go as far as to view personal relationships within teams as a barrier to honest, effective feedback. They often recommend neutral third parties to facilitate particularly critical feedback discussions.

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