The H.R. Doctor Is In
The Agonies and
the Ecstasies of Public Service
successfully and joyfully through life involves three major
dimensions - personal, family and community. Without
paying attention to all three, and without taking deliberate
steps to nurture and protect each of them, any human being
will lose a sense of balance and will ultimately be unhappy,
die prematurely and live unfulfilled.
Even if a person, such as an
elected official, is eminently successful in one of the three
dimensions, for example, community service, but is
unsuccessful or miserable in terms of self respect, or
appreciation of family, that person will generally not be one
you want your son or daughter to date, marry or grow old with.
Nor would you want that person watching your pets while you
After 30 years in the "people"
business, working with thousands of elected and appointed
officials, 150 published articles, and speaking and teaching
opportunities around the country, the HR Doctor has seen 10
principles surface over and over again in different settings
and with widely diverse people. Pay attention to these 10
principles, apply them to the dimensions of self, family and
community, and watch what happens to your life.
first is borrowed directly from the "personal protection" or
security business. This is the business of the Secret Service
or the British Royalty and Diplomatic Protection Service. It
is the fundamental principle of "avoiding action at the
scene." In other words, take reasonable precautions in the way
you live your life, and the way you interact with others to
prevent trouble from happening in the first place.
the physical level, this means something as simple as always
using your seat belt, always wearing your helmet if you ride a
motorcycle, or not driving when you are impaired. It means not
keeping a loaded firearm in your house.
also has another personal dimension "avoiding
action at the scene" in your own body.
attention to your health. If you smoke, stop it! If you
havent seen a doctor for a major health "baseline checkup,"
make the appointment today Ð no, dont put it off until
tomorrow do it today. If you are terribly
overweight, take steps to reduce the many risks obesity brings
for your own health.
Avoiding action at the scene
certainly means doing your daily work and activities so that
other people are inspired and pleased with the results
whenever possible. In effect, by avoiding action at the scene,
you also achieve a second personal-protection objective:
"Putting off the day when something bad happens."
second and third powerful principles for success are first
cousins to one another. They involve
"anomalies" things which produce unexpected
outcomes, things which are not supposed to happen, or things
that are surprising to you.
all have a sixth sensory organ in our body, generally located
just below the stomach. It starts thumping or pulsing when
something dangerous or seriously wrong is about to happen. Try
yours out by a visit in the dark of night to a walk-up ATM
machine. See what happens when you hear a footstep behind
effect, the sixth sense is the "anomaly detector." When
something doesnt come out the way we thought it would, there
is a message for us in the unexpected outcome. The message can
be a very positive one, or negative and dangerous.
the positive side, we must stop and remember that the real way
we make progress in science, in art, or in society is often by
trying something, failing in the effort, and then looking at
the result to try again in ways which take advantage of what
we learned the first time. In other words, failure is a better
teacher than success!
third and perhaps the most powerful lesson of all is the
importance of how you react when something is not right. The
HR Doctor strongly recommends that you have the phrase "Dont
Walk by Something Wrong!" tattooed to the inside of your
eyelids. That way, every time you close your eyes for a good
night sleep or an instant blink you will see that message
repeating itself. Whether personally, in our families, or in
our communities, perhaps the biggest mistakes we make is
seeing something that we could improve, something terrible,
something wasteful or something tragic and then walking on by
without stopping and helping to create a solution. Dont be a
walking by person in distress. Be a positive intervener to
help improve a tough situation or problem.
of the HR Doctors favorite principles for success is
summarized best by the phrase "Dont Postpone Joy." Live as
though today may be your very last day on this earth. How
often do we wish we could have taken our now deceased mom or
dad out to dinner while they were alive, but we just never
did? We were just too busy with what we thought were important
meetings, chores at home, or the latest episode of "World
Wrestling." Unfortunately, for many people its too late to
turn back the clock.
What you can do is find joy and
seize the opportunity to experience it personally, and to
share it. Whether it is an unexpected pleasant surprise for
your staff members, such as taking them all to lunch,
celebrating a graduation, a service anniversary, or something
on a smaller scale, such as putting down the chores long
enough to go on a walk with your child, or handing a surprise
bouquet of flowers to your spouse. If we dont seize the
opportunity to surgically implant joy into our day-to-day
life, we will wake up moments after we are dead and realize
how much our lives were cluttered in lost opportunities. That
need never be the case with you Ð especially after reading
this article and remaining awake while doing it!
great contribution to this article by Isaac Newton in the 17th
century was to articulate the "laws of motion" for public
administrators as well as physicists. We need to remember the
first law of motion in Newtonian physics the law
of inertia "a body at rest will tend to remain at rest unless
acted on by an outside force."
Bureaucracy is full of inertia.
In fact, it was designed in the first place to create a world
of rules and regulations, of safeguards and protections, of
entitlements and rights. The U.S. Constitution was designed
deliberately to be full of checks and balances so that no one
person nor group could trample over the rights of other people
in a representative democracy. Now, as we fast forward over
200 years later, we realize how successful, overly successful,
we were at applying Newtons first law.
is innovation which brings progress - innovation often
learned from failed initial efforts. It is innovation that
turns deserts to vineyards and can harness technology for
good. Yet inertias main ally is the laziness that infects us
when we are too worried about taking a reasonable
risk so we take none.
Elected officials can do
considerable damage when they forget they were elected, among
other things, to bring about positive change. Positive change
wont happen easily and it wont happen if our thinking and
acting is retarded by the worries that we can never change a
system, and that some things "always stay the same." Anyone
who feels that way should immediately step back and listen to
a rebroadcast of the "I had a dream speech" by Dr. Martin
Luther King Jr., or should consider the contribution made by
Nelson Mandela in changing a evil system many thought could
not be changed.
all three dimensions of family, community and individual,
inertia is among our very worst enemies. It prevents you from
getting on with finally going back to school to get the
college degree you never had. It prevents you from taking the
risk of running for office in the first place or trying to
make a better community by supporting what some would regard
as an unpopular position.
Learn to recognize when you are
spending too much of your life counting paper clips. By paying
attention to the infection caused by inertia, we stand a
better chance of overcoming its effects. The answer to inertia
is a deliberate search for innovation.
more principles are closely related, one involves teaching and
learning. "Find Thyself a Teacher." Always strive to learn new
skills, whether the skill is a desire to learn to tap dance,
play the trumpet, or speak Spanish, it doesnt matter. This
would be a good time in your life, no matter what time it is,
to learn and apply a new skill.
This learning principles first
cousin is the joy of being a "Renaissance person." A person of
diverse interests and knowledge is not only a great dinner
companion, but a person who will contribute to a better
society in many amazing ways. Learning new skills is as easy
as finding a teacher and owning up to the fact that you have
always wanted to learn to play the clarinet and asking someone
to teach you how.
genetic clone of the "Find Thyself a Teacher" principle is the
idea of being a teacher. Dont waste your knowledge by not
sharing it with others. Be a mentor. Yes, it takes some time.
Yes, you have many other appointments and things to do, but
coming up with those excuses all the time begins approaching
the unfortunate habit we have developed to an expert level in
the United States - whining.
The two words, "thank" and "you" are not used enough
in our world.
Take deliberate action to use those words
a world where tens of thousands of children lack one or both
parents, go out and be a mentor or a Big Brother or a Big
Sister. Host an exchange student from another part of the
world. What a great way to make a positive difference. Do it
right in your office by teaching or sharing your experience,
including your failures, with the staff around you. Be a
zealot for staff development and set a clear standard of
expectation that others in the organization will follow in
their own daily living and working.
Alfredo Pareto, a 19th century
economist, articulated an extraordinarily amazing principle we
have come to know as the "80/20 Rule" or the "Rule of the
Vital Few." Learn to harness this amazing principle. Most
things in life are trivial; few things in life are vital.
People that can identify the vital in their lives and focus
energy on enhancing those elements of day-to-day living will
be successful and happy.
Those who are mired in minutia
and play Trivial Pursuit¨ with the precious hours
of their lives will be missing out on so much. They may not
even realize it until it is too late. Paretos principle is a
powerful lesson for every one of us if only we would take the
time to "hear" the message and act on it.
two words, "thank" and "you" are not used enough in our world.
Take deliberate action to use those words regularly. Find ways
to thank people you care about including the people you work
with. Appreciate, recognize and honor their achievements. That
is a far more important activity for a supervisor or executive
than jumping right in and attacking colleagues when they make
Finally, perhaps the most
important single principle that can guide your success as an
elected or appointed official goes to the heart of a dangerous
tendency in our country Ñ our tendency to whine excessively,
to complain and the blame others.
This whining behavior is
especially unfortunate considering how much we have in terms
of wealth and opportunity. Dont become a perennial guest on
the Jerry Springer Show! The great principle here is to not
fall victim to arrogant pride - what the Greeks call
"hubris." Arrogance is the greatest danger of all - our
"public enemy number one" and personal enemy number one. It
hurts us as individuals and it hurts us as a community, as
parents, and as a country.
Hubris turns great opportunity
into failure because arrogance leads to a feeling of
complacency and defensiveness when it comes to innovation and
These 10 powerful principles in
this article are offered to you as a gift. However, the HR
Doctor does not operate an after-sale "returns window". Dont
give them back to me. Think long and hard about them. Think
about them on a long walk with some person or canine, like
Kamala, "the HR dog" whose company you enjoy. Then share them
with others. Any questions? Of course there are!
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