Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

Enhancing Organizational Performance

Archive for February 2016

Absolute vs. Relative Morality

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I was raised to think of morality in an absolute sense. I think most of us were. There was right and wrong, just and unjust. It was binary. For instance, if a child was living on the street, hungry, that was not right, plain and simple. A hungry child was never discussed in a relativistic sense, in terms of it being ok if the child was less hungry than another.

We raised money for all sorts of causes back then, putting pennies and nickels into small blue collection boxes. Any spare dimes went into the March of Dimes collection boxes. When I was very young in Jackson Heights, Queens, my mom would take me and my sisters (if they were not in school) to do the food shopping rounds. Depending on the day, we went to the dairy to pick up milk in glass containers, to the fish monger, where if I remember right she leaned towards sole and haddock, the cheese shop, the butcher and the bakery. I have a recollection of not being able to get out of the cheese shop without being given a piece of Muenster or Swiss cheese to eat on the spot, a slice of salami from the butcher, or a butter cookie with sprinkles from the bakery. (The big soft chocolate chip cookies were my favorite though). Other groceries were purchased at the King Kullen store on Roosevelt Avenue, which gave green stamps, redeemable for merchandise, along with your purchase. Things were different then. Not better, not worse, just different. Morality was learned by what was taught and the behaviors at home, as well my daily interactions with and listening to the conversations of others.

Some of the shop keepers bore the tattoos of numbers on their arms, signifying that they had spent time in and were survivors of Nazi concentration camps. At that time, as a young child, I did not know what the numbers meant. Later on, as a graduate student in Ohio, I found a bakery similar to the one of my youth on Cleveland’s east side, where almost all of the people working the counter, they all looked like my grandmother, had also been branded by the Nazi’s. It was emotional for me to go there as I thought of what these people had gone through, but I went as often as I could. Every customer was patient there, no matter how long the line was and each was greeted by the women working the counter as an old friend. Years later I traveled back to Cleveland to see them again and they, like my own grandparents, were gone. These were my teachers of morality. It was not a specific class, it was not pounded into my head. The values were absorbed through my day-to-day childhood interactions.

Today, morality is seemingly taking on more of a relativistic tone. In a recent dust-up between the British and Israeli Prime Ministers, the Israeli Prime Minister and others within his cabinet, lectured the British Prime Minister on how much better the Palestinians in east Jerusalem have it than their brethren in Arab countries. One of his cabinet members also stated that the Palestinians have it better than when they were under the British mandate. All of these statements are true, but that does not make them right.

In what can only be described as a substance-free, circus or carnival barker environment the Republican Presidential primaries have come down to which candidate can out insult the other. Whichever one’s morals sink the lowest, relative to the others, whomever becomes the best insulter, will be poised to win. Any absolute sense of right or wrong on their conduct or on any issues has gone out the window as they pander to the lowest common denominator.

This is a trend that I am sensing in other sectors of our society as well. For instance, organizations today face many pressures that push them towards relativistic definitions of morality rather than absolute ones. I am a supporter of globalization, but globalization in some respects has become a race to the bottom. There are some organizations whose notions around globalization center on issues like finding a location with the loosest environmental laws, the cheapest energy no matter how dirty, the lowest taxes, or the country with the least amount of worker protection and compensation. Finding all of these things make these organizations better able to compete in the marketplace, but it doesn’t make it right. Not for all of us, and not in the long-term.

Many in the United States take pride in the notion that somehow what the USA stands for, freedom, liberty and justice for all, makes us exceptional. That exceptionalism is thought to have ushered in a level of peace and prosperity never before seen by humans. Some, perhaps many will call this notion simplistic and we can argue from here to eternity about what the absolute standards of morality should be, but I am sorry, being exceptional from a morality standpoint is not relativistic, it is absolute. It is time for all of our organizations and our leaders as well as potential leaders to start acting that way.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

February 28, 2016 at 8:20 am

Posted in Ethics

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

February 23, 2016 at 9:31 pm

Avoiding Tough Questions

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I was moved this morning when reading a piece in the paper about a 35 year old woman who was diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer.  She felt that her life was being unfairly cut short, especially given the way she had led her life, and her belief system up to that point. She felt that her religious beliefs should have protected her from illness.

The article reminded me of how people often avoid tough questions by answering for themselves simpler questions and by giving into a human tendency, a human need to have things that occur make sense, to have some sort of explanation (no matter how convoluted the logic) for what happens around us. The tough questions we avoid can be in the area of business, in politics, in religion or in other aspects of our lives.

When you see a celebrity endorser of a product, the advertiser is counting that you will not ask the tough questions of whether the product is right for you or if it is any good at all, but rather to have the well-known figure come across as an expert in which you should simply put your trust and buy the product. And that you can be like that celebrity, living the good life, if you too use the product. (Not all blame goes to the celebrity or “expert” as they have the same human short-comings of any of us and may come to believe in their own “expertise”.)

These two tendencies, avoiding the tough questions and the overwhelming need for explanations, causes us to rely on others, who we perceive as somehow expert, when forming our own judgements or making choices about a situation or event. What lulls us into this pattern? Sometimes the experts are right, sometimes they are wrong. When they are right we use that as justification for reinforcement of our belief system and when they are wrong we tend to dismiss the contradictory evidence or explain it away.

For instance, a high-profile crime occurs and rather than waiting for the evidence or asking ourselves and thinking through why the perpetrator acted the way they did, we tend to readily accept the hypothesized motives and explanations offered up by various media sources.

When a politician says “Trust me, it will be great”, they are also counting on these same decision-making tendencies to win support, rather than having people deeply probe their explanations to determine if they truly make sense. They use sound bites and count on human short-comings to garner support.

What can you do? The first and perhaps most important step before you simply accept what one person says to you, as they try to persuade you to their point of view is to slow down. The tendency to make quick decisions to process information in a knee-jerk reaction must be slowed down to enable you to make better decisions. Take a deep breath, think it through and ask yourself rather than taking it on faith, “does this truly make sense”?

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

February 14, 2016 at 9:21 am

Leadership: Lessons from the Superbowl

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Leading is easy when you win, but we’re tested when things are tough.
By Guest Blogger: Victoria Hendrickson, Ph.D.

Three weeks ago, Cam Newton led his team to victory. He was dynamic both on and off the field, fist bumping and cheering on his teammates. Afterwards, he spoke positively about his team, shared credit, and was excited for what he expected to accomplish in the Super Bowl.

But last night, when things weren’t going well, he was quiet. He stood alone, looking at the ground, staring off into space, and not interacting with his teammates. After their loss, he avoided questions, didn’t say what he would have done differently, and he couldn’t find anything positive to say. While he was quick to share credit in good times, he couldn’t keep the team’s morale up and lead when times were tough.
So what can we learn from this?
• Think about your team. How many young, ambitious technical superstars have been promoted into leadership roles?
• Occasional failure is inevitable. What separates the top companies is an ability to learn from failure, re-focus their approach, and continue on with the same passion and energy. This requires a leader who can identify the failure, name it, and keep their team together in re-focusing with a new approach.
• The ambitious, technical experts with little experience are accustomed to success – they have a lot of it. But they aren’t used to failure, and they don’t know how to lead a team through it.

If Cam Newton had led differently yesterday, would it have made a difference? Clearly, there’s no way to tell. But in business, we often have the opportunity to change our leadership style to achieve better performance. We want to hear your stories: What’s one game-changing leadership move you’ve ever made?

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

February 8, 2016 at 12:28 pm

The Problem with Experts

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Now that the primary season is in full swing, this seem appropriate to repost.

Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

Say you had a group of 100 people who put themselves forth as experts in estimating the number of gumballs in jars. Divide that group of 100 into 2 groups of 50, and asked each person within the two groups to estimate the number of gumballs in a jar. With one group of 50 treat their estimates individually, 50 individual estimates of how many gumballs are in the jar. With the second group take the 50 estimates and average them together, so you have only 1 estimate. All together you now have 51 estimates of the number of gumballs. Out of these 51 estimates, which will be closer to the actual number of gumballs, the 1 averaged estimate or one of the 50 individual estimates? The answer is that most often one of the 50 individual estimates will be closest and the average estimate will often consistently be the second…

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

February 2, 2016 at 6:42 am

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