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The Power of 3
Lessons in Leadership
By Steven Mays
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2016 Steven Mays
All rights reserved.
Three is Everywhere
What is your favorite number? Ask that question of a group of people and you will get a range of different answers. They are as varied as the individuals asked. My favorite number is three. I found over time that three keeps coming up in too many places for it merely to be a coincidence. Being a math major and practicing probabilistic risk assessment for many years taught me to be skeptical of coincidences. Let me give you a quirky example.
My late father's birthday was December 9th. My first son was born on December 9th. My late father-in-law's birthday was December 9th. Two people in a family with the same birthday is not all that rare. But, three is just a bit much. (There is a classic mathematical rationale why any group of 30 or more people is likely to have two people with the same birthday, but I digress.) My wife and I joke that God was trying to tell us something but we were two thick-headed to listen. When my wife came out of the bathroom holding the EPT test strip in her hand that showed she was pregnant, we were overjoyed. Then came the doctor visit for the ultrasound and not one, not two, but three babies present. Oh boy! We walked around in shock for a few days trying to figure out how we were going to handle having triplets and finally decided it was a Nike moment – Just Do It. So, on 11/11/1996 she gave birth to three wonderful children at the Franklin Square Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland.
But that wasn't the end of the eeriness. As it turns out, no one carries triplets to term these days; it is too risky. So doctors perform Caesarian Section births about a month early for safety's sake. That's right, if they had been carried to full term, they would have been born on December 9th. Now if you are humming the theme song from "The Twilight Zone" right about now, you're correct. But it gets weirder.
Franklin Square Hospital had experienced a triplet birth a few years earlier. And one of the two doctors performing our delivery was also there for the birth of that previous set of triplets. But, instead of standing by the operating table during delivery, she was on the table giving birth to triplets.
You just can't make this stuff up. So, the number three had a big impact on my psyche. The more I looked around the more I saw the number three. Here are a few examples.
1. Ever try to sit on a one-legged stool? OK, if you're a member of Cirque du Soleil you can probably do a one-armed hand stand on a one-legged stool and contort your body into unimaginable positions while beautiful music plays amid a laser light show; but most of us in the real world can't do that.
2. We live in a three-dimensional world. I have a height, width, and unfortunately more "depth" than I care to admit.
3. Christians believe in a Triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).
4. The mission statement of the U. S. Naval Academy (which we all had to memorize on our first day there) is "To develop Midshipmen morally, mentally, and physically and to imbue them with the highest ideals of duty, honor, and loyalty in order to graduate leaders who are dedicated to a career of naval service and have potential for future development in mind and character to assume the highest responsibilities of command, citizenship, and government" Notice the three sets of threes: morally, mentally, and physically; along with duty, honor, and loyalty; and command, citizenship and government.
5. Three way communication – command, echo, acknowledgment.
6. Comedy (Larry, Curly, and Moe – the Three Stooges).
7. Baseball – Three strikes and you're out; three outs per at bat.
8. Really old baseball – Tinker to Evers to Chance.
9. Music – Three Coins in a Fountain, Three Dog Night.
10. Movies – The Three Faces of Eve, The Three Amigos.
The list could go on for quite a while but you get the gist. An interesting story about one of the entries above. Some baseball historians believe that the Chicago Cubs of the early 1900s were the best team in all of baseball history. In fact, it was in 1908 that the Cubs last won a World Series title. They had an amazing double play combination during those years of shortstop Tinker, second baseman Evers, and first baseman Chance. They became famous not just for their fielding exploits, but because the Cubs were from the "Second City" of America and they kept beating the beloved Giants of New York (the undisputed First City of America). The New York sportswriters were so upset that one penned a poem that ended up cementing their legacy.
Baseball's Sad Lexicon
These are the saddest of possible words:
"Tinker to Evers to Chance."
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double –
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
"Tinker to Evers to Chance."
Leadership Lesson – Mission vs. Personality
Now you are probably wondering what this has to do with leadership, so an explanation is in order. Tinker's and Evers' feelings for one another went way beyond dislike. They despised one another. They even came to blows on the field in 1905. Nowadays, we have all seen the replays on ESPN where a fight breaks out at a ball game and both benches empty and the bullpen players rush in from the outfield, etc. Imagine the poor guys on the other team witnessing this fight. "Hey look, a fight, let's go!" cries one voice from the bench. As people begin to exit the bench a voice answers, "Wait a minute, that's Tinker and Evers fighting." "Well what are we supposed to do now?" Cue the music for "Ripley's Believe It or Not"!
If you know much about baseball, you probably know that turning the double play is one of the riskier events in a game wherein your health is totally dependent on the good will of the person trying to "break up the double play" and the person trying to provide the ball to the "turner" so they can complete the play without the need of an orthopedic surgeon. In the early days of baseball when people like Ty Cobb were notorious for coming into second base with "spikes up" (and in Cobb's case, sometimes sharpened), getting the ball there just a bit late or in the wrong spot could end a player's career. So the fact that these two players who hated each other's guts were willing to do what was necessary to win despite their personal feelings says a lot about their dedication to their team and the game.
They feuded for years and would not speak to one another except as necessary in the course of a game. Only 33 years later when both were asked to appear on a radio broadcast (where neither one knew the other was invited) did they talk to one another. This is an extreme example that it is not necessary to like everyone you work with in order to be successful. (I warned you I was a story teller.)
One principle I learned long ago is the KISS theory. "Keep It Simple, Stupid." Along a similar line, Einstein is attributed with saying "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler." when developing theories to explain the physical world. So with that in mind, and the discussion above, it should be easy to understand my fascination with the number three.
Accordingly, what follows are constructs of a leadership philosophy where the number three figures prominently. This is in no way meant to imply that three is the only number of use in leadership. However, in trying to keep things as simple as possible, but no simpler, and with apologies to Covey's "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People", John Wooden's "Pyramid of Success" (with 15 blocks and another 12 principles), Kiersey's four personality types, etc, I hope you will find these constructs to be useful in your leadership journey.
"The Power of Three" Leadership Construct involves three main areas. These are:
1. Foundational Principles - The bedrock of leadership activities that form the basis for all actions
2. Dealing with Missed Expectations – The keys to understanding how missed expectations occur and how to address them
3. Dealing with Conflict – The process of coping with and handling situations that challenge your core principles and ethics
Each of these areas will also involve three main ideas (surprise, surprise). Enjoy!CHAPTER 2
Bedrock. Foundation. Cornerstone.
These are three words one often hears in the building trades, but they are also important in leadership. In this context, they mean the unwavering, ever-present, and ever-lasting principles that form the core of a leadership ethos. And like civil engineering or architecture they build upon one another.
There is a principle in mathematics (I was a math major, so it shouldn't surprise you I use math analogies) regarding the number of independent variables necessary to define a position within a construct. These are called coordinates and there are a minimum number of coordinates necessary to describe with complete certainty and no ambiguity a particular location within the construct. In mathematics there is also a phrase used to determine the truth of an argument. The phrase is "necessary and sufficient". Necessary meaning that without the condition, the end result cannot be achieved and sufficient meaning that once reached, no additional conditions are needed.
So, let's examine a common mathematical construct, the Cartesian plane. It is named after Rene Descartes who was a French mathematician, philosopher, and lawyer (his father insisted on this training though he rarely employed it). He was the philosopher famous for the statement, "Cogito, ergo sum" (I think, therefore, I am.). Back to math, in a two-dimensional space, one needs exactly two coordinates to define any point on a plane. (In a three-dimensional space, three are needed.)
Therefore, if you wish to designate a point in a Cartesian plane, you would typically use an "x" and a "y" coordinate to designate its location from the origin. Thus, the point (1, 1) on the Cartesian plane is located one unit along the direction of the x-axis from the origin and one unit in the direction of the y-axis. They are the necessary and sufficient information needed to locate the point in the plane. But are they the ONLY coordinates for that point?
NO! A point can be described by any orthogonal set of two coordinates. For example, the polar coordinate system can also be used to reach the point (1, 1). Polar coordinates use a magnitude (length) and an angle to define the same point. The point (1, 1) in polar coordinates is ([square root of 2], 45º). One starts at the origin and moves [square root of 2] distance along an angle from the x-axis of 45º and arrives at the same point. One can remember the Pythagorean Theorem for the magnitude and basic trigonometry for the angle if desired. In fact, engineers will tell you that the ability to convert between the two is very important in any calculation involving vector addition (Cartesian) or multiplication (polar).
The point is there is more than one set of coordinates that are foundational for the Cartesian plane that are both possible and useful. I am not so foolish or so arrogant that I will lay claim that my three foundational principles for leadership are the only three that exist or are the only three that are most important. Retired Colonel Arthur Athens speaks of the three C's: Competence, Courage, and Compassion. And quite frankly I have an affinity for his approach. My foundational principles are somewhat similar, not unlike Cartesian coordinates and polar coordinates which can be derived from one another. So, without further ado, my Foundational Principles for Leadership:
Of course, you need to know what I mean by each of these terms so you can evaluate your individual situations.
HONESTY is the ability to see the world and your situation within that world AS IT IS!
Not as you would want it to be.
Not as you think it should be.
Not as it could be if those dummies in charge would see things your way.
There is a term in modern lexicon for this way of thinking, "Keepin' it real, yo!" And perhaps using the term honesty instead of realism is more dramatic, but you hopefully get the point.
Honesty, in this context is not about preventing lying, cheating, or stealing. You can find that set of triplets in honor codes at various institutions and it is an honorable pursuit. In his book, "The Road Less Traveled", Scott Peck wrote about everyone having a map of the world that one is constantly updating as new experiences and situations arise that impact life. In this context, honesty, is about having the best map possible based on your experiences and striving to understand and update that map realistically as you move forward. You need to know where you are and where you came from to better determine where to go next and how to get there. Otherwise you end up in the world of "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension" where, "No matter where you go, there you are." Or in other modern parlance, "If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there."
This definition presents many difficult issues. First, those with less experience and less reflection on that experience will be at a disadvantage because their maps may be critically incomplete when faced with a tough situation. Second, those with more experience may likely have a more accurate map, but can come to believe that their map is the only correct one and that those with less experience cannot possibly have a valid map. In any case, it is likely that any two people will have maps with some commonality as well as some differences. The key here is not to decide whose map is "right" but to determine which map is most appropriate for the situation and get as many people as plausible to operate from the same map. Having a common moral compass and a common map from which to navigate is a key test of leadership and one of the most difficult efforts leaders must undertake. But it is important that everyone in an organization have some common elements to their maps so that the direction they are heading is better understood and easier to achieve. Below is a comical example of how being on different maps can impact an organization. I have no idea how to properly attribute this passage other than to quote the great comedian Milton Berle, who was once reputed to have said, "I never heard a joke I couldn't steal."
HOW STUFF HAPPENS
In the beginning was the plan.
And then came the assumptions.
And the assumptions were without form.
And the plan was without substance.
And darkness was upon the face of the workers.
And they spoke among themselves saying,
"It is a crock of bull and it stinketh."
And the workers went unto their supervisors and said,
"It is a pile of dung and none may abide the odor thereof."
And the supervisor went unto their managers and said,
"It is a container of excrement and it is very strong, such that none may abide by it."
And the managers went unto their directors, saying,
"It is a vessel of fertilizer, and none may abide its strength."
And the directors spoke among themselves, saying to one another,
"It contains that which aids plant growth and it is very strong."
And the directors went unto the vice presidents, saying unto them,
"It promotes growth and is very powerful."
And the vice presidents went unto the president, saying unto him,
"The new plan will promote the growth and vigor of the company, with powerful effects."
And the president looked upon the plan and saw that it was good.
And the plan became policy.
Hopefully you can see that there were maps with some similarities at each step but without enough commonality to carry through the underlying message. At each level, the map changes somewhat until at the conclusion it bears no semblance to the original situation. So, eventually the opposite of what was intended came to pass. One contributing factor in this type of incident is the process of packaging (spinning) a story to please the boss out of fear of making the boss upset. In his 14 principles for improving business efficiency, Deming's eighth principle was "Drive out fear, so that everyone can work effectively." This is equally true in leadership because a valid map is difficult to produce when fear is injected into the process. This type of problem (different maps and different spin) also feeds into "The Abilene Paradox" made famous by Professor Jerry Harvey of The George Washington University who discusses how false agreement is the more common (and disastrous) feature of some organizations rather than turmoil brought about by internal disagreements.
Excerpted from The Power of 3 by Steven Mays. Copyright © 2016 Steven Mays. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Three is Everywhere, 1,
Foundational Principles, 6,
Dealing with Missed Expectations, 22,
Dealing with Conflict, 26,
Probability Theory, 33,
Leadership Versus Authority, 38,
What Is The Opposite Of Love?, 41,
What Do Leaders Do?, 44,
What Is Leadership?, 47,
About The Author, 51,