This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, January 6, 2005

January 6, 2005 - On the Bus

Years ago I worked with a woman just a few years from retirement. Betty Lou was smart, competent, and efficient. She was also very dour.

No matter what people said to her, you could tell from her face that Betty Lou thought it was a Bad Idea. Or could you?

Aware of the way people perceived her, she bought a big poster of some animal with a fierce expression. The caption: I AM smiling. Some people have bad attitudes. Some just look like they do.

The longer I work in public organizations, the more I have learned that a positive attitude -- an optimism about the future -- is essential to accomplishment. That doesn't mean that "bad stuff" is ignored; quite the contrary.

Real obstacles, real challenges, have to be directly confronted. But you have to believe that they CAN be overcome. Otherwise, life quickly becomes an exercise in drudgery, resentment, or weary resignation. Who needs it?

Claudine Perrault, manager of our Lone Tree Library, recently sent me a book called "Good to Great." The subtitle is: "Why Some Companies make the Leap ... and Others Don't." I'm still working my way through it, but here's the big tip I've gleaned so far: the first thing all the companies that achieve greatness focus on is painfully obvious. As author Jim Collins puts it, they get the right people on the bus, and the wrong people off the bus.

There's a big cottage industry in so-called change management. How do you motivate people? How do you fight resistance to necessary change? And some of that's useful.

But when you have the right people, people who confront their issues squarely and believe that they can, and they must, be solved, most of those issues of motivation disappear. You don't have to manage people. They manage themselves.

So that would seem to divide into several strategies. The first is recruitment: find smart, energetic people who are willing to challenge their premises, make a case, and change their mind on the basis of real evidence. These are people who want the organization to succeed, and will take some risks to get there.

Second, build a culture where these people have the opportunity to engage with the deep issues. No secrets, no sacred cows, no subterranean sabotage. Everything out in the open, even (and possibly especially) failures and mistakes.

Third, get rid of the people who have to be managed. You know who they are. The ones you have to tiptoe around. The ones you've stopped inviting to meetings because all they can say is it can't be done, or that everything's fine, or that they don't want to risk what somebody might say about that!

These people hold an organization hostage to their own fears and prejudice. Left unconfronted, they necessitate all kinds of waste, pointless conflict, and mediocrity. And for this, the organization pays them!

Attitude matters.

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