[Early Spring 2015] The Envelope, Please

It’s a time of year when even the most distant observer notes that winners are separated from something referred to as losers. Who you are can be confused with what you’ve won (lately).

College bowl games, Super Bowl, Golden Globe, Writers Guild of America, Grammys, Oscars – all proclaiming who is/was hot, and maybe by inference, who is not.

Barack Obama got into the act with his January State of Union address noting that his campaigning days were over – eliciting cheers from Republicans – followed by a telling tally – “I should know because I’ve won both of them.

While at least in sport and elections there’s a scorecard or ballot total to give you a sense of relative “merit,” the contests of envelopes – think employee of the year or a high school’s boy and girl of the month – only tell you who got selected, not how they got there.

The fact that you’ve won or lost tells very little about you and your accomplishments but rather is simply a brief snapshot in time of what people think you did.

Julianne Moore, Sigourney Weaver, Samuel Jackson, Glenn Close, Ralph Fiennes, Robert Redford, Harrison Ford, Peter O’Toole, Richard Burton and John Malkovich share something in common; none have been awarded an Oscar for acting. All have / had terrific careers.

Angela Duckworth’s research on success leans heavily toward perseverance – grit is her term. Carol Dweck’s findings are similar – perseverance and multiple strategies.

At my son’s grade school a near-teen or teen age girl asking “An envelope please” at the front reception desk is code for “May I have a sanitary napkin?” even if they really want a real envelope.

Sometimes an award – the envelope please – can be the same thing. You get what you asked for – something that may turn out to be not what you expected.

And envelope competition winners? Sometimes maybe just great timing and luck.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” You can also read an online interview with me

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Did You Leave Fingerprints?

English: Fingerprint

Glenn Murphy resigned his CEO role with Gap, Inc. effective February 1, 2015. While I don’t know Murphy, I do know one thing about his 8-year stint at the Gap: Murphy left “fingerprints.” Murphy was brought at a time when Gap was generally described as “adrift” and “without focus.” While financial results were mixed during his […]

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[Life Back West] Autumn 2014 – Meet You at the Quad?

English: Quad at Willamette University

It’s a familiar refrain on many a college campus and more than just a few companies: “meet you at the Quad?” A line tagged to a place and a time, it routes you to the familiar where you can bank on connecting with the right people at interesting times. It’s also the place where more often than not serendipity […]

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Words versus Deeds

“The smallest deed is better than the greatest intention.” – John Burroughs #471126345 / gettyimages.com      

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The Problem with Values


Many organizations proudly tout them. But are value statements worth the time taken to write them? Here are some examples: “Observe and preserve our core values of open communication, empowerment, inclusion, integrity, and trust.” (Cisco) “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.” (Boy Scouts of America) “Explore, enjoy and protect the […]

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The Litmus Test: Would Donald Sterling Work Here?

I heard Tim Wise speak yesterday regarding race, gender, and the bagful of what gets summarized as diversity and inclusion. #74716269 / gettyimages.com Wise was forceful, funny and spot-on. Sample lines: “If race is a card (e.g. “race card”) it’s a two of diamonds” and “Some execs like to colorize their organizations the ways Ted Turner […]

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