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September 21, 2012

SUSTAINABLY SPEAKING – Commentary by Jay Newman

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Written by: Bruce Snook
Jay Newman

The Many Skills Needed by Leaders Part VII:


Every action we take produces outcomes.  We can also consider these outcomes to be consequences.  Some of the consequences of our actions are intended and some are not.  All of these consequences provide us with feedback regarding the effectiveness of our actions.  If we get what we hoped we would get, then our actions were effective.  If we don’t get what we hoped for, our actions were relatively ineffective.

It is always quite amazing to observe the number of people who continue to engage in the same activities, over and over again, while expecting quite different results than what they always get.  Einstein is noted to have commented that this is what constitutes insanity; doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.

The part of the process that most people miss is the feedback.  Living systems are full of feedback loops.  If no food enters the digestive system the acid naturally found in the stomach stimulates the nerve endings in the stomach sending a message to the brain that says I’m hungry.  When food enters the stomach the acid is busy and the message is interrupted. This is one of thousands of feedback loops that control our daily lives.

There are similar feedback loops that affect our behavioral processes.  If we put our hand on a hot pan on the stove the pain message rushes to our brain and our reflexes make us take our hand away quite quickly.  We soon learn that such an action is harmful so change our behavior.  When we interact with people however, we often get quite stubborn about how we do things and expect other people to change instead of changing ourselves.  If the way people react to our behavior is the social equivalent to grabbing a burning hot pot with our bare hands, why would we ignore the feedback? We have a choice.  We can choose to pay attention to the messages we are receiving.

How carefully do we consider the feedback that is all around us?  Do we analyze it and evaluate our effectiveness based on that feedback.  If we are truly honest with ourselves, we will carefully consider 4 key aspects of our leadership efforts. It begins with knowing what it is we really want to accomplish.  Next we have to do something to try to get to our desired endpoint.  Now comes the feedback—how effective were our efforts in either attaining the desired outcomes or in moving us significantly closer to that outcome?  Finally, based on that assessment of effectiveness, what plans should be implemented to either improve our effectiveness or to sustain our progress?

We have condensed this into an easy to remember acronym: WDEP.  Sort of like a radio station’s call letters; WDEP.  What is it you really WANT?  What are you DOING to get it?  What’s your EVALUATION of your progress? (How’s that working for you?) And finally; what’s your PLAN for being more successful in the future?


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