Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I've moved!

Thanks for following my posts here. I have a brand new site, www.bretlsimmons.com

Please visit me and subscribe to my posts there.



Friday, June 19, 2009

Senator John Ensign: My two cents worth

I live in Nevada, so news that one of our US Senators, John Ensign, had an extra marital affair is big news. Senator Ensign was a rising star in his party, holding a top leadership post until he resigned it soon after admitting publicly to his affair.

So let me state the obvious – Senator Ensign screwed up. He made a terrible decision that showed tremendous lack of foresight, judgment, and respect for the people of Nevada that trusted him to have the integrity to represent them and advocate for their best interests. The leadership issue here is that he somehow felt exempt from the standards he rightly held others to. Unfortunately, that seems to be a pretty pervasive phenomenon these days.

He needs to hold himself accountable for his behavior, which in my opinion he appears to be doing. And we need to make sure he is held accountable.

Beyond that, we need to forgive the guy and move on to monitoring his job performance. Do good people do bad things? Of course they do. I do, you do, and we all do. Anyone that denies this is a big a hypocrite as Senator Ensign was when we was involved in his affair.

I don’t think the guy should be forced to resign unless we discover a broader pattern of bad judgment and behavior on his part. But the citizens of Nevada should give serious consideration to whether or not they want this guy to be a role model for leadership when he comes up for re-election.

Enough said – for now.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Courage: An example

Ever heard of Paris Welch Romero?

Me neither.

But I just read about her in the Wall Street Journal and thought she was a perfect example of someone with real courage. The link to the article can be found here.

She called out the mortgage mess long before it happened and wrote a letter to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) sounding the alarm. Her concerns fell on deaf ears, both with the OCC and her employer.

Ms. Romero went on questioning loans made to borrowers who could show no income, had lousy credit, or didn't put a nickel down. But she was rebuffed by her employer and eventually laid off. Her comments to the OCC had little impact on
her life. (WSJ article)

She goes on to say that mortgage CEOs "lied". Of course they did. But it took the collusion of a lot of folks with no courage to let them get away with it. People that should have spoken up did not. Yea, I know they were under pressure, just like Ms. Romero, but that is no excuse.

At the end of the article she is quoted as saying: "We have a complicated world structure that we are undermining. We need to impart integrity into our economy," she said.

Our economy won't get integrity until our leaders get integrity.

And our leaders won't get integrity until WE get integrity. We must accept responsibility and hold our leaders and ourselves accountable.

There is no one to blame (Peter Senge).

Give yourself permission

I’ve had several blog posts that reference Tina Seelig’s excellent book What I wish I knew when I was 20. The most recent one was her observation that the primary barriers to success are self-imposed - I strongly concur.

The book is great, and I highly recommend it. If you don’t want to know the punch line, click away now because I am getting ready to share with you the most important thing she wished she knew when she was 20 (ok, so I already gave it away in the title to this post). Here it is:

Give yourself permission to challenge assumptions, to look at the world with fresh eyes, to experiment, to fail, to plot your own course, and to test the limits of your abilities (p. 175).

Wow, let’s all stand up and give Tina a big “HELL YES!”

Over time I’ve become aware that the world is divided into people who wait for others to give them permission to do the things they want to do and people who grant themselves permission. Some look inside themselves for motivation and others wait to be pushed forward by outside forces. From my experience, there’s a lot to be said for seizing opportunities instead of waiting for someone to hand them to you. (p. 57).

Are you waiting for someone to give you permission to pursue a life of excellence and abundance? If so, why would you do that?

Give yourself permission to move beyond your comfort zone, take risks, and go for opportunities. It is never too late to start, but the clock is ticking.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Service-Profit Chain

When I get a chance to do corporate training, I will often ask the group of managers to write their answers to these two questions:

· What is the one thing that should probably be the top priority of most businesses? Put another way, what matters the most to a business – to your business?
· How do you get or accomplish what matters most? Put another way, if you are the owner or manager of a business, what is the most important thing you should be doing on a daily basis to accomplish your top priority?

Do you think all managers in the room write the same thing? No way. One of the obvious implications is that they are not on the same page at work.

I get a variety of answers to the question “what matters most?” The first thing most groups mention is profit. Some of the other common responses are customer service, quality products, and employee morale. But I rarely hear the answer I am looking for- growth. (By growth I mean growth through excellence and not growth through acquisition.)

If money does not hit the top line, it will NEVER hit the bottom line.

You can take that to the bank. Too many managers are managers of costs, the line items, and they forget the one line that matters the most – the TOP line.

I saw the service-profit chain years ago and immediately bought into its logic. Please understand this is not a “universal law” that applies in all industries all the time (e.g. airlines, WalMart), but for many businesses, especially small business, it does apply very well. Here is how the logic flows:

· The priority of a business should be growth through excellence.
· The key to growth is loyal customers. If we don’t have customers, we don’t have revenue. It’s MUCH less expensive to keep an existing customer than to get a new one.
· The key to customer loyalty is customer satisfaction. Satisfied customers are those whose expectations have been met. But a strategy of customer satisfaction is competitive mediocrity because a simply satisfied customer is indifferent – they are open to being retrained by our competition about what to expect. Instead we want to strive to exceed our customers’ expectations – impress their socks off and delight them. That is competitive excellence, and it does not happen by chance but by purposeful design.
· It is our employees that impress or disgust our customers – not us as managers. We can’t get employees to impress your customers by policy alone.
· If we are constantly turning over employees, we are barely in a position to satisfy our customers, let alone impress them.
· Satisfied and committed employees are more likely to stay with us. These employees are in the best position to impress our customers.
· Internal service quality – meeting and exceeding the expectations of our employees – is the key to ensuring they are satisfied and committed. It is sheer folly to think that employees that are disgusted with us will then go out and impress our customers. Only delighted employees produce delighted customers.
· The key to internal service quality is not policy but system design. As managers, we experiment with the systems we control – hiring, training, rewards, job design, etc – for the purpose of improving employee attitudes.

So, what is the number one thing we need to do on a daily basis if we want to grow our business?

Take care of and impress our employees.

And we expect this to work its way through better employee attitudes, retained employees, delighted customers, loyal customers, higher revenues, and healthier profits.

Because I believe so strongly in the logic of the service-profit chain, it suggests that I should practice a very specific style of leadership. Stay tuned, I’ll talk more about that in future posts.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The primary barriers to success are self-imposed.

The title of this post is a quote from Tina Selig’s book What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20 (p.67). I like this book, so much so that I am going to make it one of the required readings for a new course I am developing on Entrepreneurial Psychology. I included a quote from Tina’s book in my previous blog post on quitting your job.

I strongly agree that most of the barriers to abundant living, however you define abundance, are between our ears. We are capable of doing incredible things once we decide we want to do them. That doesn’t mean that we won’t experience resistance, failure, and pain along the way, but real excellence can only be experienced once we decide to do something different, something other people are not willing to do. Excellence is a form of purposeful deviance.

Tina goes on to say this:

If you want a leadership role, then take on leadership roles. Just give yourself permission to do so. Look around for holes in your organization, ask for what you want, find ways to leverage your skills and experiences, be willing to make the first move, and stretch beyond what you’ve done before. There are always opportunities waiting to be exploited. Instead of waiting to be asked and tiptoeing around an opportunity, seize it. It takes hard work, energy, and drive – but these are the assets that set leaders apart from those who wait for others to anoint them. (p.70)

Do this because it is the right thing to do, both for yourself and for those around you; however, don’t expect all around to stand and applaud. Be prepared for many of those around you to discourage you. But don’t use any of this an excuse to wrap yourself in the safety and comfort of conformity and mediocrity.

Press on.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Entitlement vs. Responsibility

I hear a lot these days about the so called millennial generation, young people born between 1980 and 2000. In our workplaces, that would be the folks under 30. There are a lot of people out there claiming expertise on how to market to and manage millennials. The assumption is that this group is fundamentally and even radically different than everyone else. In my professional opinion, the hype far exceeds the scientific evidence, but that’s nothing new.

Entitled is one of the most common terms I hear used to describe these young folks. To be honest, I’ve used it myself to describe an attitude I see amongst my students. A fair number of them want all of the rewards but as little as possible of the accountability for effort and performance that comes with the rewards.

But I’m not sure there is much new under the sun here. I’m sure I had a pretty similar attitude when I was 22, which is one reason why I flunked out of Oklahoma State University the first time around. And is anyone familiar with the parable of the Prodigal Son?

And in all fairness, I continue to meet some of the most brilliant, impressive, and inspiring young people I have ever met in my life. It is an honor to spend time with them and to have the opportunity to shape their thinking on things that really matter (e.g. leadership).

I like to contrast the rhetoric of entitlement with the rhetoric of responsibility.

Entitlement comes from an attitude of “don’t you know who I am?” It is inherently egocentric because it begins by making sure that others know who you are and what you are entitled to. Once others recognize who you are, then you are free to “name and claim” your proper privileges and rewards.

The rhetoric of entitlement sounds like this: “I am an adult, so you need to treat me like one.” Some of the implicit ideas that follow are “I can do what I want to do,” “You need to do what I want you to do,” "You need to engage me," and “I’m the boss, you are not.”

In contrast, responsibility begins with the assumption that “you will know who I am when you see what I do.” It begins and ends with a drive to do the right thing and has little concern for title or status. It is inherently purposeful rather than egocentric.

The rhetoric of responsibility sounds like this: “I will do what needs to be done because it is the right thing to do.” The implicit ideas that follows are “judge me on the merits of my behavior,” and "I will engage with you."

When you behave consistent with the rhetoric of responsibility, people come to the correct conclusions:

You are an adult.

You are a leader.

Don't tell me who you are and what you think you deserve - show me.

The Sigmoid Curve and the Paradox of Change

I love Charles Handy’s work (e.g. The Age of Paradox). In earlier blog posts I have shared his thoughts about sensible organizational behavior and his wonderful story about The Road to Davey’s Bar, which is a parable of change. His thinking on the sigmoid curve is burned in my brain, and I promised I would share it with you, so here goes.

The sigmoid curve – or S-curve – is really about the nature of change in general. The s-curve is often used to illustrate how change affects technology or product life cycles, but I think it applies to any system where we are interested in performance over time, including our own personal performance or career progression.

Things start slow in the beginning. For a while it may even seem like we made a bad decision or started down the wrong path. Then at point A, things start to take off. From point A to point B is a period of accelerating growth and performance. But at point B, we begin to experience the asymptotic limits to growth. And by point C, we experience the pain of inevitable decline. If we wait until point C or even point B to realize that what we are doing will no longer work, we face tremendous hardship and competitive peril.

Luckily, there is life beyond the curve. The secret to constant growth is to
start a new sigmoid curve before the first one peters out. The right place to
start that second curve is at a point where there is time, as well as the
resources and energy, to get the new curve through its initial explorations and
floundering before the first curve begins to dip downward (p.51)

But there is paradox of change here. The paradox is that at the point where we NEED to be changing and switching to the technology or routines that will take us to the future, all the messages from our environment are sending us the exact OPPOSITE message – look how great we are, folks can’t get enough of what we are doing, there is no end in sight!

Our task as leaders is to not only sense the need for the second curve, but also to get others to share our understanding of the need for change and to develop a sense of urgency for a radically different future when people still want to revel in the success and comfort of the present.

As leaders, “the discipline of the second curve requires that we always assume that we are near the peak of the first curve and should therefore be starting to prepare for the second” (p.57).
The paradox of success, that what got you where you are won’t keep you where you are, is a hard lesson to learn. Curvilinear logic means starting life over again, something that gets harder as one gets older. Therefore, it is often better, in organizations, to entrust the curvilinear thinking to the next generation. It can see more clearly where the first curve is heading and what the next curve might look like. It is the job of the elders to give that cohort permission to be different, and then, when the next curve is established, to get out of the way. (p.60).
Will you lead change and take the folks you have been given the privilege to lead where they need to go? Or will change drag you around by the nose to uncomfortable and potentially perilous places? You must be able to successfully lead yourself through change and overcome it's paradox if you want to have any hope of leading others through change.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Leadership Credibility

Do you know the difference between personal credibility and leadership credibility? I want to highlight the differences in these concepts and also show how they illustrate the difference between honesty and integrity, which people often confuse. My source is a fantastic book by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner called Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose it, Why People Demand it. I think Kouzes and Posner write some of the best stuff out there on leadership.

Personal credibility means you DWYSYWD – do what you say you will do. This to me is honesty, which for a leader is absolutely necessary but not sufficient. Even a despot can have personal credibility. I’ve worked for a few people that had impeccable honesty but were not seen as good leaders. The problem was even though they were honest they were speaking and acting in ways that nobody but themselves valued.

Leadership credibility means DWWSWWD – do what we say we will do. This can only arise when leaders develop legitimate and strong relationships with followers. Leaders with leadership credibility speak and act consistent with the values of constituents. I see this as integrity, which in contrast to honesty, is values based. The leader with integrity speaks and acts in ways consistent with what we stand for and they continue to do so even when they might be under heavy pressure to do otherwise.

Forgetting the we has derailed many managers. Their actions may have been consistent only with their own wishes, not with those of the people they wanted to lead. When managers resort to the use of power and position, to compliance and command to get things done, they are not leading, they are dictating. (Kouzes & Posner, 1993).

Do you have leadership credibility - integrity? You can’t answer this question on your own. Only your followers can answer this question about you.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

How to recognize moral leaders

Last night in my Organizational Behavior class, we finished up our discussion of leadership. I am passionate about leadership, and I love teaching it, but I honestly think it is difficult for the majority of my younger students to fully appreciate how critical a proper perspective on leadership will be to their future professional and personal lives. I am of course biased, but leadership is not just another topic in the book. In all fairness, many of the older and more experienced adults I encounter also, in my opinion, lack a proper perspective on leadership.

The following quote from James MacGregor Burns comes toward the end of my presentation on leadership.

“The true test of moral legitimacy is grounded in conscious choice among real
alternatives. One way to recognize moral leaders and to guard against immoral ones is to observe if they engage in learning the true needs and values of their constituents. If they are more intent on telling than on listening, it is likely that they are up to no good.” (James MacGregor Burns, 1978)

If your leader is more intent on telling than listening, they are likely up to no good – you can take that to the bank. Well, that’s not entirely accurate; they are up to some good – their own good and not yours.

If your leader does not take the time to listen to you, for whatever reason they simply don’t care about you. And just to be clear, that is NOT a good thing. Your leader may already be manipulating you for their own self-interest. If that has not happened yet, get ready, because at some point it probably will.

Why would you want to work for someone like that? Ok, so times are tough and jobs are hard to come by, and you feel lucky to have the job you have. Just don’t use that as an excuse to rationalize your compromise with mediocrity. Start looking – now – and keep looking until you find a company that will treat you the way you deserve to be treated.

Don’t waste any more time that you have to working for idiots and assholes. Move on.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Gates on Leadership

Today, I found this text of Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ speech to the graduating class of West Point on May 24, 2009. I thought it was excellent and wanted to make excerpts from it part of my blog record. I won’t post the whole speech, but if you are interested you can find the entire speech here. This will be my longest post ever, so I apologize for deviating from my standard format.

Here are the points he makes in his speech that resonate strongly with my own philosophy of leadership:

1. Being a leader is a privilege; it does not make you privileged. Never consider yourself above those you have been given the privilege to lead or exempt from the rules they must follow.
2. Think of yourself as a resource, not the source. Always ask yourself “how can I help?”
3. Have the courage to say and do the right thing to further the shared purpose, even if no one else around you will do the same. Always see it as your responsibility to say what people need to hear, not what you think they want to hear. Fight with ever fiber of your being the insidious and pervasive phenomena of groupthink, and encourage others to do the same.
4. Be a life long learner and never consider yourself as having “arrived.” There is always something new to learn – pursue it like a dog after a bone for the purpose of improving your ability to serve those you have been given the privilege to lead.

Here is the excerpt of his speech:

"I’ve come to believe that few people are born great leaders. When all is said and done, the kind of leader you become is up to you, based on the choices you make. And in the time remaining, I’d like to talk about some of those choices, and how those choices will be shaped by the realities of this dangerous new century.

I would start with something I tell all the new generals and civilian executives that I meet with at the Pentagon. It is a leadership quality that is really basic and simple – but so basic and simple that too often it is forgotten: and that is the importance, as you lead, of doing so with common decency and respect towards your subordinates. Harry Truman had it right when he observed that one of the surest ways to judge someone is how well – or poorly – he treats those who can’t talk back.

In this country, going back to its earliest days, the American soldier has been drawn from the ranks of free citizens, which has implications for how those troops should be led and treated.

Two anecdotes from our country’s founding capture the independent thinking of the American soldier and the greatness of the Army officer who led them. During the Revolution, a man in civilian clothes rode past a redoubt being repaired. The commander was shouting orders but not helping. When the rider asked why, the supervisor of the work detail retorted, 'Sir, I am a corporal!' The stranger apologized, dismounted, and helped repair the redoubt. When he was done, he turned toward the supervisor and said, 'Mr. Corporal, next time you have a job like this and not enough men to do it, go to your Commander-in-Chief and I will come and help you again.' Too late, the corporal recognized George Washington. The power of example in leadership.

On another occasion, Washington was making his rounds and came across a Private John Brantley drinking some stolen wine. Brantley invited Washington to have a drink with him. The general declined, saying, 'My boy, you have no time for drinking wine.' Brantley responded, 'Damn your proud soul – you’re above drinking with soldiers.' Washington turned back, dismounted and said, 'Come, I will drink with you.' The jug was passed around, and as the general re-mounted, Brantley said, 'Now, I’ll be damned if I don’t spend the last drop of my heart’s blood for you.' A lesson in the independence of the American soldier and his loyalty, when treated with respect.

A second fundamental quality of leadership is doing the right thing even when it is the hard thing – in other words, integrity. Too often we read about examples in business and government of leaders who start out with the best of intentions and somehow go astray.

I’ve found that more often than not, what gets people in trouble is not the obvious case of malfeasance – taking the big bribe or cheating on the exam. Often it is the less direct, but no less damaging, temptation to look away or pretend something did not happen, or that certain things must be okay because other people are doing them; when deep down, if you look hard enough, you know that’s not true. To take that stand – to do the hard right, over the easier, more convenient, or more popular wrong – requires courage.

Courage comes in different forms. There is the physical courage of the battlefield, which this institution and this army possess beyond measure. Consider the story of Lieutenant Nicholas Eslinger, Class of 2007. He was leading his platoon through Samarra, Iraq, when an enemy fighter threw a grenade in their midst. Eslinger jumped on the grenade to shield his men. When the grenade didn’t go off, the platoon leader threw it back over the wall. And then it exploded. At the time of this incident, then-Second Lieutenant Eslinger was only 16 months out of West Point. He would later receive the Silver Star.

But, in addition to battlefield bravery, there is also moral courage, often harder to find. In business, in universities, in the military, in any big institution, there is a heavy emphasis on teamwork. And, in fact, the higher up you go, the stronger the pressure to smooth off the rough edges, paper over problems, close the proverbial ranks and stay on message.

The hardest thing you may ever be called upon to do is stand alone among your peers and superior officers. To stick your neck out after discussion becomes consensus, and consensus ossifies into groupthink.

One of my greatest heroes is George Marshall, whose portrait hangs over my desk at the Pentagon. As I said here last April, Marshall was probably the exemplar of combining unshakeable loyalty with having the courage and integrity to tell superiors things they didn’t want to hear – from 'Black Jack' Pershing to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. As it turns out, Marshall’s integrity and courage were ultimately rewarded professionally. In a perfect world, that should always happen. Sadly, it does not, and I will not pretend there is not risk. But that does not make taking that stand any less necessary for the sake of our Army and our country.

The moral principles of leadership I’ve just discussed are timeless – they apply to any military leader in any generation. So do a range of other choices you will face about the leader you aspire to become. I refer to those relating to the kind of judgment, wisdom, and mental skills – the intellectual attributes, if you will – that will be most needed to be successful as an Army leader in the 21st century.

It has always been one of the hallmarks of the U.S. military to push decision making down to the lowest possible level. In Iraq and Afghanistan, we rely on our junior- and mid-level combat leaders to make judgments – tactical, strategic, cultural, ethical – of the kind that much more senior commanders would have made a generation ago.

The Army has always needed agile and adaptive leaders with a broad perspective and range of skills. Now, in an era where we face a full spectrum of conflict – where high-intensity combat, stability, train-and-equip, humanitarian, and high-end conventional operations may be occurring in rapid sequence or simultaneously – we cannot succeed without military leaders who are just as full spectrum in their thinking. We will not be able to train or educate you to have all the right answers – as one might find in a manual – but you should look for those experiences and pursuits in your career that will help you at least ask the right questions.

Maxwell Taylor – who was an Asia specialist in the 1930s before becoming the famed commander of the 101st Airborne Division and later Army chief of staff and chairman of the Joint Chiefs – once observed of his fellow academy grads that, “The ‘goats’ of my acquaintance who have leapfrogged their classmates are men who continue their intellectual growth after graduation.

To this end, in addition to the essential troop commands and staff assignments, you should consider, and in fact embrace, opportunities that in the past were considered off the beaten path, if not a career dead end. Those might include further study at graduate school, teaching at this or another first-rate educational institution, being a fellow at a think tank, advising indigenous security forces, becoming a foreign area specialist, or service in other parts of government – all being experiences that will make you a more successful military leader in the 21st century.

In 1974, when I left the CIA mother ship to take a staff job at the National Security Council, I was told by my boss at Langley that there probably would not be a job there for me when I returned. My career as a CIA officer was considered over. So you never know when taking some risk in your career will pay significant future dividends.It is important to remember that none of what I have talked about these past few minutes is alien to the best traditions of Army leadership – particularly at times of great peril for this country:

Grant and Sherman were not exactly spit and polish soldiers – and in fact left the military for a stretch before they returned to lead the Union Army to victory. George Marshall spent 15 years as a lieutenant and never commanded a division; and Eisenhower spent years toiling in obscurity as what General MacArthur later called a “clerk” in the Philippines.

Just over a half century ago, no less an Army institution than General Eisenhower said here at West Point: “Without the yeast of pioneers, the United States Army, or any other organization of men” – and today we would add women – “cannot escape degeneration into a ritualistic worship of the status quo.” Keep Ike’s admonition in mind in the years ahead – be a pioneer in the assignments you take, the learning you pursue, the assumptions you question.

Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, reflecting on his service as a Union soldier during the Civil War, later said that “in our youth our hearts were touched with fire.” I hope that as a result of coming to this place, in the instruction you have received, and in the friendships you have formed, that your hearts, minds, and spirits have been touched in a way that will prepare you for the trial by fire that may await you.

In closing, as I said last April, know that I think of each of you as I would my own son or daughter. I feel a personal responsibility for each of you. I have committed myself and the department I lead to see that you have everything you need to accomplish your mission and to come home safely to your families and to the honor and gratitude you will have earned. Know, also, that your countrymen are grateful for your service, and will be praying for your safety and your success.

A final thought. We all seek a world at peace. After each war, we always hope we have fought the last war, the war to end all wars. I believe that such hopes ignore all of human history. I believe that for so long as we seek to be free men and women, for so long as the bright light of liberty shines, there will be those whose sole ambition, whose sole obsession, will be to extinguish that light.

I believe that only strength, eternal vigilance, and the continuing courage and commitment of warriors like you – and your willingness to serve at all costs – will keep the sacred light of American liberty shining: A beacon to all the world.
You have taken an oath to protect and defend the Constitution and we, the American people. The nation stands in awe of you. And I salute you.

Thank you."

Coping with stress

The next intentional activity from The How of Happiness is developing strategies for coping with stress. Recall from my earlier blog that it’s these intentional activities and habits that can account for as much as 40% of our happiness. The first intentional activity was expressing gratitude, the second was deliberate optimism, the third was to stop overthinking and comparing ourselves to others, the fourth was practicing acts of kindness, and the fifth was social support.

It is actually the negative response to demands at work, or distress, that we have to cope with. The positive response we can have to these same demands, or eustress, we don’t cope with but rather must learn to savor. The majority of my research has been focused on the concept of eustress.

My colleague and I use the “bathtub analogy” to illustrate how we conceptualize distress and eustress:

Two basic things are necessary to achieve a comfortable bath: the level of water
in the tub, and the temperature of that water. Two things determine the level of the water in the tub – the flow of water into the bathtub, and the flow of water down the drain over time. Similarly, both hot water and cold water flow into the bathtub simultaneously to determine the water temperature. If we compare the way stress is commonly studied to the bathtub, the current approach is like studying a bathtub with only a cold water faucet (distress). We have identified the sources of this cold water (stressors) and we can tell individuals how to either decrease the incoming flow of cold water or increase the flow of cold water out of their bathtubs (distress prevention). We also know a great deal about the physiological, behavioral, and psychological consequences of sitting in a bath of cold water for long periods of time. Herein lies the problem: a more complete model of stress should acknowledge that there are two faucets (hot and cold) and that managing both are necessary if you want to get the water level and temperature just right for a comfortable bath. Few individuals take a totally cold bath (distress) or a totally hot bath (eustress). Similarly, few, if any stressors, are appraised as purely positive or purely negative. It’s usually some combination of the two. (Nelson & Simmons, 2009).

Coping, then, deals with stock and flow of the negative things in our lives. Problem focused coping and emotion focused coping are the two most basic approaches to responding to distress. In problem focused coping, we try to manage the stressor or cause of distress. In emotion focused coping, we hope to manage our response to the stressor.

For example, I personally find it very stressful to drive on interstate highways (yes, I am odd). I don’t mind driving, and I don’t mind driving fast, but there is something about the combination of driving fast in heavy traffic that sends me out of my skin. I’m not worried about my driving – I am a great driver - it is all the other morons on the road that worry the heck out of me!

So I practice problem focused coping by avoiding driving on the interstate as much as possible. I have lived in Reno, Nevada for the past 3 years. I moved here from Fargo, North Dakota. When I moved, I had no way to avoid driving on the interstate, and I did just fine. But since I have lived here, I have only been back on the interstate to get to places in town a handful of times. Fortunately, in Reno, they have two wonderful streets called Virginia and McCarren that can get me almost anywhere in town. When I selected where I was going to buy a home in Reno, I deliberately chose an area of town where I could access my workplace without ever having to drive on the interstate.

Yet when I have to drive my daughter to California for volleyball tournaments, I cannot avoid the interstate. As a problem focused strategy, I car pool with another parent and let him do most of the driving. But when it is my turn to drive, I have to practice emotion focused coping. I realize that this anxiety is all between my ears, so I do whatever I can to take my mind off driving – e.g. engage in conversation, listen to the radio, roll down the window and feel the breeze on my face.

At work, I try to avoid the things I know from experience distress me, and when I can’t avoid them, I make the best of it and focus very hard on controlling my emotions (e.g. keep my mouth shut).

And as much as possible, I try to expose myself to the things that provide me pleasure and challenge. Back to the bathtub analogy – I prefer mine warm and invigorating.