When the Snow Melts
The Dave Matthews Band has sold more than 30 million albums making it one of the highest-selling music acts of all time. The band’s original trio was formed in 1991 after David John Matthews, then working as a bartender in Charlottesville, Virginia, was convinced to record some songs he had written and reached out to a local drummer and saxophonist who captivated his attention for help. Their 1994 debut album, Under the Table and Dreaming, spawned international fame for the group, going six-times platinum. Two years later the band reached the apex of its popularity with the album Crash. One of that album’s songs, #41, reveals an important truth Matthews discovered in the midst of his celebrity:
I will go in this wayDave Matthews Band
And find my own way out . . .
All at once, the ghosts come back
Reeling in you now . . .
Remember when I used to play for
All of the loneliness that nobody
Notices now . . .
I’m only this far
And only tomorrow leads the way . . .
The lyrics describe a revelation that Matthews had about greed–a corollary of fame.
One individual in particular who distressed Matthews was his attorney and former manager, Ross Hoffman, who he considered not just a business associate, but a trusted friend and mentor. Following the band’s success, Hoffman sued the group for a share of the profits of their early songs. Matthews elaborated on his inspiration for the song that was drawn from this and other similar experiences in an interview with Rolling Stone:
I was thinking about where I come from, and why I wrote songs…and how I was now in this situation where those things that I’d done, I so loved, had now suddenly become a source of incredible pain for me. Suddenly there’s all this money and people pulling, asking, ‘Where’s mine?’ The wild dogs come out. The innocence of just wanting to make music was kinda overshadowed by the dark things that come along with money and success.… so it’s a song about looking back, but at the same time, a song that’s still adamantly looking forward.
Matthew’s experience is not unique insofar as people we thought we knew and understood are sometimes turned right-side up—meaning their true character was not immediately apparent. Of course, this is not always the case as reputations often proceed individuals based on the virtues with which they most frequently act upon. Abraham Lincoln, for instance, who is consistently ranked by historians as one of the greatest U.S. presidents, was nicknamed “Honest Abe” when he ran a general store in New Salem, Illinois and was said to be consistently fair in both his professional and personal dealings. Whether the keeper of a shop or president of the country, Lincoln comported himself the same–never acting out of spite or punishing for the sake of punishment. He focused, instead, on advancing objectives always helping those who sought to serve those ends.
The U.S. Army’s leadership formula emphasizes three broad principles–be, know, do. The “be” precept relates to personal integrity, meaning leaders gain authority from the strength of their character. The “know” refers to the competence that leaders must hold so that they can gain and maintain the trust of their soldiers. The “do” principle requires leaders use their integrity and knowledge to take decisive action in the pursuit of accomplishing the organization’s goals. The military, thus, recognizes the overarching importance of character and, in fact, character is shown to be paramount, whether applied to the entertainment industry, politics, the private sector, or public service. Deciphering which individuals, however, have that moral fiber can prove critical in helping managers achieve short- and long-term objectives, at both the organization and individual-employee level. Given its wide-ranging importance, is there a blueprint that court managers can use to recruit and retain those individuals who are in accord with the “be, know, do” philosophy? If there are no guideposts that help managers portend which persons possess the desired character, are there telltale signs that can aid the manager in differentiating the “wild dogs” from the “Honest Abes”?
Toni invited me to stop by for some tea after having a light dinner following some new hire interviews I had been conducting. She planned to meet me out, but mentioned she was making a lavish dessert dish that she couldn’t trust her husband, Jack, to monitor while she was away even for a short while.
“It’s open,” Toni exclaimed from inside her home after I rang the doorbell. She usually greeted her guests at the door, but I guessed she had her hands full.
As I walked in and made my way through the foyer and into her kitchen, true to her word, there was a large pot on the stovetop and the smell of what reminded me of hot chocolate filled the air. Her home had an open floor plan so that the kitchen was not separated from the adjoining sitting area and family room. If such a thing exists, Toni was the consummate multitasker. Spanish Jazz was playing and although I wasn’t familiar with the artist, the sound was soothing–a perfect complement to what Toni was up to during this early evening hour. While staying attentive to her dessert recipe, she was sitting in an armchair that was catty-cornered in the family room knitting a blanket. She had not yet put many hours into it because the relatively small swathe barely extended half way down her lap.
“Perfect timing,” she said as I entered the room. “Do me a favor, and stir that pot.”
“Sure thing.” As I lifted the lid of the pot, I was immediately struck by the intense cocoa additive emanating from the steam that was released. It looked like a very dense and dark-colored pudding that was slowly boiling. Small bubbles percolated to the surface and popped like the top layer of an active volcano. “What is it that you’re making here? Smells great–looks like chocolate pudding.”
“It’s called sanguinaccio.”
“San-gui-naccio?” I repeated trying to pronounce it correctly.
“Yes–would you like to try some? There are small bowls of it already cool in the fridge. It’ll go great with the spiced chai that I’ve brewed for us.”
“You could go ahead and shut that off.”
I opened the refrigerator and there were about a dozen small glass bowls of sanguinaccio covered with clear plastic wrap. Each had a small spattering of crushed walnuts in the center. “Would you like one as well?” I asked.
“No thank you–I’ve already taste-tested it for the folks I’m expecting tomorrow.”
“Family from overseas—they’ll be staying for a few weeks.”
“Here? With you?”
“I wouldn’t have them stay in a hotel.”
“Of course. Why would you have them stay in a hotel when they can crash here–in your home–for almost a month? What was I thinking.” I stated sarcastically.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way.” Toni retorted. She placed the swathe down on the chair and walked over to the table to join me. She began pouring the tea when I asked, “So what’s in this pudding?”
“Try it first and then I’ll tell you,” she said with a slight grin.
“Umm–now you’ve got me worried.”
“There’s nothing to worry about. The easiest way to be adventurous in life is through your food. It’s similar to Spanish morcilla–and that’s why I’ve made it for my hotel guests.”
“Ha–well that’s all fine and good, but I don’t know what’s in mor-cilla either. But I’ll try it because I trust you.” I took a small spoonful and matching the smell, it had the same taste and texture of chocolate pudding. Slightly less sweet, but it pared well with the spiced chai. “Okay—I’ve tried it. The suspense is killing me.”
“What do you think?”
“It’s quite good.”
“Okay–it’s a custard dessert made primarily with dark chocolate and pork blood—a delicacy in the Basilicata region of Italy.”
“Pork blood–as in blood from a pig?” I asked incredulously. “Why would anyone eat this?”
“Because, like you, people think it tastes good. Unless you were simply being polite.”
“I wasn’t, but now I wish I hated it. You won’t mind if I don’t eat the rest,” I stated as I slid the bowl away from me.
“A hurdle too high to get over? I don’t mind, but knowing you the way I do, you’ll understand why I had you try it first.”
“Give me that sanguinaccio!” I exclaimed jokingly.
“Yes indeed, I know you quite well,” Toni smirked as she slid the bowl back over to me. I took another spoonful making sure I got an even amount of the crushed walnuts. Toni chuckled as she watched me eat and asked, “So how’d the new manager interviews go? Any of them good enough to be led by you?”
“There were a couple of potential folks that seemed promising—solid backgrounds who had good, intelligible responses to our questions. I feel like it’s taking me longer than it should because the last manager I hired was a complete bust. I’m really trying to bring the best person I can into the organization, but that hire is making me second-guess my judgment: thought he had the perfect résumé that matched his enthusiasm and passion during the interview. Less than six months later we realized that I could not have been more wrong about this guy’s work ethic and commitment. Lots of frustration and wasted time to say the least.”
“I remember, but don’t let that experience sully your judgment and make you indecisive with this new hire.”
“Agreed–but it’s difficult to forget how wrong I was with the previous one.”
“Difficult, yes, but you need to move past it because we all make these errors because too often we confuse character with personality.”
“Hmm. Let me think about that for a second.”
“A person who appears shy and introverted or gregarious and extroverted may in fact be those things. That’s personality, and you can generally pinpoint those traits—preferred for a particular job or not–in relatively short order. Character, however, is trickier. Integrity, work ethic, and professional philosophy is not readily apparent. So you can come to mistake a favorable personality to mean that the person must also be an honest hard worker.”
“So how can I tell if the character of the person is good?” I asked.
“Well, you can make certain you check their references.”
“Already done,” I replied.
“You can also make sure that you’re using behavioral interviewing techniques, so that you can try to predict future behavior from past behavior.”
“Yes, but as we know from our work in the courts, the past is not always prelude.”
“Understood–that’s why I said try. Truth be told, I have found that there are two things that reveal a person’s character. One of them is similar to the changing seasons.”
“How so?” I asked.
“When you first meet someone, think of that person as being a wide landscape covered in layers of snow. And maybe it’s a beautiful creation that the winter has donned on the land with long, slender shadows and sculptured shapes–that’s personality.”
“Winter turns to spring and as the weather warms, the snow melts. The landscape which was previously covered in all that white powdery goodness now reveals its true topography—that’s character.”
“So time reveals character.”
“Exactly! So, when it comes to making a judgment call on a person’s character, you can’t be in a rush. Patience is key in allowing things to unfold as they always do.”
“Some winters are longer than others though.”
“True, and some are shorter–so greater or fewer layers of snow which you need to observe as it slowly melts.”
“So, what’s the second thing that is telling of character?”
“Make a decision on the hire, and we’ll have a follow-up discussion on that second factor. For now, you have time.”
“Yes, but perhaps that second thing could save me some.”
“It could, but not during this early part of the winter. Bear in mind that knowing all of this won’t change the hills and valleys of the land as they exist. And while knowledge can be informative, I think it was Aristotle who stated the most salient point about it.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“It makes a bloody entrance–now finish your sanguinaccio.”
Charisma, superficial as it is, can be used as a force for good or can be used for only self-interest gain. Moreover, the ulterior purpose may not be immediately clear to the unsuspecting manager. In his book, How to Hire a Champion, David Snyder demonstrates that the hiring process, while not discounting the skills and aptitude for doing the job in a personable way, should include measures to uncover the character traits of candidates. To help identify high-quality applicants for the organization, he recommended the following seven guidelines:
- Issue a description of the vacancy that includes both required skills and the character traits that are expected of the candidate.
- Provide a summary of the organization’s culture so prospective candidates can determine whether they will be a fit in the work environment.
- Provide applicants with exercises that test their problem-solving abilities.
- Ask candidates to describe past accomplishments and explain how they plan to help the organization.
- Administer standardized assessment tests that enable the manager to objectively assess and compare applicants.
- Have candidates write essay-type answers to probing questions so that the manager can assess their organizational thinking, and their ability to express values and priorities clearly.
- Ask candidates to tell you three areas of performance on which they want to be measured, and what criteria they would use to grade themselves.
Leo Tolstoy, regarded by some as the world’s greatest novelist, understood the importance of allowing things to unfold. In his best-known work, War and Peace, he has Field Marshall Mikhail Kutuzov state that “time and patience are the strongest of warriors,” because everything comes in time, if one is willing to wait for it. John Wooden, considered the greatest college basketball coach of all time, developed a “pyramid of success” model that he would use as a diagram to help students achieve his definition of success: “Peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to the best of which you are capable.” Wooden’s paradigm incorporates several character traits, including self-control, loyalty, and poise, that he believed were critical to accomplishing a successful career (and life). As comprehensive as the model is, the focus is self-reflective (what must one seek ‘to be’ if you care to be successful). It does not detail the process of how to recognize these same desirable traits she seeks in herself in others (how does one know if you are in the company of a Lincoln or Hoffman?). Patience was an understanding and faith, as Wooden noted, that great leaders have a boundless belief in the future and, like Tolstoy, trust that things will work out for the best. For all of which patience should be exercised, and Toni would also apply the virtue in the judgment of others knowing that everything comes to pass and that time, as is well known, can turn anyone into a fool.
A manager may still misconstrue the character of a new hire for a variety of reasons. But even though we can never be certain exactly how a candidate will perform until they are hired for a job, a manager has an obligation to structure the process so that it yields the type of information that reduces her uncertainties as much as possible. If completed in accordance to the “best of which she was capable,” she can take solace that the future, however distant it may be, always reveals the truth. The veracity of character is not an exception—the manager must simply observe and be willing to … wait.
And those are just some of my musings on management.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Giuseppe M. Fazari has been musing about management concepts and practices throughout his career as an administrator, consultant, and academic. Contact him at email@example.com.