Avoid the Niagara Falls Reaction

How many times have you been in a situation where you’re in the midst of a discussion and suddenly after one comment you find yourself going over the top?

American politics and organizational life seem to be dominated by such trigger phrases. They occur in our personal lives as well. There’s always one phrase that elicits a reflexive reaction that makes you frustrated.

The challenge is not to overreact when you encounter these trigger phrases. Smart leaders make adjustments, but they don’t overreact. Often, discussions are destroyed by emotional reactions.

I was recently having a discussion with one of my neighbors. We were casually sitting by a creek on a fairly lackadaisical weekend and I, being the somewhat liby academic, made reference to the strength of socialized medicine.

Now I was only trying to make a point about collective responsibility, but the word ‘socialized’ elicited a reaction and a series of generalizations which took the discussion nowhere. After the generalizations we went straight to accusations.

I notice that if I say the names George Bush or Richard Nixon to one of my colleagues with a sociology degree–I’m  likely to incite an over-the-top reaction. One colleague of mine went as far as to say, George Bush was a lousy cheerleader at Yale…and so ended our conversation on Iraq.

In a discussion about Richard Nixon, my friend was only able to give the man credit for his trip to China and, begrudgingly, give him posthumous credit for the ultimate exercise in socialism; price fixing.

Globalization. Gun control. Free market. Guantanamo. Welfare. Free trade. Fracking. Nuclear waste. Single provider. Immigration. These expressions are all up there with Nixon and Bush and, in some sections, Obama isn’t far behind. Point in fact, there are trigger words that trigger overreactions that stifle discussion.

There are expressions that send us all over Niagara Falls in a barrel. If you don’t know what the Niagara Falls reaction is take a few minutes, grab your kids, and enjoy the video below.

The Niagara Falls reaction does not advance the debate; it stifles the debate. And though not as crude as Lou Costello’s cellmate, it is equally stifling and should be avoided by all. Have a nice weekend.

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Show Them You’re Not Caligula

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” is a phrase we often hear. It comes from the English moralist and historian John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton (1834–1902) who also added, “Great men are almost always bad men.”

Dalberg-Acton probably didn’t have a hard time coming up with examples to prove his point. History is filled with leaders who tirelessly worked to expand their possessions and effect their desires without paying any mind to their followers.

Caligula, the Roman emperor from 37-41 A.D., is the classic example of a leader who favored hedonism and mindless bloodletting to pragmatic governing. Not only was his tenure marked with murder and rape–he wanted to be treated as a God (one who had suffered from seizures).

Sadly, history repeats itself and some leaders still abuse their power as this Time Magazine slide-show reveals.

While we consider Richard Nixon’s spying or Silvio Berlusconi’s sexual misconduct–it’s tempting to agree with Dalberg-Acton and conclude that all leaders would compromise their moral code for personal gain. It’s a shortsighted view, but one that’s is continually confirmed every time an unprincipled politician or CEO makes the front page. Proactive leaders should anticipate this skepticism and show at every opportunity that they aren’t tempted by power’s amoral invitations.

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9 Great Leadership Quotes from 9 Not-So-Great Presidents

It’s pretty easy to put together a list of great Presidential leadership quotes if you rely on Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson, FDR and Reagan. But how about extracting inspiring words from the less famous (and in many cases far less talented) Presidents? Well believe it or not, the forgettable have actually said some memorable things. Please enjoy 9 Great Presidential Quotes from some of our lesser Commanders in Chief.

1. “It is not strange… to mistake change for progress.”  Millard Fillmore (1850-1853) 

2. “Frequently the more trifling the subject, the more animated and protracted the discussion.”  Franklin Pierce (1853-1857)

3. “It would be judicious to act with magnanimity towards a prostrate foe.” Zachary Taylor (1849-1850)

4. “Failure to accord credit to anyone for what he may have done is a great weakness in any man.”  William Howard Taft (1909-1913)

5. “The bold enterprises are the successful ones. Take counsel of hopes rather than of fears to win in this business.” Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881)

6. “The government should not be guided by Temporary Excitement, but by Sober Second Thought.” Martin VanBuren (1837-1841)

7. “A man is not finished when he is defeated. He is finished when he quits.”  Richard M. Nixon (1969-1974)

8. “It takes a great man to be a good listener.” Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929)

9. “It’s not necessary to fear the prospect of failure but to be determined not to fail.” Jimmy Carter (1977-1981)