All's Well...or Not??

November 4, 2016

 

If you are the typical person over age 16 you have one of these. Depending upon where you live, you probably operated without one for 2 or 3 years prior to turning 16. Yes, if you are 16 or older you probably have a drivers license and, depending upon where you live, you probably drove regularly before age 16 without one. 

 

Do you remember the road test? Were you nervous? I know I was, even though being raised in rural SC afforded me the opportunity to be behind the wheel since I was 14. Left turn, right turn, parking on an incline, reverse driving and the infamous parallel park; all happening while someone stared and you and made marks on a clipboard. Talk about pressure! 

 

As a driver, you've probably had the same experience I'm getting ready to describe. You turn the vehicle into a particular parking lot and proceed down the appropriate aisle to park your car. After you turn into the white, parallel lines beside another vehicle you have this uneasy feeling of being crooked, even though you believe you parked correctly. Has this happened to you?  

 

You put the car in reverse and proceed to back out of the parking space. You glance out the front windshield to line up the parallel lines and then you pull back into the parking space as straight as straight can get. Then it happens again. You look to the left or the right and your car still looks totally crooked! 

 

This time, instead of backing up, you open the drivers door and look down at the white, parallel lines and then you notice it. To confirm, you look at the car to your left and there is your confirmation. You were parked straight the entire time, the problem was that that car beside you parked crooked. You were really straight in between the lines. 

 

The car to our left was our point of reference. Unconsciously, our "sense of being straight" was no longer affected by the white lines, but the "straightness" of the car next to us. Because that car was off, and it became our point of reference, we began to see our car as being crooked as well. Unfortunately, I have noticed cars, where the drivers were probably in a hurry, never straighten his or her car. Several of them in a row were parked crooked because the lines were no longer the point of reference but the other cars to the left!

 

Certainly, this blog isn't about cars and parking spaces. It's first and foremost about our point of reference. Every person hears from his or her point of reference. Every person acts from his or her point of reference. Every person lives based upon his or her point of reference. But just what is a point of reference?

 

Generally speaking, a point of reference (or reference point) is a fixed standard that other standards refer to. It can also mean a known fact or standard that seeks to explain an unknown fact or standard. When trying to identify someone in a crowd of peole, we say, "She's the third girl down from the end on the first row." So, the girl at the end on the first row is the point of reference. Additionally, a point of reference is our basis for truth, accuracy or legitimacy within the various areas of our life. As in the earlier example, the car to our left became the reference point even though the white lines should have remained the reference point. 

 

Consider the following:

*Scientists must have a point of reference if they are to function successfully within the scientific world

*Doctors must have a point of reference if they are to function successfully within the world of medicine

*Educators must have a point of reference if they are to function successfully within the academic world

*Entrepreneurs must have a point of reference if they are to function successfully within the world of business 

*Parents must have a point of reference if they are to function successfully in the world of parenting. 

 

I think you get the point. 

 

Fundamentally, everyone has a point of reference for how they interact with others and act in the world at large. Unfortunately, most haven't experienced the type of coaching that would unearth these "points of reference" and ascertain the legitimacy or illegitimacy of them. Imagine the driver of the car in the aforementioned example engaged in the unceasing act of trying to park his or her car straight, while using a crooked vehicle as the point of reference? He or she would be in a never ending cycle of frustration because the "functional" point of reference (i.e the car to the left) could not give him or her the desired outcome (parking straight), which could only come by keeping the white lines as the functional point of reference. 

 

In the business world, points of reference are of immense importance. Professionals, managers, and executives are hired based upon their professional competencies and not necessarily based upon his or her points of reference. Certainly, psychological assessments have remarkably increased over the past two decades, but in far too many cases, these assessments are simply “appeasement practices” and not necessarily fundamental to the hiring process of key decision makers and executives. The most crucial acid test in the business environment is results. Does the candidate have a proven track record of results that legitimizes him or her for the promotion or position? This is the acid test and these assessments are simply peripheral. 

 

With no real analysis into “how” someone gets results, we really don’t unearth the hidden but very real points of reference that affect how the candidate acts in certain conditions. In recent news, how does a bank that prides itself on customer value and robust internal auditing “miss” nearly 2 million phony accounts created by employees over a several year period? No, really. How does this happen?? Based upon our knowledge of very basic human tendencies, we all know someone knew what his or her colleagues were doing and either chose to be silent or they chose to participate. This behavior and countless others like it happens very simply when “the employee to the left” is the point of reference and not the white lines.  

 

Wells Fargo announced in September that it fired nearly 5,300 employees over multiple years who participated in creating nearly 2 million phony accounts ranging from bank accounts, to credit cards and investment accounts. Sadly, this could not have happened unless the points of reference for legitimate and ethical behavior within the business environment were severely compromised. Rather than looking at at white lines, thousands of employees adjusted their eyes to the people on the left, which in many cases, were their bosses. On October 12th amidst the scandal, John Stumpf, the CEO and Chairman of Wells Fargo resigned from his position with the company at the tune of $134 million dollars. Unfortunately, all is "well" for him...pun intended!

 

What about the bankers and low-level mangers who were fired for "doing" what upper level managers in many instances were aware of the entire time? Sadly, it may not end "well" for them. At the time of this writing, a class action suit has been bought agains Wells Fargo by fired employees. This class action suit claims, "Wells Fargo fired or demoted employees who failed to meet unrealistic quotas while at the same time providing promotions to employees who met these quotas by opening fraudulent accounts."

 

It is highly possible that many people occupying leadership positions (as well as the rest of us) are operating with a skewed point of reference, and therefore, produce skewed results. "Wait a minute Marcus," some might say, "if the results are skewed wouldn't it be so obvious that the masses would see it and point it out?"  That's a legitimate assertion, but is only true if the observing masses don't have a skewed point of reference themselves! 

 

I've known people who used expletives like they were standard jargon. In regular and heated conversations, every sentence was punctuated with swearing and they "really" thought nothing of it. When I've had the opportunity to speak with them about it, many of them say, "Everyone in my family swore, and it's just how we talk to people." What are they really saying? In regards to conversation, swearing is the point of reference. It's the fixed standard of speaking that pointed to how men and women should speak to one another. Isn't this consistent with the phrase, "Cussing like a sailor," with sailor being the point of reference? 

 

Each of us must go on an intentional quest to unearth our legitimate and illegitimate points of reference, especially if we occupy a formal position of leadership. This begins with awareness. If we become aware of the point of reference concept, then and only then, can we begin to unearth our actual points of reference. With that said, does the statement "Eureka" sound familiar? 

 

Both Archimedes of Ancient Greece (mathematician) and the gold miners in California during the 19th Century used the term "eureka", which means, "I have found it!" To cry "eureka" neither meant Archimedes created the idea he discovered nor the gold miners created the gold they found. Eureka meant they became aware of something that already existed. 

 

The concepts of weight and density already existed, but Archimedes wasn't aware of them. The gold, hidden deep in the dirt of California already existed, but the men were previously unaware of it. Each of them simply found what was already present. Similarly, we each need "eureka" moments. We need moments where we become aware of the healthy and unhealthy points of reference that presently exist within our psyche and are shaping our actions and reactions every day. 

 

*What is our point of reference for marriage and family? Is it healthy?

*What is our point of reference for external relationships with people like and unlike ourselves? Is it healthy?

*What is our point of reference for money and assets? Is is healthy?

*What is our point of reference for power and influence? Is it healthy? 

 

Again, I think you get the point. 

 

Arguably, one of the most profound examples of point of reference is the lighthouse. The lighthouse replaced torches, which were used to warn sailors and mariners of close coastlines and dangerous rocks. The lighthouse is built to resist the heavy winds, rains and storms of the sea to provide an "unmovable" point of reference for sailors and Mariners. As they traveled at sea, they expected to see the blaring light coming from a nearby lighthouse to keep their point of reference accurate. Imagine the disasterous outcome of a failed or misplaced lighthouse?

 

How often have we considered, "What is our lighthouse in the 21st Century when right and wrong; appropriate and inappropriate are being determined largely by crooked cars occupying political or celebrity positions?" What should be the unmovable, unchangeable points of reference for our families, relationships, careers and leadership endeavors? Said another way, "What is our lighthouse?

 

When people are moved and molded by our actions, we must be even more assertive and intentional about discarding faulty points of reference and safeguarding fruitful points of reference. Ultimately, the wellbeing of our families, communities, organizations and nation swings upon these hinges. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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