An Important Value

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Accountability is a core concept In business and government. It is a way of working and living, even a necessary fabric of society. 

 Another word would be responsibility.

The military has developed it to a high degree.The chain of command focuses on accountability. In times of emergency and war everybody must do their jobs or there will be consequences.

It is the same in business and in our lives but with less drama. Nevertheless,, the health of any organization depends on people being accountable. 

What are the characteristics of persons who are accountable?

  • They are concerned for the general welfare and smooth functioning of the organization.
  • They demonstrate an attitude of caring
  • They do their jobs and more
  • They take responsibility for their actions

They notice when something is wrong and they take steps to fix it. 

They want to make the organization better

They will help where needed

They don’t pass the buck

This is a highly valued quality. For instance, it is what the public wants from politicians and stockholders from their companies. 

At its most fundamental point it is admitting that you made a mistake and  taking action to remedy the situation.Rather than hide something, bring it out in the open. 

In a healthy organization, an honest mistake is not punished and the employee does not have to be afraid.  

A healthy organization has this from top to bottom. 

In a dysfunctional organization, others will try to shift the blame.  

“It wasn’t my fault, it was him. He did it” 

A person sees something wrong and walks right by. 

“I didn’t want to get involved.” 

There is a saying “Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.” This illustrates the problem. 

In the American business system, accountability means that one person ( usually) has to take responsibility. It may be the top boss. If a big mistake has been made, an honest boss will take responsibility. 

“The Buck stops here”. 

A sign on the desk of the President of the United States, Harry Truman. He pointed out that he took responsibility for what happened on his watch. 

Other leaders, less courageous,  may  identify and punish a  lower-level individual who actually made the mistake. A CEO will say “ the person who did this has been identified and will be punished”. 

In sum, it is an attitude. It comes from the top. The leader can model and teach this behavior. A manager can instill it in his/her department. 

A good healthy organization has plenty of accountability.

A Presentation, Simple But Difficult

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 A  presentation is a performance.

 It is the same as an athlete playing in a crucial game or a musician with a chance to play for an impòrtant audience. In these cases, the performers may have prepared and waited for years  The time finally comes to act. Will they do their best?

For all of us, it is important to do our best when our critical time arrives. 

The question is how do we get ready to perform when the pressure is really on?

 Some get up to the point and then falter. Their nerves get the best of them. 

Others act with confidence and grace. We all have seen these great performances. 

Maybe they have put in years of work and preparation.

However, with important presentations, we usually don’t have that much time to prepare.  

The time spent, then, is even more precious. 

Hard, intense work is necessary.

The first part is mental: knowing exactly what we want to say and who the audience is. To me, this is the hardest work. After this, everything falls in place. 

Once you know what to say, you can make the slides and write a script or outline. 

Then comes practice, practice, and practice. Have someone who can observe you and make suggestions.

Come to the performance with a good night’s sleep, rested and confident. 

Take a deep breath and get out there and do your best. 

There it is. It is simple. But it is also difficult.  

Just Wing It!

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 One day I was walking my dog and came across my neighbor. She stopped to chat and mentioned that tomorrow she was interviewing for an important job with a major company in Peru. She told me that one of the requirements was to be proficient in English and that part of the interview was to be in that language. 

“I’m just going to wing it,” she said. 

With that, she gave a shrug, said goodbye, and went on.

Needless to say, I was surprised. I hadn’t heard that phrase in a long time. It means that I’m not prepared and I hope to fake my way through.

I started thinking about preparation and what it takes to be ready to do something. 

In the case of my neighbor, she is an intelligent and competent person. 

Yet she hadn’t bothered to prepare for an important part of her interview. 

Maybe she really didn’t want the job.

Or perhaps her uncle owns the company.

I don’t know. All I know is that she never mentioned the company again and, as far as I knew, remained unemployed. 

Why don’t we prepare thoroughly for important times in our lives? 

I’m guilty, too.

I’d love to hear your answer. 

Make Your Meetings Work For You

Managers often find themselves leading staff meetings. They are known for not doing it well. A much appreciated skill is the excellent management of meetings. They should be short, well organized and productive. Here are some suggestions on how to do this:


You need to be there before the meeting starts. Be ready with everything you need. Then start exactly at the time set for the meeting. Those who are not there will realize that they need to change if they want to please the boss. You must do this every time. Be consistent. It is helpful to have the meeting at the same time and on the same day.


Circulate the agenda well before the meeting along with any papers attached. Make it clear during the meeting that you expect everyone to read the papers and be prepared for the topics to be discussed. If there are those who need to report on an action, make sure they are ready by calling them a day before the meeting.


Follow the agenda. Monitor the time spent on each item. Take into account that sometimes interesting information emerges that needs to be discussed. At the same time, gently stop anyone who wants to discuss last night’s football game. Don’t allow any cell phones to ring during this time. At the end of the scheduled items you can ask if there are any other matters. If these topics can be discussed relatively quickly, go ahead. If the topic is complex tell the person to put it on the agenda for the next meeting.


This will be much appreciated by everyone who believes that meetings are mostly a waste of time. You should order coffee and cookies ( or something else)  to enjoy after the meeting. This allows for a relaxed time when the football game or other matters can be talked about.



The Dreaded Financial Presentation

It was the dreaded annual presentation by the Chief Financial Officer. He droned on, slide after slide, never missing the tiniest, most insignificant fact. I looked around the room. Half the people were asleep. The others were working their cell phones.  Absorbed and staring at the screen,   the CFO was oblivious. 

Finally, patience at an end, the Chief Executive Officer yelled out

“Get to the Effing bottom line.”

In response, the CFO started talking faster, whipping through the slides until arriving at the blessed point of the presentation… the bottom line. The CFO was determined to regurgitate all the numbers at his command. 

The audience heaved a sigh of relief. 

Generally, financial presentations are not this bad, but often they are bad enough. 

The sad thing is that they are important. 

The audience, be they senior management, investors, potential clients, or others, need to understand the financial condition of the company. 

They don’t need to be buried in a confusing avalanche of facts or obscured in a cloud of financial jargon.

For the past thirteen years, I have been helping managers in the financial industry and government officials make better presentations. Since I live in Peru, they have the additional challenge of presenting in English, not their first language. 

The good news is that this isn’t rocket science. Still, it takes hard work and determination to come up with a financial presentation that merits a standing ovation. Yes, I know. It is hard to believe but it has happened. 

Tomorrow, in my next post, I share the secrets of making a financial presentation

Reading for Business When English Is a Foreign Language

Reading in English may be necessary to keep informed on recent developments in your field or in your company. Certainly, this can be slow going in a foreign language unless you train yourself in some special techniques.

The goal is to understand as much as possible while using your time as efficiently as you can.

However, keep in mind that your purpose can vary:

You may need only to get a very general idea and can skim the material,

you may need only some specific information and that is called scanning

You may need to get a general understanding of a subject by reviewing some textbooks.

You may need to scrutinize intensively highly technical material .


In this technique, the eye runs rapidly over the material. Speed is essential because you have limited time. You may have to review extensive documentation, but need only to get a general idea about the contenIn English, often the first sentence in the paragraph contains the main idea. So some people just let their eyes run over that first sentence.

When skimming documents, it might be helpful to write a brief summary when you are finished. Someone might ask you your reaction and you can impress them with your answer.

Busy managers use skimming, even when using the “executive summary”.

Examples of skimming:

A magazine article when you are looking for something to read in greater detail.

Newspaper– for a general idea about the news of the day


This  skill is used when you are looking for a particular fact. You ignore everything but that particular piece of information as you run your eyes over the page. It doesn’t matter if there are words that you don’t understand.

Examples of scanning:

Looking in the newspaper for the price of your stock.

Checking out what is playing on television

Reviewing an airline schedule to get the most convenient flight


Say that you are studying a book on human resources, but it isn’t in your field. You are just trying to get a general idea of the basic concepts. It is an effort to improve your general knowledge. This can also be applied to a enjoying a novel for pleasure.

In these cases it is not necessary to know the meaning of every word. You are only aiming to understand the meaning within the context of sentence or paragraph.

Examples :

Books that expand your general knowledge

Light reading such as novels, adventure stories

magazine articles


Sometimes we have to review something very carefully. Contracts and legal documents require this kind of scrutiny. Each word and each figure must be reviewed. Now is the time when you really need a good dictionary.

Examples of Intensive review:

Financial statements

Insurance policy

Technical reports vital to your company

Legal documents


Reading is time consuming, but a necessary activity. Practice is very important. Non-native speakers will, at first, find it tedious to read in a language not their own. However, the rewards for doing so are rich.

Not doing the necessary work will eventually hurt your career.

What to Do When You Can’t Understand A Difficult Speaker in English

Listening and Understanding in English

Listening comprehension skills are essential to business communication. This is made more difficult when one is hearing a language which is not your native language. Many of my clients complain that have to talk to business associates on the telephone or teleconferences, attend meetings or video conferences, and conduct conversations while struggling to understand what is being said. In short, they hear, but can’t understand.

Listed below are some of the reasons they are having difficulty and my suggestions on how to deal with these problems.


Native speakers often do not realize that they speak rapidly. They continue to speak at their normal rate even though the person they are talking to is not a native speaker. It is quite all right to ask them to slow down if you don’t comprehend.

You can say:

“Sorry, I didn’t catch that. Could you slow down a bit?” or

“Please, could repeat that more slowly?”


The speaker is hard to understand because of a heavy accent. People from all over the world speak English now, but many have their own special accent.

You could say something like,

“I’m sorry, I don’t know what your are saying. Could you explain what you mean again?”


Some speakers use words that are local slang, but may not be known to those in another part of the world. Or they may run their words to together or chop off half the word.

You could say,

“I’m sorry. I don’t quite see what you mean. Could you explain this again?”


Some speakers are poorly organized or very careless with their words. This, unfortunately, applies in any language, but is worse when you are listening in a foreign language.

You could say,

“I’m sorry. I don’t understand. Could you explain what you mean?”


1. Ask them to slow down.

2. Prepare well beforehand.

3. Try to predict what people are going to say.

4. Take notes.

5. Repeat back to the person the information you just heard.

6. Practice

7. Stay calm.

Bad Things Happen: How to Handle a Crisis

Be Ready, Be Calm

Managers have to deal with crises.

It is part of the risk of doing business.

In fact, the whole environment of doing business has gotten so much more complicated in recent times that it is almost inevitable that some crisis will occur in a company.

I am referring to globalization which brings many more complex regulations involving environmental concerns and the threat of terrorism.

Managers must handle a crisis. This is a logical part of their responsibility. Crises that are not well managed will destroy a career. Further, a badly managed crisis can destroy a business.  Here are my suggestions on how a manager can help manage a crisis

A Recipe for Success

Looking at the essentials, it is easy to conclude that good crisis management depends on good communication and preparation. The manager who communicates well, will likely manage the crisis well. Solid preparation leads to a calm and confident attitude on your part which then generates trusts and confidence in your ability. A crisis could be related to the business, a natural event or an act of terrorism or criminality.

How to Expect the Worst

Attempt to identify any potential crisis that the company might face. This will require establishing a risk management committee, made up of people who need to take some role during a crisis. They need to meet and brainstorm the various possible trouble spots that might occur. It would be valuable to have simulation and role plays  in order to clarify activity during the crisis. They can also establish protocol for communicating during the crisis.

This is when transparency is essential. Try to provide as much information as possible, at all levels. There two reasons for this: to keep rumors at a minimum and to retain the trust and confidence of all the stakeholders.

How To Repair the Damage

It is important to analyze  exactly what happened in the crisis. It is also necessary to review what actions were taken. This information needs to be clearly stated in a report to be reviewed by your risk management committee and other responsible persons within the company. Based on your findings, recommendations for action in the future should be part of the report.



How Important Is Trust?

Trust is essential in a business relationship.

Perhaps you could manage for a short time without the trust of your subordinates, but it would not be pleasant. Certainly, there are managers who have lost the trust of their employees and continue in their positions. But, are they successful?

Smooth running organizations are unlikely when your staff have no confidence in you. Once trust is lost, it is very difficult to build it back. So work hard to build it and keep it.

The process of building trust begins the very first day you step into your new position. A solid understanding of your own personal values and the ability to communicate them will be of great assistance in this regard.

Here are my suggestions on how you can build and keep that trust.


When a member of your staff tells you something, listen carefully. Ask questions. Acknowledge the contributions they make. If you do this, they will tell you more.

Face to Face Communication

Make time to talk to people in your department on a one to one level. In a large department, you will have to have a rotating system to allow this opportunity. Being accessible on a personal basis is very important.


Make fairness an important principle. Remember that your staff will be looking to see that your treatment of them is even handed. Make it so.


Flexibility will build trust because you respond to the circumstances of the situation rather than rigidly applying a rule when it actually makes no sense.


It is very frustrating to deal with a manager who is never consistent. Predictability is very important to the staff when dealing with a supervisor. Your consistency, though, comes from personal values on which your decisions are made.


When you can respond to reasonable requests from your staff, it gives them the feeling that they can appeal to you especially when there are exceptional circumstances.


When you can, be generous. Being tight-fisted without cause does not build trust. Of course, be careful in the use of your resources.

Awareness of corporate culture

Be aware of traditional ways of doing things in the company and make your best attempt to follow them. Of course, there are times when you can’t, but try to explain why.


Keep your eyes open. Watch body language. Listen for the remark not meant for you, but which may be significant.





Thinking on your feet

Be Ready for a challenge

In a meeting or a one to one discussion someone asks you a very difficult question. They may want to have an answer to a controversial matter or they may want to embarrass you. At any rate, don’t panic. Think through your answer carefully. Here is some additional help.


Anticipate questions or issues that will be raised. Be ready with some specific answers.


If you are surprised by a question which may touch on a bad result or a controversial decision you were involved in, take a moment to center yourself.


You want to make sure that you heard the question or statement correctly. So ask the person to repeat it. This also gives you time to think. This time, also, listen very carefully.


If you need more time, it is OK to wait silently while you are thinking. In your hurry to answer, you may make the situation worse.


It may be that the question is very broad. It is a good idea to find out exactly what the person is looking for. You have to be careful. If you don’t understand a particular technical term, ask for clarification.


Try to have an answer that focuses on one issue and perhaps give one example. A wide ranging rambling answer that is too general will not be satisfactory.


The purpose of the question may be to embarrass you or has some other hostile intent. If this is the case, stay calm. Answer the question carefully. Resume the presentation or continue with the meeting. Do not be drawn into a heated exchange.


It is much better to say you don’t know than to pretend that you do. You can say that you will get back to the person with the answer.