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Serenity For Supervisors
by Wally Bock

Sometime in the 1930s or 1940's Pastor Reinhold Niebuhr wrote his famous "Serenity Prayer" for the first time. One version goes like this.

"God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other."

If you're a boss, the question is: "What can I change and what is unchangeable?" Your serenity, not to mention your team's productivity and morale, depend on knowing the answer.

That's just the kind of person I am

Some people are aggressive. Some people have an aptitude for sales. Some people love to help others. Some people are competitive.

We call those traits or characteristics or aptitude. Whatever you call them, they won't change much after the great jelling of personality that happens before the mid-twenties.

If you can't change aptitude and talent then you should only hire people with the aptitude and talents you want. Then you can teach them skills.

Nobody's perfect

I heard my mother say it first. Everyone makes mistakes. The people who work for you will be no different. Nothing you do can change it.

When people make a mistake, you have two choices. You can help them use the mistake as a learning event or you can treat it as some kind of moral failing and exhort them never to make another mistake.

The learning strategy is best. That's because people respond to feedback.

Mark Twain's Rule of Cats

Mark Twain once pointed out that a cat who sits on a hot stove will never sit on a hot stove again. But it won't sit on a cold stove either.

Negative consequences get people to stop things. The danger is that too many negative consequences, or negative consequences without learning, may get them to stop trying altogether.

If you constantly catch people doing things wrong you will find that they stop doing all kinds of things, including things you want them to do, like take initiative. That's the response to negative consequences. It's wired into human beings. It's something you can't change.

If at first they don't succeed, praise, praise again

Positive consequences, like praise, get people to try new things or to continue to improve. Legitimate praise is timely, sincere, and earned.

Catch people doing things right. Praise their efforts to improve. Praise their good results. People respond to praise by working harder. It's another one of those human things you can't change.

Changing what can be changed to change what should be changed

Even though you're the boss, there are lots of things you have no control over. But you do control two things. You control what you say. You control what you do.

If you want to improve the morale and productivity of your team, if you want to accomplish the mission through your group, you have only one sure course of action. Use what you say and do to influence the behavior and performance of your team.

In the end it's all about human nature. You can't change it. You can only work with it. You'll be a more effective boss if you understand what you can change and what you can't.

Wally Bock may be contacted at

Wally Bock helps organizations improve productivity and morale by selecting and developing great leaders at all levels. He coaches individual managers, and is a popular speaker at meetings and conferences in the US and elsewhere. This article first appeared in the Three Star Leadership Blog ( ). Check out Wally's Working Supervisor's Support Kit ( ).


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