Put Up …or Shut Up!

My brother phoned me a while ago and asked me about the progress of my PhD. When I answered him that I was exactly where I was in March 2008, he told me that I had to persevere with my procrastination for only a few more years as it would then be unnecessary to do a PhD for career purposes! The reality is that up to now when people asked me about my PhD, I always respond with an explanation. It starts always with the first topic which was in the field of finance. Then the topic progressed into the field of leadership and societal culture, with South Africa as a field of application. Then the reading was so fascinating that I only started writing towards the end of 2007. Then in March 2008 my diary became just too full!

It set me thinking about me advising other people over the years.

In 1992 a young 19-year-old lady asked me for some advice about her studies. When I asked her as to why she wanted to do a degree, she answered that she needed a degree. I then told her that she had to find another reason as she would quickly find a good reason why she didn’t need a degree when times got tough!

In January 1993 I was studying for the final exams for my honours degree at Unisa as well as preparing for my first study school for my MBA at the USB. Times were tough as I also was busy with putting together a new course in military strategy. I came to a point where I decided that the pressure I was putting myself under was totally unnecessary. I went to the Head of the Division at the Faculty of Military Science and told him I was stopping my MBA studies and would rather do a Master’s degree in Strategic Studies. His response? He held me accountable to my initial decision. He told me I owed it to the people of the Military Academy and the SANDF to give them peace of mind that should I have to leave the military, I would be able to fend for myself!

Last year one of the marketing ladies at the USB asked me to chat to a prospective MBA student who had questions about doing an MBA. I told him it depended on why he wanted to do the MBA. Too many people do the MBA because they wanted to help their careers. Subsequently, a whole number of them have a degree certificate, without necessarily having the skills and internalised knowledge to go with it. From there the question: “How do you know a person has an MBA? He tells you!” It is the only way you can ascertain whether he or she has an MBA as you cannot see it in their behaviour. I regularly convey this message to my students!

What has this to do with my brother’s question to me, and to management in general? Everything! I was preaching a message to my students and was not applying it to myself. I have a number of very good excuses as to why I am not finishing my PhD, even though I call them reasons. Whether they are reasons or excuses is irrelevant. The main issue is that I am not shipping! I am not doing what I am expecting of others, and that is holding myself accountable to myself!

Sam Silverstein recently published a book, “No more excuses: The Five Accountabilities.” The first accountability is about holding myself accountable. As Sam says, “Accountability to ourselves is what happens when we decide we won’t violate our own values, and we resolve to hold ourselves accountable to those values.”

This means that we not only have to hold our employees accountable, but ourselves as well. In addition, it is easy to hold ourselves accountable with things such as setting the example at work in terms of honesty, integrity, and performance as far as formal work objectives are concerned. It becomes far more difficult with subtle things such as doing and completing your PhD and earning a living at the same time. It then becomes important to recognise those areas where we are ducking our accountability to ourselves in very subtle ways.

It also becomes very important to hold ourselves accountable to support and help the people that we are holding accountable. This is exactly what Prof Kobus Kotze did with me in 1993! It is easier to help and support your A-team. You need to do it with your other employees as well.

Sam Silverstein also makes the point that we should also be accountable to other people. When we make commitments to other people, we have to honour those commitments. However, if we are not true to ourselves as well, we will find it impossible to be true to others as well. The experts say that is when we develop cognitive dissonance. You need your expected behaviour to be aligned to your internal values, which in turn need to be aligned with the culture of the organization or society you are a member of.

We also need to understand the commitments others have made to us. When you hear a suspect story and accept it, you are not being honest to yourself and you are not holding your employees and yourself accountable. If we tolerate excuses from others, we are creating a culture of excuses! It then becomes very difficult to develop a culture of “No More Excuses!”  Without such a culture, we tend to be mediocre at best!

The bottom line? I for one need to stop bullshitting myself. I am not holding myself accountable to myself. I have made up such a number of excuses as to the progress of my PhD that I am starting to believe them. Reading Silverstein and thinking about the questions and responses from people such as Louw Burger and Kobus Kotze, I have come to the only conclusion I can: It is time to put up or shut up! So now I am telling the world, I am busy with my PhD and hope to finish within the next two years. Please help me to hold myself accountable by asking me regularly about my progress.

Also, what are you doing to hold yourself and others accountable in the ways Silverstein explains? Or do you like the way you feel when you bullshit yourself, and let others get away with stories that are clearly not 100% true? It’s bad when you lie to others. It is pathetic when you lie to yourself. Don’t do it! Learn from the expert!

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7 Responses

  1. Chris Gildenhuys says:

    So true Johan. Thanks for reminding me what important part accountability (holding yourself accountable) plays in ones leadership setup and makeup.

  2. Johan Benade' says:

    Johan, your post help me realise that I also have good reasons why I sometimes put important things on the backburner. Good luck with your new commitment!

  3. Wollie says:

    Kry jou gat in rat Mnr Burger.
    Ek hou van jou boodskap.
    Wanneer drink ons koffie?


  4. ferdie Lochner says:

    Hi Johan
    Our recent discussion about PhD’s is fresh in my memory and what a delight to have you back! Your motivation is now part of my motivation. Though even if there are so many good reasons to complete, at least one of my reasons for a PhD is absolutely not to be taken seriously, and that is to convince my loving wife to buy me a colourful bowtie…which goes to show we must have fun in the process as well.

  5. Rian Truter says:

    Netjies, Johan! I’ll be watching you!

  6. Amani Mmbaga says:

    Hello Johan, it’s Amani from Belmont University in Tennessee. It’s been a week or so from the time you have posted this blog, I hope you are staying fully committed to your goal. One thing I really got to appreciate about you during the short time we studied at Stellenbosch was the fact that you are a learning man, a person who is always seeking more knowledge. I must hold myself accountable and must continue to seek more knowledge, as well. I hope all is well, family, work, wine and give Nandi a good rub down on her stomach for me. Also the pictures from the day we played golf are on the Picasa website; send me an email so I can send you the link to view the pictures.

  7. Alfred Henrico says:

    Hallo Johan,

    Jy was as dosent een van my rolmodelle by die MilAkad (MA95) en het my (sonder jou medewete) gedryf om verder te swot – wel ek het vier jaar aan my PhD gewerk en dit aan die begin van 2010 verwerf. Dit was sekerlik die moeilikste taak wat ek in my lewe aangepak het (veral saam met werk en gesin), maar dis die moeite werd. Baie deure het oopgegaan – vandag sit ek met ‘n goeie kwalifikasie en begin 1 Januarie 2011 as senior lektor in ondernemingsbestuur en entrepreneurskap by die PUK.
    As mense my gevra het hoe ver is ek met my PhD het ek altyd gesê ek vorder,maar nooit verdere detail verskaf nie.
    Baie sterkte!