Success Is All About How You Show Up

Following a torrent of abuse from some recent articles which touched a nerve and hit a tad too close to home for some, Phil and I have been lying low!. Til’ now….here is the latest exclusive from Phil La Duke. We publish his other provocative articles HERE and I highly recommend his blog: I’m sure most of you will thoroughly enjoy this one:

Success Is All About How You “Show Up”

When it comes to leading – whether it be a change in safety or leading in your daily life – a lot of success comes down to how you show up. This sounds pretty basic, and it’s almost a quote from Woody Allen who said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” Sometimes wisdom comes from the strangest places. What Woody Allen missed is that showing up, in and of itself, isn’t enough. Most of what’s wrong with the world can be traced to people who just showed up long enough for the proverbial attendance to be taken.

In the world of Safety, we have a lot of organizations who merely show up. Whether it be safety training or injury record keeping they are primarily interested in getting the magic checkmark of compliance. C work is passing and an A just isn’t worth the time or money it takes to get there. That’s unfortunate; making a concerted effort to improve how we show up can have a profound impact on the value on which the organization places on safety.

I know there are many of you out there who don’t share my view of safety. I see safety as a neglected discipline that has become, to a large extent a bleak wasteland where innovation goes to die, a haven for snake-oil salesmen and quacks, and above all a place inhospitable to change. Most of you who disagree have been professional enough to argue against my position not my personality, but others….well just keep the hate mail coming. Of course there are exceptions (I put this in for the buffoons who read my work solely to get themselves into a frothy twist), and I am always delighted to hear about the successes those rarefied few who (despite the odds) champion new ideas and innovative approaches to safety.

Why are these people successful when so many other fail? How can a handful of people advance the profession while so many sit around congratulating each other for doing next to nothing? The successful people care about HOW they show up.

The Shadow of The Leader

The concept of how one shows up isn’t new, every bit of business advise from Dress for Success to The Goal addresses the idea that how we are perceived by our peers, our subordinates, and the bosses, is one of the single greatest predictors of success. But how the safety professional shows up may be the lynchpin to the success of the Safety function. Like it or not safety professionals are leaders, and there are people in the organization who love catch us failing to wear our personal protective equipment or to otherwise make us out to be hypocrites and liars. This is where we can make a real difference simply by choosing to show up a bit differently than our natural inclination. We need to rise above the petty crap and set an example. This occurred to me in a discussion forum where one dim bulb just kept making personal attacks and dismissing any point I made as either defensive or obvious. I realized that this pathetic wretch desperately wanted to participate in the discussion but was having difficulty “showing up”. He posted comment after comment like a preadolescent that couldn’t bear letting someone else have the last word. I admit I provoked him, it’s tough not to sling the verbal arrow after several days of email that calls you everything but a child of God. I don’t think people want to be show up the way that this particular person did, and unfortunately we all squander opportunities to make a positive contributions no matter how desperately we may want to.

What Does it Mean to Control How You Show Up?

Showing up is about coming to the situation ready to think and act. How we show up dictates how people will respond to us. I provoke. Most of you are reading this expecting to be provoked. Provocation is my job. When you pick up a trade magazine you are typically reading a piece that was written by vendor who is an active advertiser (he is trying to sell you a product). How impartial do you imagine the manufacturer of gloves will be in his blistering exposé on the future of Kevlar in glove design? And when you go to a safety conference you will see a carefully tailored message delivered by a professional whose speech has been edited and rewritten by her boss, reading from PowerPoint slides prepared by the marketing department. Such is the state of the safety media. I sell the seeds of discontent. Without loudmouths and blowhards and know-it-alls like me you are left with infinitely polite pundits who tell you are doing a swell job of it. So that’s how I show up.

Some of us don’t really show up. Sure we come to work, we show up to collect a paycheck. We go to safety meetings and shrug. We put up safety posters and lead the safety BINGO and we go through the motions because we’re either too tired, too lazy, or too frustrated to produce more than carbon dioxide and occasionally methane. And there are a lot of us just skating by content with keeping our injury rate a hair above industry average because Operation doesn’t expect or value anything more. We tell ourselves we are doing our best. Well guess what? We can get a baboon in here to try hard. Sometimes your best isn’t good enough, but it’s a moot point because typically the people who use “I’m doing my best” as an excuse are operating at a performance level so low that its tough to say they are trying at all. It’s time we each take a hard look and ask if we are really showing up for safety.

Truly showing up is about doing what you think needs doing and doing it because it’s your job. Some of us show up by blowing the whistle on a crooked employer because all other attempts to turn the situation around has failed even though doing so means we lose our jobs. Some of us show up with ways to raise awareness about a frequently misunderstood element of safety. Some of us show up by learning the business and looking for ways to partner with Operations to make the workplace both safer AND more efficient. I can’t tell you how to show up, but I can tell you that if you are truly honest you will know how you’re showing up and whether or not you can be proud of how you are showing up.

It sounds trite, but as I enter my office each morning I challenge myself by asking how I am going to show up. As I prep for meetings I ask myself which personality is going to show up. Will it be the guy who can’t pay attention and is fiddling with the email on his phone or will it be the guy who is fully present and listening to the matters at hand? Will it be the guy who is open and honest or the guy who hides behind honesty as a way bullying other schools of thought into submission? Will it be the guy who advocates for needed change or the guy who sows anarchy just to watch the flames? Will it be the guy who assumes goodness of intentions in others or the one who sees attacks and insults behind every word? I am certainly capable of being all these guys, but I get to decide which one shows up. I am often disappointed by the results but never so much so that I stop trying. I am responsible for my success, and you are responsible for yours. Do you even know that there’s a choice?

Never Argue With An Idiot

A few months back I was arguing with some of my many detractors over something I had written in one of the peer-reviewed publications for which I write. My editor gave me a bit of advice, “Never argue with idiots, and these guys are idiots.” They weren’t, and if I might smugly offer, I don’t think many people who read my stuff are idiots; it’s too advanced for the truly stupid. But I do deal with a fair amount of fanatics, and fanatics are far more dangerous and destructive to our profession. Fanatics only know one way to show up – angry. Fanatics can’t show up without shouting down anyone else in the room; they will tolerate no dissent. Change is evil, any challenge to their doctrine is evil, and attacks are the only response with which they are comfortable.

There are plenty of people who resent being reminded that they could do a much better job controlling who shows up at there job, and that’s fine. They aren’t going to stop being slugs simply because they read something I wrote, and I am not going to stop criticizing someone who collects a paycheck in safety and does nothing but take up space. But for the vast majority of the safety professionals out there who still care about the state of profession how are you going to show up?

Phil LaDuke

Phil LaDuke

Principle and Partner at ERM
Phil LaDuke
Phil La Duke is a principle and partner in Environmental Resources Management (ERM) a leading global provider of environmental, health, safety, risk, and social consulting services. With over 140 offices in 40 countries and nearly 6,000 top professionals, ERM can help you wherever you find yourself doing business. At ERM we are committed to providing a service that is consistent, professional, and of the highest quality to create value for our clients. Over the past five years we have worked for more than 50% of the Global Fortune 500 delivering innovative solutions for business and selected government clients helping them understand and manage the sustainability challenges that the world is increasingly facing. Phil works primarily in the Performance and Assurance practice at ERM; a speaker, author, consultant, trainer, provocateur…Phil La Duke wears many hats. As an expert in safety, training, organizational development, and culture change, Phil and ERM can help you motivate your workforce, conduct safety performance assessments, help you to build robust training infrastructures, craft interventions to improve how your work place values safety, provide insights to your executive staff, and craft and execute business solutions. If you’re interested in what Phil La Duke and ERM can do for you, or if you would like to inquire about employment opportunites at ERM, contact Phil at

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