Last week I had the pleasure of being able to speak with and listen to two prominent citizens. The first being former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge and the second being inventor Woody Norris. Both were entertaining speakers and conversationalists, but surprisingly, Tom Ridge seemed less comfortable in front of a large crowd than Woody Norris. Not that he was shy by any means; you could just tell that Gov. Ridge wanted off the stage ASAP. In any case, both shared interesting tidbits about management and leadership that are worth passing on to you.

If you could characterize the talk that Gov. Ridge gave you would have written two things down: “lead in place” and “mistakes/errors of commission.” Gov. Ridge placed a great deal of emphasis in his talk about the fact that your place in the organizational food chain is not an excuse for not leading. He expects from himself and the people around him to lead in place. Anywhere you go in an organization and at anytime, you can find an opportunity to lead. The question is, will you seize it? Those that do he sees as the employees that need to be fostered and promoted while those that do not he asks “why aren’t you?” His point being that if you want to make a difference in an organization – start wherever you can. The opportunities are constant and the rewards will come – whether it is within that organization or by moving to another with the leadership experience you have gathered.

The second theme to his talk was in response to a question on employees that make mistakes. His answer was that he had never met a perfect person and that when you hire someone you try to get a person whose positives outweigh their negatives. Furthermore, he wanted members on his team that performed. He could forgive errors of commission – that is mistakes made in the act of performing your job – but found it hard to stomach errors of omission – forgetting something or not acting at all. In this case he was referring to not thinking and planning or not having the guts to do what you think needs to be done.

Obviously a political animal, Gov. Ridge would not have made it to the position he achieved if he wasn’t – he nevertheless came across as a very practical person. His approach to Homeland Security was pragmatic at its best – identify measure and weigh risk – then act. That seemed to be his mantra for managing most everything in life and his comments on leading in place and errors of commission are consistent with that philosophy.

Elwood G. Norris aka Woody Norris was quite a different act than Tom Ridge. Mr. Norris, inventor extraordinaire, was completely at home on stage and extremely personable when speaking one on one. He is characterized as a visionary and futurist and it is evident in his speech and his outlook on life.

The most powerful thing I took away from his talk was hope. If you listen to the news long enough and are privy to what is happening in the higher echelons of your organization, you sometimes wonder if the world is going to survive another day. Bad news and bad decisions seem to bombard us from all sides and it is completely forgivable if one wonders sometimes if life has any purpose to it at all?

Woody Norris at the age of 70 still looks at the world with wonderment. Rather than seeing roadblocks and adversity, Mr. Norris sees fascinating problems and opportunities. Instead of hopelessness, he sees hope and believes that technology and the ingenuity of man will see us through all of the rest of the problems that man can create.

I wrote down three things from his talk. The first two are titles of books he says are must reads:

Redesigning Humans: Our Inevitable Genetic Future by Gregory Stock

Human Genetic Engineering: A Guide for Activists, Skeptics, and the Very Perplexed by Pete Shanks

Lastly I wrote down a quote: “Life is a cliff hanger.” His point being that just like the serialized movies he used to go watch as a kid, the hero, although in danger, was always going to find a way out. He views life in much the same way – it’s all going to work out – the fun part is figuring out how.

Both of these men, although from different backgrounds, send us a message of leading ourselves out of problems, looking at what we are given and then doing something about it – through creativity or sheer determination or perhaps a combination of both. Not bad advice for managers in the information age.