Common Sense

Beware the Short Fuse

My Irish mom used to say you could measure a man's character by what bugged him, or set him off. Being married to an Italian, she rarely had to wait long to find out. But her point was the easier it is for you to get ticked off, the easier it is for people to turn you off.

She's gone now, but I wonder what she'd make of one Ken Lay now.

He's very ticked off. On the stand at his Enron trial, the once seemingly affable, smooth CEO is irascible and snappish... and that's with his own attorney!

Lay's former partner, Jeff Skilling, wasn't much better. He too is getting rattled on the stand.

Prosecutors are trying to get under both men's skin and, while they have yet to produce a smoking gun, they have got their witnesses smoking mad — for a jury and a world to see.

I've long believed the best CEOs or politicians are the ones who never let the world see them sweat, even though they might be sweating a lot.

I've heard from confidantes who knew Ronald Reagan very well that he absolutely hated the condescending remarks about his intelligence. But in public, he laughed them off, and so too did the rest of the country.

John Kennedy too hated the barbs that he was just a rich kid, whose dad was paying his way to the White House. But in public, leave it to JFK to say old Joe sure as heck wasn't going to pay for a landslide.

President Bush, another product of a storied family, must cringe at some of the headlines he sees. But you wouldn't know it this past weekend — mocking himself at the White House Correspondents' dinner and even getting "them" laughing.

It's called being smooth and un-ruffled. It's not a matter of just not letting them see you sweat, but never giving them the satisfaction either.

Our best leaders save tempers for moments that matter — not small stuff, for moments that do not.

Ken Lay, take note: Your long list of alleged sins at Enron might not bring you down, but your short fuse might.

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