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Energy

September 7, 2014 — Leave a comment
Energy

Energy.  As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned that other than time, energy is the most important thing we manage.  Generating, managing and increasing our capacity for energy.

And the thing is, if you’ve got no energy then you can’t make the most of the time you have.

There are things that sap your energy and things that give you energy.  Dealing with the unimportant and spending time with difficult people…draining!  Hard work, however, actually helps create happiness and energy.  Not only have I found that to be true in my own life, but there’s actual research to back it up.

The thing is, most of us guys don’t think about how we expend our energy.  We just spend it on whatever catches our eye first or most powerfully.

And there’s so much to do!  Developing our relationship with our wives, playing with our kids (one more time daddy!), building a career, networking professionally, developing relationships with those we want to have deeper friendships with and getting in some hobbies and much-desired down time. Oh, and then you have to remember to grow yourself, do the lawn, help around the house, plan a family vacation, etc.  (And even the etc. seems big sometimes…)

The reality is that there isn’t enough to go around.  It’s an equal reality that most of us don’t manage or work on increasing our energy capacity either, though.

Consider this – do you think about what kind of activities leave you refreshed and energized?  What about the stuff that you mindlessly do that doesn’t actually refresh you at all?  (Yes, I mean TV.)  Do you notice how your eating habits affect the energy you have?  Ever wondered about that mid-afternoon coma that you slip into every day?  Maybe that has something to do with what you ate up until that point…

Or how about sleep?  Life satisfaction?  If you’re not happy with your life and the direction of it, do you have a plan?  An accountability partner?  If you don’t think having a plan matters much, try reading this post by Eric Barker.

Thing is, if we’re to have any chance of leading our families well and leaving powerful legacies it’s gonna take a heck of a lot of energy.

Strength from painTime can’t be increased.  You have what you’ve been given.  Period.  But energy can be increased.  And I think it all comes down to thinking like an athlete training their body.  Increased capacity always – let me highlight this – always comes via pain.  And what is energy but increased strength of spirit, mind and body?

Train your muscles and they get sore.  Push your mind to grow and it can hurt.  Stretch your spirit to bare more than it ever has and I promise you’ll feel it.

But then you wake up one day and find that you can do more than you could before.  I think it’s a mindset.  It’s a mindset that not only embraces pain but yearns for it as an indication you’re alive.

How often do you wake up and say “Today…I raise the bar. No zero entry pool – I’m jumping in deep.”  (And then really go for it?)

We want to leave a legacy.  To lead our families.  For our kids to grow up and become men and women we’re proud to know.  We want our team at work or in the community to push hard and do great things.

Significance of any kind requires focused, intense energy.  Don’t just charge in thinking you can change only your determination and end up with different results.

Begin by building the right foundations.  Actively think about your energy.  Know your current limits, manage within those current limits realistically (based on priorities) and learn to embrace the pain of increasing your energy capacity.  If ever there was a time where “no pain, no gain” was a good thing to say it’s now.

It begins right now with you and me thinking about how we can increase our capacity for energy.  If we start, those we lead will follow.  In fact, they’re already following.  The question is where are you leading them – to increasing or decreasing strength and energy?

Insecurity is something we all deal with.  On some level, it is one of the core causes of all our oddities and quirks.  I’d even argue that the most confident, bold person you know still has a bit of insecurity lurking in their heart in some amount.  And unchecked, it can destroy the environments we are a part of.

insecurity

As dads, we see insecurity pop up in our kids as they begin to venture out of the shelter of our homes and into the real world.  When they find some exposure to the world that doesn’t think they’re amazing for being born, they can easily fall prey to attacks of insecurity.

Our jobs as fathers is to help our kids face that world and be able to have a confidence in themselves that is both based on something real and solid enough to weather the storm coming at them.

Honestly, it is a bit sad watching how some people go about this with their kids.  Generic praise like “You’re so amazing” and “You are just the greatest little fella.”  While there isn’t anything wrong with saying these things, there also is much right about it either.  In other words, if you don’t give your kids some concrete feedback on why they are amazing that is based on truth you’re creating a fragile shell that won’t last outside of your home.

Another version of this is what I call overreaching praise.  It’s where parents don’t know what to praise in their kids so they reach for everything.  “Wow, you put your pants on better than anyone I’ve ever seen!”  Of course, this is a over-dramatized example, but you’ve heard it before.

If you work with other humans in any capacity (which we all do), you’ve witnessed insecurity at different levels in most everyone.  Whether it plays out as an overly aggressive person or a reserved, reluctant approach, insecurity not only holds that person back but the whole team suffers.  Insecurity is contagious.  It is frustrating.  It is hard on everyone.

The hardest part of this is that our natural tendency is to attack insecurity with either harshness or cliches.

Get over it!  Just do it!  Quit worrying about what other people think.  You just need to start working and stop over-thinking things.  Ugh!  Why don’t you get it?

You can do it!  You can do anything you set your mind to!  If you believe it you can achieve it!

Natural reactions, of course, are often wrong.  And they push insecurity further into the person by either confirming they are incompetent or creating internal skepticism of your obviously weak and foundation-less “motivation.”

So what to do?

Acceptance.  Acceptance is the real cure for insecurity. This is why people join with groups that are unhealthy. Stay in relationships that drag them down.

Acceptance is: letting people be who they are and loving them anyway.  Being able to appreciate someone as a unique and beautiful creation and that part of their beauty is their cracks.

Acceptance is not: letting people remain in their faults or believe they don’t need to work on them.  Enabling people in their bad habits and issues.

Feeling acceptance from someone gives us a pathway to accept ourselves. Not to think we don’t have weaknesses. Not to think we have it all right or are without gaps in our abilities. But to accept that being the complete package isn’t being perfect or “all together” but instead being in process and joyful in the journey.

Being o.k. with having flaws is one of the most appealing characteristics a person can have.  My wife and I have discussed many times what makes a woman attractive.  I have maintained before and will continue to do so here – hands down it’s confidence.  Not the cocky, look-at-me kind of confidence (which isn’t confidence anyway).  But the quiet, humble confidence that comes from having faced your demons, found the good in yourself and resolutely determined to lean into that discovery.

If we want to build a generation of people that can weather the storms of this world with grace and power, we have to arm them with something real to believe in.  The beginning of that is real acceptance.  Have you learned to accept yourself?  Really?  If so, I’ll bet you’re pretty good at accepting those around you.

Taking Time to Rest

December 18, 2012 — 2 Comments

Taking Time to Rest

Yesterday I was working from the house.  My oldest had a Christmas festival at school and I really wanted to go, so I stayed home.  (Hey, why can’t dad have a little bit of pre-school cheer too?)

My wife was working on Christmas cards while I was lost deep in my own thoughts nibbling on whatever tasty treat was nearby.  “I think I’m going to take next week off,” I mentioned as an aside.  There was a pause.

“Like, off-off?!” she asked incredulously.

“I think so.  I’ll do some relaxing, reflecting and a bit of planning of course.  But I think I want to take the week off.”

“What brought this on?”  (Back story for you: This will make our 9th Christmas together and I’ve not once truly taken more than Christmas day off.  Last year I scheduled a conference call on Christmas Eve – in the morning.  It’s nothing neurotic, I just like what I do and enjoy making progress in my work.  Not a need to work but a genuine enjoyment of it.)

We talked a bit, but what it came down to was that I just felt like I needed to slow down for a week.  I’m not burned out.  Nothing is crashing around me.  Heck, in some ways I have a lot of reasons to ramp up next week to knock out some things I haven’t been able to get to in the normal work weeks.  But something inside me just keeps repeating…take some time to rest.

I’m not the best guy in the world to talk with about this topic.  Just sitting still is a skill that I’m terrible at (yes, it is a skill).  Taking time to rest for me most often ends up being a block of time I use to do a bunch of projects that have been waiting on me to have time.

Ideally though, shouldn’t resting be, well, restfull?

Knowing myself, if I don’t have a plan walking into next week it’s gonna be an epic failure.  I’ll either blow it by entertaining myself (not gaining the level of refreshment and energy I should from resting) or working on a bunch of things that aren’t “work” (thus not really resting at all).

So I’m going to spend a little time this week thinking about how I can be intentionally restful.  That sounds weird to me, but it’s the only way I know how to describe it.  I want to rest and be still.  But I want to let that stillness have a deeper impact on me than just mindlessly getting through a week.  I want to have a chance to allow myself to be refreshed, to reflect and to gain some deeper energy and insights that will help me be a better dad and person.

Growing as a dad, leader, individual doesn’t always have to be about going, doing and stretching.  Maybe sometimes it’s about not doing any of that and instead just letting yourself observe the deeper things of life from a position of stillness.

Do you take time to be still?  And are you any good at it?  I’d love to get any feedback from you on how to do this because I’m a complete rookie!

Momentum. Our lives naturally develop momentum. The question is, are we creating momentum in the direction we want to move or are we allowing life to push us along? Like a fast moving river, there is momentum that will carry us. Unless we learn how to skillfully use that momentum to get where we want to go it is going to be a dangerous ride that often ends badly.

River's Momentum

In a previous post, we started talking about how to get steam behind our ideas. Big ideas require the help or participation of others.  Ideas run into walls when they aren’t introduced skillfully because we have a tendency to resist others pushing us in a direction we didn’t choose.

Seeing with their eyesToday, we’re going to talk about how to begin the process by Seeing with Their Eyes. I want to admit right up front that this is one I struggle with.  My task oriented, strongly opinionated mind just doesn’t naturally slow down and see how the wake I create affects others.  Habits can change, however, and while I’ll never be as empathetic as my wife I am working on getting better.

Point is, whether you want to help your kids grow into amazing men and women or you have a vision for a project that could help your teams have a banner year, there is a there is one subject we’ve all got to become an expert on – the people we lead. The way you move someone begins with knowing what makes them move. Obvious, I know. But then again, how many times have we begun excitedly pushing forward our agenda only to have it fall flat because we hadn’t think about how others would perceive it?

Cherie and I try to make sure we pay attention to our kids love languages. It’s how someone best receives and gives love. If you don’t know their language, you may be showing them love in a language they don’t “speak” and the relationship suffers. Both of us are heavily physical touch people with each other and our kids. We love to hug, kiss and just generally be close. (That doesn’t translate to people other than my wife and kids, though.  i.e., please don’t give me a lingering hug or rub my back.  Just sayin’.)

Caleb was easy to figure out – he was and is just like us in his love language. When he watches TV, he wants one of us literally at his side. He asks for family hugs and wants me to hold him while we read together. Then there was Logan! For a while, I was having a hard time figuring him out. We worried that he felt left out or disconnected. He’d play alone, leave the rest of us to actually go upstairs and be by himself or literally just lay down in his bed. I tried to engage him by playing with him and he’d seem like he liked it for a while and then just stop interacting with me and play alone. Caleb would come in and I’d try to play with them both and Logan would yet again either leave or just almost ignore us. This really bugged me for a while because I couldn’t tell if it was just a more solitary personality or if he really felt like somehow we weren’t pursuing him the way he wanted to be pursued.

One day I took Logan with me to run a few errands. Because of schedules with naps and how much Caleb likes to come with me whenever I leave the house, I usually either only took Caleb or both of them. But that day it was just me and Logan. An interesting thing happened. He talked. Normally a pretty quiet kid, Logan talked with me all the way to the store…and in the store…and on the way home. And I noticed something else as well. When we did get home he seemed to be more engaged. When we played, he wanted to be a part. He was also more interested in the hugs and kisses we so loved to give out. What happened? I realized we were witnessing the playing out of a different love language…quality time. My Logan just needed to know that he was worth singling out. That I wanted to spend time with him specifically. Now, we try to make sure he gets the quality time he needs and as a family we have more momentum toward becoming the kind of people who know and love being together.

Knowing people at the level where I can see these kinds of things isn’t always easy. In fact, sometimes it’s outright hard:

  • Time. This level of knowledge requires investment and there’s limited time in the day.
  • Emotion. To dig in at this level requires strong emotional strength and maturity. This can get messy at times.  And to be honest, I don’t always handle it well.  My attitude can tend to be a bit like a drill instructor.  This is an area of real growth for me.
  • Chemistry. What if you don’t really want to get to know someone because you just don’t mesh with them? Either you have a lot of baggage in the relationship or you don’t mind working with them but just don’t want anything other than that?  It can be hard to see the benefit of getting to know someone you don’t really love being around anyway.

Andy Stanley said something that helped me begin to better handle issues like this. Not all things are problems to be solved. Sometimes things we see as problems are, in fact, tensions to be lived with. In other words, there are tensions in life that are good to maintain. In this case, the tension lies in balancing the real constraints of our time, energy and connections with others with the equally real need for our leadership to be guided by a deeper knowledge of those on our teams. I think of it like an equation. This may be overly simplistic, but let’s say we have 2 variables – Constraints (time, emotion, chemistry) and Investments (in more deeply knowing others). Here’s how they may play out:

  • Constraints – Investments = Lost potential
  • Investments – Constraints = Burnout
  • Investments / Constraints = Enduring Impact

Choosing to invest within the constraints we have on our lives will give us an edge on becoming the best dads and leaders we can be. I’m still figuring all this out myself, but here’s a few things I’ve learned so far. First, don’t mistake the level of depth you have to have with each person. In the context of the story above all I had to do was:

  • Be aware enough to know there was a disconnect
  • Be intentional enough to try something different (make sure my trip was done when I could take him alone)
  • Observe his reactions
  • Adjust or Replicate based on my observations

In the context of work, as you interact with your family and teams, be observant. Try different words, activities and approaches. Experiment and see what works. For me, simply being aware of these people has altered the dynamic and provided the effects of deeper relationship. And like all things you learn in life, failure is not only inevitable, it’s may even be good. Sometimes failing can be the opportunity to go to someone and apologize. When they see you’re willingness to be humble and admit wrong or failure, you become more human to them.  (Done this more than once and recently…)

A few words of caution here. If you decide to undertake this because you hope to learn enough about people so you can change them for your goals or so they’ll be more likely to do what you want them to – please DON’T. You learn about people because you care and want to lead them well. If you get that out of whack the only thing you’ll leave behind is a mess.

Take Action:

To do this you’re going to have to create a plan. If you were going to do this without one you would have already. Having a plan provides structure to your activities. It gives you something to measure against. Something to optimize. If you have no structure and you win or lose it is very difficult to know what caused the result and how to adjust or replicate in the next interaction.

Here’s some ideas to get you started:

  • Intentional touch points with those you lead and an agenda in those touch points.
    • Kids: dates, spontaneous donut runs, dinner time, bedtime routine, etc.
    • Teams: “walking the halls,” daily/weekly meetings, team huddles (spontaneous or planned), taking different people to lunch, outside events, etc.
  • Have accountability. If you were one of the 2% that had the internal discipline and force of will to accomplish the goal, you would have already. Share your desire, plan and concerns with some one. And then be accountable.
  • Ask questions. Always look for opportunities to take questions one level deeper to know the person. Learn not just what they are doing or thinking, but why? How did the get where they are? What do they want and why?

I heard it once said that if you want to like something more, learn more about it. Knowledge creates interest. The more you learn about the people you lead, the more interest you will have in them. And when you know more and are more interested in those you lead, the more momentum you’ll gain with them when it comes time to take them somewhere. A side benefit of this is having a greater perspective and appreciation for what is really important. If we kept in mind the real ultimate goal of legacy (adding value to those we lead) how many of our arguments would we let go? Or “chances to teach” would we see as just nagging? How much more effective could we be by seeing with the eyes of those we lead?

True Fans

December 6, 2012 — 2 Comments

A while back I was reading a blog post by someone I follow and the post asked this question: How would you define a true fan?

True Fans

The question really hit me and I spent some time thinking about it.  This was my response:

I’m not sure how I’d define true fan. It’ll probably change over time. But I think the answer lies somewhere around people that see the masterpiece in me. Kind of like what Michelangelo meant when he said “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” He saw the masterpiece even before it was sculpted. And really, don’t our fans in a way help “sculpt” us? True fans are those that “see” you and stick around because they love watching you become who you were designed to be.

That answer has really stuck with me.  Especially lately with my family and teams at work.  I’ve had several experiences in both lately that have reminded me how important it is to have true fans and to be a true fan of others.  (Sometimes those experiences have been very humbling…something I need from time to time.)

There is an idea about having 1,000 true fans for your product/company and how achieving that can launch your company into very profitable territory.  But when you change the context a bit – from building a company’s revenues to building a person – I believe the number of true fans it requires to be transformative dwindles significantly.  All the way to just one.

At Home

There is nothing revolutionary or new about saying a child’s parents should be their truest fans. More at stake is the gut check I have to ask myself – is there anyone that believes in and cheers on my kids more consistently and energetically than me?  More importantly…

How about when they have an “off” day?  

When my kids look back on their years under my roof, will the thing they remember be how I made them feel special, capable, safe and encouraged?  Will they tell their wives and friends that looking back they always got a sense that no matter how bad things got I was always in their corner with love, acceptance, discipline, coaching, encouragement and time? And what about my wife?  Does she know that when all else fails and even she doesn’t believe in herself anymore that she’s got a rock solid fan in me?  When she is going through one of the hard times that this phase of life brings, does thinking of me and our relationship help give her the strength to carry on?  Do my kids see that dynamic in our relationship?

Being a true fan of my wife and my boys can seem like a natural thing because it resonates with me emotionally.  I think all moms and dads would answer that question with something like, “Of course!” Beyond feelings, however, I have to ask myself if I behave like a true fan to them.  When I look at them, do I see what they could be at their best?  Reacting to them at their worst, do I react out of a place that says, “Whoa!  This isn’t you!  You are an amazing, loving, fun, (fill in the blank with appropriate descriptions) person!  What happened that sidetracked you like this?  Please let me help you get back to who you really are.”

At Work

In thinking about teams and how to build, motivate, streamline, improve, retain and accelerate them, I think it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that teams are just people.  We all know that in dealing with people, there is a simple truth that the first and most basic need a person has is to be accepted and believed in by another person.

But knowledge doesn’t equal execution.  When we’re planning out strategies for how to get our teams to move faster, do better quality work, be more committed or work more efficiently – do we start with asking ourselves if we are fans of the people on those teams?  I’m not talking about being buddies with them.  They don’t have to have warm fuzzies with us or have been to our home and know our kids’ names.

Instead, do we at our core see the greatness inside those we work with and want to see that greatness come out to the light of day? That is the heart and soul of great execution on strategy. You may be able to plan great strategy for teams but if you aren’t true fans of those on the teams the strategy will fall short.

What to do next

Discussing the idea is great, but the only thing that matters in the end is what we do with it.  Here’s what I’m doing.  I’m going to make being a true fan an intentional activity in my schedule.  This won’t be the right thing for many of you, but I like routines.  I use a tool called RoutineTap.  It is simply a web app that allows you to define the things you’d like to develop into habits and track your action on those activities over time.  The idea is simply that if you define a goal habit and begin actually tracking it you’ll tend to do more of it.  Here’s what got added to my personal reporting: “Who was I a true fan of today and how?”

I figure if I’m constantly asking myself that question it will help me keep that at the forefront of my mind as I interact with the people around me.  And that can’t be a bad thing.

How about you?  Have you ever experienced having a true fan?  Have you ever been a true fan to others?  What were those experiences like and how did they help “sculpt” you?  What are you going to do differently to make being a true fan something more intentional?

I love the story by Mark Twain about Tom Sawyer convincing other people to whitewash a fence for him and pay him for the privilege.  How in the world was he able to get them to do that?  No matter how many times I’ve tried, I can’t get my friends to cut my lawn for me.  Show me the dad that knows people well enough to have this kind of leverage with his family and I’ll show you a man who has enormous power both at home and at work.

Convincing others to join your movement
Photo Credit: Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Experience for me is more like this: My wife and I were talking one night, just doing the daily download we try to make a habit, and she began telling me about her frustrations with motherhood.  She wanted to get things done but the kids just seemed bent on preventing her from accomplishing anything.  As she shared this with me my mind immediately went into command and control mode.  There was a problem and I could solve it!  The next day I spent a few minutes creating a structure for her day and strategies during each period for how she would keep the kids from preventing her progress.  There were room times, book reading times, group cleaning sessions and carefully coordinated opportunities for play.  It was perfect!

That night I told her that I’d worked on her issue and had a solution.  We walked through my plan and I explained all the many sides of the approach.  I told her how to train the kids to dutifully comply with the new schedule.  I was eloquent, smart and passionate.  Then I saw her expression…

 

Bored Wife
Photo Credit: HBO

So how can we go from a great idea we have to getting our families and teams to own them? Leaders who get steam behind their ideas have learned to S.T.O.P.  Over the next few weeks I’m going to dive deeper into each of these and see if we can’t flesh some of this out.

  1. See with their eyes.  The key to all buy-in is in learning to ask good questions.  In the beginning you’ve got to ask questions that get you involved in their worlds.  Dad, this means making sure you instill habitual conversation points with your kids and your wife. Leaders, this means having intentional lines of communication with those on your teams.  When you come alongside your families and team members you see what they value and can better implement change that matters.
  2. Talk with their words.  Any communicator knows that words have power.  But do you know which words have power to the person you’re talking to at any given moment?  Dad, you’ve experienced that moment when you explain something to your kids with words that are over their head.  Eyes glaze over, mouths slightly open…and the moment’s gone.  Inside the walls of your home or the office, you have to know how people speak to each other in order to maximize your connection.  And that means spending time with them.
  3. Ownership – give it away.  Dad, when your kids are feverishly attempting to get something done – who came up with the idea 99% of the time?  Yup…they did.  Obviously, the reason people go above and beyond the requirements of their job to accomplish a goal or complete a project is because they find value in it.  Look closely enough and you’ll more than likely find that they either initiated the project or help shape the goal.  So when you identify the problem to be solved or the opportunity to be realized, ask for help in designing the solution.  Offer up something for their minds to latch onto.  Break their existing perspective on something indirectly so they can begin processing this new idea.  Then engage them in a quest to mutually discover what the “new normal” should be based on the expanded view of the world.
  4. Push the credit to others and own the blame.  Most leaders don’t get massive buy-in the first time they try.  Like any relationship this depends on trust.  But if you learn to freely give away credit and take responsibility when things don’t go right, each time you go after buy-in you’ll get a cumulative effect from previous experiences.  

So if you’ve either failed to gain momentum in a previous effort or are about to start something that needs other people to succeed, make sure you S.T.O.P. to speed up.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  What are some ways you’ve learned to build excitement and action around your ideas?  

The Care and Feeding of Teams

September 5, 2012 — 2 Comments

I was reading a post the other day on the blog of Tony Dungy.  The article talked about the powerful impact of a father on children and specifically infants.  Infants with engaged fathers tend to show more curiosity and smile more.  A study by Children’s Hospital Boston even showed that infants even show different signs of anticipation when they are approached by their mom or dad.  Apparently even infants know that dads love to play.

The impact of a dad on a family is huge.  (This in no way diminishes the vastly important role of mom!)  A dad can set the tone of how young children view authority.  How they communicate.  How engaged they are with the world.  A father, when fully engaged and intentional in his efforts, has the power to create a culture in his home that can carry generations of family into joy, success and fulfillment.  When we do this thing right we can provide an environment where everyone can reach the maximum of their potential and love getting there together.

Man!  What an amazing and daunting thought!

Thinking about this naturally led to application in life outside the walls of home.  Does this principle have any application in the workplace?  When you’re building a company or working in a division of a company trying to reach goals you end up working closely with the teams around you pretty closely.  Sometimes long hours occur.  Things get intense as emotions run deep.  Best friends are formed.
 

The question is: As an engaged and intentional leader or team member can we have an impact similar to the impact of a dad on our families?

Band of Brothers - Example of Love at Work?When I think of the extended family that your team mates can become, I tend to think in terms of the Band of Brothers kind of image.  Whatever image comes to mind for you, isn’t there a part of you that wants to feel like the group of people you spend roughly 50% of your waking hours with 5 days a week are sort of family to you?  Sure, there are challenges here.  People leave the team.  You don’t like everyone.  
 
So what can we pull from this idea of engaged dads making a huge difference to their infants and use for our “extended family?”  

Here are 5 ways we can take action:

 
  1. Own the awesome and the weight.  As a dad, it seems to happen naturally.  Holding that baby you feel the weight and at the same time the immense joy of the responsibility. If you are the leader of the team, think about how awesome it is that people choose to work for you.  Yes, times may be tough in the job economy for many but people always have choices.  And whether you are the leader or the lowest end of the totem pole, it is your responsibility to enrich the team members and the results of that team.  Otherwise, why are you on the team in the first place?
     
  2. Choose a culture.  In the family, culture may seem out of place.  Family rhythm, personality or whatever you call it – if you don’t know what kind of team you want what you’ll get is a mess.  The same goes for the workplace.  There is no hard right or wrong here.  Formal, informal, fun, strict, bring your dog or wear a suit and tie.  Each can have pros and cons.  The question is, do you know where you want to land with your team?  Studies show that people want clarity on the expectations you have of them.  We tend to think of this as what they are supposed to accomplish, but I think knowing how they are supposed to interact is equally important.  (Just much more difficult to define!)
     
  3. Have a plan.  It’s a comforting thing for the family when they know dad has a plan.  It may not always go exactly as intended, but knowing that someone is being intentional about any given situation lets the family be a bit more relaxed.  In the office, if you lead the team, you should have two plans.  A plan of attack (to accomplish the goals) and a plan to build (help the people on the team be better because they were on your team).  
     
  4. Talk about non-work things.  Dad, you don’t just talk about the business of family with kids do you?  “What do we need to all do this week to make sure our family is running a tight ship?”  No!  Well, at work if you don’t care about what’s going on in the lives of the people on your team, you don’t understand leadership.  Enough said.
     
  5. Never die or good-bye?  As a leader in your home, dad, don’t you try to help your kids know when the situation calls for them to work harder and when they should just let it go?  Part of the art of being a leader is knowing when a team member or project you’re working on needs some loving attention and when they need to be cut free.  This should always be done in love and with the good of the person and overall team in mind.  To me, the question is what is going to provide the best overall benefit to both the team and the person – grow or free them?  
What would happen if we all took this attitude and approach with the people we spend so much time with?  What if the culture and approach we have at home and at work were synchronized?  Leaders, team members, engineers, sales people, finance folks and administrators all living and working together in a way where we never actually leave our family.  We just transition from the core to the extension of it.  Where we view each other with the same lens of responsibility, care, endurance and joy that great families view each other through.  I almost hate to say it considering my recent rant, but dare I say that we could change the world?  
 
Enough with what I think – what do you think?  Have you experienced this done well?

For a while I’ve had a bit of a passing interest in following some of the “startup world” as it’s called. Primarily the technology companies that dream of one day growing to scale and being bought for billions of dollars. Some of the dream team in this arena would be companies like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and even Google just to name some of them. I’ve followed blogs, listened to podcasts and even read some books by and about the famous entrepreneurs. At first it was all really fascinating and sometimes energizing to hear these fiery entrepreneurs talk about the rigors of building a growth company. Even though I’m not in the startup world I found a lot of inspiration to work hard, believe in myself and to be creative in my work.

Also, since I’m in a small company that is working hard to evolve and grow I read a good number of business books. One of the topics I like to read on is building a culture in a company and how important it is. The fierce determination and energy of the start-up world and the study of building culture is both exciting and applicable in your daily work life. (Which I find is fairly rare.)

Not only can I apply the knowledge and approaches in the office but I can often find nuggets of wisdom in being a better dad. After all, isn’t being a dad really similar being the entrepreneur/CEO of a startup?

World-Is-ChangingBut lately I’ve started to have a creeping feeling that this once scrappy and exciting arena of start-ups is starting to get, well, self-obsessed. It seems like every other blog post I read or discussion I get into the idea of doing work that “matters” comes up. If you’re going to build a company that lasts you’ve got to focus on “changing the world,” scream the new experts in startups and business literature. Go big or go home! Build a culture that helps people transcend the basic needs and find self-actualization and purpose!

“Wait,” you may think. “Isn’t that good advice? Don’t you want people trying to change the world? Daring to do bold things?”

My answer would be, “It depends.” The issue I take isn’t with the idea as much as it is the broad and exclusive application of and the assumptions these statements make. Let me state my points:

  • It seems very self-congratulatory. So often when I hear people talk of how their company is going to change the world, it comes across to me more as a marketing ploy or ego boost than an earnest passion. As if they are trying really hard to be bigger than they really are so people will buy their widget or come work for them. Are they trying to convince me or themselves? Or perhaps they just needed more hugs from daddy. 
  • “Changing the world” is almost meaningless. By definition, when I wake up every day I change the world. Every decision I make, person I interact with, circumstance I’m in, things I create/destroy, etc. is a change to the world we’re in. So what does it mean to “change the world” anyway? Personally I believe saying you’re trying to change the world is just lazy. Lazy because it’s easier to say that than it is to solve a specific problem and be o.k. that solving this problem alone isn’t giving the world an overhaul but it is no less worth doing anyway. 
  • Not all businesses need to be built to change the world to be successful. There are countless companies begun by motivated, smart people that weren’t out to do anything to the world other than make their way in it. There was an idea, a desire and a willingness to work for the dream of accomplishment on its own merit. And what do you know? Some of them actually did change the world. 
  • It assumes that people find self-actualization or purpose because of work. Now, I get that we spend most of our lives at work so we should try to do what we love. But when I hear people almost piously talking about building companies and cultures that help people feel like they have purpose, I have to wonder if they’re deluded or just plain arrogant. Sure, maybe there are organizations that are doing work that by its nature is derived from deep purpose. But most organizations are doing things that aren’t like that. I’m not saying people’s work is without purpose. I’m questioning if they find purpose because of work vs. finding purpose and then applying it to their work. And if someone did base their purpose on their work I think they are standing on a very shaky foundation. (Which, ironically, would be bad for the team they’re a part of.) 
  • It completely deludes most people. All the zealous screams for doing work that really, really matters and changes the world is closely akin to the ridiculous statement we’ve all heard people tell their kids. “You can do anything you set your mind to, honey.” The problem is that it isn’t true. You can’t do anything you set your mind to. If so, someone would be Superman by now. I really want laser vision and steel skin. Not gonna happen. Similarly, when you elevate the definition of work that “matters” to meaning it must have some legacy leaving impact that will be remembered in the books of history, you have at the same time just told 99.9% of the people listening to you that they can’t do work that matters. And make no mistake, that is the message that is coming through. Which brings me to my final point…
  • It totally demeans most of humanity. There was a time not long ago when we honored anyone who supported their family by dependably working at something that added any value to society. It didn’t matter if they were the CEO of a large company, an entrepreneur, a missionary or a janitor at the local elementary school. There was honor and dignity in diligent work. (Notice I didn’t say that all were equally rewarded or admired.) So along with my previous point, raising the definition of meaningful work to be history book worthy insults the mass majority of people who will never achieve that level of results. Not to mention it ironically dooms many of the very people pitching this idea to never achieving anything “meaningful.”

And this didn’t make the list because frankly I have no idea how to expound on it yet or if it makes sense. But a phrase came to me as I thought about this issue the other day and I haven’t been able to shake it. “If everyone is out to change the world, how can we know what the change should be since there is no one living in the world that exists now?”

Many people will likely say I’m misinterpreting or twisting what is being taught, and it may not be the well-intentioned aim of those giving this advice. But results, not intent, is the measure of value. And the results I see are people that get so caught up in trying to achieve some level of transcendence in their work that they are never able to really just be happy. I see companies that are building relatively mundane products and services burn out (or at least look ridiculous) because they stretch so hard to make their business seem like it is fundamental to the human story. Why not just build your relatively mundane company on great values, make a great living (or sell for a large amount) and let your impact not be on the world at large but on the people you get a chance to interact with? Make the lives of others richer and help them reach their goals while you build a financially prosperous company. That may not be remembered by the world but it will certainly have a long range impact.

Or what about being a dad? If I raise kids that are strong, productive and valiant men and women…have I not changed the world for the better?

Instead of telling people to change the world why don’t we talk about playing a positive, inspiring role in our communities? That may have nothing or everything to do with what they do in their work. It may not be something your company’s culture affects directly. What our company’s cultures and purposes should do is create environments where people find the camaraderie, expression and development they need to be energized from their experiences with us instead of drained. When we have a society of people that are constantly energized and are progressively finding their life’s purpose, collectively we will achieve something worthy of the history books.

I’d love to hear from any of you on this. Where am I off base? Why do we need more of the message about changing the world? What points am I missing?

Like nothing else, kids can make us feel emotionally schizophrenic. But if you stop long enough to think, their is a lot of wisdom you catch while raising the next generation. This happened to me the other day. My wife called me with a story that made me laugh and at the same time provoked some really deep thinking.

She and the kids had been outside playing in mud puddles created by a rain storm that just blew through.

Learning from our kids

Naturally, the boys had worked up a man sized appetite. Like any good mom Cherie loaded them up in the car for a fun trip to ChicFilA. After some food, the playground and WAY too many screaming kids, she was ready to head home for some much deserved down time. Caleb, our 3 year old, left the playground while Cherie rounded up the other two. She assumed he was just waiting near the door of the restaurant as he normally did. But this time she went out and he wasn’t there. Looking outside she sees his blonde head standing next to the truck (where he’d had to cross the parking lot to get to – a big no-no). Reminding herself to be calm, she went out. And the following conversation took place:

Cherie: (Kneeling down to get on his level.) “Caleb, buddy. You can NOT just walk out of a store and cross the street without me. You could have been hurt. I was so scared!”

Caleb: “Don’t worry, mommy. I looked both ways and didn’t see ANY cars! So I just came to the truck and waited patiently for you.” (Flashing a proud smile)

Cherie: (With a mixture of tears from being scared and a laugh from such a grown up attitude from a 3 year old) “I get that buddy and you did do a great job. But you still need to wait on me to be with you. You’re not old enough to do that by yourself. You could just miss something and get hurt.”

Caleb: (Putting his hand on mommy’s shoulder and cocking his head to the side) “Don’t be frustrated mommy…I’m capable!”

At this point the conversation ended because Cherie was having to work so hard to stifle the laughter.

When we got off the phone from her telling me this story, I sat back in my chair and just smiled. I love my kids! But then as I thought about it more I realized there was a wealth of application for my work as a leader. Here’s some of the ones I wrote down:

  • Communicate the Goal…And the dangers that could keep us from them. Caleb made the choice he made because he only understood one part of the goal – get to the truck. What he didn’t understand was that there were other dangers that could keep that from happening safely. If all we do is cast the vision without discussing the obstacles we face in getting there we may be setting our teams up for a fall.
  • We Replicate What We Repeat. We constantly tell Caleb he is a very capable boy, to be patient and to look both ways before crossing the street! Whatever you want your culture to be, you’ll have to find ways to say it all the time in various ways.
  • People are more capable than we realize. I would have NEVER guessed Caleb could carry on that complex of an interaction with Cherie. Reading her, intuiting how she felt and why she was concerned and dialogging in such precise words and phrases. We need to pause from time to time to reassess those around us. Chances are they’ve grown since the last time you did that. (If they haven’t, we have a different leadership challenge.)
  • Genuine Care Changes the Interaction. Caleb could take his mom’s admonishment without feeling attacked because he knows without question her love. If we really care about the people we work with the moments of confrontation that inevitably happen can be received with appreciation because they know the source of the confrontation is a heart that is for them.
  • Rules become outdated. At different phases of an organization’s growth different rules are needed. But at some point, the rules need changing not stall out the momentum because the people’s and the organization’s capacities have changed. It may take wisdom and/or outside input to know when that time has come. (We’ve not reached the threshold of letting our 3 year old cross the road alone!)
  • Celebrate Direction, Not just Results. I was so proud of Caleb for the way he handled himself and for his attitude and independence. Even when people are dead wrong, if their intentions are pure and their attitudes are good we should try to rejoice with them where we can and then constructively offer advice on how to improve the next time. Fast moving people will get off course from time to time. But it’s easier to steer someone back on course than it is to get them moving in the first place. Don’t kill momentum!

I really believe if we treat our work like we treat our families (or whatever relationships you cherish), work would be a lot better and home would be a lot more engaging. We’d learn lessons from both that we’d apply to the other. We’d feel a lot more like we’re living integrated lives and have a sense of unity few ever experience. And hey, in building the story of our lives, having a unified life makes for a much richer story.

So from one man to a little bit smaller man, thanks Caleb. You’re a great teacher.

Money: False Security?

August 14, 2012 — 1 Comment

goal-setting-in-business

We all love to set goals. There’s just something emotionally satisfying about goals, isn’t there? (More on this one another time) But when it comes to accomplishing those goals, we instantly think about the “stuff” we just have to have to accomplish the goal. Maybe it’s the cool looking clothes to make you feel good about yourself. Or the latest gadget or software you just have to have in order to be productive. The late night workout widget that promises us the abs we want in 6 weeks flat. In other words, we immediately go to figuring out the best way to shortcut the process.

The tendency lives in us all. You could blame it on our society’s obsession with instant success. Perhaps it is how media glorifies the company’s that grow exponentially or stars that go from YouTube to filling stadiums in seemingly no time. But I think maybe it’s just because we’re flat out lazy.

The other day I was talking with someone about a new venture they wanted to take on. It was exciting and new and they had even written down their reasons for doing this to display in their office. Gleaming in the sun of hope it was…a bright, shiny object. Do you know what I mean? It had caught their imagination and overwhelmed their more rational mind which would normally be able to see all the holes in the ship.

Here was the gist: they had found an opportunity to make money online and had fallen in love with the dream. Bam! Website up, profits roll. Here was the major, gaping hole – they could barely handle the features on their cell phone much less understand things like UI design, SEO, PPC, niche selection, keyword selection, analytics, community building, etc. But no matter! They had a company that was going to help them learn all they needed to know…in 4 weeks. Woo-hoo! Now, I’ll admit the educational material seemed to be pretty good. But no matter how good the material, you can’t go from where this person was to Internet entrepreneur in 4 weeks. And here’s the kicker – the training was going to be thousands of dollars. (Which they didn’t really have.)

Maybe I’m crazy, but this just sounded like a great way to throw several thousand dollars down a hole.

I listened as patiently as possible and asked them things like, “You know, a lot of this kind of learning can be done for free from the web and supplemented with deeper knowledge from fairly inexpensive books. Why don’t you start there and try your hand at doing something on the web like building a blog community? That way you can learn the ropes and then apply it to a business.” The response, like ones I’ve heard myself give before, was “I just don’t know where to start! I’m not sure I can learn without someone to talk with and help explain things to me. I just need help.” Now, on the surface this may seem like a fairly reasonable statement. What if you don’t know where to start and need guidance navigating this new world? Isn’t that what universities are for? Didn’t I do this when I went to GA Tech? But here is the issue: this was a 4-week course. If you can’t learn independently, you aren’t gaining a whole new career-level skill in 4 weeks. Not only that, but the world of building a web-based company is changing by the millisecond. You learned SEO? Oops! Google just changed the rules…again. Got your blog building strategy down? Uh-oh! Now there are new “rules.”

Here’s my point – they were missing a basic fundamental. The “stuff” that was going to short-cut the process aren’t going to do any good unless this person develops the fundamentals of discipline, independent learning, creativity, perseverance and personal responsibility.

Why in the world do we think that throwing money at something means a higher chance of success? It’s kind of like when you see people get all excited about going to the gym and getting in shape. They tend to buy a membership at the biggest, best gym and buy all the cool looking clothes and fancy gear. They stock up on the latest pills and potions…before they’ve set foot in the gym or develop a plan of attack. Then, 3 weeks later they’re back at home sitting on the couch eating Cheetos wondering why their plan failed. It was because they should have focused on the basics first. 99 times out of a 100, you should get started on something using the free options. Once you know this is something you want to do (because you’ve been doing it) you’ll have developed the core of discipline and base level knowledge.  Then you can hire someone to help take your game to the next level. Starting with money gives you a false sense of security. You think that since spending money gives a higher chance of success when in reality it lowers your chances. Why? Because it blinds you to what really creates progress. Money doesn’t create value or progress. What creates these things is you. Your discipline. Your creativity. Your perseverance. Nothing else. No coach, course, equipment, pill or formula overcomes the basic fundamentals of winning through personal discipline and will.

To be clear, I’m not at all against spending money to take your game up a notch. But it’s like nutritional supplements. 99% of the people taking a performance supplement derive almost no value from it. Why? Because a supplement isn’t a magic pill that melts fat. (Sorry to all the advertisements out there saying otherwise.) Supplements are just that…supplemental. If you haven’t developed the core discipline of working your butt off and eating right, taking that supplement is going to skinny your wallet – not your belly. And you don’t need a fancy gym or a trainer to work your butt off. You can do pull-ups, push ups, sit ups, running, jump rope, kettle bells and many, many other exercises at home for a few bucks.

Goal-Setting-tattooWhen you do master the basics, if you do develop some basic skills, knowledge, discipline and attitude of perseverance and apply that to some initial experimentation in your chosen arena, then adding some paid coaching on top of that can be immensely helpful. When you take the first step on your own, your confidence, base knowledge and discipline will give you the foundation you need to get a return on any money spent furthering yourself. Or…you’ll find that you aren’t going to be able to do this new thing you thought was so great. Either way, you’ll end up knowing you. And that is the most important step.

I know there are a lot more angles to this topic and there is no way to cover them all in a blog post. But I’d love to hear thoughts from anyone else on this. Do you agree that our ability to put money at something up front is actually a bad idea (most of the time)? When would it be better to lead with money? (Other than what is absolutely required to get started.)

UPDATE: I just got this post from Jeff Goins site this morning and loved this guest post: http://goinswriter.com/athletics-of-art/.  Highlight:

Repetition tries our intentions. The thought of creating art is appealing to almost everyone. But the commitment and discipline required to make it is another story. People pay big money to set up a blog or get private lessons, but those same people quit quickly when nothing happens overnight. Why? Because maybe they confused a desire to create with a need for affirmation.