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?  

Connecting with people requires spending time with them.  Given how busy our lives are, spending time has to be focused and intentional.  What routines have you built into your family and workplace that allow you to stay connected with the people you lead?

Noel Coleman

Daddy’s need to know allowing kids to sleep in your bed with you often has unintended consequences and will lead to problems later; similarly, being a good leader means maintaining the same philosophy with subordinates and colleagues in the workplace!

Wise comment from a client of mine when talking about this blog.

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?

Rain Boots = Joy?

September 1, 2012 — 5 Comments

Dad and Son - JoyComing home as we drive around the corner to our cul-de-sac, my oldest son hears the splash of the tires going through a large puddle. “What was that, daddy?” I hear from the backseat.

“Just a puddle, buddy.”

“I want to splash too!”

“Hmm, o.k. pal. Let me get your brother in bed for a nap and we’ll go out.”

Almost two hours later and we’re both soaked, caked in mud (because the neighborhood is still being built and he of course wanted to play in the mud) and laughing uproariously. We go into the garage, strip down and go upstairs to take a well-deserved nap.

The next day Cherie, my wife, tells me all day Caleb had been telling her with great enthusiasm, “My daddy loves spending time with me. My daddy loves to play with me.”

Who knew? Rain boots = the greatest joy I’ve ever known…

You can be on the narrow path without being narrow minded.

Noel Coleman

2012-01-07 12.33.32-1

Fresh air, good friends and cool bikes.  Some loves just last throughout generations.

Noel Coleman

As I get deeper into my life as a husband, dad, friend and leader the more I begin to really appreciate the intricacies of relationships.  The ebb and flow, layers of complexity along with the sheer simplicity of just enjoying the people around me.  Have you stopped lately and asked if you take time to enjoy people or are you letting the uniqueness of these amazing creatures we see every day become too normal?

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.