Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There!

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” – Abraham Lincoln

This past few weeks I’ve put in lots of time clearing some trees from around my house. Since my chainsaw has been on the fritz and I didn’t want to wait for bad weather to return, I decided to go “old school” and take them out with an axe.

Knowing that famous quote attributed to Honest Abe made me do the painstaking work of sharpening the axe I used. After finishing, I probably could have shaved with it. It was helpful though because I made quick work of the trees. Digging out the stumps was a whole other story.

Most of us spend a good part of our day solving problems. It’s what we’re hired to do. The question is, how much time are you putting into thinking before you jump in to solve? We’ve been taught to heed the call to “don’t just stand there, DO SOMETHING!”

So why do we do it?   There are several reasons:

  • If we don’t act with urgency, people will think we’re not taking the problem seriously.
  • If we don’t dive in, our boss will think we’re incompetent.
  • There is reward in wearing yourself out for the cause.
  • If we don’t do it, nobody else will.
  • If we don’t do it, somebody else will and steal the credit.

All of these will result in a poor, knee-jerk solution that will simply kick the problem down the road. Maybe we’d be wiser to take the time to think and prepare before just diving in.

Sharpening the axe does two things:

  1. Gives us time to think.
  2. Makes the tool more efficient.

If the principle works so well for cutting trees, why wouldn’t it do just as well (figuratively) for your everyday challenges?

This week, as you are presented with problems, why not…

DON’T just do something, STAND there!

 

I’ll bet the results will be a whole lot better.

What’s Relevant to Your Development?

cThis week I’ve been working with some managers up in the Northeast. One of the questions I’ve prodded them with is:

What are you doing to develop this year?

For many of them, development means taking classes. For some, it’s working with a coach. Others do a lot of reading. Some however haven’t done anything. Their excuse? “I’m too busy.”

The choice to get better is a crucial one. Nobody goes out of his or her way to be worse at something. No one says they want to smoke MORE cigarettes or do LESS exercise for a New Year’s resolution. The question then for you is:

What’s Relevant to Your Development?

Are you taking time each week to do some professional growth? Are you looking for new skills to incorporate? Are you seeking advice from your manager on career growth? If you’re too busy, then what can you STOP doing to create time for development?

  • Could you turn off reruns of Two and a Half Men and pick up a book instead?
  • Can you forgo that night at the club to attend a networking meeting instead?
  • Can you ratchet back on running your kids all over town to soccer, gymnastics, karate etc. and create some space for your OWN development?

Ultimately, we all have to take responsibility for our own career success. Nobody will put the time and effort into our success that we will.

This week take some time to look at what you do, what you want to do, and where you want to be. Make the choice to be intentional about your success. Ask yourself again:

What’s Relevant to My Development?

Beware of the Easy Score

This is my view three weeks out of every month.

This is my view three weeks out of every month.

One of the most comedic, frustratingly annoying experiences I have nearly every week is watching the boarding process on Southwest Airlines. If you’re not familiar with how it works, you’re going to be very confused.

Southwest doesn’t assign seats. It will assign a boarding number when you check into your flight. The boarding numbers come in three groups, A, B, and C. If you’re a frequent traveler like I am, pay for automatic check in, or buy a Business Select fare, you get in the A group, usually in numbers 16 to 60. Once the A group goes, then B and C follow. They key of course is getting a number as close to A-1 as possible. That allows you to have a greater choice of seats. God help you if you’re in the C group. You won’t find a space for your gigantic carry-on steamer trunk in the overhead bins and you’ll be stuck in the dreaded middle seat, probably between a huge fat guy and a mom with a lap child.

One area of seats that always seems to LOOK open is the very first row, the bulkhead seats. It’s open for a reason. You can’t store any bags in front of you or under the seat. Everything has to go in the overhead bins. Since it’s usually old people who sit there because they do the pre-board, the bins are already full with purses, canes, and medical devices. For the unsuspecting novice traveler, they walk on the plane with their “C” boarding group and jump in, thinking they got the easy score. Then they’re told they can’t sit there, as there is no space for their luggage. Dejected, they slink back to the steerage section of the plane doomed to a middle seat. This happens at least three times per flight I’m on. The easy score is usually too good to be true.

Not to be a pessimist, but if things look too good to be true, they probably are. That empty parking spot at the front of the row at the mall on Black Friday will be a handicapped spot. The empty seat on the bus will have a homeless whino with bad B.O. sitting next to it. I once saw a guy at the bathroom in the BWI airport cut in front of the line to head into the ONLY empty stall. A second later he rushed out when he discovered there was diarrhea all over the walls and floor. Not sure how that happened.

Rather than wait for something to miraculously happen to you, why not go out of your way to create awesome opportunities? Rather than check in two hours before your Southwest flight and HOPE you get a good seat, check in right at the 24-hour mark? Instead of hoping for that great seat, open parking spot, or clean bathroom stall, plan better and get an earlier start? The same goes for opportunities at work. Rather than hope for a promotion, do the hard work to prepare for it. Instead of hoping you’ll be noticed, go out of your way to get noticed.

Nothing good in life will routinely fall into your lap. The easy score is often deceptive. There is a quote, attributed to everyone from Plato to Henry Ford that says “The harder I work, the more luck I seem to find.” If that’s true, there is no easy score. It’s all the result of preparation and hard, diligent work.

What are you prepared to do?

How to Be a Boss Worth Keeping

big boss screaming at small workerIf you’re a manager, supervisor, director, or anyone we could refer to as “the boss” then you may not realize you’re the #1 topic of conversation around the dinner table each night.

The question is: What are people saying?

I’m sure all of us have at one time or another, had the “boss from hell.” Being a retired sailor, I can tell you I had more than my share on active duty, but maybe the worst one I had was the VP of Human Resources at one of my post-Navy jobs.

Working now running my organizational repair business, I can tell you much of my work is centered around fixing the damage caused by bad bosses. It runs the gamut between high employee turnover and dwindling customer purchases. It includes legal troubles, low productivity, and in some cases complete process redesign to minimize the negative impact of the bad boss.

The short answer to this of course is simply firing the bad boss. That almost never happens. If you’re a business owner or corporate CEO, do everyone a favor and fire your bad bosses!

The question then remains: what are the characteristics of a boss worth keeping? Based on my experience, here are three:

  1. Technically-skilled. Few things are worse than having a boss that’s dumber than the workers. While a boss needn’t be in the weeds, they still need to understand the larger scope.
  2. Mentally-skilled. This means they’re good at making decisions. A boss needs to realize that their actions and choices affect more than just them. Learn to think like a chess player: 3 moves ahead at all times.
  3. Relationally-skilled. Nobody will care how smart and wise you are if you can’t get along with anyone. Learn some people skills. We’ll all be much happier.

So there they are. Just three things to do if you want to be a boss worth keeping. Pick one and get started, then be sure to do the other two. There is no success in being one-dimensional in this field!

How to Be an Employee Worth Keeping

bad employeeEvery time I attend a Society for Human Resources (SHRM) meeting that focuses on labor law and policy updates, I’m reminded of how much drama is involved in running a business. Aside from the regulations regarding pay and time off, there are the requirements for employees with disabilities and protections for those who are discriminated against. I don’t have a problem with those.

I do however have a problem with the amount of time and effort that goes into documenting poor performance. An employer can’t make a personnel move anymore without fear of reprisals. As I listen to labor law experts talk about court cases and awards to terminated employees, I can’t help but think that the entire concept of work has been forgotten. Perhaps it should be called FUN, or CHARITY, or COMMUNITY SERVICE.   I always thought WORK meant, well, WORK!

There are two culprits involved here. First, (and they are the topic of this post), it’s the employees. Second of course are those in management. Good employees are a blessing. Good managers are the best value-add for a company. But let’s talk about the bad.

Bad employees (and I have seen plenty), operate out of a sense of entitlement, working to the bare minimum, and doing as little as they can for the highest salary possible. They beg and plead for perks such as parties, picnics, and gift cards and yet push back at the slightest suggestion that they put in just a little more effort. And lest you think entitlement is a characteristic of Millennials only, let me tell you I’ve seen more Baby Boomers operate this way then young people.

How can an employee become someone worth keeping then? Here are some suggestions.

  • Think of yourself as an owner rather than an employee. If you owned the company would you slack off? Would you tolerate others who do?
  • Realize that work is a privilege, not a right. A company doesn’t have to hire people but does so to make money. It’s not a social program. You are hired because you purport to have a set of skills and abilities a company needs.
  • Keep your work/life balance out of it. Your best bet is to have a work/life separation. When you’re at work, give it 100% of your effort. When at home, give your free time 100% of your effort.
  • Do your job and then look for something else to do. Sitting around waiting for the click to hit 5PM is unacceptable.
  • Realize that the purpose of having a business is to make money. It’s not to save the world, employ the unemployed, pump up the economy, or build good will in a community. If this bothers you, then start your own company and do what you want. You’ll quickly find out that businesses don’t run on faith and good deeds.

All of us have a responsibility to somebody. If you don’t think you do, then do it for yourself. You have bills to pay and food to buy. Your ticket to success here is a steady job. If you want to keep it, be sure that you’re actually worth keeping around.

And just so you know, responsibility goes both ways. In my next post I’ll let management and business-owners know what their responsibilities are and how they can be a company worth working for or buying from.

What’s Your Tripwire?

Road sign warning about risk aheadSome of you have heard the legendary stories from the rock band Van Halen and their energetic, volatile front man David Lee Roth. In addition to their penchant for tossing televisions off the balcony of hotel rooms, they also had a reputation for picky, princess-like request such as a bowl of M&M candies backstage with all colors except the brown ones. Roth was seen to go into full meltdown if he ever found brown M&Ms in the bowl.

What most people don’t know is that the brown M&M request was nothing more than a tripwire that alerted the band of potential trouble. You see, in the band’s early days, they would ride into a concert venue with up to 17 semi trucks full of stage and sound equipment. They had detailed manuals of how to set it all up, which were sent ahead to the crews who were contracted out locally. Buried deep in their detailed set-up requirements was the brown M&M request. Roth knew that if the M&M request wasn’t met, there was a good chance something else would be ignored. He would then flip out, requiring the crew to start over in their procedures.

Having a tripwire is a good idea, alerting you to potential trouble and danger. While most of us aren’t rock stars, we might benefit from a simple set of tripwires as an advance warning system.

  • In my world, working with individuals and organizations, I’m aware of several warning signs of potential trouble. Here are some:
  • Your organization is being acquired (look for duplicate positions to be eliminated).
  • Your organization just lost a major account or client (revenue will be down, cuts might be coming).
  • You are being deliberately left out of important meetings and decisions (your job may be on the line).
  • Your industry is competing with a technology that might indeed spell the end of it (think Kindle and Borders Books or RedBox and Blockbuster Video).
  • Your company is signing on with a new benefits provider (look for your out-of-pocket costs to go up and your benefits to be reduced).
  • A major source of your client base signals an intent to monitor and cut costs (i.e. The Sequester: Agencies won’t be spending quite as much money).
  • An RFP from a Government Agency has a very specific or odd-ball requirement for an assessment tool that is proprietary to one specific company and you have no connection to anyone in that agency. (this proposal is a waste of your time – the Government has somebody hand-picked for this contract. You’re just being sought out to cover their requirements for three competitive bids.)

Yeah I know some of these seem unfair and almost illegal but trust me, they’re real. I’ve learned the tripwires in business development and have seen them with individuals and clients. Your job is to look at your own career, organization, environment, and situation and think about what you’ll set as a tripwire. If you see it sprung, at least you’ll be better prepared for the potential fallout.

Just a word to the wise. What do you think?

“if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging”

File this under: "What Was I Thinking?"

File this under: “What Was I Thinking?”

Winter has been tough all over the country, even here where I live in Tennessee. We had ice, a ton of snow, and finally 4 days of rain. The ground is pretty saturated. Last Friday I loaded up a bunch of building materials and trash from our bathroom renovation and prepared to haul them off to the dump. I pulled my truck up to the barn and then made a big circle in the front part of our pasture and got stuck in the mud.

Having already been stuck once like this a few weeks ago in the ice, I backed up and looked for some flat ground to get traction. That got me stuck again. Finally, in a moment of desperation, I backed the truck down the pasture and up the other side to get some momentum. I almost made it before getting stuck again. I should have stopped there but figured I’d try one more time. This time, I got stuck in the middle of the pasture. With the wheels going nowhere, I tried to spin and rock my way out. With the truck now sinking in the mud, I wisely decided to stop and find someone to pull me out with a 4×4.

Have you ever found yourself in a tough position and tried different ways out which only make it worse? If so, then you (and I) have violated what’s known as the First Rule of Holes, which states:

“if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”

None of us likes encountering obstacles. Even more, we hate having to ask for help. We’ll tackle the problem and when we come up short, rather than find someone to assist us, we’ll try something else. That solution makes it worse and then desperation sets in. Desperate people do dumb things and before we know it, we’ve created a disaster. Some of us are smart enough to stop there, but most of us keep digging until the situation is beyond repair. Finally, at that stage we reach out for help. Unfortunately by then the fix is expensive, drastic, or sometimes non-existent.

You’ve seen it before I’m sure:

  • Someone who is severely overweight tries to lose the weight on their own. After years of yo-yo dieting, they end up weighing so much they’re bedridden and have to be admitted to a hospital for radical surgery (see shows like My 600-LB Life for this common story).
  • A couple that’s in debt continues to spend and then takes out credit cards to pay off other credit cards. This, combined with Payday loans, home equity loans, and even pawning off stuff puts them in so much debt that they declare bankruptcy or simply lose everything.
  • A person tells a white lie and then spins off other lies to cover that one. Before they know it, they’ve created an entire persona of falsehood, which will cause the whole thing to blow up, unless they can tell one more lie.

stuckAll of us will encounter problems. It’s important to know that dealing with it early and rationally is a better solution than working it in ignorance and letting it get bigger. This week, take a look at what you’re wrestling with. If you’re truly in a hole, stop now and look for that 4×4 to dig you out before you get in any deeper. I’m hoping to get my truck back on dry ground today. What are you prepared to do?

How to Fly Like a Pro

Interior of airplaneWe’re about ready to hit another busy flight period. As a frequent business traveler, I honestly dread flying in the summer, during the holidays, and during spring break. I don’t mean to be selfish, but planes are like my car. When there’s traffic, car commuters get frustrated. When planes, airports, and TSA check points are crowded, I get frustrated.

Some of the delays are due to weather and mechanical issues, but when they come from inexperienced travelers, that’s preventable. Rather than continually complain about it, I’d like to offer novice travelers some helpful hints on how to navigate the process of flying quickly and efficiently as well as some absolute “do-nots” that will make us regular flyers a little more patient with you.

TSA:

TSA is a necessary evil. Here are some things to do to navigate it like a pro:

  • Check your boarding pass. If it says TSA PRE, then go to the TSA Pre-check Lane. You don’t need to take your belt or shoes off or remove your liquids or gels. Be sure to take metal out of your pockets or you’ll set off the alarm and get a pat-down.
  • Get organized before you even get in line. Put all of your metal stuff in one pocket or a purse. I use a SCOTTeVEST travel vest and put my keys, phone, wallet, and pocket contents in and then lay it on the belt.
  • If you’re not in TSA PRE, then get your belt off, stuff out of pockets, laptop and liquids and gels out BEFORE you get to the scanner. Move quick. Put stuff in the bin and pay attention.
  • When you get out of the scanner, move quickly to the belt and remove your stuff. Walk away from the TSA area and reassemble yourself away from the crowd right there.

Boarding the plane:

  • Depending on the airline, be sure to pay attention to your boarding number and position. Don’t move forward or crowd the gate if you’re in Zone 5 and they’re only calling Zone 1. Pay attention but don’t push your way in.
  • Hang up your phone. You can’t walk on the plane, find your seat, hold your luggage, and put it in the bin if your phone’s glued to your ear.
  • Find your seat and put your big bag in the overhead bin. Put it in wheels first and don’t hog the whole bin. Put your backpack or purse in the space below the seat in front of you. You’re not entitled to free foot space if you have two carry-on bags. Keep your big jackets on your lap until the bins are full, then have a flight attendant put it in the bin when everyone’s luggage is stowed.

During the flight:

  • Don’t recline your seat. Yes I know you are able to and you have the right to, but there’s just not enough room to do it. The person behind you will feel like a sardine. It’s just the humane thing to do.
  • Don’t pull your big butt out of your seat to use the bathroom by pulling on the seat in front of you. It jerks the head of the person in front of you back and then snaps it forward.
  • Don’t fumble with the tray table. It pushes and bumps the passenger sitting in front of you.
  • If you HAVE to bring food on the plane, do us all a favor and get a bag of trail mix or chips. That stinky McDonalds meal may taste good to you but the rest of us around don’t want to smell it.
  • If you have kids, be sure to bring them snacks and toys. Don’t let them kick the seat in front of you. Bored kids will become trouble on a long flight and remember…nobody thinks your kids are as cute or funny as you do.

When the plane pulls up to the gate:

  • Stand up and if your luggage is right above your head and you’re on the aisle, get your bag down.
  • Wait your turn getting off the plane. Don’t push ahead of the people in front of you.
  • Move quickly. Some of us have tight connections. This isn’t the time to lollygag or chat up the Captain on your way off the plane.
  • Don’t stop in the jetway to adjust your luggage. You’re liable to get run over.

Final thoughts:

There was a time when flying was fun. Crowded flights and security have pretty much changed that. If you’re heading out this spring for a vacation, have a great time but remember that people like me fly almost every week and are trying to make a living. Adopt some of these tips and not only will us business travelers be much friendlier, you’ll also have a much better flying experience.

What’s Holding You Back?

Elephant Tied Up With Chain LinkThis week, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus acquiesced to the pressure from animal rights groups and the general public and will no longer have elephants performing in their circus after 2017.

Elephants are very intelligent creatures, which is great until they are frightened or angered and then unleash their power on their tormentor. Interestingly enough, you can find elephants restrained in most circumstances by a simple shackle on one leg that is chained to a small stump in the ground. What keeps the elephant from simply kicking its leg and pulling the stump from the ground? It’s the power of the assumed constraint.

From a young age, the elephant has been chained to a stump in the ground and without the wisdom of age, pulled on the shackle until it cut into its leg. Never forgetting the pain (remember elephants never forget!) the now adult elephant sees the stump as an immovable constraint.

A lot of us are like that elephant. From a young age we might have been told our place in life, our destiny, and what we should expect for ourselves. You’ve probably heard statements like these:

  • Our family is Blue Collar – we don’t go to college.
  • Remember where you came from.
  • This isn’t the kind of career you should want.
  • A woman’s place is in the home.
  • White men can’t jump.
  • You were enlisted in the military. Only officers deserve these kinds of opportunities.

Each of these statements, regardless of the intent, serves to chain us to the stump. Believe it or not, all can be broken away from. It simply takes a commitment to view current circumstance through a new lens. Instead of accepting “no” for an answer, ask yourself “why not?”

It’s a pitiful life being chained to a stump. The elephants at the Ringling Brothers circus will soon be free of it. What’s holding you back?

Face Your Fear

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. – Franklin D. Roosevelt – Inaugural Address 1933.

Scarier Clown 1Fear can be paralyzing. It can also be useful. All of us have fear. Some fear is rational. Some is better know as anxiety (a fear of potential tragedy or harm). What you choose to do with your fear could mean the difference between life and death, or success or failure.

Some things scare me. Heights are one. I don’t mind flying and I do it almost every week, but standing outside on a high balcony or a bridge makes my knees weak. Even though my rational brain says I won’t fall, it’s the thought of it that scares me. Because of it, I can’t fully enjoy a beautiful view. It’s irrational and as a result I enjoy life just a little bit less.

A real fear and one that’s on my mind each day is irrelevance. I know one day I will cease being relevant in my field. It started the day I saw an aged Zig Ziglar speaking and I vowed that would never be me. This is a fear that I think is important. It’s one professional fighters would benefit from. At some point people will admire your longevity (“wow, that’s amazing that he still can speak in front of an audience at his age”) but not your significance (“that’s great he is still doing workshops, but he’s too dated to be taken seriously”).

So what should we do about fear? I suggest four steps:

  1. Face it. Make a list of everything that scares you. Brainstorm hard and don’t hold back. Your list may include things like plane crashes, terrorist attacks, fire, clowns, public speaking, aging, poor health, etc.
  2. Sort out the list into two categories: Legitimate Fear and Anxiety. Your Legitimate Fear list should contain fears that are actual and that you can take steps to prevent and combat. This would include things such as illness, or in my case, irrelevance. Your Anxiety list should contain those fears that involve potential threat, This would be items such as plane crashes and public speaking. It’s what Roosevelt referenced in his famous quote. Not sure where clowns would fit in.
  3. Develop a Strategy to Combat Legitimate Fear. If you fear illness, take steps to live a healthier life. In my case, becoming irrelevant in my field is real. I’ve wrestled with it and have a strategy in place to deal with it. On a regular basis I’m working to develop new ideas and content. To come up with creative and innovative tools and putting together systems that are unique to me. I’ve also committed to actively working in my business until the age of 60. Then I’ll sell it, fold it, or just run it from a distance. I’ll never be that guy in a workshop who people courteously pay attention to but secretly feel sorry for.
  4. Develop a Strategy to Combat Anxiety. Look at your list of anxieties. Are they REALLY legitimate things to fear? Is their presence damaging your career or reputation? I once worked with a guy was naturally paranoid. When 9-11 hit back in 2001, he went into anxiety overdrive. His fear drove him to take Amtrak from DC to Tucson, Arizona for our Annual Conference because he refused to fly. We arrived in 4 hours. It took him 5 days. Eventually his fear impacted his work and he moved on.

This week, make a commitment to address fear. It could be what stands between your current state and the ideal state you were always meant to attain.