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Year: 2008

Career Examen

Do you ever wake up at night wondering, “Is what I’ve been doing in my career really what I want to do? While also asking, “Do I have enough time left to do something else I really want to do?”

Since none of us knows the answer to the “time left” question – at least not from this side of heaven. I’d like to offer an idea to help you get a clearer answer to “What do I really want to do?” by illustrating a simply process ,which seems especially appropriate, as we approach Thanksgiving Day.

The process is found in the book Sleeping with Bread- Holding What Gives you Life, by Dennis, Sheila, and Mathew Linn. The book title is based on experiences of workers in World War II refugee camps who cared for many orphaned children. The shell shocked children had problems sleeping at night fearing they would wake once again homeless and without food. Nothing seemed to reassure them. One night someone gave each child in their area a piece of bread to hold at bedtime. Holding the bread these children could finally sleep in peace.

The Linns took this concept of finding something simple that gives us a sense of assurance and created the Examen. The Examen is simply two questions you ask at the close of each day:

1. What moment today am I most thankful/grateful for? gave me energy
2. What moment today am I least thankful/grateful for? took away my energy

The authors share many examples of how these questions, if applied consistently, can help teams, couples, families and individuals become stronger and improve communication. For our purpose today, I suggest you record your answers to these two questions as they relate to your day-to-day work activities. Do this for one week. At the end of the week look over your list and add other ideas which come to mind. You have now created an inventory of what you want in your next career move and what you want to avoid.

Working Journal Entry: Using your data write a narrative, create a chart or draw a picture of the place, people, challenges and other things that make you most alive and most productive. Outsource, avoid or minimize any necessary energy drainers.

Now you see what you really want to do in your leadership and life. Time is all you have.

Choosing Hopefulness

Bill was promised an ownership position if he could turnaround the failing profit center. He had the smarts, the experience, the enthusiasm, and a plan. First he removed incompetent staff, then hired good people and improved the service. Sales increased and profits grew. Team spirit lifted. All the while, the owner acted as his top cheerleader.

Suddenly the boss started to find fault in any mistake Bill made. He went around Bill to the staff and micro-managed everything. After a while Bill succumbed. Like a caged lion stripped of his pride, he crouched silent in the shadows to avoid the whip of an inept trainer. The gleam in Bill’s eyes disappeared. Talented people left. Profits tumbled. Bill was fired. The message came via e-fax.

“When persons of power rob others of their right to make their own choices, they do it most often because they feel powerless themselves. Insecurity is a typical trait of a tyrant,” writes Dan Baker, PH.D in his book, What Happy People Know. Dr. Baker coaches high income people, who appear to have everything in life except happiness. He says when a person faces a problem and acts out as an oppressor; this can often be traced to a feeling of helplessness. Baker says helplessness is founded on one or more of these three perceptions:

Permanence- thinking a problem will last forever
Personalization- thinking a problem is entirely your fault or one single person’s fault
Pervasiveness- thinking a problem extends to every other situation

Tom Watson, the founder of IBM, made his fortune by surrounding himself with smart people and allowing them to make their own decisions. Once, a decision was made at IBM that resulted in a $10 million dollar loss. The manager responsible for the decision was devastated and offered to resign. Watson replied, “What? After I just made a $10 million dollar investment in your education!”

When an individual is faced with a problem and chooses to show up as inquiring and supportive; this is usually because he/she comes from a position of internal security and hopefulness. Hopefulness is experienced as a balanced blend of: confidence and promise, reality and vision, expectancy and encouragement. Hopefulness is often grounded on one or more of these three principles:

Temporariness – acknowledging the facts and believing “this too shall pass”
Teamliness* – acting as if building lasting relationships is what matters most
Tapering off – using mistakes as tools that shave rough edges, narrow options and sharpen focus

A mistake can be either an opportunity to eradicate or an occasion to educate. It’s our choice.

Journal Entry: In your role(s) as: manager, employee, spouse, parent, coach, team members, or big kid on the playground: How will you decide to show up when someone makes a mistake which causes a problem for you in your leadership and life?

A wise man’s heart guides his decisions and his lips promote instruction. Proverbs 16:23

*Note: I am aware that “Teamliness” is not a Webster approved word. Lighten up. Be hopeful.

Rule of Three

Over the ages great leaders have used the rule of three to change their world.

Writers, officials and revolutionaries have successfully applied the rule of three to move people toward a vision. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” “Government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” “Friends, Romans, countrymen,” “Blood, sweat and tears,” “Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” “Faith, Hope and Charity,” “Mind, body, spirit,” “I came, I saw, I conquered.”

Jon Stewart is a comedian and the infamous TV news anchor on “The Daily Show” . Here is how Jon relies, as effective joke tellers do, on the rule of three to make us laugh and make a point. “I celebrated Thanksgiving in the old- fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land.”

The U.S. Marine Corps have ingrained the rule of three into the DNA of their operations. In a nutshell, the rule is applied as the Marines guide for structure in effective management and mission execution. Each Marine has three things to worry about. They have three men to a team commanded by a Corporal (so there are actually a total of four on the team, when you count the team leader). Three teams to a rifle squad commanded by a sergeant. Three rifle squads to a platoon commanded by a Lieutenant. Three rifle platoons to a company commanded by a Captain. Three companies to a battalion commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel, etc. The Marine’s apparently experimented with a “rule of four,” and retention and effectiveness took a nosedive.

Effective business leaders and professionals today use the rule of three in their speeches , but few consider its power to impact effectiveness and retention. When a top manager is called on to make an important speech they take time to be clear on the purpose of their presentation and use the rule of three as a structure consistently. But in the day-to-day break neck speed of business, important assignments are often made in a shoot-now-structure-later fashion. When an unclear mission is combined with an uncertain structure then multiplied by the speed of the world today, how can we expect effectiveness not to take a nosedive. Frustrated achievers often leave for a better run battlefield.

In this time of experimentation with flatter organizations, multiple reporting relationships and expanding spans of control, maybe it is a good time to take a closer look at the rule of three. Consider the possibility that adding this one consistent element to your plans, projects and processes might change your world for the better.

Working Journal Entry: How might you apply the rule of three to help you sharpen your focus, strengthen your execution and simplify your life and your leadership?

Signs for Success

Back 20 years or so ago I sat in a dull green room attending my first and only traffic school. I was part of an unmotivated group comprised of fifteen people with one- too- many traffic tickets and a very upbeat traffic cop. He was our teacher.

We had just finished viewing a video of the largest traffic accident in the history of America , a 196 car chain reaction pile-up on a freeway in Lansing , Michigan . Our positive policeman asked this pointed question, “So what was the cause of this accident?” The room was silent. He answered, “A nice driver came to a stop to let another car on to the highway.” Building momentum toward a certain crescendo, he continued, “So, what one rule of the road did this guy ignore? What is the one question we have learned to ask ourselves before we make a decision on the road?” He did a dramatic 180 degree spin and pointed his finger at a big, white sign with handwritten red letters, which read:

Will what I’m about to do promote the smooth flow of traffic?

Thankfully that day is over, but the question on that sign still holds on to me. Over time I have discovered that the premise found in this one question can help us make better leadership decisions in time of stress even when we are not on a highway.

In a public meeting, a young project manager, who was representing his company, got caught red- handed in a mistake. He was embarrassed and rightly so. But instead of owning up and apologizing, he started explaining how the client had contributed to the error. The smooth flow of the meeting stopped. A relationship destroying pile up was on the brink. Then the president of project manager’s company took control of the situation. She stood and said “We are so sorry. This was completely our mistake”, and maneuvered the meeting out of an impending crash.

What one rule of relationships did the president know that this project manager ignored? What one question did he need to ask himself before he responded in a situation like this? I imagine him walking into work the next morning, just missing the president as she exited his office – a red marker in her hand. On his office wall he sees the one question. It is written in bold, letters on a big, white sign:

Will what I’m about to do promote a long term relationship with this client?

Other possible signs for success:
Will what I’m about to do promote: the smooth flow of information; the customer feeling that they are being served; the growth of this person; the seamless execution of this project; the closing of this deal; the values of this organization; a climate of love and respect to each individual in our family; the truth about me?

Working Journal Entry:
What signs for success might encourage and direct you and the people in your corner of the world as you travel the roads of your leadership and life?

Complexity Crisis

“They asked us to automate 92 reports for their company. They didn’t even have 92 employees”.

I heard this personal account from the president of a successful computer service company. We were standing in the hallway discussing our shared observation that mid-level managers are feeling run over and run down by the extensive reporting being required in today’s high tech business environment.

Managers are being told that their job is to grow the business and develop people, but they can hardly find time to do their job. In many organizations the majority of work days are spent attending meetings, writing reports or justifying the report written yesterday.

It appears to me this complexity crisis is often driven by executives who are armed with unlimited report formats and analysis at their finger tips. They act as if not utilizing every reporting possibility is akin to conserving ammunition in the heat of battle, when just the opposite is true. In an effort to respond quickly to the pressure to expand profits, create new products and implement new procedures and systems, some leaders may be unintentionally stifling the bottom line.

This challenge seems to have existed for a while. Peter Drucker wrote about complexity concerns in his classic 1963 Harvard Business Review article “Managing for Business Effectiveness.” John Mariotti, in his 2008 book The Complexity Crisis, says executives face the same complexity issues. Drucker’s answer 45 years ago was the need for “clarity of focus”. Mariotti’s solution today is to simplify. Marriotti says effective leaders need to focus on doing three key things, but I am very tired of all these 3 key formulas. So I instead decide to offer you a quote of business wisdom of Robert Townsend, author of the timeless book Up the Organization.

“If people are coming to work excited… if they’re making mistakes freely and fearlessly… if they’re having fun… if they’re concentrating on doing things, rather than preparing reports and going to meetings then somewhere you have a leader.”

Working Journal Entry: Is there any complexity you can eliminate? How would getting rid of this help simplify your world, sharpen your focus and possibly multiply your influence in your leadership and life?

PS- If you just must know Mariotti’s 3 step formula, email me your request and I will send you the points and paragraph I cut from this article – so you can sleep peacefully tonight.

Having it ALL

His hard hat and heavy tool belt was conspicuously out of place in the plush elevator that frigid winter morning. A well dressed lady with a shiny briefcase asked how he felt about working outside in the bitter cold. “I’m lucky today,” he said “I’m doing repairs inside.” The door opened. As he stepped out, he stopped and said, “I really don’t mind working in the harsh weather. We do what we need to do for the ones we love.”

Standing behind the cash register in a busy garden shop she moved methodically amid the potpourri of plants and garden pots. She had officially retired a year or so ago with a good pension. Like many retired people, she assumed all her time would be spent in volunteer work and leisurely activities. Wiping her hands on her garden apron, she beamed, “But there’s just something about getting a paycheck.”

What does having it ALL mean? These two people have something that makes life work for them, but do they have it all? I have found that there are three ingredients in the mix of having it ALL: Achievement, Legacy and Love.

A chievement – Accomplishing something that is recognized favorably against similar goals that other people you admire have achieved. Examples might include: education level, certifications, job title, professional recognition, awards, fame, fortune or a paycheck.
L egacy- Realizing that your values or accomplishments will help others find success in the future. Which could involve such things as: teaching a child, contributing to a foundation, writing a book, creating a painting, mentoring, volunteering, building a successful organization or constructing a building that lasts.
L ove – Knowing that you have made a positive impact on people you care about and that you invest in enjoying life. Think about your family, friends, colleagues and the notes written, jokes told, stories remembered, homes shared, adventures, and hobbies that hold on to your heart. As Og Mandino said, “Success without happiness, success without laughter, success without love is the worst kind of failure.”

My chance meeting with the retiree lady and the construction guy brought to mind the need to be more intentional about having it ALL. Like me, you may sometimes feel that you, not only, don’t have it all, you wonder if you have it at all. Consider the possibility you might have it ALL, but you just haven’t noticed that you do.

Journal Entry:
Today: Write down 3-4 current activities/accomplishment in your life and work. Look at each one in light of the ALL ingredients. What is your discovery? Which of the three ingredients will you need to be more intentional about as you move into the next phase of your leadership and life?

Hope & Hotdogs

A man lived by the side of the road and sold hot dogs. He was hard of hearing so he had no radio. He had trouble with his eyes so he had no newspaper. But he sold good hot dogs! He put up a sign on the highway telling how good they were. He stood by the side of the road and cried, “Hey mister, buy a hot dog.” And people bought. He increased his meat and bun orders and he bought a bigger stove to take care of his increased trade. Then his son came home from college to help him and something happened! His son said, “Father, haven’t you been listening to the radio? There’s a big recession. The international situation is terrible, and the domestic situation looks even worse.” Whereupon the father thought, “Well, my son has been to college. He listens to the radio and reads the newspapers, so he ought to know.” So, the father cut down on the bun order, took down his advertising signs, and no longer bothered to stand on the highway to sell hotdogs. His hotdog sales fell overnight. ” You were right son,” the father said. “We are certainly in the middle of a terrible recession.”

When economic times appear to be tightening, short- sighted businesses cut costs in all the wrong ways. Like our ex-hotdog seller they pay too much attention to the abundant supply of naysayer. They do mass layoffs and hole up until the tide turns, but smart businesses understand that opportunity lies amid the turmoil.

Great organizations do cut expenses, but instead of taking down all their signs of hope and dismantling their teams, they take a longer view, especially when it comes to talented people. Their leaders become very intentional about helping both themselves and others become more resilient. They turn the suddenly available non-production time into an opportunity for training and mentoring. Then, when the market upswing comes – and it always does – their strengthened staff will stand sturdy with the skills needed to hit the new upturn head on and capture the market from hopeless shortsighted organizations.

Working Journal Entry:
Have you taken down any signs of hope in reaction to the economic slump? What two decisions do you need to make today to be prepared when the upswing comes tomorrow in leadership and life?

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid and discouraged because of the King and the vast army with him. For there is a power greater within us than within him. 2 Chronicles 32:6-8.


The road to ruin circles your comfort zone.

For the first time in her life, she walked away from the security of a real job to start her own competing business. At first it was difficult for Mary, especially adjusting to the lack of the structure imposed by others each work day, but she had made a commitment and was sticking to her plan. About six months into this new venture Mary hit her stride, or as she put it “I’ve found my rhythm.”

We experience a different rhythm when we move outside of our comfort zone. Like a talented music group that is learning a brand new song, the first attempts at harmony will be awkward and sound quite awful. If someone happened to walk by and hear this struggling rehearsal they might be hesitant to show up at their next concert. But if the band has a deep desire for perfection they will in time hit the new beat, find the right tempo and the crowd will cheer.

You may not be a musician who is on a steep learning curve or a closet entrepreneur antsy to jump ship, but as a manager in the world of work today if you aren’t pushing yourself outside your comfortable rhythm by doing something that creates value like: taking on a risky project, pushing cutting edge technology, proposing a new performance improvement process or reaching out to build your network stronger, you may soon find yourself in a new position, standing hat- in-hand totally prepared for a world that no longer exists. The good and bad news is that you move out of your old comfort zone, either your way or their way. The former has some benefits worth considering.

A year or so after Mary walked away from the big safe company, it was acquired and dismantled and very quickly in disarray. Many of the company’s customers felt abandoned and called Mary. She had her rhythm. Her new clients are singing her praises today.

The road to riches runs outside your comfort zone. Seek a new rhythm. Find a new life. Hear the applause.

Working Journal Entry: Imagine there are 3 concentric circles around you. Each circle represents your: comfort zone (center), fear zone (next) and terror zone (outside). What things/activities/events/actions would you put in each of your circles? Do you see something you want to add to your Life and Leadership Plan this Winter Season of 2008?

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