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Month: April 2020

Next Normal and a 40-Day Plan

Why 40 days?

Although there is not scientific data to support the significance of 40 days, history, specifically Biblical history, certainly points toward a pattern of effectiveness to this time-frame. Theologians in general  agree that the period of 40 days signifies a period of testing, trial or judgment. The Israelites walked through the desert for 40 years. The tower of Babel was built in 40 days, Jesus Christ fasted for 40 days, and He ascended to heaven after 40 days.

The Latin root of the word quarantine is 40. Which is even more interesting since the U.S. effort to control the COVID-19 outbreak by instituting a quarantine/sheltering-in-place began on March 25. Now there is talk of backing off this quarantine until the first week of May . That’s real close to 40 days.

As of today, 28 days have passed since that announcement, the change event, that altered everyone’s life. All of us either observed, read about and personally experienced the natural phases of emotions shown in the illustration taken from my next book Roll Up Your Sleeves.

I don’t know where you are on the wave of transition moods and feelings shown here, but most people are ready for a new beginning and need a plan. What I do know is that having a timeline helps people plan. So, if you assume first that 40 days is where you need to concentrate your energy and your team’s energy, this one assumption can help you get going and avoid the pitfalls of inaction or snags of overreaction.

Next Normal Culture
A challenging truth is that a new beginning births another change  – not a new normal, but a next normal. Which means we will experience a new period of transition as we move forward into a world that is a bit more familiar but not the same. The great news is that change comes bearing gifts, but like the gift of the good stuff inside a pecan, walnut or chestnut – it takes effort to get to it.

Shelling a nut requires a brute force or a sturdy tool to crush with. Now don’t take this as a recommendation to use brute force to get people moving into their next normal, although a few of them who are a little nutty might respond , and sadly a few nutty managers will do just this. There is a better way, a  40-Day next normal strategy. Most teams already have a next steps plan for finance and operations , which is vital, and if you don’t have that, stop and do that first. But I’m talking about your next normal culture strategy and plan.

Assume Some Things    
Having stated assumptions is the foundation for effective strategy and plan execution. Assumptions are defined as statements of what the planning group assumes will happen and what they believe about their environment. Not having a discussion and agreeing on your assumptions will result in continuous communication breakdown, barriers and recurring issues. Which will stall your plan. Clarifying your assumptions is the foundation, the philosophical underpinnings of any plan.

Some Steps to Consider
I recommend that you call a team meeting. Begin the meeting by agreeing on your assumed timeline. I suggested 40 days but choose a definite realistic time-frame That should have be easy. Now that you’ve cracked the shell, it is time to go deeper and get to the meaty stuff that really matters, by clarifying your team’s culture assumptions in three areas shown in the box below.

Here is a 3-step process to consider as a model to help you get started:

Step 1– Display the three inquiry statements, shown in the box below, for all on the team to see. You may want to distribute this before you hold your meeting to give people time to think.

Step 2– When you meet, have each person select a number from 1 to 5 that represents what they believe on each of the three continuum lines. (Example: On item A – selecting a I or 2 means “I really believe money and pushing is the best way to motivate” and choosing a 4 or 5  means “I know that visions and listening is what works best.”)

Step 3- Starting with A, ask each person to explain why they chose their number, discuss differences and similarities and come to consensus on your collective belief for A. Do the same for B and C.

Follow-up every 10 days. When you change an assumption, your behaviors and actions will change.

Note: The items below are listed in priority order. If you can’t come to consensus on Statement A, there is no need to discuss the other two. Just hold on and be prepared for the worst.

  1. People are motivated to do their best through:   

Money, Pushing and Telling  1 2 3 4 5   Inspiration / Vision / Listening

  1. The best approach to help people move forward is to:

Allow people to get back to normal on their own 1 2 3 4 5  Lead people into our next normal – (describe what back to normal and/or your next normal looks like, feels like, and sounds like)

  1. The most effective way to lead is to act and speak like:

People should suck it up & move on  1 2 3 4 5  People experience emotions & need support (describe ways you can facilitate your assumption).

Journal Entry: If you chose 5’s and 6’s on the scales above, the questions below are worth considering when you talk and meet with the people who are moving into the next normal in their leadership and life.

Past >

  • How do you feel about what happened?
  • What do you think about the way this was handled?
  • How could we have handled this better?

Present >

  • What has been positive about this for you? What has been painful?
  • What would you like to see happen now?


  • What ideas have you thought about that might help others on your team?
  • What would be a good next step to take to improve our team/department?

Roll Up Your Sleeves – Living & Leading in a World of Constant Change, Part 10

Well this is it! #10 or 10 in this special series about the observation of four young men who take another life altering journey together in my forthcoming book Roll Up Your Sleeves.

Over the past 2 weeks we have covered our One Unshakeable Truth plus these 9 concepts.
One Unshakeable Truth – Everyone has unseen battles they are fighting. Be kind.
#1 Change is not the same as transition.
#2 Personality matters.
#3 Role clarity counts.
#4 Principles set the pace.
#5 Purpose is power.
#6 Process matters.
#7 Endings let us begin again.
#8 Seasons come and go.
#9 Self-counseling doesn’t work.

Today is #10 Pray first: Before life gives you more than you can stand, kneel. The more you kneel along the way, the easier you’ll stand the test today.

Everyone gets tested by something. For some of us it’s dealing with technology end equipment. For others it’s having to fool with finances or budgets. Dealing with politics, both inside and outside of work, can push some people over the edge. Many of us have a challenge with that “other generation” – whoever they are and whatever they’re thinking. The list is endless. During times of transition, the things that test us can elicit a response we do regret later. When change hits, you may have noticed feeling more anxious or worried, reacting to little things that didn’t bother you before. If you’re like most of us, you wish you could do something to better manage those behaviors that did not work.

“To whom should I go for some self-help.” – Ashley Brilliant

I have found that the most ineffective way to change your behavior is to try to change your behavior. By this I mean, attempting to force yourself or persuade yourself into changing how you think or what you do. Most self-help books recommend this type of direct approach through using a step-by step technique or applying a clever psychological scheme or the classic line from the well-intended but emotionally unaware manager – “just don’t do that.”

These external motivation techniques might work short term, but behavioral changes that really stick only happen when a person looks inside, reframes their personal context and starts to see themselves playing a role in a bigger spiritual (not religious) purpose. Even when this type of spiritual transformation happens, it still takes personal effort to stay there and to grow into it. In my experience there are three things that help new behavior stick : monitor your actions by keeping a written record, make a commitment to someone who will support you and pray first more often.

Researchers from Baylor University looked at the data of 1,714 volunteers who participated in the most recent Baylor Religion Survey (1). They found that people who pray to a loving and protective God are less likely to experience anxiety-related disorders — worry, fear, self-consciousness, social anxiety and obsessive-compulsive behavior — compared to people who pray but don’t really expect to receive any comfort or protection from God. The findings add to the growing body of research confirming a connection between a person’s perceived relationship with God and mental and physical health. In fact, a recent study by Oregon State University found that religion and spirituality result in two distinct but complementary health benefits. Religion (religious affiliation and service attendance) is linked to better health habits, including less smoking and alcohol consumption, while spirituality (prayer, meditation) helps regulate emotions.

When I’m working with a client, after taking time to be totally prepared with my materials and notes, I say this prayer, which was offered to me by my friend and colleague Cliff Eslinger – The Consultants Prayer, “God get me out of the way so these smart people can get what they need from You today.” We are both amazed at the outcome when God honors our request and He usually does.

Almost every morning I begin my day in my big brown recliner. I sit there, read my Bible, especially The Proverbs, and say a prayer. There is a small lamp table beside my La-Z-Boy. Under the glass that covers the top of the table there are a few things I’ve gathered over the years: A printed copy of Psalm 16:1-11 and Philippians 4:7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving present your requests to God and the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.” Below that scripture verse I wrote this: “Problems can either be mine or God’s – they can’t be both.” I try to take a look at those every day.

I’m sharing all today not to call myself up as an example or to impress you, because anyone who knows me knows I all too often lose my temper especially with technology, can quickly judge people who in my opinion “don’t get it” and leave the ones I love feeling ignored or discounted with my silence and the list goes on – just ask my wife. My reason for my being so transparent is to let you know if I can pray first almost every day, anybody can.

Journal entry: I also hope that if you start your day in a different way – I don’t mean jogging instead of sitting in a lounger – that this email might intrigue you to give “pray first” a try and see if you might find the more you kneel along the way, the easier you’ll stand your tests today in your leadership and life.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it.
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His will.
That I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with Him forever in the next.
~ Reinhold Neibuhr

Roll Up Your Sleeves – Living & Leading in a World of Constant Change, Part 9

So far we have covered One Unshakeable Truth plus these 8 concepts, which are found in my forthcoming book Roll Up Your Sleeves:

One Unshakable Truth – Everyone has unseen battles they are fighting. Be kind.

#1 Change is not the same as transition.

#2 Personality matters.

#3 Role clarity counts.

#4 Principles set the pace.

#5 Purpose is power.

#6 Process matters.

#7 Endings let us begin again.

#8 Seasons come and go.

Today I get personal with a few thoughts about Observation #9 Self-counseling doesn’t work. – When change hits, we become our worst counselor. Instead of turning inward, share your story with a trusted friend who will listen and not try to fix you. If you go it alone, you will go too fast and crash. If you go together, you will go farther and heal.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” The Book of Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 by one of King Solomon’s scribes

In 1814, Henry Kett, an eminent clergyman, academic and writer, said, “I hesitate not to pronounce, that every man who is his own lawyer, has a fool for a client.”

Despite Kett or Solomon’s message of the power of personal inter-dependence, which has been repeated and reflected on for centuries, the fools of the world have not been derailed off their “me, myself and I” track of life. Sadly, this Rambo-ish, one-man show mindset is still held in high regard by many people in the US. It is hailed in our movies, modeled by some top politicians, held on to by a few lesser-regarded businessmen and serves as the philosophical underpinning of tyrants who view humans as soulless and physical matter to be disposed of when change disrupts their plans.

As you know, a stand-alone persona can be efficient in a short-term ox-in-the-ditch predicament or sudden crisis and for long-term dictatorship as well. But this self-absorbed, self-reliant stance cannot be sustained long in place that values the sanctity of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If you believe in these Creator-endowed values, when change happens your instinct will be to invest in getting people through the emotional phases of transition, rather than eliminate them. You will see people as struggling souls and realize that your leadership strength comes from leaning on others to inspire a shared dream of a fresh beginning and better life for everyone.

In 1967 Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston sang the hit song “Takes Two”
One can have a dream, baby
Two can make that dream so real
One can talk about bein’ in love
Two can say how it really feels
One can wish upon a star
Two can make that wish come true, yeah
One can stand alone in the dark
Two can make the light shine through
It takes two, baby, it takes two, baby
Me and you, just take two
It takes two, baby, it takes two, baby
To make a dream come true, just take two

Power of 2
Over the past 25 years I have noticed a trend in business structure which no one talked about. It is that most healthy organizations are directed by two people – a primary and secondary. Natural law has revealed this truth in healthy families, but this duo-at-the-top principle seems as reliable and trustworthy as the rule of three is for having the optimal execution structure. No matter what the official organizational chart says, successful companies officially or unofficially have a top leader, with one other person beside her or him. They together share primary influence over the future of the enterprise. The same pattern of two holds true for departments, divisions or teams. The secondary person in the pair can be someone within the organization, an outside confidant or even a family member. I’m not saying that these two don’t consult with, listen and gain perspective from others, but when it comes to making the final call – everyone may have a voice, but only two have a final vote.

Now there is data to back up my hunch. The researchers at Gallup have published a report and now a book, Power of 2. Their detailed research is illustrated by stories of famous partnerships. Examples include pairs such as Tenzing and Hillary who were the first to scale Mt. Everest; Malone and Stockton who were the key to each other’s success on the basketball court; Eisner who was never as effective at Disney without Wells. The book offers eight characteristics of these powerful partnership, which are: complementary strengths, a common mission, fairness, trust, acceptance, forgiveness, communicating, and unselfishness. The book reminds that what Solomon said thousands of years ago was right on target- many of the greatest accomplishments can be reached only by two people working together.

Journal Entry: Do you have someone beside you who sincerely applies their strengths to compliment yours, shares a common ideal, is fair minded, trustworthy, accepts you unconditionally, forgives and forgets, communicates with ease and is committed to service above self? If you have a such a comrade, chum or companion, count yourself blessed by God and don’t be surprised when together you turn out to make a big difference in the well-being of people you serve with your leadership and life.

“A man who has friends must himself be friendly, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” The Bible book of Proverbs 18:24

Roll Up Your Sleeves – Living & Leading in a World of Constant Change, Part 8

So far we have covered One Unshakeable Truth plus these 7 concepts, which are found in my forthcoming book Roll Up Your Sleeves:

One Unshakable Truth – Everyone has unseen battles they are fighting. Be kind.

#1 Change is not the same as transition.

#2 Personality matters.

#3 Role clarity counts.

#4 Principles set the pace.

#5 Purpose is power.

#6 Process matters.

#7 Endings let us begin again.

Today is #8 Seasons come and go. Life is a series of transitions in which we decide to either loathe the change or learn to love ourselves more and serve others more. Helping another person get through their struggles is the best way to get through ours.

The Give Factors
A number of years ago, I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about my work. An executive I was coaching was having particular trouble moving his team forward. He said all the right things, had all the right technical knowledge, people seemed to like him, but his team wasn’t achieving key business initiatives. Trying to make sense of that situation, I asked myself what was missing. What was it about this guy that was causing this stalemate with his team to happen?

A key skill of any successful leader is the ability to coach and mentor people. This guy couldn’t coach people. Why not? He had drive and determination. He had read all the “how-to” leadership books and knew the right words. I finally realized he was missing a key, underlying, foundational attribute of all truly successful leaders. He was missing a spirit of generosity.

Robert Hargrove, in Masterful Coaching, explains it this way, “Coaching is a way of being, not just a technique that allows you to help other people achieve success. Generosity of spirit allows you to give people the gift of your presence in any conversation. It motivates you to give authentic feedback that helps someone grow and learn, as well as give praise that affirms that person. People with generosity of spirit give others credit.”

Before I finally fell back to sleep that night, I grabbed a notepad and wrote down eight words: Give Thanks, Give Credit, Give Back, and Give Up. Those were the variations on the concepts behind Hargrove’s generosity of spirit that I’d seen over and over in truly successful people. These traits were definitely lacking in the executive I was working with. It was from that series of events that what I now call “The Give Factors” came into being(1)

Give Thanks … For things you are most grateful for during both good times and bad
Give Credit … To those who play a role in your success, helping you and just being there for you
Give Back … To other people and groups who can never repay you
Give Up … Or let go of something that’s worked in the past to move a new level of success – on purpose

If you were rating yourself on how consistently you displayed these characteristics at work and home, what number would you select for each factor? 1- never 2- sometimes 3- more often than not 4- always

Journal Entry: When leading people through a transition, modeling these four behaviors is vital to gaining the respect needed to get people through their emotional wilderness to a new beginning or shared promised land. You will know you have mastered these traits when you observe the people under your influence making the Give Factors an integral part of their leadership and life.

(1)- The four Give Factors were published and explained in detail in Chapter 2 in my first book Design a Life that Works www.designalifebook.com

Of the things we think, say, and do, we will ask ourselves—
Is it the truth?
Is it fair to all concerned?
Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
– The 4-way Test of Rotary International

“There is a wonderful, mythical law of nature that the three things we crave most in life—happiness, freedom, and peace of mind—are always attained by giving them to someone else.” – Peyton Conway March, soldier

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. – The Bible book of Luke 6:38

Roll Up Your Sleeves – Living & Leading in a World of Constant Change, Part 7

From March 23th to 30th we reviewed these 6 concepts:

One Unshakable Truth – Everyone has unseen battles they are fighting. Be kind.

#1 Change is not the same as transition.

#2 Personality matters.

#3 Role clarity counts.

#4 Principles set the pace.

#5 Purpose is power.

#6 Process matters.

Today let’s look at #7 Endings let us begin again. Acknowledge and accept that the past is behind you and that the future in front of you is worth working through, because it creates forward momentum. Momentum is a wonderful thing.

At the beginning of the series, I said that I was not going to refer to any current situations but simply give you principles and let you apply them, as you see fit. But this past week I’ve spoken to many leaders whose organizations have either been shut down completely, are half staffed and are working in virtual teams. I’ve heard from these leaders that they can’t sleep at night, feel a heavy burden all day, struggling with hard decisions that impact the lives and livelihoods of many people. They feel like their teams were pulling apart due to the separation requirements. They want to help their folks , but with everything on their plate, they are having a tough time coming up with effective ways to encourage people to pull together as this crisis lingers on.

An ex-military friend of mine who had served on the front lines once told me, “It’s hard to be creative when bullets are flying around your head.” As I listened these leaders’ internal battles, I was hurting for them, so I prayed for wisdom, pulled out my pen, and created something very practical they could apply immediately to help their people and teams regain their team spirit and sense positive momentum during these trying times.

Following is overview of what I designed. It is team communication strategy and some action ideas. I hope that you can apply something from this in your work and life.

Snapshot: This is a communication strategy and conversation plan designed to enhance unity and support the advancement of a healthy organization during a crisis situation. It Includes 4 team meeting agendas that can be used in either virtual or face-to-face team sessions.

Step1 – Create a Temporary Clarity Vision for the whole organization. This is done by defining a 2-months specific theme, goal or overall objective to rally around. One that will allow every employee to see how they can be a part and make a contribution to it. How do you do this ? Some organizations choose one of their core values or one key initiative or one big inspiring idea as their short-term clarity vision. It is also important to plan to have a celebration when things move back in-house or into your new normal. This celebration is to acknowledge things that were accomplished by teams working together during this temporary clarity vision period.

Step 2- Leadership Approach and Team Meeting Outlines
The Team Leader needs to communicate clearly, intentionally and often. When communicating: Be Empathetic, Be Frequent, Be Simple and Clear, Be Honest, Be Hopeful

Purpose of each meeting: The purpose of these four 15-30 minute weekly meetings is to keep people informed about any upcoming changes, acknowledge challenges both personally and at work, share ideas together and help one another.

Week one:
1. Read the purpose of this meeting: *we are here today to try to stay informed about any upcoming changes, acknowledge challenges both personally and at work, share ideas together and help one another.
2. Check-in question – “Most of our daily routines have changed. In adjusting to this, what one good thing has come from this time for you? What has been hard?” (30 seconds each person)
3. Cover department or division announcements and happenings
4. Share about the temporary clarity theme. Ask people to think about ways they can help.

Week two:
1. Remind the group of the meeting purpose
2. Check-in question – “What has gotten easier since our last meeting? What has gotten more difficult?”
3. Cover department or division announcements and happenings
4. Ask about “Temporary clarity theme” activities: “What positive thing have you thought about, done or heard / saw someone else do?”

Week three:
1. Remind them of the meeting purpose
2. Check-in question – Say “Today let’s talk about remembering that there are things you can control and the things you can’t control. Share a personal example of when you wasted energy on something that was outside your control. Ask if someone has an example as well and why remembering this important during this time?
3. Cover department or division announcements and happenings
4. Ask about “Temporary clarity theme” activities: “What positive thing did you do or see some on do to support our theme ?”

Week four:
1. Remind them of the meeting purpose
2. Check-in question – “Today let’s talk about the bigger picture and the belief that we will get through this. Let me ask you “Can you recall a loss, crisis or big changes you have been through before and survived? Looking back what did you learn from that time?”
3. Cover department or division announcements and happenings
4. Ask about “Temporary clarity theme” activities: “What are your ideas of ways we can celebrate our accomplishments related to ‘our temporary theme’ when we get back to working onsite?”
• If this goes on past the Week four, just go back to the Week one and follow they same series.

Most organizations already have regular team check-in meetings focused on day to day issues and challenges. So, if you apply this process it needs to be adjusted to fit your culture, and it should be to complement, not as a replacement for, a current meeting structure and routines.

Journal Entry: This process was designed for use in an organization, yet you’ve probably realized it could be easily adapted with your family, your small group or an official support group. Give it a try. I hope this will be an encouragement and create some momentum for the people in your leadership in life.

“A vision without a task is but a dream. A task without a vision is drudgery. A vision and a task is the hope of the world.Inscription on a church wall in Sussex England 1730

Roll Up Your Sleeves – Living & Leading in a World of Constant Change, Part ?

Observation Unnumbered : A Little Slack

Have you found yourself making more mistakes over the last few days? Have you over-committed on some projects – feeling that you can get more done since you’re not having to drive and show up at work all day every day? Have you found yourself pushing others, and yourself, to do more and setting unrealistic expectations? Are you realizing that you are sometimes not being so kind to them, or to yourself, when those ever expanding, often shorter, timeline expectations don’t get done perfectly?

I have.

Did you read yesterday’s observation # 6, or tried to read it and gave up because of the multiple errors and instead clicked off the screen halfway through?

I did.

Since I have written this book about leading and living in a world of constant change, plus consulting about it with clients and writing this 10-part series about how to get through a transition, you might think I would have mastered the skills of managing my emotions, been tuned in to the impact of change on me personally and learned not to overload myself.

I have not.

So, I’m going to swallow my authorship pride and to take my own counsel. I will now be kind to myself and speak truth to me. That being said, I have adjusted my commitment to producing 10 articles, 10 days in a row – which was insane. I’m using the rest of this week to take a breath, catch up and explore a new way to get set up to do things better.

Next Monday, April 6, I will produce a rewrite of number observation #6, and you will see one more each day with the final #10 observation article on Friday April 10.

I feel better now.

Thanks for listening and cutting me a little slack.

Journal entry: Do you need to cut yourself, your staff or your family a little slack as we all together stumble along this pathway of transition in leadership and life?

“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Proverbs 16:18, The Bible

“Take a deep breath, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.” – Frank Sinatra

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