Breaking Through the “Red Zone”

Closeup of American Football on Tee on FieldAs we near the halfway point of the year, many of us are thinking about the time we have left in 2015 and some of the goals and aspirations we want to accomplish.  I’m also sure many of you (and me included) are lamenting the fact some stuff we wanted to accomplish hasn’t been done.

Most people I know start out a year with some short and long term goals and then get busy, pretty quickly, getting them done.  Personally I’ve often noticed that most goals are easy to achieve up to a point.  Then for some reason, I get ground to a halt.  This seems a lot like the American football phenomenon of the red zone defense.

One of the biggest challenges a football team faces is when they get down into their opponent’s “red zone.”  This is the area between the 20-yard line and the end zone.  Of course the goal of the offense is to move through the 20 yards and score, but these are often the toughest yards to get for the following reasons:

  • The defense has to spread less – there isn’t as much field to cover
  • With the thread of the immanent score, defenses tend to tighten up
  • If the defense is playing at home, it’s hard for the offense to hear the signals of the quarterback due to the crowd noise
  • Protecting your own turf is a basic human survival skill

With all this stacked against an offense, they have to work extra hard.  The best defensive teams have a remarkable ability to really lock down the red zone and thus get scored on very little.

Now this is a bunch of football speak and if you’re not a fan, I’ve probably lost you by now but let’s liken this to our own quest to score on achieving some of our goals.

Setting goals and making early progress is pretty easy.  I’ve worked with plenty of coaching clients who swear they’re ready to write that book, get that job, or achieve that dream.  Most do pretty well to a point.  Then, as success is almost realized, they freeze.  Of the dozens of folks I coached on writing a book, only a few managed to get it done, including: Pat Kastner, author of Caring to Change, Teresa Rome, author of, Scott Matheny, author of What Great Leaders Do, and Bonnie Burnett, author of Halfway to the Moon.  How do you explain?

  • Success means you have to set new goals.  There is a potential letdown.
  • Success means you open yourself up to criticism.  Everyone is excited when you say you’re writing a book.  When you write a book, people then feel compelled to criticize it.  I know from experience!
  • Success may not live up to the expectations you thought as you get close to reaching it.

In other words, the red zone defense tightens up on you!

What should you do?  How about putting in more effort as you near the finish line?  Realize that early success doesn’t guarantee and easy finish.  The final stages of your quest may be the toughest, but keep in mind you’re almost there!

I’m excited for some big breakthroughs in the remaining half of this year.  Knowing the red zone will be there later will help me formulate a winning strategy.  How will you break through the red zone?

Making the Most of the Dog Days of Summer

It’s official.  Summer is moving into its final month we’re getting close to the first part of the work year.  The Dog Days of Summer are here.

That’s an interesting term isn’t it?

Most people believe the phrase is in reference to the conspicuous laziness of domesticated dogs (who are in danger of overheating with too much exercise) during the hottest days of the summer. When speaking of Dog Days there seems to be a connotation of lying or “dogging” around, or being “dog tired” on these hot and humid days.

Interestingly enough, the origins of Dog Days originally came from the ancient Greeks and Romans.  They were the days when Sirius, the Dog Star, rose just before or at the same time as sunrise.  The Romans sacrificed a brown dog at the beginning of the Dog Days to appease the rage of Sirius, believing that the star was the cause of the hot, sultry weather. Dog Days were popularly believed to be an evil time “when the seas boiled, wine turned sour, dogs grew mad, and all creatures became languid, causing to man burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies” according to Brady’s Clavis Calendarium.

I’d like you to consider these Dog Days of Summer. Yes the legends paint a bleak picture, but why not put the “boiling seas” and “mad dog” mentality into your work ethic?  Maybe it’s time we all turn up the heat on our own goals and objectives.

This next four months presents a wide range of opportunities if you simply look for them.  Think about these four months as harvest time (if you pushed yourself during the summer) and if not, think of them now as four months of sowing.  This means it’s time to get busy!  Here are some suggestions:

  • Refocus that business plan.
  • Develop that business plan.
  • Turn off the TV (there’s nothing worth watching in the summer anyway) and pick up some professional development books.
  • Reengage your networks. Start making some phone calls and reconnecting.
  • Follow up on all those job leads you were given.  Call those hiring managers back (yes, even the ones that won’t return your calls).
  • Go back and re-energize those business leads that dropped off during the summer.
  • Start (or restart) that diet and exercise plan you gave up on over the past few months.

The Dog Days of Summer will pass you by if you let them.  Once they’re gone, it’s all a blur. I’ve already the Halloween decorations out at Costco. It won’t be long until they appear at Walmart and Target, pushing the back-to-school supplies out. In about two or so months (if not sooner), you’ll see the Christmas decorations out.  If you’re not careful, these next few months will go by and you’ll wake up in January not knowing what happened or where the time went.

I’m ready for a breakout year and I hope you are too.  It won’t happen on its own.  Let’s push hard so we can finish strong!

Why Investing in People Always Pays Off

Summer is in full swing, but as we get closer to August, it’s certainly feels like back-to-school time here in Tennessee. Our son, a rising sophomore at The Ohio State University heads back in two weeks and our daughter, a rising high school junior goes back a week later. We just finished our first round of college visits with her a few weeks ago. She is leaning towards becoming a UT Vol, which makes me happy.

For some of you, this story means nothing. You’ve probably experienced the pre-college rush or have sent your kids off many times. In our case, these events are significant, for they would have never taken place had it not been for two determined mentors.

My wife and I are the first in our families to get a college degree. We didn’t do it the traditional way; in fact, neither of us ever intended to go to college. My parents both had good-paying jobs in aerospace and didn’t have degrees. My wife’s parents were truckers who had a successful business, without degrees. We both joined the Navy in 1983 (meeting years later, in 1989) without any real career direction.

Fortunately for us, we crossed paths with Greg Nelson and Paul Magat. Greg was the dentist I worked for at NAVCOMMSTA Harold E. Holt, Australia and Paul was my wife’s supervisor at the Sand Point Naval Station in Washington State. Greg and Paul needled us consistently about attending college and eventually we both began taking classes at night. When I met my wife-to-be at Naval Hospital Long Beach in 1989, she immediately enrolled in a program for a degree in Health Care Management. About a year later, I enrolled. After we got married and stationed in Guam and later in Bremerton, Washington, we finished our Bachelors and later Masters degrees, again going to class in the evenings and on weekends. Our experience made us adamant that our kids attend college, and not like we did, but with the traditional college experience.

Which brings us to today. It’s never been an option for our kids NOT to go to college. They’ve been programmed from a young age that this is their path. We’ve gone out our of our way to push them and encourage them. When it came time for our son to pick out colleges, we visited campuses all over the country, at his insistence. Our daughter is doing that now.   I suspect that both will do the same with their children years from now.

And it’s all because Greg Nelson and Paul Magat pushed us in the early 1980s to get off our ass and go to class.

Why not take some time this week to encourage someone to push beyond what they believe they’re capable of. Your guidance may have an impact for generations to come.

How to Deal with Annoyances

In my experience, there are three types of annoyances:

  • Annoyance #1: Stuff we might be able to fix but it’s ok, we’re used to it and have accepted it.
  • Annoyance #2: Stuff we can fix but we just can’t bring ourselves to do it.
  • Annoyance #3: Stuff we can’t fix and we’ve resigned ourselves to it.

Annoyance #1 usually involves someone you’re close to and with time, becomes just part of the norm. You may not like it but you’ve come to expect and accept it. Examples might be my son who doesn’t clean up after himself when he makes something in the kitchen or the fact that our two poodles are absolutely un-house trainable. You simply account for it and understand you’ll be dealing with the aftermath on a somewhat regular basis. But you’re OK with that.

Annoyance #3 involves systems, structures, and situations that are beyond your control. Some of them are a part of life. I see #3 as the ridiculous taxes I have to pay or the inconvenience of having to endure TSA screening when I fly. It’s also the experiences you have come to expect from Disney (crowds, long lines, and having to pay for everything possible) and from the DMV (crowds, long lines, and rude customer service). You know it will happen and so you grit your teeth and endure it…because you have no choice.

Annoyance #2 is the subject of this post because it is actually the thing you should do something about. It could be a rude co-worker who nobody has the courage to confront. It might be the way you’ve been treated by a family member who probably has no clue they’ve irritated you.

In my case, it’s the fact that nobody can pronounce or spell my name correctly. I’ve dealt with it as long as I can remember.

Malcolm gets spelled:

  • Malcom
  • Malcomb
  • Melcome
  • Malcome

Munro gets spelled:

  • Munroe
  • Monroe
  • Monro
  • Munrow
  • Minrow

Then, it’s mispronounced or people can’t understand it.

It all came to a head this weekend at Starbucks.

Me: “I’ll have a Venti Skinny Vanilla Latte” (For my wife. I prefer manly drinks like COFFEE)
Barista: “Ok, so that’s one Venti Skinny Vanilla Latte right? What’s the name?”
Me: “Malcolm”
Barista: “What was that? Milcon?”
Me: “No, Malcolm”
Barista: “Melkin?”
Me: “Uh No, it’s MALCOLM”
Barista: “How do you spell that?”
Me: “Forget it. Just put it under Dick.” (Immediately my 16 year-old daughter darts away in shame pretending to look at the coffee mugs)
Barista: (Snickering) “OK”

Now I’m not singling out Starbucks here.  The same thing happens ANYTIME I have to give my name to reserve a table or identify an order.  Maybe life would have been easier if I’d been named Dick. Or Bill. Or Ted. Or something that’s common and easy to spell.

I wasn’t. I was named after my dad, Malcolm Sr. I don’t know the reason why as I was pretty young back then.

But when I was in the Navy, my nickname was Mac. Life was easier. Even if you misspelled it, you never mispronounced it.

So, being that this falls squarely in the category of Annoyance #2, I took action.

Effective immediately, I insist on being referred to as MACK. With a “K”. It’s not unprecedented. Bruce became Caitlin with a few strategic Tweets and even Siri has caught on.

Yeah it will be a bit of a hassle. I have to change my email signature, my websites, my biography, and of course my voicemail. I will probably have to explain my reasons to people who know me. But at least I won’t have to contend with misspellings and mispronouncements.

I know this sounds silly to you, but you contend with something annoying right now that one simple action might fix. It could be that annoying co-worker. Or the way somebody criticizes what you do. It might be something as simple as the way your name is misspelled or pronounced. You could just suck it up and accept it, but if it’s truly in category #2, it will continue to bother you.

This week, why not take some time to sort out your annoyances. For #1 and #3, if you at least identify them, you can take your attention off them. For #2, think about how to fix it. It may not be as drastic as me changing my name, but the result will be as satisfying as removing that rock from your shoe.

Let me know how it goes.

Mack. (with a “K”)

Passion: Today’s Most Overused Word

Have you ever noticed how some words, phrases, or voice inflections slip into common vocabulary and suddenly are used by everyone? Here are some:

On every episode of Shark Tank:

Shark Kevin O’Leary: “Enough about the story, what are your sales?”

Entrepreneur: “So, last year we grossed $100,000.”

The overused word here is SO. More and more people start off their responses with So.

  • So…I’m glad you asked that.”
  • So…I’ve noticed I’m getting up four times a night to use the bathroom”
  • So…I would have had report done but I was too busy answering emails.”

It sounds arrogant and brash. Don’t use it.

Here’s another one:

  • “We met our sales projects this year?”
  • “I’d like to speak with you later about this idea?
  • “I’m not going to tolerate this anymore?

You can’t catch this from reading it, but the key is the question mark. It’s called UP-talking. It’s common in England, New Zealand, and Australia with those accents, but it’s now done quite a bit here. It makes you sound unsure of yourself. Don’t do it. Make you statements sound like statements rather than questions that should be debated or answered.

The final one is a word: Passion.

Passion suggests an insane devotion. The dictionary defines it as a “strong and barely controllable emotion.” It’s rooted in a Greek verb that literally means to suffer.

That sounds serious.

Here’s what you often hear from people:

  • “I’m passionate about mentoring troubled youths.”
  • “I’m passionate about my Honda Accord.”
  • “I’m passionate about Camel cigarettes.”

Or the big one:

  • “Do what you’re passionate about and the money will follow”

Sometimes people say over and over how passionate they are about a thing. I saw this at a church meeting for a mission trip to Mexico where the trip coordinator told us no less than 30 times how passionate she was about this ministry.

I think I’ve done it myself. I used to think I was passionate about developing the next great generation of managers, but now I realize it’s merely important to me. I could say I’m passionate about the Washington Redskins, but if I were, I’d still be a fan even though I’ve moved to Tennessee. Not sure if I will ever be passionate about the Tennessee Titans, but I’ll give it some time.

There’s nothing wrong with the word passion, it’s just used so much that I think it’s lost its significance. Everyone talks about what they really like and refer to it as passion. Passion may be good for you, but if I’m not feeling it, then hearing you talk about it over and over won’t inspire me.

Passion suggests an almost insane devotion to something. One could say a world-class athlete might be passionate, but really they are just driven. You could say you’re passionate about your family or your god, but really, you just love them a whole lot. Come to think of it, I can’t really imagine anything I could be insanely enamored with enough to call it a passion.

But if you could, it would have to be pretty significant.

So your homework this week is to:

  1. Stop referring to things that you really like as something you’re passionate about.
  2. Discover something that you are TRULY passionate about.

When you find it, let me know. I’m really anxious to hear about it.

The BEST Way to Greet Someone

What’s your favorite way to be greeted? Hello? Hey? Greetings?

I think my favorite way is the one below. Of course to make it real, you have to hear it with a heavy Filipino accent:

Ah Pet-ty Officer Moon-row, What Can I do to Make Your Day a Whole Lot Better?”

As you probably know, I spent 15 years on active duty in the Navy. As an enlisted sailor, I interacted quite a bit with the Chief Petty Officer (CPO) community. Now the CPO is often thought of as the backbone of the Navy. It’s pretty difficult to attain the rank of Chief and those who do gain quite a bit of prestige. In my time, I ran across many Chiefs. Some were useless, chain-smoking, coffee-chugging slugs who contributed little. Some were decent, but focused on the finish line of retirement more than the development of junior sailors. Yet there were a few, like Chief Jun Basco, who personified what a Chief should be.

I worked for Chief Basco at Naval Dental Center Guam from 1992-1994. He was knowledgeable, and hard-working, but most of all, cheerful and helpful. The greeting above was his standard greeting to everyone, and he meant it. I never heard anyone else use that greeting but never forgot it.

I think the key to this greeting is this:

How can I…?

If you ask “Can I help you?” it’s usually a yes or no answer.

HOW can I? opens up more possibilities. Everyone needs something. This is an invitation to articulate it.

The second part of the greeting is important too:

…make your day a whole lot better?

Even on your best day, something could be done to make it better. Sometimes it’s nothing tangible, just a kind word or a smile. Other days it’s rescuing someone from a really bad situation or circumstance. When you ask someone how to make their day a whole lot better you’re inviting a really important, rapport-building conversation.

Imagine if you were greeted like this at the DMV?  Or TSA?

Imagine if your boss greeted you like this?

You can’t control those interactions, but you can take the initiative to do it yourself.

Let me know what happens!

Is Your Solution Worse than the Problem?

Last January, I took my car into the Mazda dealership so they could figure out why my fan blower motor was making noise.  Dealer said the motor was shot.  $1,400 later (as they had to remove the entire dashboard to replace it) problem solved.  A week later while on the road, my mother-in-law calls me to tell me (imagine this in a severe Southern accent):

“Y’all need to get someone to check this car out.  The fan is making noise”

When I get home, I take it back to the dealer.  After a thorough examination, we discover the blower motor is packed full of acorns, leaves, and insulation from the firewall.  Squirrels were building a nest in the motor.  Fortunately the fix was cheaper but that prompted another challenge:  What to do about the squirrels?

My wife suggested parking the car in the barn, but it meant I’d have to trudge up there in the morning, pull the car out, close the barn door and then drive down the gravel road.  Kind of a pain.

I suggested dispatching the squirrels with a two-pronged strategy:  a 20 gauge shotgun and cats.

She agreed.  Reluctantly. 

So we got the gun.  And the cats,  Iris and Athena.  6 weeks old at the time.  I put some mesh around the front porch so they couldn’t get out and they adapted quickly to being outside cats, which was the goal. 

About a week later, I’m heading home from the West Coast and my wife texts me telling me Iris got attacked by something, probably a coon or another cat.  Vet is able to save her even though her head and face is torn up.  Total vet bill is $250.00. Iris is tough and begins to heal.  We consider renaming her ISIS due to her resilience but think better of it.

Now I reinforce the cat compound with heavy-duty plastic mesh and wood.  I also install a motion detector light and sleep with the blinds open on my bedroom window.  I have a small leftover baby gate so I put that on the steps leading up to the porch.  It’s my first line of defense.  That night about 2am I hear a crashing noise and the motion detectors go on.  I grab the shotgun and run out to see that coon on the porch.  He breached the gate and is heading toward the cats.  Unfortunately he runs off before I can get a shot off.  Can’t fall back to sleep so I’m dragging the next day. 

Next step is to reinforce the entire cat compound with chicken wire.  Heavy rains that night so no action from predators.  The next night though, the power goes out in the middle of the night and the coon returns.  I don’t hear the gate go down but when I wake up, I see the baby gate has been knocked over.  I think it scared the coon off but I’m worried I didn’t hear it.  I get a couple of cowbells from the local CO-OP and wire them onto the gate.   Last night was a big thunderstorm so no action but we’ll see what happens tonight.

And today I’m wondering if I would have been better off just parking the car in the barn.

Sometimes our solutions become more troublesome than our problems.  We build systems and structures to alleviate a minor pain at work.  We reorganize around or promote a difficult employee when we ought to just fire them. 

If the pain of the solution is greater than the pain of the original pain, we’ve screwed up.

I’m ok with Iris and Athena.  I think they’ll eventually become good hunters and be able to take on or at least escape a coon, but so far it’s been a challenge.

This week, look at your workarounds and see if they are more of a burden than the original problem.  If they are, ditch them and address the problem directly.  Might be a better strategy.

Seasons of Change – and Your Social Media

To everything, turn, turn, turn. There is a season, turn, turn, turn.

Ecclesiastes chapter 3 as sung by The Byrds

It’s true isn’t it? Our environment is characterized by seasons. Right now we’re in Summer but for you Summer-haters, Fall is just around the corner. When we’re all slipping on the ice and cursing the snow, we can take comfort in the fact Spring is inevitable.   Then before you know it, you’re in the searing heat and humidity of Summer.

Our personal and professional lives are like that too. There are good times and bad. When times are bad, we know down deep inside that good times will eventually return. When times are good, we also know that good times don’t last forever. We exist in the cycles of Winter and Summer, with transitions of Spring and Fall.

Your point?

Since social media has become a preferred mode of communication among family, friends, and other curious parties, it’s a good idea to bring it into the discussion.

Here are some typical posts. You’ve seen them or something similar I’m sure:

  • “Margarita time with friends at the Outer Banks.”
  • “Off on our annual cruise. So excited!”
  • “Honored to speak today at the Association of Proctologists”
  • “Our son Dexter graduates with honors from high school” #proudparent
  • “Date night with my wonderful, handsome, smart hubby!” #datenight

Now if you’re in the Winter season of your personal or professional life, each one of those posts is a bit of salt rubbed into your wounds. Your initial response is:

Who cares?

But your deeper response is:

  • Why is everyone able to take vacations but me?
  • How is she so lucky to get those speaking gigs? I’m way better than she is.
  • My kid was lucky to graduate. I don’t care about yours.
  • My husband is a fat lazy slob who washed my white clothes with his red t-shirt. I wish my relationship was as perfect as yours.

Ironically, the real culprit here is the original poster who might be experiencing the Summer season personally or professionally. That person needs to ask the following questions:

  • Why am I posting about my trip to the Outer Banks or cruise? What will I possibly gain by letting everyone know about my fun trip? Am I taking away time from my family by documenting everything just to post it on social media?
  • Yes, I’m lucky to be speaking to a distinguished group of proctologists, but why am I letting everyone on LinkedIn know? Is it because I want them to think I’m amazing, totally booked, or well connected? Is it because I want people to see it and realize I’m a big-time speaker so they’ll contract with me at some point?
  • Am I bragging about my spouse or partner to compensate for the REAL state of my relationship?

Both have a responsibility. Own your season and do what you can to encourage others. If you’re in Summer, quit the bragging and connect with those in Winter. If you’re in Winter, quit the whining and take some steps to hit Summer again. Either way, own what you have and be a positive connection to others.

Don’t Confuse Activity with Accomplishment

Jesus is coming. Look busy.
– bumper sticker from the 1990s

“I’m too busy.”

This is something we’re all fond of saying isn’t it? Most of the time it’s true.

But sometimes it’s not. We’re all pretty good at confusing activity with accomplishment.

Activity is good. It makes us feel useful, wanted, and productive. It gives others the impression that we’re working at full capacity. It’s a rush that allows us to cross certain things off our list AND, justifies when we don’t get around to crossing something off.

Except that what we often avoid when being busy is tackling that task or project that really means something.

I’m doing that right now. I have two curriculum outlines that I’m really not excited about doing. It’s boring. It’s not sexy. It’s more fun to write a blog post. I can bang it out in about 15 minutes, select a photo from Depositphotos, and launch it. I can then post it on LinkedIn and immediately see who reads it and who likes it. I can queue it up using Aweber so it launches out to you on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday morning. Then I cross the whole thing off my list and call it a morning.

But if I think about it, those boring curriculum outlines represent revenue. Good revenue. It’s what I get paid for and pay is good. I’m putting off the important to do the fun.

Shame on me.

But I know I’m not the only one. I’m sure if you’re reading this now, you’re putting off something important. I’m your excuse. So here’s what we’ll do. When I finish this, I’ll tackle those outlines. Then I can reap the reward in a few months. When you’re done reading this, I want you to get back on track and tackle that task.

Activity is rewarding, but accomplishment has the real value. Let’s all work on doing the most important things so that when today ends, we can celebrate a job well done.