It’s Time to Let the Man Out of the Closet

One of the dentists I worked for back when I was in the Navy told us about how his brother got his kids to stay in their beds at night. When tucking them in, he simply told them:

“If I have to come back in here, I’m going to let the man out of the closet!”

This was all it took to keep them in line. I’m not sure when they realized there was no man in the closet, but wouldn’t it have been sad if at age 18, they still feared the man in the closet?

In my work with organizations, I’m often told that such and such idea wouldn’t work because you “can’t go there” with certain individuals. For some reason, this individual or group of individuals has some sort of power that everyone fears, thus nobody has the courage to confront it.

After probing for a while, I often find that their version of “the man in the closet” really doesn’t exist. It’s just a believable excuse to NOT take a risk or put that great idea out there. It gets worse when people fear making a decision that could benefit the company because they’ve heard that the decision would be shot down by someone. It all boils down to irrational fear.

So what should you do if you deal with “the man in the closet?”

  • For executives: Get out of your office and make the rounds on the floor. Talk to your employees. Tell them the company vision and let them know you need not only their hard work, but their suggestions for improvement as well. Let them know that you’ll personally take those suggestions seriously.
  • For managers: Quit being afraid and take some risks for your team. They depend on you to run ideas up the chain or address their concerns. Don’t let them down.
  • For individual contributors: Don’t allow somebody else’s fear impact your willingness and need to get something done. It may involve taking a risk to challenge the “man in the closet” but that’s far better than simply shying away in case he really does exist.

This week, how about moving from irrational fear to focused accomplishment. The “man in the closet” will take care of himself. Don’t allow him to hold you back.

I’ll Take Those Odds!

Last Friday morning I found myself standing in line at the Mapco mini-mart in Clarksville, TN. I was on my way to do a Lunch & Learn for some potential clients. I don’t eat at these things since I provide the “Learn” while those who attend eat the “Lunch” so I stopped to get a mega-sized Slim Jim and a Monster Energy drink.

The line was long. The holdup was the usual suspect: people buying lottery tickets.

I’m not a big fan of lottery tickets. Nor am I of slot machines, horse racing, or anything else that takes my hard-earned cash in exchange for a remote hope that I’ll win some money. I understand there’s a certain rush of adrenaline that comes from the chance of a win. I see that optimism in folks whenever the Powerball jackpot gets into the hundreds of millions. Unfortunately, the odds are NEVER in your favor.

I prefer to win the old fashioned way: by outworking folks. As I stood there watching the folks in front of me, it dawned on me that I had much better odds of winning with a Slim Jim and a can of Monster. Odds were for me that at least one attendee from my Lunch & Learn would be interested in a further conversation. Maybe an onsite Lunch & Learn at her company. This free session would be so valuable it would parlay into a workshop for a pilot group of managers. They would find it so useful that they’d want it implemented at the headquarters site and then it would spread out to the remote sites. At least one of those attendees would leave the company within the next six months and keep the course workbook with my contact information in it and arrange for me to visit their new employer. I’d then do a Lunch & Learn there and the cycle would repeat.

This scenario happens frequently. The odds are ALWAYS in my favor. They are because I stack the deck to my advantage. I’ll take those odds. I prefer my destiny be in my hands rather than the Tennessee State Lottery’s hands.

But what about you?

All of us have equal access to the favorable odds that come from diligence, perseverance, and hard work. This week, rather than scratching off the silver foil from your ticket with crossed fingers, why not keep your cash and focus your attention on what actually makes a difference: working more efficiently, learning new skills, coming up with new ideas, or building a stronger network.

Let the dreamers dream. We’ll wake up and turn reality into that dream!

Why You Should Be “Cool as a Cat”

Sunday morning we were loading up, getting ready to drive to church when I decided to let the dogs out one more time. Our two barn cats, Iris and Athena happened to be on the carport.

Candy, our miniature poodle went over to see Iris. Then Rambo, the other poodle followed. Iris got a bit unsettled and walked away briskly. Then Sonny, our black lab mix followed. Iris began to run which was her first mistake. This caused the dogs to all give chase. Her second mistake was running up one of the many oak trees on our property. She was up about 8 feet and then Sonny jumped up against the tree causing Iris to keep climbing. When she got near the top, about 35 feet above the ground, she realized she was stuck. If dogs could laugh and trash talk, they would have been. Iris was hopelessly stuck.

Now I had to figure out how to get her down. My tallest extension ladder was 12 feet and probably extended out another 10. My wife suggested backing my pickup truck up to the tree and putting the ladder in the bed. That gave me about an additional 3 feet. I set the ladder in and propped it against the tree. Then I began to climb.

I really hate heights. Air travel doesn’t bother me but anything else, such as the Arch in St. Louis, the observatory at the Empire State Building, or the Space Needle in Seattle DOES make me sweat. I bravely began to climb, not wishing to look down. Barb and Allie held the ladder at the bottom. Iris looked down as I inched towards her. The truck, ladder, and my 5 foot 9 inch height still left me short, even though I was standing on the second-to-the-top rung of the ladder. I held the tree in a death grip with my right arm and beckoned to Iris with my left. Even though she must have been nervous, you couldn’t tell. She wandered towards my hand and stopped to lick her paws. Then she looked at me as if to say “What are you doing up here? I got this!” After about 20 minutes on the ladder, I managed to coax her close enough to grab her by the ear. Then she yowled and dug her claws into my arm. I pulled her down and cradled her like a spikey football. As I inched down the ladder, it occurred to me just how cool cats look under pressure.

Years ago, a research team studied the refugees who crossed the Pacific Ocean from Cambodia to the United States. This was a treacherous crossing and not every boat made it. A boat would swamp or a storm would hit and the people on the boat would freak out and start thrashing about. Eventually, the boat would take on too much water and sink, drowning everyone. Yet every boat that safely arrived had someone onboard that remained calm under pressure. Their calm was contagious. Even in a crisis, people managed to keep their heads.

We saw this with the US Airways flight that crash-landed in the Hudson River back in 2009. Now I fly nearly every week and when the plane arrives at the gate and the “DING” sounds, my elbows start flying along with the other passengers and we all madly try to deplane at once. I can’t imagine what would happen if water was coming through the floorboards of the plane, yet the passengers of Flight 1549 calmly exited the plane. All accounts point the calm demeanor of Captain “Sully” Sullenberger as he communicated to the passengers. His calm was contagious.

All of us deal with stressful situations. It takes a conscious effort to remain cool but if we do, there’s a good chance those around us will follow suit. If you’re nervous before a presentation, mentally prepare to display calm and take some deep breaths. If you appear calm, as if the audience doesn’t bother you a bit, you’ll be amazed at how people will pay attention to what you’re saying and not silently criticizing your nervousness.

It certainly worked for Iris and the passengers on Flight 1549. I know it would work for you! Take some time this week to begin rehearsing your “cool as a cat” skills. Make it a routine and you’ll find it becomes second nature to you.

What if Excellence was the Minimum Standard?

Best practice blue round grungy vintage rubber stamp
One of my favorite days when I’m home in Middle Tennessee is Friday. It’s not just because the weekend is eminent. It’s because it’s Fake-A-Song Friday on the America’s Morning Show program on 103.3 NASH-FM.

This segment invites country music stars into the studio where they draw random words such as lotion, bear, table, moon, etc. and have 15 minutes to compose an original song that includes all of those words. I’ve yet to hear a band fail to do it. Not only do they get the words in but the song is cohesive, easy to listen to, and could probably be a hit. It’s a reminder of how amazing excellence is.

When my son was little, we caught every WWE wrestling event that hit the Verizon Center in Washington, DC. We managed to see two live Monday Night Raw shows as well as SummerSlam. These events were packed with every redneck within 100 miles of DC, had live fireworks and plenty of excitement. These were true spectacles. We also attended one “house show” on a Saturday night. House shows still had all the big stars but not all the big lights and fireworks. One thing that didn’t change though, the wrestlers treated it like it was a televised show. Entertainers yes, but absolute professionals. Excellence all over.

We look at entertainers and expect excellence but we’re still dazzled when we experience it.   What would life be like if we strove for excellence in our jobs?

  • What would the DMV experience be like if a clerk went out of their way to treat customers like they were checking into the Ritz Carleton?
  • What would happen in a Federal agency if a GS worker pushed themselves like they were personally working for the CEO of a Fortune 500 company and their bonus depended on them adding tangible value?
  • What would your presentation to a bunch of bored executives be like if your audience was a bunch of venture capitalists and your business survival depended on you getting funding?

If we’re honest, we say we aim for excellence but our preparation and attitude really only warrant “good enough.” And if we’re really honest, we’d probably discover that our benchmark is probably a mediocre standard such as “I’m at least better than she is” or “We’re the DMV, not the Ritz Carlton. You get what you pay for.”

I’m sure it would be easy for a WWE wrestler to just phone it in for a house show knowing it’s not televised, but I didn’t see it that Saturday night.

A country music star could dismiss Fake-A-Song Friday as a publicity stunt and do something silly and stupid, but I’ve yet to hear it.

In both cases, I think the motivation for excellence is simply a desire to be the best.

I’m motivated by this. I try to make each of my workshops the best knowing that for the audience, they could care less that I’ve delivered the same models, told the same stories, showed the same video clips, and drew the same diagrams hundreds of times. They expect me to treat the workshop as if they’re the only group that ever got it. It’s why I push myself.

This week, think about how you could apply the WWE house show/Fake-A-Song Friday work ethic to your job. What could it mean for your career? Your future?


It’s Too Soon to Quit

“If you quit __________ now, you’ll always be a quitter” – AnyDad or AnyMom, USA

Are you one of the millions of human beings that’s ever heard that one? If so, there’s a modicum of truth to it. If you’re a college football fan, you saw what happens when you DON’T quit.

The other night I watched my son’s college’s football team, The Ohio State Buckeyes put a vengeance beating on Virginia Tech, the only team to beat them during their 2014-2015 run to the college football championship. If you’re not a college football fan, you’ve probably missed the  back story.

In August 2014, OSU quarterback Braxton Miller suffered a shoulder injury that kept him off the field for the entire year. Bad news since Miller was a Heisman Trophy hopeful, defending two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and the key to OSU getting back into contention. Enter J.T. Barrett, the second stringer. Not only did he fill the position, he rocked it! OSU went unbeaten save for the loss to Virginia Tech. Ready to enter the inaugural football playoffs, disaster struck. Barrett went down with a season-ending injury. Next up, third stringer Cardell Jones. Jones simply led the Buckeyes to the title in overwhelming fashion.

So now to 2015. All three quarterbacks are healthy. Miller was an afterthought. The battle would be between Barrett and Jones. Feel bad for Miller? Don’t.

Miller saw his future and decided to chart his own course, opting to try out for H-Back. All he did was excel in the home opening catching a touchdown pass and running for another. He could have sulked. He could have transferred. He chose to adapt and excel.

We live in a nation of whiners and victims. People who don’t have wealth, opportunity, or good breaks blame the system, the wealthy, politics, etc.

If that’s you, here’s the sad reality: Nobody cares. Nobody is listening. Yes, the politicians are listening. And they’ll be there for you…until they get elected. Then you’ll be on your own again.

We are however inspired by those who look at the stacked odds and put together a plan to adapt in spite of them. The interesting thought here is that never in history has there been more opportunity to personally or professionally excel.

I graduated fourth from the bottom of my high school class and joined the Navy as an enlisted monkey doing chairside dental assisting. I whined. I complained. I blamed. Then I realized that nobody cared nor were they listening. Since I DID care, I got busy going to college at night and on weekends. Sure there were setbacks but the perseverance paid off.   Today I own a successful consulting company.

If you’re reading this today, there is a good chance you’re in a civilized democracy that affords every opportunity to excel. We’re reading about the Syrian refugees flooding Europe now looking for opportunity. I’m sure they’d give ANYTHING to relocate here. The USA is truly the land of opportunity. If you’re here, you have a huge advantage! Quit whining and get busy!

  • If you’re doing nothing, get a plan together to do something!
  • If you’ve been wronged or screwed over, get over it and move on!
  • If you’re blaming everyone for your problems, quit depending on them to feel sorry for you and fend for yourself!
  • If you’re about to be forgotten like Braxton Miller was, adapt and find a new course.

No more excuses, just focused action.

Clarity vs. Brevity: Who Wins?

Have you noticed that in spite of a public cry for verbal and written simplicity, things just seem more complicated to understand?

This past week I spent several hours trying to coordinate paperwork between doctor’s offices and insurance companies, only to be given instructions on forms and paperwork that I didn’t understand.

The corporations I work with suffer from the same sort of complexity, but most of them try to simplify it using corporate “buzzwords,” some of which you can read on this great blog by Forbes magazine.

When I was in the Navy, everything could be condensed into an acronym, perhaps to keep us from using too much paper when typing a memo or to keep us from overextending our lung capacity. To assist in deciphering it all, we had what was known as the DICNAVAB (Dictionary of Naval Abbreviations).

Even religious people get stuck in this. There is a ton of religious jargon out there not to mention some folks who hold that the only Holy Bible is the King James Version. When I read my Bible, I prefer modern translations. I’d rather understand the passage in plain English than to read something that has the same accent as a Shakespeare play. Using “thee” and “thou” doesn’t make a passage more holy and sacred.

In the battle between clarity and brevity, brevity seems to win, but is the win really useful? Not always. Abbreviations and jargon can confuse and complicate things even more than they were originally.

What can we do?

  1. Think like a listener, not a “tapper.” This is a concept out of Chip Heath and Dan Heath’s book Made to Stick, but my good friend Bruce Johnson debriefs it really well HERE. It’s all about considering your audience when you’re trying to communicate.
  2. Think Simple, but Not Simplistic. There is a fine line between communicating clearly and treating someone like a moron. What is the simplest way to say something without dumbing down the meaning? When you figure that out then start using it.
  3. Don’t expect others to navigate (or even respect) your “process.” People could care less what your hoops are to jump through. They need to get their questions answered or their problems solved. If it means renaming what you call something so others understand it, then do it!
  4. Use analogies or stories if you’re trying to explain something complicated. I was teaching a workshop on Emotional Intelligence a few weeks ago to a bunch of really technical people. Rather than try to make it all touchy-feely (big mistake), I explained the brain science involved, then told them:

“Emotional Intelligence is like WD-40. It loosens bolts and eliminates squeaks. You can live without it, but it just makes life a whole lot simpler.” Feel free to quote me:

Tweet: Emotional Intelligence is like WD-40. It loosens bolts and eliminates squeaks. Not life-changing, just makes life a whole lot easier.

Communication is the lifeblood of relationships and organizations. If you’re involved in either (or both), take some time this week to examine how your communication measures up. Clarity? Brevity? Something in between?

Your choice, but choose wisely.