Zika, Swine Flu, Avian Flu, Ebola, and YOU

It seems like the latest epidemic fear is that of the Zika Virus.  It reminds me a little of the panic over Swine flu a few years ago.  I was in Dallas, TX and watched in awe as most public schools closed leaving thousands of kids on an unscheduled two-week vacation.  Every newscast delivered more and more bad news about the flu.

Reactions among the public ranged from total panic to complete apathy.  Kind of curious if you ask me.

You know I’ve seen this same scenario play out time after time during any kind of crisis, global, national, organizational, or personal.  Typically, there are three kinds of reactions:

Panic – usually caused by not having enough information.  This leads to irrational actions that tend to stampede the people closest to the panic-ee.  With the Swine Flu, you’re seeing massive school closings, cancelled trips to Mexico, and people living in bubbles.

Apathy – usually caused by a general aversion to people who panic.  This reaction can be troublesome if there indeed is impending danger.  In the Flu crisis, you see people ignoring all news and not taking any personal precautions.

Informed Strategic Action – usually taken when people have correct, timely information and the willingness to do what’s necessary to get through the crisis.  This is your best course of action.  With the Swine Flu, you see proper handwashing and hygiene and common sense precautions.

In each case, information (or lack thereof) is the key to getting through the crisis.  Since by the time you read this we’ll probably have solved the Swine Flu problem, let’s consider organizational or personal crises.

If you’re facing organizational challenges (which is probably the case considering the tough economy) then you’ll want to get as much information as possible.  Read cases studies, hire good consultants, and think carefully and strategically before making decisions.  Do what you can to avoid panic or apathy (no strategy vs. “the flavor of the month strategy”) by communicating early and often.

For personal challenges, do the same thing.  Read good books, seek out good counsel, visit your physician, and/or go to church.

We’re all witnessing daily doses of crisis these days.  Watch for the different reactions and do what you can on a personal and organizational level to make wise choices.  And be sure to wash your hands!

Focus on What You CAN Control!

yesFlying used to terrify me.  I didn’t take my first plane ride until I was 19 and it was a real experience – flying from Los Angeles to Exmouth, Western Australia, all told about a 28 hour flight.  My fear of heights of course was a factor but what really bothered me was the feeling of helplessness, a lack of control.

Of course now I’m pretty much over it all considering I fly somewhere around the country to lead workshops or to speak nearly every week.  I’m also convinced it’s much safer to fly than to drive.  I do in fact have safety on the plane even if I can’t go up to the cockpit and take over the controls.  By looking at what I can control, the other fears seem to fade.

Several years ago, I worked on a project with Federal employees, helping them write self-assessments for their performance management system that was then known as the National Security Personnel System (NSPS).  The system was very unpopular among Feds as it was the first radical change to their pay and performance system in about 70 or so years.  For them, the fear went along the lines of lack of control and potential subjectivity.

My message to them was always the same:  Focus on what you can control, not on what you can’t.

  • They couldn’t control potential favoritism but they sure as hell could work as hard as they could.
  • They couldn’t  control subjectivity but they could take time each week to document their performance for a comprehensive self-assessment.

I think the lesson works for all of us.  Focus on what we can fix and what we can control and work that as hard and long and viciously as we can.  It’s empowering and liberating.  NSPS is long gone, but hopefully those lessons about personal accountability stayed with them.

This week, take some time to list all the things you have full control of:  your work ethic, your attitude, your personal development, etc.  Then make a commitment to add to that list each day and work each item as hard as you can.  It’s a great way to reduce victim-stance and help you achieve your personal and professional goals.  I’m going to try it – won’t you join me?

Take Some Pride in Your Profession!

A few years ago, I had an incredible time teaching management skills to a group of engineers in Canada.

One of the things I noticed in the engineers was the pride they took in the little silver pinky rings on their fingers.  As they explained, the ring comes from the Ritual of the Calling of the Engineer. In this ritual, an engineer wears an iron ring on the pinky to symbolize pride in the profession but maintaining a humility to serve others.

In my travels, I’ve come across two kinds of people.  Those who take pride in whatever they do, and those who simply go through the motions.  I’ve spoken to a Marine who bragged about how important his job was, carrying the tripod to a weapon and then I’ve chatted with professionals who do little more than complain about every aspect of the job.

Which are you?

It seems to me that if you’re going to be in a profession, it wouldn’t hurt to pick something you could be proud of.  After all, we spend the better part of our finest hours at work.  I’m not saying we should live to work, but if we’re going to be working, how about taking pride in it?  Imagine what would happen if everybody did:

  • Gate agents for airlines would make it their personal responsibility to make sure you made flight connections.
  • Mail would be delivered to the correct addressee every time.
  • The person at the drive-through window of a fast food joint would personally inspect your bag to make sure your order was correct.
  • Telecommuters would truly “work from home.”

I already thoroughly enjoy my profession so taking pride comes easier but I’m really going to examine my attitude towards it this week and make sure it’s correct.  Why not do the same for yourself?

Take the Lead in a New Order of Things

Statue of Machiavelli

The man himself: Machiavelli!

“… there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.

Nicolo Machiavelli – 1505

A few years ago,  I spent a day helping a company set up a formal mentoring program for its emerging leaders.  Aside from getting (and then talking my way out of) a speeding ticket in Pennsylvania, it was a great day.  I spent the first part of the morning teaching the group about the benefits and pitfalls of putting together a formal program, then the rest of the day we used a whiteboard put the plan in place.

One thing stood out from that day.  While everyone was pushing hard to get the program in place and had no problem putting tasks and dates together, nobody jumped up to take charge.  Ultimately, it was kind of dumped into the lap of the HR staff (where maybe it belongs) but nobody else seemed willing to step up.

It’s not just this initiative or this company.  I see it all the time.

Several reasons for this I think.

  • I’m already overloaded
  • I’m not really onboard, I just pretend to be
  • It’s not really my job anyway
  • If it fails, I don’t want to take the blame
  • If it works, I won’t get the credit
  • I’m lazy

I get it.  I understand.  Here’s the other thing I know.  If you’re looking to build up your reputation, show your value, and make yourself indispensible, taking the lead in the introduction of a new order of things is the way to go!

Here are some of the benefits.

  • You become a hero to the other slackers who don’t want to do it.
  • You have free reign to do the program YOUR way since nobody else wants in
  • You can be creative and put your own good ideas to use
  • You can take full credit when it succeeds
  • If it fails, you can at least take credit for being the only one who tried

People ask me all the time how to build job security or advance in their career.  There’s not simple way to do it.  It takes hard work, sacrifice, and often, taking risks.

Machiavelli may not have been the nicest guy, but in my book his quote above is one of the best statements ever.  Your career success is ultimately in your hands.  This year, what are you prepared to do to succeed?

The Power of Encouragement

The other day I was reminiscing about when my kids were younger and going to school in Maryland.  One or the big events each year were the Maryland School Assessments (MSA). These exams included a test of reading and math achievement that met the testing requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

What’s not widely publicized is that schools whose students don’t score well get put on a School Improvement Process which is a complete assessment of what’s being done and a look at the root cause.  In worst case scenario, senior staff might get canned and certain programs dropped from the school.

The preparation for these tests was the same each year.   Teachers spend a few weeks before the test getting the kids pumped up.  They come home with special instructions to sleep better and suggestions on the right breakfast to eat before the test.  The hope is that kids will perform well and the scores will be great.

I won’t go into my personal opinion of how useless the MSA was considering kids get taken out of regular learning for several weeks to go into test prep which of course won’t really measure learning.  The end-of-test brain dump is an annual event as well.  I’m more interested in the motivation used on the kids.

When my then 8th grade son got a handwritten postcard from his homeroom teacher which was inscribed “Good luck on the test” it made me wonder…if these kids were encouraged from the first time they stepped into the classroom, would the MSA even be necessary or at a minimum, would extra motivation be needed to pass the test?

You see, the bottom line here is that the kids really have no dog in this fight.  Truth be told, there’s nothing in this for them, particularly my 8th grader who was going to a private school the next year.  If the kids really knew this, they’d completely blow the test off.  Hence, the need to get them engaged!

My kids had some great teachers and some that weren’t as great.  Students on the other hand seem to be either hot or cold.  Some great scholars (my kids were in this group – A’s and B’s across the board – yes, I’m bragging!) and those who really don’t care.  I wonder what would happen if teachers made an effort to challenge the hot students and encourage the cold ones year round?

Taking this out of the school setting and into the workplace now, are you doing something each day as a supervisor to encourage your staff?    The bigger question is:  does your team see the big picture regarding your organization?  Do they see something in it for them?  Do they have a dog in the fight?  If not, you might want to re-think how you communicate your strategy to them.

If you’re not in a management role, are you encouraging those around you?  Have you asked your boss to show you the “big picture” so you know what success looks like?  If not, you’re tempting fate when layoffs come – how can you show your value if you don’t know what the value adds to?

Once a year is not enough if you’re looking for sustained performance.  Why not take some time this week to encourage somebody?

The Key to Getting Promoted

A few years ago I facilitated a one-week leadership seminar for a very senior group of Federal managers.  This is a group who is on the cusp of promotion to the Senior Executive Service (SES).  Members of the SES serve in the key positions just below the top Presidential appointees. SES members are the major link between these appointees and the rest of the Federal work force. They operate and oversee nearly every government activity in approximately 75 Federal agencies.


One of the highlights of the week was on Thursday where several current and retired SESs talked to the group about their career path, what they did to attain promotion, and passed along advice on career planning.  I was curious (although I’m not in the Federal service) about their career paths as well, wondering what it took to promote in the system.  What I heard was a little surprising.


When asked when they made the decision to go on a track for SES, each speaker told the group they never did.  They simply worked hard to achieve the mission of the Agency and take care of the people, and the big promotion was a by-product.


This was interesting to me since most folks in at least the private sector have to claw their way to the top, leveraging relationships, sometimes employing Machiavellian tactics, and in many cases stepping on top of others to make progress.  I was under the assumption this was the same in this case (and maybe in some instances it is) but either way, I was pleasantly surprised!

It made me think about the right attitude to have if you’re on a career track for high level promotion.  The attitude should be one of service.  The harder we work for ourselves, the more challenging leading an organization becomes.  It’s a very unselfish role to be successful at the top.


In some parts of the world, monkeys are trapped in a very unique way.  A glass jar of marbles is placed on the ground and monkeys, who are naturally curious, stick their hands into the jar to get the colorful little prizes.  Once they get a handful, they try to pull their hand out of the jar, but their fist blocks the exit.  Unwilling to let go of the marbles, the monkeys are easy prey for the trappers who snatch them up in a burlap bag.


If you’re trying to get to the top at the expense of others and your organization, you’re really no different.  The harder you reach for something, the more you have to lose.  Are you focusing on the right things?


This week, take a look at your career goals.  Are you doing the best you can for your organization as well as yourself?  Remember, one you get that big promotion, you’ll have to lead people.  Will there be anyone left to lead if you’re promoted through a path of destruction?  Just a little food for thought this week.

The Benefit of Specialization

Teeth of a horse close upOur real benefit to our organizations, companies, and even family and friends is the value we add to them.  With increased value usually comes higher fees which is a good thing.   It’s a good idea to specialize.

A few days ago, I was thinking about this on the drive to the airport.  I passed a pickup truck towing a long trailer.  The truck was customized and as I got closer, I saw the logo advertising this guy as a horse dentist.

Now I’m not a country boy so I had to just double check whether this was a legitimate field, and sure enough it is!  It made me think about this whole notion of specialization.

I’m the first one to tell my job seeker clients to be as versatile as possible.  It’s important to show your boss you can add value in a number of areas.  I’m realizing though that as a business owner, it’s also just as important to be a specialist.  You could be a veterinarian but maybe you choose to specialize in horses.  Then, you decide to not just work on horses in general, but to focus on just horse dentistry.  Then, you become the best horse dentist around.  Seems like that’s what this guy did.

What can you do to identify and really promote your key skill/gift area?  How can you build that skill and more importantly market it to others?  It’s a matter of going from general to very specific. Maybe you can think about it.  I’d be really interested in hearing what you come up with.

The All-Powerful Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Fist breakthrough white wallRecently, I re-watched one of my favorite movies,  The Karate Kid II.   One thing that stood out to me as I watched the Yoda-like Mr. Miyagi was his absolute faith in his protégé Daniel LaRusso.  In the movie, both characters head over to Okinawa and in no time, Daniel-San finds himself in trouble with a local youth.  In one scene, he is egged on to karate-chop and break six sheets of ice with his bare hands.  With Miyagi putting his faith (and money) on Daniel-San, he is able to break the ice.  Miyagi’s confidence in his protégé’s ability is powerful.  Later, Daniel-San defeats the local bully in a bone-dance brawl – motivated by Miyagi’s warning: “Daniel-San, this not tournament, this for real.”

Can you think back on someone who had faith in your ability and pushed you out of your comfort level?  Did their faith in you cause you to succeed?  If so, then it’s something we refer to as the self-fulfilling prophecy.  If we expect great things of people, we’re more likely to get them. If we expect people to fail, we won’t be disappointed.

If you’re in a management role, how about doing an honest evaluation this week on how you view your direct reports.  Do you have a “go-to” person that gets most of your attention?  Do you have a “dirtbag” that you clearly don’t trust?  In both cases, I wonder if their success or failure is not a result of their abilities as much as it is your view of them?

How about your family members?  Again, going back to old movies, it’s pretty evident.  Remember that 1980s biography of Ritchie Valens, La Bamba?  Valens’ mother is constantly praising his abilities while referring to his brother Bob as “my flunkie.”  Bob constantly lives down to her low expectation while Ritchie becomes a success.

This week, let’s all take a look at the people that we have influence over.  What type of expectations do we have of them?  Are we breathing life into them or inadvertently breaking them down?

Finally, if you have or had someone that believed in you, have you taken the time to look them up and thank them?  I’m sure they would appreciate it.  Why not put that on your “to-do” list this week?  I know I will.

There are No Shortcuts to Excellence

Maze ShortcutOne of the things I find myself missing these days on flights is the old Skymall catalog you used to find in the seat pocket.  Nestled between a guide to toilet training your cat and gadgets designed to shoot more oxygen into your drinking water, I remember seeing an ad for getAbstract, which touts itself as “putting business knowledge in the palm of your hand.”  For $299.00 per year, you get five-page summaries of business books.  The ad claims they take between 100 and 500 pages and condense it down to five pages.  You get unlimited access to “cutting-edge knowledge” and will “instantly see a difference in the breadth and depth of knowledge you bring to your work and personal development.”

Ever hear of MANX Spanx for Men?  A Spanx for Men is a super tight T-shirt men put on under their dress shirts to squeeze in all their fat.  Once you put it on, you instantly look better, fitter, and attractive.  I can only imagine the surprise women get when their man removes the Manx.  Kind of like dumping a bunch of water balloons out of a spandex bag.

The lesson here?  There are no shortcuts to excellence.

If, according to getAbstract, you “have a team of business experts wherever you need it.  Experts like Stephen Covey, Daniel Goleman, Seth Godin, and hundreds more,” do you really think you’ll get the full force of their expertise in a picked-over five-page guide?  I’ve written 10 books and I can tell you there’s no way you’d get what you needed if I had to condensed them to five pages.  There’s simply no shortcut to get over fear of public speaking, market yourself for your dream job, or keeping your superstar employees loyal to you.

I have nothing against getAbstract wanting to generate revenue. After all, I’m a businessman too.  I just don’t want you to think you can take a shortcut to learning something.  Here’s my getAbstract version of How to Drive a Car.  Give it to your 16-year-old and see what happens:

  • Open the car door
  • Get inside
  • Put the key in the ignition
  • Turn the key
  • Hear the engine roar
  • Pull the shifter down to where it says “D”
  • Step on that long pedal on the far right side
  • Be careful.
  • Now you’re driving! (and getting cutting-edge instructions from Mack Munro who has been behind the wheel since 1980!)

Silly right?  Imagine if your boss learns how to manage by reading five-page summaries?  Lucky for me maybe – after all I’ll probably get to do some coaching work on him or her to undo the damage, but you’ll suffer in the meantime.

There are no shortcuts.

Pick up a book and read it cover to cover.  Take notes.  Highlight important passages which a yellow highlighter.  Read it again.  Talk about what you learned with colleagues.  Apply one principle and journal the results.  Document what works and what doesn’t.  Reapply the principle.  Repeat the process until you’ve mastered the principle. Now apply another principle.

That’s how it’s done.

Intent vs. Impact

newtons cradle silver balls conceptRecently, I was working with an experienced group of managers.  We got into a discussion about the impact of our behavior on those we lead.  From the experiences they shared, we found that the intent of our actions sometimes has a different and in many cases, unintended impact.  Most of the time, this unintended impact was bad.

Sometimes it seems that life is a great chess match.  Each move we make has the potential to make us a winner or end up in checkmate.  If that’s the case, perhaps we need to make a point of living deliberately.

If you were being coached on disarming a roadside bomb, you’d probably be told to work slowly and deliberately.  Each action, even the smallest, could result in disaster if done incorrectly.  While our lives normally don’t operate in that level of risk, we certainly could benefit by thinking carefully through our actions.

While pondering all of this on the flight home, I came up with the following steps that may be helpful in the act of thinking deliberately.  When thinking about your next move, test it with these questions:

  1. What are the short term benefits and impact?
  2. What are the long term benefits and impact?
  3. 5 years from now, what are the possible outcomes from this decision?
  4. Who might be helped by this decision?
  5. Who might be hurt by this decision?
  6. If this decision was broadcast on the evening news, what would that do for my career?  My family?

I know you won’t have the time to run through these each and every time for all the decision you’ll make, but at least consider these.  In time, this process will probably go much quicker, but if you’re really concerned about a critical situation, take the time to run through the steps.  Years from now, you may be glad you took the time to do it!