These Could Be the Good Old Days

good timesMy son lives in Ohio now, away at college,  but often I think about the days long ago when he played youth football and we’d spend most of August running him out to practice.  August of course is the hottest and most humid months, but that was made even more miserable with a contingent of gnats that managed to find their way into eyes and noses.  Just a typical August football practice.

While the boys were experiencing great misery, there wasn’t a dad on the sideline that wouldn’t jump at the chance to trade places with their sons, myself included.

You see, for those of us that played football as a youth or in high school, we only remember the fun of the game and the great memories and stories we share.  Funny as it sounds, even those hot and muggy practices seem like great fun now.

What’s the lesson for us today?

Put the stress and pain of today in perspective.  Even if life proves miserable now, there’s a good chance that down the line, you may actually look back at today with a sense of nostalgia, and even a wish to go back.

The problem with wishing away our troubles is that we wish away the days that contain them.  I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking of trying to make the most of each and every day, good and bad, in hopes that I can enjoy the best of times right here and now!

So this week, take a look at your current situation.  Figure out where you need to go and put a plan in place to get there, but at least look for the good in every situation.  Visualize yourself in 10 years looking back.  What will you miss the most?  Find those things and take time to relish the moments.  You won’t have to regret doing that later.

How to Teach Your “Gut” Reaction

businesswoman drawing a work flow diagramOften when I meet with managers, they tell me of a few employees whose overall performance is poor but who are the experts in a certain process or aspect of the department.  When I ask them why they haven’t disciplined them or fired them, they tell me the person has a skillset or piece of knowledge that nobody else has.  They would rather tolerate the poor performance than get rid of the person and have to start over.  Plus, they say, it’s impossible to learn the job they’ve actually developed the skills to do.

Now I get it if the person is a brain surgeon then OJT won’t cut it, but for most other jobs, the process probably hasn’t been defined enough for another to teach, much less learn.

But that can change.  You probably have a certain job that you learned and can now do without thinking about it, but yet if pressed, would have a hard time teaching someone else to do.  If that’s true, and you care about your organization or your company, it’s up to you to define that process and learn to teach it to others.

The reason it seems hard is that much of what we do best is sort of automatic.  We have a series of steps we really don’t think about, we just do.  We’ve also developed a keen sense of the situation and the environment we’re dealing with and have learned to factor that in.  What this gives us then is the appearance that we’re successful because of a “gut” reaction and a natural ability.

That’s not really the case though.  If we break it down, we can probably reverse-engineer our steps and document what we actually do and the decisions we have to make.  Once we do that, we can map it out and then teach it to others.  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Ask yourself how you learned to do the particular job that seems so hard to teach.  Go back through the scenarios and situations in which you learned.  Think about what you learned through your mistakes.
  2. Plot that task then in its most stable scenario – when everything goes right.  Use a flowchart if you have to.
  3. Now on your flowchart, put in bubbles and arrows to show every possible anomaly that throws this process off.
  4. For each of those anomalies, put in your method of solution.  Note the effects that these anomalies and solutions have on the stable process and note how you deal with those.
  5. Finally, re-draw your flowchart in a neat fashion and in a manner that you could use to teach others.

When you look at it, you’ll realize that what you do really isn’t from a “gut” ability, it’s simply a process you’ve done so many times that it’s second nature.  And because you’re so good at it and it seems so confusing to others, everyone assumes it’s not teachable and therefor you’re indispensable.  Which is good for you.  Provided you are a good employee who does their job.

But if you’re a manager and you need this done, it now becomes a matter of compliance with your underperforming employee.  By you pushing them to do this exercise, they may see that their job is threatened.   If so, they may leave (which is painful but good) or they may straighten up (which is better).  Either way you send a clear message.

If you’re an employee, prove your value by teaching your skills to others.  It will free you up to learn new things.  If you’re a manager, press your employees to do this and start weeding out your poor performers.  While it seems as though your job is to go to meetings and send emails, it’s really about developing your team.  Do your job and the other jobs get done.

The Importance of Staying Focused

Blured text on vintage paper with focus on FOCUSIn my management courses, we always use the Three-Legged Stool of Great Performance™ to assess how well employees are doing.  Skill issues are fixed with training, will issues with motivation, and focus through coaching.  In theory, it’s pretty easy to diagnose a person’s issues and apply the right remedy.

When assessing ourselves however, all bets are off.

We can fix our skill problems with self-learning or classes and reflection can help us identify will problems, but focus takes a bit more work.  There is one aspect of focus that can really derail us if we’re not careful and that’s the temptation to lose sight of our goal or intentions and steer off the path.

A couple of years ago, I read a great book called the 10X Rule by Grant Cardone.  In this book, Cardone talked about applying overwhelming effort in order to break through to better success.  Amped up by this, I put together an elaborate plan to blog more and be more assertive in growing my business.

About that time, I ran into a young couple at the church we were attending and began working with the husband on setting some career goals.  He mentioned that his income was ok,  but was supplemented by his wife’s as she taught guitar lessons.  Immediately, the light went on in my head:  how cool would it be to learn just enough guitar chords to blast out some classic riffs such as Angus Young’s intro to Highway to Hell?  I asked about lessons and couldn’t wait to get started.

And then I remembered the 10X Rule.  If I was going to double-down and invest way more effort into my business, where would I fit guitar lessons and practice?  More importantly, would grinding the axe at a pool party lead to more client acquisition or just focus attention on me?  After considering it all, I opted out of the guitar.

It’s pretty easy to fall into this trap.  Just get discouraged enough in the pursuit of your goals and you’ll deviate off into all sorts of other tempting tasks.  I’ve seen colleagues start side businesses that don’t really pan out financially and take them off task of their real objective.  This is usually done as a way to jump-start their primary business by providing an extra income stream, but if you have to promote this additional business, why not just stick to your primary business?  Selling is selling, even if the product is easier or more difficult to sell.

This week, take some time to refine your big objective.  Take a look at the time you spend in pursuit of that and also the time you put into other distractions.  Maybe it’s time to shed some of the extra stuff and run full speed back into your primary pursuit.

A Message for New Grads: How to Get Respect

Stupid is a stupid does.  Forrest Gump.

Illustration depicting a roadsign with a respect concept. Strong sunlight and blue sky background.

“You M*&^%$#s disrespected us!” (Gang members upon seeing a rival gang in their turf)

“Nobody respected us last year but they do now!” (Winning sports team after a year of worst-to-first)

“I meant no disrespect to my esteemed colleague.” (Politician to a rival in a debate)

Respect is a word we toss around lightly but in fact it’s a loaded word.  Respect means that people take you seriously.  Being disrespected means that people don’t take you seriously.  From gang members who protect their turf, to athletes who achieve great turnarounds, to people who want to make a point without insulting their opponent, we live in a world that values and recognizes the power of respect.

If being respected is so important, how can we gain it?  To get respect you have to be respectable.  In other words, do the things that get people to take you seriously.

A lot of older folks think you young people just want everything now without having to work for it.  You get labeled as a Millennial or the part of the Cloud or Internet generations.  Some of my colleagues make lots of money off of you trying to teach geezers like me how to deal with you.  Some business people think you’re some sort of weird species that needs to be neutered or caged.

I disagree with all that.  I like you.  I want you to have success now.  I don’t want you to have to wait for old folks like me to die off to have great positions.  You should have it now!

But that comes at a cost.  You have to earn the respect of others.    I have some suggestions…but maybe it’s better to just give you a list of things that make you lose respect:

  • Planning Stupid (AKA being late).  I was taught in the military that on-time was late.  10 minutes early was your goal.  Earlier was even better.  Show up late enough times and people won’t take you seriously.
  • Acting stupid.  Are you acting appropriate to the group, the venue, or the job?  If not, you’re viewed as being stupid.  Stupid people won’t get taken seriously.
  • Being stupid.  Do you spend time growing yourself intellectually?  Do you work at making good, strategic, rational decisions?  If not, get busy growing your brain.  Stupid people won’t get taken seriously.
  • Talking stupid.  Two examples here.
  1. Beginning each sentence with the word SO (“So…I’m thinking of having cornflakes for breakfast”).  Quit trying to pretend you’re pitching to the sharks on Shark Tank and answer a question without the word SO.
  2. Kardashian Syndrome.  Ending each sentence with an uptick, as if your statement is a question. “So…(double trouble here) I got up this morning?  And I thought since I’m watching my cholesterol?  That maybe I would have cornflakes for breakfast?”  That’s how people talk in Australia but here in the U.S. it just sounds dumb.  People who talk stupid won’t be taken seriously.
  • Dressing stupid.  Dress appropriate for your audience, your peers, your profession, and your job.  A good rule of thumb might be just dressing one step above expectation.  Better to be overdressed than underdressed or inappropriate.  You’ll be judged on what you look like even before you open your mouth.  And you’re really screwed if you show up late AND come dressed inappropriately.

As you make your transition from high school to college or from college to the workforce, respect is something you should crave and work hard to earn.  That comes from your technical and intellectual acumen.  Please don’t ruin all that hard work by doing what results in you losing respect.  In other words, don’t be stupid.

Three Great Tools

GreatPerformanceStoolTake these three items, some WD-40, a vice grip, and a roll of duct tape. Any man worth his salt can fix almost any problem with this stuff alone.

Walt Kowalski (portrayed by Clint Eastwood) – Gran Torino

Recently I had the privilege of working with a great group of working managers in Texas.  Most were long term employees with this company that had been promoted to a management role just two years before.  These 12 men, on a daily basis, faced down a myriad of problems ranging from a changing customer base to difficulty screening and hiring qualified employees.

As I worked them through three days of fundamental management skills training, I couldn’t help but notice how they soaked all the information in.  They did this while handing crisis after crisis from their workplace and still managed to have a great sense of humor.  When their HR manager asked me on the last day how it went, I commented on how well they responded.   After talking with him about what they faced as managers, we agreed that these guys could indeed fix any problem with the managerial equivalent of WD-40, vice grips, and duct tape.  

You probably know I crisscross the country teaching and facilitating management and leadership development workshops in a wide range of industries.  My workshops vary in size and scope but I have the most fun working with groups like this one in Texas.  They have the will to do the job and they are certainly focused, they just need more skill.  With the skills I taught them, they left with the mindset they could handle anything.  I know they can!

What does this mean for you?

Training is great if all you need is skill.  There is much more to great performance than just skill however.  If you read my book How to Fix a Poor Performer (and Turn Them Into a Superstar) you’ll find out how important having skill, will, and focus is.  Skill can be taught, but will has to come from within.  Focus follows, but you have to WANT to do well in order to become effective.

Think about that this week as you watch your boss in action, or better, as you lead your own team.  Are you in the role to become the best or just taking up space, flaunting your positional authority.  If you don’t attempt to fix problems without tools, how will you expect to do it when you get some good ones?  Skill can be had…you better find the will and the focus!  My friends from the workshop last week certainly did!

How Will You Be Defined?

Grave stoneSome time ago, I spoke to a preacher about what it was like to prepare to deliver a memorial service.  He told me the question he likes to ask the family as he prepares his remarks is simple:

What defined them?

Often he said, the answer is hard to come by.  Family might come up with stories about how they loved cats or bowling.  Sometimes the silence is deafening.

Other times though, the family quickly breaks into stories about positive character traits.  They have no trouble recounting stories of their generosity or wisdom, or sense of humor.

I thought about that today.  If somebody was planning my memorial service and they were asked what defined me, what would they say?

Have you ever thought about that?

As I look at it, there are three possible scenarios:

  1.  I don’t know what to say.  The deceased simply lived an unremarkable life and as far as we can see, there is NOTHING memorable that defined them.
  2. I don’t want to say.  The deceased was frankly, an angry, bitter, and unfriendly person and try as we might, there is nothing positive to say.
  3. Where do I start?  The deceased had so many positive character traits that it might take several hours to talk about this.

If you’d like scenario #3 to be the case, what are you doing now to create it?  It means taking a look at yourself and what you do and who you affect and come up with a strategy to make the most of your days.   If you’re stuck in scenario #1 or God forbid, scenario #3, what are you going to do to change it?

A legacy doesn’t happen by accident.  We all have to work to create it.  I’m working on mine this week.  Will you join me and look at yours?


What Have You Done for Me Lately?

American Football on the Field with room for copy

Years ago, when my then 13-year old son’s tackle football team, the Rockville Wolverines began their summer training.  Their head coach brought all the players and parents together and held up the game ball from their Superbowl winning performance from the previous December and all of us cheered.

He then said, “You’ve had 8 months to celebrate, now we start completely over.”

It was a very profound statement.  This Wolverine team, once the “whipping boys” of the league went from worst to first in one season, but winning doesn’t necessarily translate from season to season.  The champs were now in the crosshairs of every other RFL team who wanted that trophy!  As it happened, the team only won half of their games that season and went out in the first round of the playoffs.

What have you done for me lately?

I’ve come to realize that while great accomplishments are fun to celebrate and even brag on a little, they really mean nothing when it comes to future performance.  If you’re not working hard every day to surpass what you did yesterday, mediocrity will find you.

What have you done for me lately?

Have you ever run into people who still talk about past accomplishments while doing nothing meaningful today?  I wonder if they realize that the past really doesn’t matter all that much.  Heck, I used to weigh 170 lbs in High School.  Is it relevant 27 years later?  Do I look any less scary in a bathing suit at the pool?  Not really!

The good news is that mediocre performance in the past is also no guarantee of future success.  What you did previously, even though you still may suffer some consequences, doesn’t need to dictate the future.  Everything depends on what you’ll do starting today.

What have you done for me lately?

This is the question for the week.  Take some time today to map out your future and take some steps to positively impact it.  What you did yesterday, successfully or unsuccessfully has no bearing on today.  Get out there and get it done!

Why Holding Steady is a Dangerous Move

AtomIf you know me, you also know I’m not a big math and science guy.  In fact, back in my 7th Grade math class, I was in “Group 3” which was the group for all the math dummies.

Interestingly enough though, I managed to get a “B” in my college physics class back in 1986 and always maintained a slight interest in the subject (emphasis on “slight”).  Recently, I heard a speaker talk about the danger of holding steady which is also known as the Second Law of Thermodynamics.  It’s kind of hard to understand scientifically, so let me give it to you in layman’s terms:

You cannot break even (you cannot return to the same energy state, because there is always an increase in disorder; entropy always increases)

In other words, if you don’t continue to put effort into something, not only won’t you grow, you’ll actually regress.

Years ago, my son’s youth football coach used to have the players break each huddle with the phrase “get better” and it stuck with me.  Each year, all of us have to do something to get better.  If we don’t, not only will we NOT get better, we’ll actually get worse.

Imagine if:

  • An I.T. professional stops taking new certifications
  • A beautician quits looking at the latest fashion magazine
  • A mechanic refuses to work on electric cars
  • A grocery clerk ignores the new self-serve checkout lines
  • A social media consultant quits researching the latest trends

You see in these examples how quickly we all get outmoded if we don’t work on our craft.  I’ve seen a lot of management training professionals use examples and stories from the 80s and 90s and try to sell them as original even when they’re clearly dated.  Either they’re tired of the field or too lazy to learn more.

One of my greatest fears is to become irrelevant.  I hope it becomes yours too.  With the economy showing no real sign of improvement, there’s not better time to work on being the best in your field and giving 100% of your effort to maintain it.

The laws of science are immutable.  The Second Law of Thermodynamics says you need to get better or you’ll certainly get worse.  I’m in.  Are you?


How to Handle a Crappy Situation

Bad Situation 3d Words Bear Trap Trouble Problem IssueBack during the Great Recession of 2008, I did quite a bit of outplacement work.  It was ugly stuff, being paid by companies to lay off employees.  I always felt bad for those on the list.

In some cases they saw the signs and were already preparing.  Others were a little surprised but were looking for an excuse to move on anyway.  There are some however who never saw it coming.  One day they were happily employed and looking forward to a bright future with their organization when the unthinkable happened.  They were let go.  It’s a very traumatic experience. Motivating them to let go and move forward was sometimes a tall order.

Learning to let go of a bad experience is a challenge.  It’s also a necessity if you want to move forward and experience success and happiness with the rest of your life.

Experience has taught me to look at the bad experiences and try to discern the following in order to move forward:

  • What was my role?  Did I do or say anything that could have caused or amplified the issue?  Take a look at the entire scenario objectively.  If I lost a job, was my performance lacking?  Did I quit adding value?  Was I working with an entitlement attitude?  It’s important to take a break from blaming others and look at ourselves.  Get a clear picture of the event.
  • What did I learn?  All events have life lesson embedded.  What can I do differently as a result of this experience?  What new skills do I need to learn and what can I do to prevent this from happening again?
  • Who do I need to forgive?  At some point, we need to identify those people who wronged us and forgive.  I remember leaving the Navy in 1998 with a lot of anger at two individuals in particular.  My post-Navy career was motivated by proving them wrong (both insisted I would never succeed as a civilian) but after a few years, I realized that if they did remember who I was, they probably forgot about the words they said that angered me.  I was the only one keeping the issue alive.  I let it go and ironically my career blossomed shortly after.
  • Who can benefit from my experience?  Good or bad, our experiences shape who we are.  If we’ve conquered this situation and moved on successfully, we have an obligation to help others in similar situations do the same.

An exciting future can often be held back by our conscious or unconscious “anchoring” to a bad experience.  We can be our own worst enemy by staying bitter and angry about past events.  It’s a horrible way to live life.  Take some time this week to identify those anchors and follow the four steps above to release yourself and experience the remarkable life you still have left to live!

What is Your Philosophy of Success?

winforeverThis past week I finished reading Pete Carroll’s book Win Forever.  Now if you don’t know who Pete Carroll is, he is the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks football team.  Before that, he spent nearly 10 years as head coach of the University of Southern California Trojan football team.  His teams there were national champions and Rose Bowl winners and produced several Heisman Trophy winners and current NFL stars.

Ironically, before that, his tenure as a head coach in the NFL was one of mediocrity (in terms of results) and his reputation wasn’t that great.  In fact, Carroll was referred to as a “retread” or a coach that stays with a team for a short time and gets fired.

So what turned it around?

According to Carroll, it was taking his thoughts, concepts, tools, techniques, and ideas that he’d developed over time and condensing it into a formal philosophy.  He then took his philosophy and hammered into a standard process that he used with great success at USC.  His name for the philosophy is simply, Win Forever. When he left USC and went to Seattle, the owner Paul Allen allowed him full control to implement his philosophy.  In the past four years the Seahawks have been more than competitive and have played in two Super Bowl games, winning one of them (and were one knucklehead play from winning that other game!)

After reading it, it made me think about taking what I know and believe about management development and turning that into a philosophy.  I just finished it.  Maybe more importantly, it also made me think about doing one that reflects my personal philosophy, encompassing my values and priorities.  I put that together too.

Most of us know stuff and claim to have expertise.  The question is:  if asked, could you recite your formula and give evidence that you both espouse it and have gained success with it?

This week, why not take that on as a challenge?  If you’re successful, figure out how and make it formulaic.  Come up with your success philosophy.