Our Role Models, Good and Bad

1 02 2013

My last post explored the idea of great problem-solvers as great leaders. I said that when I think of great leaders, I tend to come up with people who made their mark on history by solving the big problems of their day. These are the kind of people that inspire great admiration. 

We also tend to admire people who achieve things others can’t, whether due to intellect, athletic ability or simply being in the right place at the right time. We’re a country built upon the idea that individual achievement will be rewarded, regardless of our gender, race or some other characteristic of birth. We’re a “can-do” country so we revere the doers, especially when they do things most of us can’t do. Just think of the times when another person made your jaw drop. I bet they were doing something you couldn’t do. 

Charles Barkley, ex-NBA basketball star, made a commercial for Nike many years ago that generated a lot of controversy because the core message of the ad was that he wasn’t a role model. The point of the commercial was that kids shouldn’t put him on a pedestal; they should look up to their parents. But many people argued that he wasn’t recognizing the powerful impact he had on kids as a result of his profession and ability. 

I get both points and when I was younger I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. Now as a  father with kids of my own, the argument he created resonates with me more deeply. Personally I don’t think he was abdicating his responsibilities as a role model as much as he was emphasizing our society’s infatuation with athletes. 

In the wake of revelations by more recent “role models” like Lance Armstrong, General David Patraeus, Tiger Woods, Martha Stewart, etc., it’s hard not to think we’d all have been better if we’d listened to Barkley in the first place. 

Or maybe we need to take a different view of our role models. In most cases, we don’t know these people, not in the way we know our family, friends and co-workers. So we probably shouldn’t be so quick to idolize. Also, it’s possible to respect someone for the good they’ve done without endorsing all their faults.

Problem Solving

23 01 2013

We live in an exceptional country, filled with exceptional people. I know it’s in vogue to bemoan how bad things are, how they’re progressively getting worse, how things never used to be this bad and if only everyone would just see things the same way as (insert a person you admire here), everything would be perfect.

I think that notion is silly. And worse, it’s dangerously naive. If I’ve only learned one thing in my life (and I hope I’ve learned more), it’s that there is no shortage of problems. There never has been, since the dawn of our nation. But we all suffer from the bias of immediacy, which causes us to simultaneously overemphasize the issues of today and gloss over the issues of yesterday. 

So let’s agree that our country has never been perfect. And while we’re at it, let’s also agree that imperfection does not mean we’re not exceptional. What makes this an exceptional country is not a lack of problems; it’s that there have always been exceptional people who rise up to solve those problems. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ronald Reagan. Thankfully, the list is long and their accomplishments longer.

I don’t know if this is true for you, but when I think of great problem-solvers, I tend to think of people that could universally be thought of as leaders. I don’t tend to think of people whose main contribution is fame, talent or some remarkable feat. I think it’s important to point out the difference between personal heroes (which I’ll talk about in the next post) and people who solve problems.

The other lesson in this is that problem-problem solving is generally a competency of great leadership but leaders aren’t necessarily great problem-solvers. You can’t go a day without hearing about the failings of some leader, whether in business, politics or elsewhere. 

My advice? Focus on solving problems. It’s an essential requirement for success and one of the things that will continue to ensure we live in an exceptional country. 

Sticky Resolutions

15 01 2013

Welcome to 2013! I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season. Sure, the season can bring its own share of stress, but its also a time for reflection and relaxation. And if you’re like me, you hit the new year ready to get back to work and see what kind of success is in store now that the calendar’s flipped.

This time of year is known for the infamous New Year’s resolution. I’ve seen a few statistics that suggest the average length of time a person keeps their resolution is less than six weeks. I can buy that; behavioral science suggests a new behavior requires a minimum of six weeks to become habit, so there’s some correlation there. We’re only on week three of 2013, so hopefully you’re still working at whatever resolution you made!

While resolutions tend to be of the personal improvement variety, I see a lot of organizations engage in the corporate equivalent of yearly resolutions, often with the same level of success. In our personal lives, it’s the temptation of that donut on the counter or hitting the sleep button on the alarm clock that ends up derailing us before we’ve hit our goal. In business, it tends to be things like scope creep, lack of vision and poor morale.

But fixing the situation may be easier than you think. Better yet, we can use the same techniques to aid our efforts both personally and professionally.

I’m a big fan of SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely). It’s usually the first place to look when goals aren’t accomplished. I tend to find that personal goals fail in the attainable and realistic areas while organizational goals often aren’t specific or measurable enough. As I’ve written before, a clear vision and holding people accountable are important attributes of success and both are required for specific and measurable goals.

So take stock of where you’re at now that we’re at the halfway point to making our goal a habit. If you’re still on track, congratulations! Keep up the good work. If, however, you’ve let your resolutions fall by the wayside, it’s not to late to pick them up, dust them off and give it another try.

After all, the new year’s still new. What kind of year it ends up being is up to you.

In the Face of Madness

17 12 2012

Like all of you, I am deeply and profoundly saddened by the events that occurred in Connecticut last week. I have fond memories of my childhood school and teachers who were a positive influence on me. I have close friends that have taken the often thankless job of preparing children for the future. And I’m a parent, so like the rest of the nation I’m confused, angry and scared about what has become an event that occurs far more than it should.

I’m not going to spend this space trying to understand what drove the shooter to this act because I don’t think there’s an answer to that, at least not an answer that would provide any of us solace. Insanity is not the provence of a sane mind. 

I’m also not going to opine about gun control. That debate is in full swing already and both sides are more than capable of making their arguments without my help. 

Instead, I want to talk about our impact on one another. There are so many examples of great role models and people who’ve had a positive impact on others, especially giving help to those less fortunate. This horrific event reminds us all that the impact can go the other way as well. Those we judge as less fortunate can bring us all to tragedy in minutes. 

We’re a capitalist society and it’s one of the things that makes us great. But the dark side of that needs to be acknowledged: our success can sometimes make us believe that those not as successful are not worthy of our attention. After all, if I became successful through hard work then others can do that too. And I didn’t need a handout to get where I am so why should I give help to others? It sounds harsh but I’ve heard it several times.

The popular political theme of recent times is to view help given to the less fortunate, the less successful, as a form of socialism. Maybe, in some cases, that’s correct. But we can’t continue to look the other way. The true value of strength is that it allows us to care for those who aren’t as strong. And no matter our success, our riches or our fame, we’ll always be impacted by the people around us, good and bad. 

Some will agree with this and others won’t. That’s fine; differing opinions also make us great. But let’s at least agree that we all have an impact on everyone around us. We can build bigger fences, but I hope there are also people willing to help. Even a simple smile can go a long way.

One Word that can Transform Your Business… And Your Life

29 11 2012

The year is winding down and for many companies thoughts start focusing on a new year.  Maybe you are taking the time to review where you have been, where you are and where you want to go.  Are you happy with the results?  Do you wish your business was improving?  If it is doing well, do you want to reduce the stress and challenges that growth creates?  Do you always want to improve?

The ability to be better, and happier, with our business, our people and our personal lives can be boiled down to one word: GIVE.  That too may be top of mind since we are in the holiday season.  However, giving should not just be limited to one time of year.  Giving has implications that lead to success and happiness.  While giving is often associated with money, there are other ways that can make an even greater impact.

  • Give your TIME – Spend it where it matters most to you.  Time is a valuable commodity that equates to more than money because once it is spent, we can never get it back.  Give time to a cause, spend it with family, even give some to yourself.  Make every minute count.
  • Give your ATTENTION – All of us are guilty of not being in the moment at times.  When you are with someone, do more than occupy the same room.  Give them your attention and they will give you theirs.
  • Give your WORK – Doing too much?  Probably.  Are there others who can do the task?  Almost definitely.  Leaders often take on too much with the notion that no one else can do things as well as they can.  Take some of that time and give someone the tools to potentially do it better.  They learn and in the future you will have more time to use the way you want.
  • Give a MEMORY – People have grown to expect the mundane.  Give them something they will remember.  Money fades, but an experience will provide memories that last a lifetime.  Your customers will appreciate it and keep coming back.  Your employees will love it and you will make them happier while keeping them longer.
  • Give your RESOURCES – Time.  Talent.  Money.  All can make a difference for someone else who has less.  Find a cause that has meaning to you.  The personal rewards will be great, and that impact can resonate for years.  The difference you make improves the community in which you live.
  • Give your KNOWLEDGE – Give someone a fish they eat for a day.  Teach someone to fish, you feed them for a lifetime.  Enough said.
  • Give THANKS – Many are wired into what is wrong.  Thank yous have become a rarity.  Thank people more.  Give thanks to someone for unexpected reasons.  When they do a great job.  For their dedication. For sticking with you during the tough times.  Showing gratitude to others will bring that gratitude back to you ten fold.
  • Give a PURPOSE – People want to matter.  They want to feel important.  Remind them why they are here and how they bring value to you, your customers, and your company.  Let them contribute in matters that impact sales and profits.  Let them take managed risks.  Embrace their strengths and mentor them to success.  Your influence could change the life of someone more than you know.

It has been said the more you give the more you get.  What you get cannot be measured by money alone yet it could make the difference between having an average year or a stellar year in 2013.  Need a better understanding of how to implement this?  GIVE me a call.

The Power of the Open Hand

18 11 2012

I’ve heard that an open hand is more powerful than a closed fist. The first time I heard it was when I was a youngster. I’d just come out on the short end of a schoolyard scuffle and I have to admit, my bloody nose suggested a closed fist had plenty of power. Especially when aimed at my face. 

Of course the saying isn’t meant as a literal reference. We just made it through a terribly negative political campaign which some would say is the epitome of closed fist philosophy. But I believe what we saw was merely the outgrowth of a closed fist approach that our government leaders have embraced for many years. In a country that has serious problems to tackle, we’ve spent too many years doing nothing, unless you count blaming the other side as doing something.

Before I get reaction of a political nature, understand that I’m using our current political culture as an example of an unproductive process. No matter which side you affiliate with, and who you think bears the majority of blame, I think we can all agree that the general approach of not working together, the essence of a closed fist approach, has yielded next to nothing in terms of actual solutions.

Now think of an open hand. It usually elicits concepts such as compromise, partnership and accomplishment. These are the things that drive action and forward progress and that’s where the real power lies.

It’s important to recognize the difference when it comes to your business and your employees. Thanksgiving is upon us and the power of a sincere thanks, of offering an open hand when dealing with the people around you, has never been greater.

The Only Constant Thing

5 11 2012

It’s remarkable how many people spend valuable time and energy fighting against change. I assume you know the people I’m talking about. If not, they’re relatively easy to spot: they treat new ideas with the same enthusiasm you and I would show for a root canal. Without Novocain.

Remarkable is probably not the right word insomuch as the word has a positive connotation. Consider how much change we go through in a relatively short period of time. In my adulthood (not my whole life, just adulthood, mind you) I’ve seen the following:

  • The music industry was nearly knocked out by a computer company.
  • Computers have shrunk to the size of a wallet.
  • Soda serving sizes have increased to the size of a small cooler.
  • Smoking has become just slightly more acceptable than hardcore drug use.
  • Airport security x-rays me more than my doctor and dentist combined.

Book writing switched to the computer. Then book shopping. And now, book reading is too.
The list could go on and on, but the point is that change is occurring at a pace that would have made our forefathers dizzy. And while I’m not well-equipped to accurately predict the next big change, I’m comfortable with the statement that the pace will only accelerate from here.

There’s basically two camps when it comes to change: the ones that love it and the ones that hate it. I fit into the first camp and that has some drawbacks. For starters, people who change too much are seen as unstable. That said, I think the second camp has a tougher road to travel.

So if you’re in that camp, or you have an abundance of employees there, you’re going to have to figure out how to embrace the constant change in chunks that aren’t overwhelming. One suggestion is to create a list like I did above. It’s amazing how much we’ve seen in the last 20 years, yet I rarely recognized the impact while it was happening. I just knew it was typically an improvement in some way. That makes me hopeful about the “next thing”.

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