Practical Steps for Managing a Micro-Manager (hint: you can’t change them)

Everyone hates it… Micro-Managers! No one ever thinks they micro-manage others, but let’s face it… we have probably all had at least one. I’ve had my share. I kid others that if not for micro-managers, corporate training, and role-playing, I might still be working rather than retired!

I remember how it feels to work for a micro-manager. You never feel adequate, you feel as though you are failing, and your work is never good enough. After awhile, those thoughts make it seem as though you are groping through a heavy fog for direction and purpose.

As much as we hate working for a micro-manager, do they actually get better results? What are the characteristics of a micro-manager? Is micro-management an innate part of our personality or is it learned (genetics versus environment) or does it even really matter? How do you deal with and, possibly, even thrive under a micro-manager? Today, I’ll try to help answer these questions and, hopefully, provide you with some practical techniques or approaches to help you develop a plan forward.

The impact of micro-management on results

There are some individuals that might argue that micro-management is necessary to achieve positive results. They might point to someone like George Patton, as an example. Patton was a strong leader, yet his approach was very directive and demanding. A leader can be demanding without micro-managing.

When micro-managers are allowed or encouraged in an organization, individuals willingly give up their own opinions and defer to the micro-manager. I remember one manufacturing site environment that was led by a classic micro-manager. This individual demanded to see every document, every report, and review every action before it became final. After a while, individuals in that organization stopped being innovative, stopped feeling that their work mattered, and essentially relinquished their job to the micro-manager.

When micro-managers are allowed to lead, these negative things happen:

  1. Other leaders stop doing their own job – Why take a chance to be second-guessed? If he/she is going to rewrite my report anyway, I’ll just let them do it.
  2. Work quality declines – The micro-manager thinks that their hand on every activity will ensure that the work gets done right. In fact, the reverse is often the case. When the experts stop spending the time to do things well (because they know the micro-manager will redo it anyway), the motivation to go the extra mile is extinguished.
  3. Work productivity declines – When the micro-manager has to touch everything before it goes forward, he/she becomes a gate-keeper that slows down progress. I recall having a manager like this once and his “to do or to review” pile was over 3-feet high. It took weeks to get even the most simple report off his desk!
  4. Morale is negatively impacted – Clearly, individuals that are micro-managed lose the motivation to go above and beyond. They already feel unappreciated, so the ongoing feeling of inadequacy fuels a never-ending morale decline. Then, as a result, productivity and work quality are impacted.

Characteristics of a micro-manager

Before we go any further, I need to make a statement:

“Micro-management has no place in good leadership. An effective leader influences others to be productive largely through positive relationships. A micro-manager cannot trust others, thus, cannot create the positive relationships that define a good leader.”

Let’s look a little closer at a micro-manager:

  1. A micro-manager trusts only self – Most micro-managers have an elevated opinion of their own abilities and performance. As a result, they feel that the work quality needed will be achieved only if they have their hand on the final product. So, they only trust themselves to do work to the required level.
  2. A micro-manager lacks self-confidence – Most micro-managers I have known are insecure. This manifests itself in performance over-reach for themselves and others. Thus, they feel a need to overcome their own inadequacy by criticizing (actively or passively) the abilities and work of others.
  3. A micro-manager operates from a position of fear – The insecurity of most micro-managers results in a fear that they will not be successful. Thus, they feel a need to touch everything, to oversee to an extreme, and to keep a tight rein on others they manage.
  4. A micro-manager always assumes you are keeping information from them – The insecurity and fear that drive most micro-managers results in a feeling that, when you don’t inform them of everything, they will look inadequate to others. This fear of looking bad to others drives their over-reliance on information. They also have this fear that you might outshine them in front of their own management team.
  5. A micro-manager believes that only they are capable of making critical decisions – Many micro-managers think so highly of themselves that they feel a need to have their own fingerprints on every critical activity. So, they elevate their own status by demeaning others. As a result, your own feelings of inadequacy grow over time.
  6. A micro-manager is always looking for a way to deflect blame away from him/herself – Most micro-managers fear being all alone when a bad decision is made. Thus, they continually seek to protect themselves by either deflecting blame or by ensuring that their culpability is protected.

Practical steps for managing a micro-manager

Here are a few steps I have taken or directly experienced from others that might help you deal with your own micro-manager:

  1. Recognize that you cannot change a micro-manager – Yes, that’s right, you can’t make a micro-manager change into a trusting leader. So many times, I’ve heard colleagues tell me about how they believe that their micro-manager will start trusting them after they have gained some experience with their work style and work results. It won’t happen! It is possible for a micro-manager to mitigate their negative behavior, but they must do it. They have to initiate this significant behavioral change on their own. Even this is nearly impossible. In fact, I have never seen a true micro-manager loosen his/her grip on knowing every detail or verifying every action. You might be able to eventually gain some latitude with a micro-manager, but it is temporary (until the next issue or surprise) and is simply in hibernation. It won’t last! So, once you recognize this, you change your approach from trying to change your micro-manager to learning to manage him/her.
  2. Begin over-communicating – Micro-managers tend to always think you are holding back information they need. Thus, they feel a need to know what you are doing, the status of every project in real time, and what is next… in detail! I once had a micro-manager that exhibited this behavior. Despite the fact that I was responsible for operations in several countries with several hundred personnel, he constantly felt the need to know mundane details of those operations. Ultimately, I simply got tired of providing him with multiple updates daily on topics that should not have been on his radar. So, I began keeping a log of key activities during the week (a simple list). Then, every Friday, I would provide him with a detailed report of those activities from the week with a list of planned key activities for the following week. In essence, I started over-communicating. Yes, this did consume a couple hours of time each week, but I quickly found that this weekly report helped immensely in keeping my micro-manager informed enough to leave me alone.
  3. Have a frank discussion with your micro-manager – It could be possible that your micro-manager inflicts severe oversight on you simply because he/she believes you prefer that management style or that they do not realize how it impacts you. Perhaps, they are not a true micro-manager, but they just need a nudge from you to back off. This is probably rare, but I have seen it occur. This approach is more successful if you have a respectful relationship with your micro-manager. Simply telling him/her that your performance is being stifled because you don’t have the freedom to operate might encourage the micro-manager to ease up. However, don’t be discouraged if this approach is not successful.
  4. Get honest feedback on your own performance – The reason you are being micro-managed might be because you need it! It could be that you lack the experience or capability to actually perform to the level desired. Find a peer or mentor that can be unbiased and provide open, honest feedback regarding your performance and why your micro-manager might feel a need to provide extreme oversight for you. Another good indicator for this might be whether others reporting to the same micro-manager are also being micro-managed. If you are alone, it could indicate a need to modify your own performance rather than blame the micro-manager.
  5. Seek advice from others that have successfully worked with your micro-manager – In most organizations, you can easily find other individuals that have seemingly survived or at least coped with your micro-manager in the past. Because circumstances may be similar for you, ask for advice on what worked for that individual. What did that individual do to fend off or deal with the constant oversight that plagues you?
  6. Learn to cope until circumstances change – In some cases, nothing you can do seems to help. Your micro-manager cannot be influenced to loosen the reins or provide you more freedom. Techniques you have used do not help. And, to top it off, you must remain in this position because of geography, family circumstances, etc. In these cases, you must simply develop personal techniques to cope with the problem until it is resolved by other means (the micro-manager leaves, for example). In one of my difficult positions in the past, I forced myself to leave the site every day at noon to get away. I would get lunch at a drive up restaurant and listen to my car radio while eating. This time away gave me a chance to clear my mind and begin the afternoon with a clearer mind… a fresh start. Others I have known take a walk at noon, listen to music, or some other way to change focus from work to something more relaxing. Another way to deflect your anxiety is to focus on helping others. It is amazing how your perspective changes from your own problems when you are helping someone else deal with their own. In short, until something changes, you need to find a way to escape for a time to allow your body and mind to recharge.
  7. Leave – If everything else fails, it might be time to leave your current situation and find another role. Life is too short to spend most of your time at work in a situation that causes you significant anxiety. When you’ve tried everything else to no avail, begin looking for that next chapter. How do you know when it is time? My two keys for knowing a change is needed were: How do I feel on Sunday night when I begin thinking about work on Monday morning? Where do I want to be 5 years from now and can I get there from here? When you honestly seek the answer to these two questions, you’ll know when the time to make a change has arrived.

Being micro-managed is no fun. But, by understanding its source and how you might effectively deal with it can make life better and your stress less burdensome.

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Retirement Q&A

Retired

For those of you nearing, pondering, or working toward that last day of your career, I thought it might be helpful to provide some basic information that I have learned in my first three years of retirement. I must admit that I am not an expert on many technical aspects of these topics. However, I feel that I now have enough real-world experience that can assist you in your own preparation. If you have other questions that you would like me to try to address in future posts, just send me a separate note and I’ll add your questions to the list.

Just to set the stage, I retired at age 61. My wife is also retired. We have no pension and do not plan to work part-time during retirement.

  1. In your opinion, what are those key markers or indicators (financial or otherwise) that tell you that you can consider retirement? – There are three elements of preparing for retirement: financial (Do I have enough money to live how I want that will last the rest of my life?), emotional (To a large extent, my work has defined me for the last 40 years… can I give that up?), and social (How do I replace my workplace social network with a new network). So, you need to consider factors in all three areas to determine if it is time to consider retirement. If you are comfortable with your answers to these questions, the time might be right:
    • Financial – Hopefully, you have been looking at your own financial picture in preparation for retirement for several decades. At its core, you simply must determine if you have the financial means to provide enough ongoing income to live the lifestyle you desire and maintain that throughout the rest of your life. Several questions must be answered before you can check the financial box:
      • What income is required?
      • Do I have debt?
      • Will my lifestyle change (e.g., relocation, downsizing, etc.)?
      • Is my health good?
      • What sources of income can I expect in retirement and are they sustainable?
      • Am I prepared to handle unexpected large expenses (such as a new car, new roof, new furnace, etc.)?
      • Am I planning on leaving a legacy inheritance upon my death?
      • Can my finances withstand long-term care expenses?
    • Emotional – Most people do little to prepare for the changes to their routine and personal identity that come with retirement. Certainly, we all look forward to having more time for neglected hobbies. Filling the days with activities is not difficult. However, filling the days with activities you believe have value may be another thing entirely. Being prepared to handle these significant changes can mean the difference between a happy retirement and a depressing time of life. Several questions to help you prepare for this include:
      • Am I OK with leaving behind my career position, status, and everything that goes with it?
      • Do I have hobbies that I enjoy that can provide fulfilling activity and, possibly, interaction with others?
      • Is my spouse ready for me to spend more time at home?
      • Are there things I have been looking forward to doing once I have more time?
      • Can I truly relax (by this I mean… Can I be satisfied sitting on the deck for an hour each morning observing nature and enjoying time doing nothing? Or, am I miserable when I’m not actively involved in a project or other activity?)?
    • Social – Perhaps, one of the biggest shocks in retirement is going from daily/hourly interaction with your work team – possibly, individuals you have known and worked with for decades – to more isolation? In other words, will you go nuts without the frequent people interactions that defined your work life? Here are several things to consider:
      • Do you have other individuals in your life that you’ll spend more time with?
      • Do you enjoy quiet hobbies that you can do alone, such as reading, writing, crafts, etc.?
      • How much will it bother you to not be “in the loop” for work things?
      • Can you imagine, and accept, that your work colleagues will quickly be so consumed with their own work that contacts with you will become less and less frequent?
      • Are you readily able to make new friends and seek new social relationships?
  2. What are some of the unexpected things you have experienced, so far, in your retirement experience? – Whenever you move into a new, unchartered chapter of life, there are always surprises or things you didn’t expect. I have had a few myself:
    • My wife and I did not expect that we would buy a vacation home shortly after retiring (more on that below).
    • I think our actual monthly expenses are lower than we expected. We monitor our expenses carefully and had conservatively estimated what they would be in retirement, but, so far, they have been lower.
    • The free time is even more enjoyable than expected. I tell people, “Every day is like Saturday, except Sunday.” The big difference is that, as opposed to Saturdays when you are working, if you don’t get a project done today, there is always tomorrow… or the next day. There is time to read (an activity that I simply didn’t do when I worked), resume old hobbies, or take up new ones. It is OK to accomplish nothing significant today. It is OK to stay up late. It is OK to take a nap. It is OK to do things for others because you still have so much time to do what you want.
    • I have not missed work. I can honestly say that I have not yet awaked wishing that I could go to work. Certainly, I miss interacting with friends and colleagues, but the transition to retirement for me was easy… when I drove away that last day, I left my work life behind.
  3. How did you know when you were financially able to consider retirement and what tools did you use to monitor financial progress? – To be honest, I began monitoring my retirement savings progress shortly after taking my first job. I felt it was that important to ensure that I was staying on plan. The bottom line is this… when your combined retirement income (savings, pensions, and social security) safely exceeds your ongoing expenses AND you have a safety net to address unexpected expenses, inflation, etc., you are probably in a position financially to consider retirement. For me, there are three things that helped ensure that I stayed on track:
    • A trusted financial advisor – We have been advised for about 30 years by the same individual. Jean has a calm, financially conservative approach that has helped keep us investing intelligently, consistently, and in a focused way.
    • A personal finance tracking tool – I have used an Excel spreadsheet to tracking our retirement savings for many years. At least quarterly, I review account totals, then meet with our advisor annually to make any needed changes. About 5 years from retirement, I began projections of retirement balances that go 30+ years into retirement that considered social security, inflation, expected investment returns, projected spending, etc. to ensure that the numbers worked through the rest of our lives. This tool helped provide confidence when that ultimate retirement decision was near.
    • A careful spending plan – My wife and I are probably considered very conservative on spending. Our lifestyle was always good, but we didn’t feel the need to make many spontaneous or impulse purchases. We also were careful about big purchases, such as college expenses, wedding expenses, etc. By developing the habit of careful spending, we did not have to make significant lifestyle changes in retirement.
    • A commitment to avoid/eliminate debt – Debt is one of the most significant barriers to retirement for many. Our approach has been to pay off our mortgage as soon as possible and avoid debt to finance car and home repair expenditures. Thus, when it was time to consider retirement, we were not burdened by debt as an additional issue to consider. A lack of debt just makes the overall planning process easier and less complicated.
  4. The biggest concern most people have for retirement is medical costs. What have you experienced, thus far, around medical care and costs? – While it is true that medical costs in retirement can be significant, there are ways to mitigate those costs. First of all, if you retire before reaching Medicare eligibility age (65), you can purchase COBRA coverage for up to 18 months. This coverage is comprehensive, though expensive. If you pay for full coverage, you can expect to pay over $1400/mo for a couple with no other dependents. After COBRA, you can purchase medical insurance either privately or through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on the exchange at healthcare.gov. If your retirement income as a couple is below the threshold, you may be eligible for a tax credit that reduces significantly your cost. The ACA insurance should be viewed as catastrophic insurance, e.g., it may not be the most comprehensive, but it should protect you from potentially disastrous medical costs. In addition, if you are healthy, the ACA insurance might actually be less expensive that the coverage you had with your employer. The ACA insurance covers all preventive costs, such as annual check-ups, tests associated with it, and immunization costs. For us, COBRA followed by ACA insurance has bridged us from employer’s coverage to Medicare very well! One more thing about budgeting and medical insurance in retirement. For planning purposes, I have always assumed the worst-case costs. This would include premiums plus total out-of-pocket costs. Certainly, you should expect to spend less than that, but this gives you a planning amount that can help take unknowns out of your planning.
  5. What is your biggest worry or concern in retirement? – I have a friend that says his biggest worry is “whether I should use a 6- or 7-iron on my next shot.” I wouldn’t say that retirement is that worry-free, but it is a time of less overall stress. By the time you reach retirement, many of those things that busied your mind previously have been resolved… your kids are educated, out-of-the-home, and off the payroll (hopefully!!); you have either retired your debt or something close to it; you no longer have to set an alarm just to get up, fight the traffic, and hurry to work; and you have reached a financially stable point in your life. However, that doesn’t mean that all worries have evaporated. By this time of life, there are still issues to deal with:
    • Aging – Someone once said, “After age 60, if you wake up with a pain anywhere in your body, get used to it… it will never go away.” There is some truth to that. Despite your best efforts to eat right, exercise, and do the right things, our bodies will break down. Staying active and busy help keep our minds off these personal ills.
    • Family members – Many retirees have other family members that consume time, energy, and worry. It is amazing how many retirees are still caring for aging parents. Others have dependent children and grandchildren. Helping them may increase overall stress.
    • Finances – Hopefully, careful planning can circumvent financial worries. However, there is always that small voice in your head that whispers a worry every time the stock market drops.
    • Purpose – Many retirees worry about whether they are still contributing to society. In other words, some wonder if they still have a purpose or do they still add value. Of course, this is preposterous, but one way to fend off these thoughts and worries is to find a way to serve others.
    • Decisions – Though life in retirement is simpler than earlier days, there are still decisions to make. Some individuals find it more difficult to make decisions as they age. Or, they worry more about the decisions they do need to make.
  6. Is buying a vacation home or time share a good or bad idea? – We made the decision in our first year of retirement to buy a vacation home. We spend part of the year at this home each year.  Our decision was perfect for us because we found a lake cottage in an area where we formerly lived. We know the area, we still have great friends there, and we have plenty to do on and around the lake. We believe that our purchase was for an appreciating asset that can easily be converted to cash in the future if we are no longer able to visit. Before making any such purchase, you should consider the following – if you can answer affirmatively on each question, it may make sense for you as it did for us:
    • Can you afford it based on your retirement financial plan? – Don’t let this one expenditure destroy the plan you’ve made.
    • Can you foresee using the home/time share year after year without getting bored with that one location? – Will you wish later that you had more flexibility in locations?
    • Will the home/time share be an ongoing financial drain (repairs, maintenance fees, travel expenses, etc.)? – Be sure you carefully look at these in the context of your financial plan.
    • Do you have friends, family, or connections nearby? – This was important for us. We had a built-in network of friends in our lake cottage location.
    • How easy will it be to eventually sell or liquidate the home/time share? – If needed, can you convert this back to cash to supplement your income, if needed?
  7. Everyone seems to have a recommendation about when to begin receiving Social Security. What have you decided about Social Security? – We decided to begin receiving social security at age 63. We have heard all the pro/con arguments for taking it early versus delaying and decided this made most sense for us. Our financial advisor said she has calculated this many times for clients and it almost always makes more sense to begin taking it early rather than waiting, assuming the client was invested in other long-term growth assets. This is an individual decision and a significant one, so combine the best advice you can get with your own situation to make this important decision for yourself.
  8. What about Medicare? How should I plan and prepare for it? – We are nearly ready to begin Medicare coverage in a few months. I am in the research mode now. However, I have found that there is ample information available online AND friends that have already begun Medicare coverage are a tremendous source of help. In essence, do your research and determine the plan that best suits you. I have found that my insurance broker that provides home and car insurance was able to help answer most of the questions that we had. And, if you decide to purchase supplemental plans (such as Part G), shop among several insurers. We found a difference in price of over 35% between the highest and lowest insurers for the exact same coverage.
  9. What have you experienced regarding ongoing expenses? I hear some say that you should plan on securing at least 85% of  your pre-retirement income in retirement. Is that reasonable and a good estimate for planning purposes? – I personally don’t think these standard estimates should be used by most individuals as their target. The best way to estimate needed retirement income is to do your homework regarding your current and needed monthly expenses. I would recommend tracking carefully your actual monthly expenses. This should be done over at least one full year to cover any significant expenses, such as repairs, taxes, etc. Once you have a complete picture of your ongoing expenses while working, you can better estimate your retirement expenses. For example, you may consume less car fuel when retired. You may also eat out more. Focus on where your expenses will be rather than trying to achieve a percentage of your pre-retirement income.
  10. How do you spend your time? Do you get bored? – I think it is amazing how busy you get in retirement. You start doing things you have delayed for decades and enjoy new activities you’ve been waiting to try. For us, we are fully busy every day while at our lake cottage. These are activities we never did while working, such as kayaking, bike riding, etc. It is good to play more golf these days. My wife and I really do enjoy our extra time together. I admit, though, that there are times and days when there is not much to do. On those days, I read or enjoy other activities I didn’t participate in years ago. In short, for most people, you find that new activities fill the days of retirement in ways you didn’t expect.
  11. What are a few of my recommendations for a satisfying retirement? – Here are a few things I do that makes my retirement time even more enjoyable:
    • I still create a weekly to-do list. Yes, I know that seems contrary to all the free time I now have, but there are times when you just need to feel as though you are making progress and doing things of value. Creating a list keeps the important things at the forefront of your mind PLUS it gives you positive motivation when you check things off the list.
    • Shop for bargains. With the added time you have in retirement, you can take the time to shop for the best deals on things like restaurants, travel, etc. And, take advantage of discounts offered for seniors.
    • Feel free to rearrange your schedule. On many days, we now often eat our big meal of the day at lunchtime. When eating out, this allows you to take advantage of lunch specials that are not available for dinner. You can also get better deals on movies, golf, etc. if you are flexible on when you go.
  12. As you approach your later years in life, do you become more introspective? In other words, do you start to be concerned about the end of your life and what comes next? – Yes, I think for everyone, as you get past a certain age, you become more introspective. You start wondering what you might have done differently. You begin thinking about what’s next. There are three things that everyone should do to best prepare for that day when you’re gone from this world:
    • Ensure you spouse/children know the details of your finances and assets – I have heard many stories of left behind families having no idea what assets exist, where they reside, and how to access them. This should not occur. Be sure that a few people close to you know what you have and where to get it. One thought is to ensure that your financial advisor has information on all your retirement holdings, then ensure that family members know how to contact that advisor when the time comes. Don’t hinder your family by keeping this important information from them.
    • Prepare a will or trust – It is very important, as well, that you help your survivors by legalizing the distribution of your assets. Many individuals nearing retirement either have no will or it is sorely outdated (e.g., it still talks about guardianship for your now grown children). Take the time and minimal cost to update your will or create a trust to ensure that you minimize confusion, time, and heartache for those you love most after you pass.

Retirement for me has been a wonderful journey, thus far. I hope today that my experience can help you prepare and navigate through your transition from the work life to your next chapter.

“Consensus management” is a poor excuse for leadership

In business and society today, there is the philosophy that in the first step in any discussion, project, initiative, or, in some cases, relationship, everyone involved must agree. In fact, agreement is often considered more important than truth. This approach is wrong! A leader that seeks consensus over truth is a poor leader!

There is a Chinese proverb called “Three men and a tiger.” The story refers to an individual’s tendency to accept absurd information as long as it is repeated by enough people. A lie, if repeated often enough, will eventually be accepted as truth.

I recently ran across the following quote that speaks to the fallacy of seeking consensus:

“Consensus means that everybody agrees to say collectively what no one believes individually.” — Abba Evan

There are at least seven reasons why a good leader should NOT seek the easy, lazy way to make decisions and solve critical problems:

  1. Consensus management is lazy management – By deferring decisions to a majority opinion, a leader is taking the easy path toward a decision. Reaching the best decisions using facts, data, and truthful information can be hard work. By allowing a simple discussion and vote, the leader has abdicated responsibility for making a potentially critical discussion to a popularity contest.
  2. Consensus management often ignores truth – When a leader allows opinions to dictate decisions, driving facts may be ignored. Participants will often emphasize opinions, rather than facts, to influence others as the group drives to a consensus. Facts must always trump opinions!
  3. Consensus management often defers to the loudest voice in the room – By seeking a consensus, the leader essentially allows the voices of a few to drive the decision. And, these voices are often those that are the loudest and most emotion, rather than those delivering facts, alternatives, and potential issues.
  4. Consensus management inhibits participation – When faced with some voicing strong opinions, many individuals will simply choose to not speak up. This is especially true for individuals less outgoing or more introverted. Allowing only those with strong opinions to dominate the discussion inhibits those that quite possibly have the best input.
  5. Consensus management is often emotion-based rather than fact-based – When seeking a consensus, the discussion becomes one of influencing others to one path rather than the best path. It becomes a process of winning votes rather than identifying what is best for the group. Thus, emotion becomes the key factor to influence and dissuade others rather than objectively reviewing and discussing the facts of the situation.
  6. Consensus management inhibits individual and innovative thought – Consensus drives toward the majority opinion, not necessarily the best decision. As a result, the group tends to discourage thoughts considered “outside the box”. Thus, innovating thoughts and solutions are rarely considered.
  7. Consensus management often ignores the root issue – Consensus tends to strive for a fast decision without considering the root issue or without seeking answers that should address the core issue. For critical decisions, speed is often the enemy of truth.

Certainly, there are times when a “vote” or “decision by majority” is appropriate. For example, when trying to decide issues in which individual “preference” is involved, a vote following discussion of available facts is appropriate.  Selection of the All-American college football team is a good example. A case can be made with facts for several different choices, thus, reaching a final choice must often be made by a vote of individuals with specific knowledge of statistics supporting each choice. However, most decisions in management should be seeking the best path forward, not the favorite path forward.

Real leadership is always a challenge. Making key decisions is difficult enough without the added challenges and limitations associated with consensus management. It is often easier and faster to abdicate your responsibilities as a leader to the group. However, don’t fall into that trap!

“Real leadership seeks the best answer… not the one based on opinions, the one reached most expeditiously, or the one considered most politically acceptable. The wrong answer is still the wrong answer even if everyone thinks it is the right answer.”

10 things that will guarantee your child will NOT grow up to be a ‘Snowflake’

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The term “Snowflake” to describe a person or group of persons is relatively new. It seems to have arisen around 2010 and is defined as “individuals or a group or class of people that have an inflated sense of uniqueness, an unwarranted sense of entitlement, or are overly-emotional, easily offended, and unable to deal with opposing opinions.” The term has been applied to colleges that promote safe spaces, new accommodations in the workplace, political identities, support animals, and a general revision of cultural norms to fulfill the “needs” of these overly sensitive individuals.

The term “Snowflake” is commonly associated with Millennials, BUT it is true that there are individuals in all age groups that fall into this definition. Personally, I hate to generalize regarding individuals or groups. For many individuals, special accommodations ARE needed. For instance, support animals for individuals suffering from autism or veterans impacted by PTSD represent a significant step forward in helping these individuals assimilate into life. However, this is not true for others.

Many reasons have been posed for why society has become more sensitive, overly-emotional, and unable to cope. Some blame an over-reliance on electronic devices. Others blame over-worked parents. Clearly, turning our hearts away from God is a factor. Still others claim that the need to “protect” children from any possibility of harm is the root cause. Whatever the reason (parental choices, social media, affluence/poverty, etc.), I believe that there are things that we – parents, grandparents, teachers, mentors, bosses, friends, coaches, and influencers – can do to guarantee that tomorrow’s adults will be more independent, capable, and resilient.

Let’s look at 10 things I believe we must teach and instill in our children to prevent the continued epidemic of “Snowflakes” in our society:

  1. There are consequences to your decisions and actions – Good or bad, we reap what we sow. Too many individuals have failed to learn this basic truth. When you make bad choices, don’t expect good things in return. When we fail to teach our children about consequences, we allow them to assume that any choice is good and that adverse consequences are not their fault. Individuals must learn that OUR choices impact what comes next. When kids think that nothing in life is their fault, they assume the role of victim whereby others should be expected to correct the “wrongs” that have befallen them. Parents, please teach your children that they have to live with the result of the decisions they make… and, don’t bail them out when they make wrong choices. Doing so, encourages future poor choices.
  2. You can’t always win – Learning to lose is an opportunity to learn and grow. Children must understand that life doesn’t always go their way. You don’t always get a trophy at work when your competitor beats you. You won’t always get the promotion you want, the job that looks perfect, or the accolades you feel you deserve. Teaching our children to be good sports must begin early and be re-enforced often. I spend a lot of time with my 5 year old grandson. When playing games, he often wants to change the rules to his advantage, so he can always win. Don’t let your children always win! Show them that they can still have fun even when they lose. Sometimes the journey of life is more fulfilling than winning in the end. Kids learn this at an early age. When they fail to learn this, every loss or disappointment represents a failure that can drag them down into victimhood.
  3. Bad things can and sometimes do happen – How we respond to adversity is a measure of our character. When things do go wrong, do we respond by learning from it or do we pout? Teaching our children that, in fact, life will not always go their way is important preparation for adulthood. Show them that responding to life’s bumps can be rewarding. Teach them to look for alternatives or detours around life’s roadblocks. Demonstrate to them how to react when unexpected negative events occur. Help them learn to react calmly, rather than with anger or resentment.
  4. You get ahead by earning it – Children must learn that work has value. They must learn that those things we value most are things we earn, not the things we are given. Too many children fail to learn this because we give trophies to those that do not win; we eliminate awards because we do not want to offend the losers; or we expand the requirements to make it easier to achieve. Parents, we need to teach our children that work is good, not something to be looked down upon. We need to teach our children the difference between effort and results. Too many young adults have never worked in their lives until they graduate from high school or college. As a result, they have not developed the discipline required (be on time, do what is expected, do it day-after-day, etc.) to be successful. Parents, that is on us!
  5. Kindness and respect are always appropriate – People today are fed-up with rudeness and disrespect. You don’t have to scroll far on LinkedIn to read an article talking about how hiring managers now value kindness. You can’t get far in today’s world unless you respect others, especially those different from you. Kindness and respect are learned early in life. Parents that allow children to control them are beginning to spiral into abuse and disrespect. Children need to learn early that there are limits and boundaries that cannot be crossed without consequences (see item 1 above). The most important factor in learning kindness and respect is to observe how others (e.g., parents) treat people. If your parents were kind, chances are you “learned” that kindness is a basic expectation. Don’t fail your children by allowing them to disrespect others, including you!
  6. Serving others takes the focus off our own problems – It seems to me that much of what currently falls under the “Snowflake” umbrella these days is a result of self-focus. Safe places are needed because one needs to be shielded from perceived oppression. I want… I feel offended… I am angry…  When we focus all our attention on ourselves, the world naturally begins rotating around us. By helping our children (or, employees in the workplace) learn the importance of serving others – putting the needs of someone else ahead of their own – their entire perspective will change.
  7. Perseverance and patience are learned – I have been in a number of positions in the workplace in which we hired college graduates with little or no experience. I remember, more than once, one of those individuals coming to me after six months on the job asking, “What do I have to do to get promoted here? I have done everything anyone has asked and it seems like my career is stagnant.” Can you imagine? Parents, teach your children the value of working hours or days or months on a project. Teach them that patience has its rewards down the road. Show them the importance of working patiently to accomplish something. Help them see that immediate gratification has its risks and costs.
  8. We have to solve our own problems – I frequently read articles from well-intentioned parents talking about how to plan play dates, seminars, conferences, camps, and organized activities to occupy their children during all their “free” time. Don’t “schedule” every hour of the day. It does not do your children a favor to remove from them the opportunity to find their own activities. When parents feel the need to orchestrate every activity of the day for their children, the kids often fail to learn to solve their own problems and do basic things for themselves. How many stories have you heard about parents walking their young adults to college registration, finding classrooms, and eliminating every potential unknown before leaving their child alone on campus? Do you think that actually helps the student? I have heard stories of parents coming to their child’s workplace to help them solve issues regarding work schedules or issues with coworkers. Parents, let your child learn by doing. Let them solve their own problems. Begin by allowing them the “burden” of being creative in filling their own time.
  9. Authority must be respected – If you cannot submit to others, you’ll never be successful in work or in life. A child that fails to learn to respect authority will never be a good worker, a good parent, a good spouse, or a good friend. When I look back to individuals I have known that have experienced a lifetime of struggling with work – finding, keeping, and thriving in the job market – almost every individual is one you might conclude has a problem with authority. Parents, teach your children that we all answer to someone. We all have to submit to some individual, some authority, and to God. Learning to place our own desires and demands aside for the greater good is essential for future success.
  10. Be grateful because much of what we have (including our freedom) came through the sacrifice of others –  Finally, every child needs to learn to be patriotic…to be grateful. Everyone needs to understand our history and how our freedom was won. We all must understand that our freedom was earned by the blood of others. When children fail to learn this, they grow up feeling entitled. They fail to respect what they have. They fail to be grateful. Expressing gratitude – for our freedoms, for our blessings, for what others have done for us – is a character marker that will impact that individual’s success and contentment throughout life.

 

If we teach these things, and demonstrate them through our actions, we can guarantee that our children will not become “Snowflakes”. When children grow into adulthood with these truths embedded into their hearts, their character, and expressed through the actions of their lives, they will almost assuredly be participating, contributing, and independent adults. After all, isn’t this our primary responsibility as parents?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Things I have learned in my first 900 days retired

I will celebrate my 900th day retired in a few days. I thought it might be a good time to share some of the things I have learned and experienced. I know that in the years before I retired, I had a number of questions and concerns. I had read advice from “experts”… most of whom were still working. I had based my plans somewhat on their advice, but there are just some things you cannot know until you experience them for yourself. Anyway, let me do what I can to pass along some of the things I have learned to those of you approaching that big day.

  1. Everyone has a unique financial situation, so don’t get overly concerned with standard “retirement rules of thumb” – I think we have all been influenced by retirement pundits, experts and financial advisors discussing basic rules that need to govern our planning. You have probably heard the “4% rule” that says you should plan to deduct no more than 4% of your retirement portfolio annually. Every professional advisor can provide general guidelines that should be considered by anyone contemplating retirement. It is good to listen and consider this advice, BUT each individual circumstance is unique. So, be open to assess your own financial plan based on your own needs. Here are a few suggestions I have regarding financial planning:
    • Retirement financial planning becomes much more simple and doable if you have eliminated all debt before that day. Yes, you can carry mortgage debt into retirement, but having none surely makes for easier planning and sounder sleep at night.
    • Get a good handle on your expected ongoing monthly expenses. Track this for at least two years to ensure that you are using credible data to manage cash flow.
    • Find and use a financial advisor that you trust to assist with portfolio balancing, investment research, and expected returns on your portfolio. This individual can also help minimize tax burdens and can provide unbiased (and unemotional) input regarding difficult decisions.
    • Don’t be afraid to use expected Social Security in planning calculations. You should get an annual statement that shows your estimated SS income, so include that in planning assumptions.
  2. Be open to new adventures and spontaneity when you retire – Before I retired, my wife and I had never discussed buying a vacation home. However, less than a year into retirement, we decided to invest in a lake home where we now spend significant time. The home should retain its value and our annual outlay for maintaining and running the place is relatively small. The point is that we would never had considered such a purchase if we were not open to new experiences. Now, we thoroughly enjoy our time at the lake and it gives us an energy that we never would have experienced otherwise. So, look for opportunities to move outside the box. Consider doing something that enhances your lifestyle… even if it might never had been in your retirement plan.
  3. Medical insurance may not be as complex or costly as you think – One of our primary concerns going into retirement was medical insurance. After all, that is one of the most prevalent concerns noted by the media and others relating to retirement. My wife and I had to fill a gap in time between insurance carried by our employer and the time we qualify for medicare. We opted to look at policies offered by the Affordable Care Act (healthcare.gov). The ACA policy we chose provides excellent preventive coverage (for example, our recent annual physical exams, including laboratory tests, mammogram, etc. cost us nothing). And, because our annual income is below ACA limits, the monthly premium is very affordable. My advice for others is to avoid delaying retirement just because you are concerned with medical insurance. Look at options, including policies covered by the ACA, before simply assuming that policies are unavailable or too expensive.
  4. Social security can play an important role in your financial security – Yes, I know… everything you hear says wait to claim SS until you are at full retirement age or greater. There are positives and negatives regarding when to claim, so I think this decision is truly an individual one. However, I can say that filing was very simple and the checks are direct-deposited every month, as promised. SS can be a very important component of your retirement financial situation that helps answer that “will I have enough” question we all face.
  5. “Value” has a new meaning in retirement – During my work years, the focus all day long was adding value… to the company, to coworkers, to customers, to patients, etc. The thought was, “If this activity is not helping someone or something, then I probably should not be doing it.” In retirement, you’ll need to shift that philosophy slightly. There is still meaning in adding value, but the value shifts from the big three of the workplace (fast, cheap, and good) to a new big three of retirement (others, service, and enjoyment). Retirement allows you to arrange your day in ways that allow you to serve others in your life. I have heard one definition of retirement as “a time when you pays yourself to do whatever you want to do rather than what others demand that you do.” Retirement allows you to add value to the lives of your spouse in ways you’ve never had time to do in the past. It allows you to spend time with children and grandchildren in new ways. It allows you to do things that add value to your own life. So, as you approach retirement, begin thinking of ways that your newly found time can make a difference to others in new ways. And, it is a good time to adopt the attitude that “I don’t have to do something productive every day.”
  6. There is plenty of time – One of my favorite sayings these days is, “Everyday is like Saturday, except for Sunday.” In retirement, you have multiple days each week to accomplish those projects and activities that had to be compressed into Saturdays during working years. Not only does the extra time allow you to do more, but it allows you to do it better. How often before retirement have you felt rushed to get back to the office after lunch with a friend? Have you taken the time to visit all the county or state parks in your area? Hobbies that you’ve shelved because of lack of time can now be enjoyed or even savored because you now have the time. However…..
  7. Time is short – Retirement is a daily reminder that our days are numbered. Many of my retired friends speak often of how quickly the time has passed and how they know there are limits. Though you have much more time to do as you please during retirement, knowing that the days are short make each day more valuable and precious. Retirement is a true mix between allowing yourself to relax and enjoy the beauty of life AND the knowledge that the clock is ticking. So, work to find that balance between counting the days versus making the days count.
  8. Relationships will change – One thing that you have to understand about retirement is that nearly every relationship you have in life will change. Time with friends you have worked with and beside for years will diminish. Though you commit to regular lunches and catch-up times, these will slowly decline as you begin having less and less in common. Your relationship with your spouse will change as you suddenly have 50 or more additional hours every week together. This has been a blessing for me, but I hear stories from others about this being a challenging transition. Retirement is a time to restore relationships with friends and family members. I have enjoyed the time to reconnect with friends from 30 or more years ago. New friends emerge during retirement. I have enjoyed becoming part of a group of other retirees at the lake that play golf once a week. A dozen guys from different places and different backgrounds spending time together through a hobby we each enjoy. As you approach retirement, understand that relationships will change, but the new time you have will allow the relationships you have to become even stronger and better.
  9. Do healthy things, but don’t allow your health to define your life – I think we all know that our bodies were designed with a finite useful lifespan. As we age, our parts start wearing out and doing unexpected things. Retirement is a time to tweak (or dramatically change) our lifestyle to improve the function of our finite, limited bodies. Finding healthful new hobbies is a great retirement plan. We all know that our retirement years also bring about health issues. Most retirees I know can spend hours talking about their surgeries, medications, and multiple ailments. However, I would caution any new or soon-to-be retiree from allowing your health (good or bad) to define your life. We need to take the attitude that “our health is what it is”, but it will not dominate our thoughts, our conversations, and our actions. Living through pain and inconvenience will allow our lifestyle to be more fulfilling and enjoyable to those around us.
  10. Find ways to give back and serve others – Finally, retirement is a great time to improve the lives of others. When we serve others, our own problems seem to melt away. Spending time serving others is fulfilling, but also helps us meet our need to add value and use our limited time wisely.

Retirement is a joyous time of life. It should not be a time to dread or avoid. Rather, it can be a wonderful, fulfilling, enjoyable time for yourself, those you love, and others you serve.

And, never forget… “Today could be your best day yet! So, take the time to look up and enjoy the journey.”

 

The journey is often better than the destination

 

Last Saturday, my wife and I visited the largest nursery I have ever seen. This place (Countryside Nursery in Allendale, MI) has over 10 acres under one roof of flowers, plants, trees, and everything you could ever need to nourish and grow these to ultimate perfection. This place was so busy that they had three police officers directing traffic around the place! This nursery certainly fulfilled all our expectations… and then some!

Our visit to the nursery included two other couples that have been the best of friends with us for around 35 years. The day was filled with catching up with family stories, laughs, and unending needling. These couples are among the most wonderful people I have ever known and my life is richer because of them. I wish everyone had such friends in their life!

Our day made me think (again) that often, the journey is better than the destination. Despite the amazing nursery we visited, our day was a terrific one because we spent the day with good friends. We could have been driving 2-3 hours each way to visit a grocery store and it would have been a good day because of our time together.

How often do we get so caught up in trying to reach a life destination (graduation, marriage, promotion, debt elimination, retirement, etc.) that we simply keep our head down and try to get through the day? You have probably heard many versions of this… “If I can just get that promotion, my life will be better.” Or… “Once my mortgage is paid, everything else will fall into place.” Or… “I can’t wait until my kids graduate and get out on their own.” However, when you look too intently on the destination, you often fail to enjoy the blessings and fun that come with the journey.

Hopefully, I am enjoying the journey, though I have certainly entertained my share of goals and objectives throughout my life. When my days are finished, I want to truthfully say that my regrets were few. I want to be able to say that I enjoyed those days changing diapers, helping with algebra homework, and trying to juggle our finances. I want to fondly remember the good and tough times at work, the deadlines, and thriving despite bad bosses. I want to smile when I think of all the good times along the way. I want to cherish every day I have had with my wonderful wife.

Don’t get so caught up in the day-to-day routine that you fail to savor those good times that, once gone, will never return. As I have said before (check out this link:someday, the last time):

“Some day the last time really will be the last time.”

Take a pause today and look out the window as you travel along a road that you’ll never travel again.

Dear healthcare company: Do these things really benefit the patient?

hospital-sign copy

At this stage in my life and health, I think I can speak very competently about being a patient or end user of your pharmaceutical or medical device products. I have had multiple surgeries, take daily pharmaceutical products, have metal medical devices in my knee and back, sleep with your products, and, in short, am an experienced user of your products. In addition, I worked in your industry for 40 years, so I have that perspective, as well.

Today, I want to talk about things that REALLY matter to patients (used synonymously with end user). I know that many healthcare companies talk about their commitment to patients being first and foremost.  In fact, one large, old, established company has this first line in their corporate values statement:

“We believe our first responsibility is to the patients, doctors and nurses, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services.”

However, do you really take this seriously? When you are creating your mission statement, crafting goals and objectives, and training your employees, is your first and primary focus really on patients?

I think I am speaking for many/most/all patients when I urge you to consider anew your true first priority. When you are contemplating key business decisions, do you really include patients as a key stakeholder before shareholders, the community, or employees? Do you believe that if you take care of your patients, every other aspect of your business will take care of itself?

Many healthcare companies have been criticized in recent months in the media for exorbitant pricing, supply problems, excessive executive salaries, inappropriate influence of physicians, and the pursuit of profits above all else. Most of these criticisms would have been tempered if those same companies were diligent in ensuring that the value of their products to the patient was unquestioned. When your products have unquestioned value, benefit, and quality, many of these other criticisms can be dispelled.

Let me discuss a few things to consider before you answer this question. I want to list a few activities that patients DO NOT CARE that you do. These things mean NOTHING to us when we are talking about our health, our lifestyle, and our ability to live a full and meaningful life. When a patient is in pain, all they really care about is getting relief. Certainly, we understand that you need to have satisfied, engaged, and involved employees. Of course, we understand that you are in business to make a profit. By all means, you have a responsibility to the communities in which you operate. Yes, we agree that you need to ensure that every employee has equal opportunities. However, we believe that some of you have drifted from your commitment to the patient. In your zeal to be all things to all people, you have forgotten your core purpose. Have you made an effort to tie these things (each of which has merits) to the patient experience? Let’s look at the “things that mean nothing” list, then I will talk about things that really DO matter to us.

Things you do that patients do not care that you do (keep in mind that these are just examples – there are probably other things you do, when carefully considered, could be added to this list):

  1. Political activism – Many of you seem to spend more time advocating for a particular political view or candidate than you do advocating for patients. We have political action committees, but do any of you have a “patient action committee”?
  2. Diversity and inclusion programs – Yes, we understand the intent with these programs. However, have you taken the time to determine if the value of these efforts in money and resources yields any benefit to patients? We appreciate your concern and effort on behalf of unmet needs, but please ensure that these efforts (which, for most of you, includes the staffing of entire departments and corporate structure) are yielding value that includes benefits for patients. From a patient perspective, we don’t care who you hire, as long as it is the best person for that particular job function. Just find a way to hire the best people, keep them motivated, and help them facilitate value and quality in the products we use. If these programs do have value, just ensure that the benefits to the organization also flows to the patient.
  3. Employee engagement activities – Again, we understand the arguments FOR these programs… happy employees are more productive, more innovative, and yield better results. However, when do you go too far? When do go so far trying to engage employees that you forget to engage patients?
  4. Sustainability – Most of you, by now, have very active sustainability programs (e.g., green, recycle, reduced carbon footprint, etc.). We applaud the intent. However, when it comes to relieving pain, curing disease, or improving our lifestyle, we don’t really care. Do what you can in the area of sustainability, but please ensure that these efforts enhance, not detract from the overall patient experience or impact.
  5. Non-value added packaging – We don’t need packaging with 7-color glossy print. Honestly, we throw out the packaging immediately after receiving our products. This is an area that you should work to differentiate yourself from others with value, not “bells and whistles” that do nothing, but add cost.
  6. Corporate branding and marketing – How many healthcare firms change their corporate branding each year? And, when they do, how many $millions are spent doing so. Sure, this may matter to other stakeholders (such as shareholders, investors, and industry watchdogs), but it does nothing to improve our experience.

There are a number of things you do that we truly do value and appreciate. Let’s look at a few of these (some of you should transfer some of your spending from activities listed above to these areas).

Things that really do matter to patients:

  1. Cost control – Finding ways to improve the cost for us is always appreciated. We do understand the need to recoup your R&D investments and turn a reasonable profit. However, it is always just as important to ensure that everything you do provides value and will ultimately benefit your primary stakeholders, especially the patient.
  2. Innovation – We appreciate your efforts toward continuous improvement. We appreciate pharmaceuticals that can be taken orally rather than injection. We appreciate the ability to spend less time in the hospital. We appreciate less invasive procedures. Innovation that improves the patient experience is always appreciated.
  3. Employee development – We understand the need to help your employees stay current, stay motivated, and continue making positive improvements to your products. Efforts spend to advance the capabilities of your valued employees ultimately will benefit us.
  4. Customer service – The availability of needed products and having individuals that can answer our questions is important. When you enhance the interface between company and patient, our experience is improved.
  5. Product quality – We expect your products to be of high quality and to do for us what you promise. Please ensure that you remain diligent in these areas. When cost cutting is needed, please look elsewhere before you jeopardize the quality of your products.
  6. Business continuity/compliance – Because we count on you and your products, your efforts to remain in business and viable are important. We have read too many accounts of products that had to be recalled or market shortages simply because companies failed to remain diligent or compliant. Efforts in these areas are important for us.

Please understand that the intent of this message is simple… it is important to occasionally ask the question, “If patients are important to our business, will this activity/program/project/objective provide a benefit to the patient. If not, is it really that important to do? Would our patients pay more because we do this?”

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to advocate for patients. After all, probably everyone reading this is also a patient or loves someone that is a patient. When you improve the overall experience for patients, everyone benefits.

The real meaning of success

success

How do you define success? Are you successful when you’ve reached your career goals? Financial goals? Are you successful when you have raised your kids, given them an education, and paid for their weddings? How about when you can retire with no financial worries? Others define success when they change their last diaper, break 100 in golf, or achieve a personal best time in the 5K.

Everyone has a different way to define success. Yet, why do so many individuals feel that their life is a failure? I just read that the suicide rate for adults is skyrocketing, especially for white, seemingly successful males.

I would like today to share my thoughts on the real definition of success. Here is my definition of success:

“Success in life is not determined by what you gain, but by what you give. When you live your life dedicated to loving and serving others, you are, indeed, successful.”

As you’ll read, success has nothing to do with hitting a dollar number, receiving a promotion, or any other typical definition of the word. But, first, let me pose three scenarios and you decide if each individual is a success:

  1. Diane has been serving full-time as project manager for a major new initiative in her firm. All project objectives have been hit on time and under budget. Yet, after two years, the company decided to cancel the project and cease all activities on it. Is Diane a success?
  2. Bob has been working his entire career to become Vice-President, Sales at a major company. Finally, after 22 years, he has achieved that goal. He is now making more money than he ever imagined possible, but the job requires that he travel extensively and work over 70 hours per week. As a result, Bob’s wife has filed for divorce and his two kids barely know him. Is Bob a success?
  3. Alan just lost his job due to “restructuring”. He does not have strong leads for a new position and will be dipping into his savings within three months if he cannot find new work. Yet, his family is very supportive and he has a strong network of friends and others helping him. Many of his ex-colleagues have even provided job leads and letters of recommendation to assist him. Alan has realized that he may need to change careers to find good employment in the future. Despite losing his job, is Alan successful?

I’m sure that one could argue for each of Diane, Bob, and Alan that they are successful. On the other hand, you could probably make a case that each has not been successful for a variety of reasons.

Let’s explore the meaning of success from three key perspectives… from our own viewpoint, from the viewpoint of others, and from God’s perspective. Each is important in one way or another, but each represents an important aspect of our life that cannot be ignored when we look at these key questions: Am I successful now? What needs to change for me to become successful? At the end of my life, what will determine if my life was a successful life?

Success from our own viewpoint

I often read obituaries from my hometown newspaper. I once read this life highlight from an individual’s story, “Was a member of his District championship 8th grade basketball team in 1952.” Sometimes I wonder if this individual, when looking back over his life, felt that his role on that basketball team so many decades ago was the highlight of his life. Did he consider his life a success because of that one highlight back in the 1950’s?

When I look at my own life and attempt to determine attributes of success, I think there are only three questions to ask:

  1. → Did I do the best I could in the times and circumstances of my life?
  2. → Did I make a positive difference in the lives of my family, my friends, my coworkers, and others I didn’t even really know?
  3. → Did I leave behind a legacy of peace, happiness, love, and encouragement?

You’ll notice that my three “markers” for success have nothing to do with the size of my house, the vacations I took, the car I drove, or my job title when I retired. The way I measure success in my own life is whether I made the most of the opportunities I was given, how I served and influenced others, and whether I left behind positive or negative. Certainly, even most of this is subjective. But, you can see success in these areas by whether friends and family enjoy your company and seek to be with you. You can know for sure whether you helped advance the careers or life of others.

For sure, one aspect of this viewpoint is whether you did your best for your family. Providing a stable and good lifestyle is important. Providing opportunities for education, recreation, and fulfillment is needed. Enjoying life and feeling a sense of accomplishment should be key goals of all of us. However, too many make this their primary objective in life. Pursuing self-happiness, at the expense of all others and all other activities, is often the root of depression and lack of fulfillment. Finding a balance that meets your basic personal responsibilities, yet allows ample opportunities to enhance the lives of others is that puzzle piece that we all seek to find.

Success from the viewpoint of others

Too many of us live our lives trying too much to please or impress others. In the end, the only thing that really matters is whether you left the world a better place. Though you can never know for sure how others view success in your life, these three questions might help guide your thoughts and actions regarding true success in their eyes:

  1. → When others think of me, does it make them smile?
  2. → When others think of me, do they think that their life is better because they knew me?
  3. → When others think of me, are they motivated to make a difference for someone else because of the example I left behind?

I have been with many families during their time of losing a loved one. I have NEVER heard anyone talk of that person’s material success. The conversations are always of fun times, loving memories, and what they did (or didn’t do) for others. You see, in the end, we all judge a successful life by how life was lived, not by what was collected.

When I think of the most successful people I have ever known, a common factor in each is how they made me feel being around them. These individuals always cared more about what I had to say or what was going on in my life than by impressing me with their own accomplishments. They always gave more than they got from me in return. And, they each exhibited a sense of joy because they were confident in who they were rather than a sense of agitation because of who they were not. You see, success exudes a sense of contentment and confidence that attracts others, not repels them.

Success from God’s perspective

The most important area of success in life is from the perspective of God. After all, if you believe in God, you know that our relationship with Him in the end determines our eternal fate. According to the Bible, what marks a successful life according to God:

  1. → Did I make peace with God by accepting Jesus as my Lord and Savior?
  2. → Did I express my love for God by sharing my love with others?
  3. → Was my life marked by steady and consistent growth in knowledge, love, service, and dedication to God?

To be clear, we cannot work our way to peace with God. We are utterly helpless to restore the relationship with Him that was broken by our sin. However, God send His Son Jesus to redeem us. Jesus’ death on the cross, in our place, paid our debt and provides our bridge back to God. Success in God’s eyes is accepting the gift of eternal life bought by Jesus’ death on that cross. And, as a result of accepting Him, our life becomes a living expression of God’s love for us by the love we share with others. No life can be deemed truly successful unless we have made this peace with God.

 

So, have you been looking at success incorrectly? Have you been viewing success as something to be gained rather than something to be given. A life well lived is one dedicated, not to the pursuit of others’ admiration, but to the enhancement of their lives.

What’s the most important thing you can do today?

Legos

I am fortunate to be able to spend time with my 5 year old grandson two days each week. I realize the time is precious because he begins full-time kindergarten next fall, so the days are numbered. We have a routine… after breakfast every day, we go to our basement to build cities, worlds, and other imaginary creations with an assortment of Legos and Lincoln Logs. Just a little boy playing in the floor in a make-believe world with his Grandpa. Yesterday, my wife (Grandma) came downstairs to ask me something to which our grandson stated, “Can you go back upstairs, Grandma, because you’re breaking the mood of our game when you talk to Grandpa.”

He says a lot of funny things. However, this one made me think again about priorities and what is truly important. It is tempting, occasionally, when you have retired from 40 years in the corporate world to wonder if you are just wasting your time. After all, you spend 40 years driving hard every day to add value. Then, suddenly, every day is Saturday (except Sunday). If you don’t want to accomplish anything today, no problem, there is always tomorrow. Yesterday, my grandson reminded me again that sometimes, the most important thing I can ever do is something small. Pouring your life into that of another is never wasted time, whether it is your grandson, coworker, spouse, or someone you’ve never met. I’m sure that someday, my grandson will think back to those days that he and Grandpa built the most remarkable buildings with those Lego blocks. But, more importantly, I hope he remembers that his Grandpa loved him enough to spend that time just with him.

What is the most important thing you can do today? It is easy to get caught up in the hundred things you have to do. It is easy to let the routine of the day to obscure that “most important thing” that you know you need to do. Perhaps, we need to develop the habit of asking ourselves early each new day, “What is that one thing, above all else, that I need to do this day?” Sometimes, that “most important thing” is completing a project at work, making a new business contact, or taking that evening call. When it is, don’t feel guilty and just get it done. However, when the most important thing you can do is to pour your life into that of someone else, don’t neglect it.

So, what is today’s most important thing for you? Is it breaking away early to attend that special event at school? Is it calling your aging parents just to say hello? Is it doing that little project that your spouse has been asking about for the last six months? Or, could it be that someone just needs you to get on the floor to help build a castle? Whatever it is, don’t let life become so busy that you miss the things that are most important.

And, don’t forget that today could be your best day yet!

Patience: “It’s not how long you wait, but how WELL you wait”

Waiting is hard! I remember, as a child, the long wait until Christmas. If you have children, I’m sure you’ve heard, “How many more days till Christmas?” many times. In my teen years, the time dragged on forever until I was old enough to drive a car. Learning – and teaching – patience is a challenge.

Developing patience seems especially difficult in today’s world. With the scan of a credit card, you can avoid waiting for anything you want to purchase. A few decades ago, you actually had to save 10-20% of the cost of a house in cash before you could qualify for a loan. So, most home buyers started small and eventually worked toward their forever home. Today, loans can be obtained for zero down and more than 30 years to pay. Thus, buyers can immediately move into their dream home despite having a tenuous cashflow situation.

Let me provide a couple more examples of a lack of patience I have observed in life and during my time in the workplace:

  • In one of my positions, our group hired many individuals with 1-2 years of prior experience. I recall more than once when one of these individuals might say something like, “I’ve been here now for over 6 months and I’ve done everything I’ve been asked to do. What does a person have to do around here to get promoted?” Rather than taking the time to learn as much as possible about the position, these individuals are more concerned with a rapid climb up the ladder. Credibility and value are often garnered over the course of time and having a long-term career view can often make a difference. In many cases, an individual that has developed depth rather than breadth is more valuable to the company.
  • I have observed some individuals with great potential change positions too frequently. I recall more than one coworker that was recruited from one position to another, often lasting less than a year in any position. It appears that such an individual is a rising star in the organization. However, this individual cannot possibly develop the depth of knowledge or experience that will facilitate expertise in any one area. In addition, this individual usually has no time to create any work product that can make a difference to the company. What “accomplishments” or new skills can you accumulate in such a short time that will make you a more valuable asset in future positions?

OK, so let’s say we all understand that patience is good and something we should strive to develop and perfect in our lives and careers. Easier said than done, right? So, what are some steps we can take to build patience in our own lives or to help teach the skill of patience to others? What does waiting well look like?

When you wait well, you do these six things:

  1. You develop depth (e.g., more and better skills) – You can choose to either waste your waiting time or use it to become better at what you’re doing. Waiting gives you time to gain depth in what you do, expand your knowledge, and become an expert. Instead of spending waiting time complaining about the delay, use it as an opportunity to become a better and more productive individual.
  2. You actually produce a work product – These days, hiring managers seek individuals that have demonstrated experience or have created value in previous positions. Waiting periods actually give you the opportunity to do just that. When waiting, take the initiative to do something new, volunteer for a project, or create new value.
  3. You enhance your network – One of the biggest drivers to career success is the network of individuals you develop and maintain throughout your career. When you are in a waiting pattern, use that opportunity to get to know others. Seek out individuals that are successful. Enhance your network in width (new individuals) and depth (knowing individuals better).
  4. You have the opportunity to positively influence others – The older (or more experienced) you get, the more you will learn that pouring your life into the success of others provides gratification and fulfillment. You become more focused on others and less on yourself. A period of waiting is the perfect time to invest in others. Whether you are a mother raising preschool children or a career professional on the brink of a promotion, using this time to help others thrive, grow, and develop will pay long-term dividends.
  5. You build character by serving others – You’ve probably heard this many times… “patience builds character.” This is true IF you use the time to grow, learn, and serve. Shifting your focus on serving others will automatically help you grow personally and, in the process, you will learn from those you serve.
  6. You allow pieces of the puzzle to fit together naturally, rather than in a forced manner – Many times in life, the pieces of our puzzle don’t fit together with the timing and in the order we might personally desire. When we demonstrate patience during our waiting periods, we may be allowing time for other events to occur that make real success for us possible. Yes, there are some times when we need to exhibit initiative and drive, but, there are other times when we need to wait to allow things to develop in the right way at the right time. Many times in my life, I was able to look back, after the fact, to see just how things occurred in the perfect timing. And, if I had tried to rush things, I would have missed out on blessings I never knew were coming.

So, do you find yourself in a waiting pattern today? Are you struggling to be patient? Well, you certainly are not alone. However, when you are able to exhibit the patience to wait well, you may avoid rushing decisions that have dire circumstances. Waiting well can often mean more to you personally or to your career than if events had moved faster in the first place. Think about what you can do to make your wait better and more productive.