Odds and Ends

Today, I have a few catch up items that I want to share (and, no, I won’t start with pandemic items):

  •  Legacy – I have been reading a book recently by Chris Brady titled PAiLS. Brady subtitles the book, “20 years from now, what will you wish you had done today?” The book spends a significant share talking about our legacy. Brady says that our legacy is everything we leave behind, such as material goods (things, money, etc.), memories (both good and bad), and the lasting impact we had on others. I have to admit that I often consider the first two categories of Brady’s definition. However, I had given little thought to the “legacy of impact” that lasts beyond our lives. When we are gone, will we leave behind us a world better than it was before our arrival? Are there individuals that will talk about what they learned from us? Will there be some that say, “He is the one that believed in me and gave me a chance when no one else would.” Have we developed leaders that have developed other leaders?  Will our lives be an example to others to do the right thing even when it was difficult, unpopular, or costly? Think about what you’ll leave behind other than you worldly goods and genetic code.

 

  •  Last times – I have experienced a few “last times” in recent months. Some of these have come with great sadness. For example, our family said our last good byes to two special ladies recently. We had to break a 36 year Memorial Day Weekend tradition with no chance to resume in future years… at least in the same way. Sometimes that last time comes suddenly and unexpectedly. The last day of school this year is a good example of that. How do you respond when you experience a “last time”? Do you despair or look at it as the end of one chapter which leads to new experiences in the next chapter? I’ve heard it said that almost everyone needs healing from the past, help in the present, and hope for the future. Finding a way to honor the past, find joy in the present, and look confidently to the future is, in my experience, the best way to deal with the last times we constantly face.

 

  •  Observations from pandemic times – OK, now I get to join hundreds or thousands of others in sharing some of my own observations from our ongoing pandemic experience. Here are a few of the things I think (or hope) that we have learned over the last few months:
    1.  We cannot assume anything – Back in mid-March, everyone had plans. Some were preparing for school proms, graduations, vacations, work projects, events with family. We all just assumed that everyday activities, such as school, would continue. However, as we have learned, we cannot take anything for granted. We cannot assume that we’ll continue to be able to do the things we enjoy or expect. Life is just that way and this pandemic season has taught us that in a huge way. We need to realize that each new day is a gift. No one is promised tomorrow. So, we need to approach each day as the special thing that it is.
    2.  We don’t need to be productive every minute of every day – I wonder how many more jigsaw puzzles have been completed this year compared to 2019. I know that we have completed a few at our house. I think that before the pandemic, we believed that our time was simply too valuable to do something as trivial as a jigsaw puzzle. We had to be productive to fully utilize each day, whether that was being consumed by work, racing to events for our children, or wearing ourselves out checking off our to-do list items. The pandemic changed all that and, at least in this one small area, I think we can be thankful for this reminder. Once in awhile, it is perfectly fine to set other seemingly higher priority activities aside to read a book, watch a TV show, play with our children/grandchildren, try something new, or simply enjoy the outdoor world around us.
    3.  We don’t know what others are experiencing, so we need to exhibit grace – Everyone is experiencing our season of pandemic differently. To some, it has been a time of severe loss (family members, jobs, our sense of security, our comfort zone). To others, it has been a time of frustration, sadness, and even anger. To others, it has been a time to catch up on activities you never really expected to do. The point is that everyone is experiencing something completely new. And, because we just cannot fully know what life has thrown at others, we need to react with a larger dose of grace. We need to be people of second chances. We need to give others a break and leave our judgment aside. Kindness is always appreciated and can possibly mean the difference between happiness or utter disappointment for someone else. Seals and Croft sang a song in the 1970’s called, “We may never pass this way again.” For us, this season may be the opportunity for a lifetime, so let’s make the most of it, especially when we have the ability to serve someone else.
    4.  We must not take things for granted – This really goes without saying. Who would have thought that life would be forever changed for everyone over the course of a couple months. There is so much to mourn… if we get bogged down in the past. The best way to deal with our discouragement, disappointment, and disruption is to savor those little things and those people that make life truly worthwhile.

 

  •  Personal note – Last month I indicated that my book “Achieving your best day yet: A more fulfilling career… a more impactful life” had been published. At that time, only the hard copy version was available on Amazon. Now, you can also obtain the book in Kindle format. If you are interested, the link to the Amazon page can be found here: Achieving your best day yet! (Kindle version)

 

That’s it for now. Have a great day and remember… today could be your best day yet… there is still a chance.

 

New Book Published: Achieving your best day yet!

Today is a big day for The Porch! My first book has been published and is available on Amazon. Here is the link: Achieving your best day yet! This book contains many of the topics previously discussed here, but is assembled in a way that can help an individual enhance their career at the same time they are becoming more impactful in their day-to-day life.

Take a look and I hope you might be encouraged to give it a try. Thanks and have a great day!

 

Modifying your approach in short-term leadership situations

Prior to writing their book, Launching a Leadership Revolution, authors Chris Brady and Orrin Woodward sought to determine the best possible definition of leadership. In the course of their research, they discovered over 800 different definitions for leadership. Some of the key terms they found appearing often in these definitions were: mobilizing, influencing, empowering, enabling, goals, vision, relationships, and directing. Certainly, there are other terms useful in describing leadership and great leaders. However, the point is that most of the discussions, definitions, and treatises on this subject deal with leading a group of individuals in the context of a permanent, or at least, a long-term assignment.

Much has been written about history’s best leaders. In fact, a Google search I just conducted for the word “leadership” revealed nearly 5 billion entries! Many books exist discussing the leadership of Winston Churchill during World War II, George Washington during Revolutionary War times, Abraham Lincoln dealing with the Civil War, and others. Most of these works discuss key relationships, trust, loyalty, and results that occurred over the course of years or even decades.

However, these seems to be a scarcity of literature or discussion dedicated to those tasked with leading a team to accomplish short-term objectives. For example, do the same leadership principles that apply to serving as Governor of a state apply to one leading a project to renovate a restaurant over a long weekend? How are the principles of leadership different for one leading a two-month project team tasked with identifying and correcting customer service issues versus the individual that will be leading that same customer service group for the next 5 years?

Before we look at the differences in leading a short-term versus long-term assignment, let’s look at key leadership principles that are the same. For the sake of this discussion, let’s use the definition of leadership published by Brady and Woodward in their Launching a Leadership Revolution book:

“Leadership is the influence of others in a productive, vision-driven direction and is done through the example, conviction and character of the leader.”

No matter what kind, type, or length of leadership situation you find yourself in, certain principles are the same:

  • Influence – Whether short- or long-term, when you lead, you are influencing others. Leaders compel – by their words, actions, efforts, and heart – others to want to accomplish a task. So, even in short-term situation, influencing others is THE key to success.
  • Productive – Leadership fails when the required task is not completed. Thus, regardless of the situation, results are important.
  • Vision-driven – All leadership situations require a vision/goal/objective that team members can aspire to achieve. Someone once said, “When you don’t know where you are going, any road will do.” A vision is required whether the leadership task will last one hour or 100 years.
  • Example – A good leader sets the tone by setting a good example. Whether you want it or not, others are watching the leader. The leader sets the pace, the level of quality, and the standard by which work is accomplished.
  • Conviction – Nothing gets done well without a strong belief that the work is worthwhile. When the leader believes strongly in an objective, this conviction is transferred to other team members.
  • Character – Even in short-term situations, more gets done better when the leader is worthy of following. A group with leader possessing integrity always accomplishes more than one lacking it.

So, how is leadership different when the situation is short-term? Should the leader lead differently for that weekend renovation project versus the long-term customer service team manager?

I believe the leadership for short-term projects should exhibit 7 key differences from those that might serve in longer-term situations. Let’s take a look at each one:

  1. Timing is more critical – Obviously, when you are dealing with a short-term project, you don’t have as much time to develop relationships, build team dynamics, and allow roles to develop organically. Thus, you need to consider short-cuts that facilitate faster responsiveness. Establishing processes for assigning work, reporting progress, escalating issues, and removing roadblocks must occur within hours or days rather than the much longer times that would be tolerable in a long-term situation.
  2. Leaders may have to be more directive, less collaborative – Because timing is more critical, the leader may need to become more direct in assigning activities and timetables. Short timing may require less time for collaboration, consultation, and discussion.
  3. Communication becomes more critical – In short-term situations, communication must accelerate. You must become more clear, more concise, and more consistent in communicating what, when, who, and how things must get done.
  4. Specific action items must be more defined – For short-term situations, “to do” tasks may have to be broken down into smaller pieces. Rather than allowing some ambiguity in tasks, you may need to define actions so clearly that all ambiguity is eliminated.
  5. Progress on critical activities must be reviewed more frequently – In a short-term situation, more oversight may be needed. In that regard, you may need to establish daily progress reports to ensure that everyone knows the status of all key activities and that issues are escalated immediately.
  6. Leaders must be more intentional – Leaders in these situations need to be more visible, more open, and more involved to ensure that timing is maintained. By working more closely with individuals on the team, they can more quickly see your example, your conviction, and your character.
  7. More risks may be necessary – Certainly, by short-cutting some of the well established principles of leadership, more risks are incurred. For example, by shortening the time allowed for discussion and input, you may miss some better options. When you reduce the opportunities for all members to share, you risk group think or the possibility of unknown barriers. These can be mitigated with improved communication and shared reporting.

A short-term assignment does not mean that all time-honored elements of strong leadership must be dismissed. On the contrary, a short-term assignment requires even greater leadership because of the compressed timeline. These efforts often fail because the leader failed to properly engage and involve members of the team.

Think about how you, as a leader, need to alter your approach in the face of short time or demanding deliverables.

(By the way, the book by Brady and Woodward is terrific! I highly recommend it.)

The case for keeping your commitments

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What is a commitment? To many, a commitment is nothing more than a sincere effort to “try.” To others, a commitment is nothing more than a way to end a conversation or debate or disagreement. The dictionary definition of commitment speaks of being dedicated to a task, or assuming an obligation that must be fulfilled. Why is it so easy to find examples today of an individual breaking a commitment?

In easier times, a person sealed a commitment with a handshake. The character of an individual was defined by whether “he is a man (or woman) of his word.” Consider today that, perhaps, the greatest, most public, and most solemn “commitment” a person can make is a marriage commitment, yet, even this commitment is broken over 50% of the time.

Today, I would like us to consider 7 key points regarding commitments and the value of keeping them. Our ability (or would it be better to say “our decisions”) to keep our commitments is, quite possibly, even more important in today’s messy, divided world than ever before.

  1. Commitments must be considered serious obligations – We need to return to the belief that a commitment is a solemn promise that must be completed. Commitments are not objectives or goals. A goal is a target to strive for, but it does not carry the same level of promise or vow as does a commitment. A goal may actually be crafted to represent a personal or team stretch. For example, during spring training every year, each of the 32 major league baseball teams states that their goal is to play and win the World Series. However, only one team will win. Having the goal to win represents that the team endeavors to do its best to win, but it is much less than making a commitment to win it. Can you imagine the outcry if a team “commits” to win, but doesn’t? You simply must treat a commitment as something more serious than a goal. When you treat them as synonymous, you cheapen the meaning and standing of the word commitment.
  2. The failure to fulfill a commitment almost always has negative consequences – Whether we realize it or not…. Whether we admit it or not, there are negative consequences when we fail to fulfill a commitment. Certainly, this is true when a marriage fails because one or both parties do not keep their vows. When we make a commitment that is not/or cannot be met, no only is the benefit of the commitment not realized, but there are more subtle consequences. When one repeatedly fails to fulfill a commitment….
  3. Our character is often defined by our ability to fulfill commitments – Can you name one person that you feel is a person of character than routinely fails to fulfill commitments? Neither can I. You can do a lot of things right in life, but when you let others down, you lose credibility. And, when you lose credibility, you cannot be trusted. When you cannot be trusted, you are no longer considered reliable, faithful, truthful, or, to most, a winner.
  4. Fulfilling a commitment has a positive impact to both you and others – On the contrary, a person that consistently meets commitments is viewed automatically as an individual with high standing. In fact, if you consistently meet commitments, other faults are often overlooked. It seems that developing the habit or skill or persistence to consistently fulfill commitments can often accelerate your standing or your career trajectory. So, there are personal benefits, in addition to the positives that come from actually achieving the task or assignment related to the commitment.
  5. The principle of accountability is important to help us keep our commitments – Fulfilling difficult commitments is often very challenging. However, when we have others invested in our success, the load becomes easier. A good example of this is when individuals run a marathon. The task is very challenging all alone, but when you train, run, and participate with others that come along beside you, the brutal becomes bearable.
  6. We must consider the risks/benefits before making a commitment – Individuals often fail to achieve commitments because they do not consider the risks or benefits before making the commitment. When a commitment is made frivolously, the individual does not necessarily become invested sufficiently to overcome the barriers and bumps in the road that invariably arise. Thinking through the benefits that will result when the commitment is fulfilled or the personal and team risks associated with failure can help ensure that commitments, when made, are treated with the seriousness they require.
  7. Good intentions are not enough – Someone once said, “Don’t confuse effort with results.” Too many people these days believe that they should be rewarded for the extraordinary effort they made despite failing to achieve the target. They believe that working longer hours than everyone else trumps their failure to achieve results. They believe that having a “busy life” equates to success (see this link Succeeding at things that don’t really matter). They believe that we should pat them on the back simply because their intentions were good and that they tried hard. Wrong! Effort is nice, but character is defined by fulfilling commitments, not by being the best at the wrong things.

I hope you can see that my effort here today has been to make the case that:

  • We need to keep our commitments
  • We need to restore the meaning of a commitment
  • We need to dedicate ourselves to achieving commitments we make, and
  • We need to hold each other accountable both for commitments achieved and those not kept

I hope that your understanding and belief in the word “commitment” has become new for you today.

Understanding aspirations, goals, commitments, and values…. and why they are not all the same

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Early in the year, most of us are looking ahead to what the new year will bring. Often, that leads to creating resolutions for our personal lives and goals for our work lives. When we do so, are we creating our aspirations for the year… or are they goals? To some, they might be viewed as commitments. And, what about my values? This can be a bit confusing and can even result in misapplication of our efforts. So, I thought it might be good today to look at the real meaning of each of these terms and how they should be applied as we plan our future efforts.

First of all, let’s discuss a topic that I personally think limits the true potential of an individual and, thus, an organization. How many times have you heard a manager or senior leader say something like this, “Your goals for this year are your aspirations and plans. When business conditions change, your goals can be modified.” Sure! Easy to say! However, the reality is that few individuals really have the opportunity to modify goals as the business changes. Worse yet, if you fail to achieve any of your “goals”, your year-end rating is reduced. That top “exceptional” rating is reserved only for those individuals that achieve or exceed every goal. If you slip on just one, your rating falls. The result is that individuals tend to be conservative when establishing goals to help ensure that they cannot fail to achieve or exceed each one. Or, they reflect in their goals activities that should be considered their “basic job” or “standard acceptable functions” of the job. There is no stretch to achieve more that that basic level of performance. The fear of failure (and, thus, the fear of missing even one goal) drives the individual to aim lower than they could/should potentially achieve. We need to get away from this and allow individuals the ability to stretch, yet retain the ability to achieve the highest rating.

Anyway, let’s look at the meaning of each of these terms:

  1. Aspiration – an aspiration is simply something we hope to achieve. It is something we aim to attain, yet we likely do not develop a specific plan to get there. For example, I aspire to shoot my age in golf. For those that have seen me play, they know that is an impossible task. Yet, I can still aspire to achieve it. Companies often say something like, “We aspire to be the leading brand in our industry.” Yet, they have not put a strategic plan in place that is likely to lead to attainment of this aspiration. In many ways, an aspiration is like a wish. I aspire to be a great guitar player. I aspire to run a marathon. I aspire to be the best at _______. Without a plan followed by the required effort, aspirations are never (or rarely) achieved.
  2. Goal (or objective) – a goal is something we definitely plan to achieve and we put plans in place to achieve. You have probably heard the term SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely) used regarding good goal-setting. Yes, goals should be SMART. A goal is something that allows you to say at the end of the year, “Goal achieved (or not).” There should be no ambiguity regarding attainment of goals. It is always amazing to me that the same senior management individuals that insist our goals be SMART publish goals that say something like, “Continue efforts to expand market presence.”
  3. Commitment – a commitment is different from a goal in that it is more like a promise. When you make a commitment, you will do everything in your power and ability to achieve it. It is much more than a hope, wish, or prayer. I’ll talk more about commitments in an upcoming edition of The Porch, but suffice to say today that a commitment should be treated as a solemn promise that others can trust. It indicates a dedication to a cause and, because it is so serious, often restricts the choices or freedom of an individual. Thus, we should carefully consider the risks and benefits before making a commitment.
  4. Value – a value speaks more to our core character than the other terms. A value is a belief or attribute or choice we make that supersedes others. A value is something that should be or become part of our DNA… it is inextricably part of us. An example of a value is “I will consider others before self.” Thus, when a conflict arises, my default will always be to consider first what is better for the other person. Values should not change year-to-year. They should be what drives us…. they are how we live, act, and think.

As you plan 2020, consider what is really a goal and how you will approach achieving it. And, don’t confuse a goal with a commitment. If you do, your activities will be driven in a direction that may not be best for you or the organization.

Have a great day and be on the lookout for more on commitments coming soon.

Time marches on….

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On this last day of the decade, I’m reflecting on how fast time flies. It seems like only yesterday we celebrated the new millennium and now it has been twenty years! How did that happen?

Think back to New Year’s Eve in 2009… What were you doing? Where were you? What were the biggest things in your life? What was your biggest worry? Are those same worries even on your radar today? When the new decade arrived in 2010, my main worries were focused on my career (work issues), long-term finances (retirement), and a new house under construction. None of these hit my radar today. Now, the things on my mind revolved around my 7 grandchildren (we had only one when 2010 arrived), health issues (staying active and dealing with normal aging concerns), and mundane, day-to-day items (improving my golf swing). It is amazing how a measly 10 years can change our total focus. So, as we are perched on the edge of a new year and new decade today, let me just throw out a few observations that I’m sure all of us experience and most of us might be feeling today:

  1. Time provides a great perspective on what is really important and what is not – Those things that were most important to us a decade – or even a year ago – are no longer that important. Things change. When you are faced with multiple priorities and a busy schedule, ask yourself, “Will this really even matter a year from now? Or, a decade from now?” We need to keep things in perspective and continually remind ourselves to focus on those things of utmost importance – everything else is secondary.
  2. The years tend to shift our focus from enhancing our own situation to that of others – Isn’t it amazing how, as we advance in our years or our career, our focus tends to shift to making a difference to others? Serving others matters. Someone once said, “You can’t say that you’ve had a good day unless you’ve done something for someone else that could never repay you.” What is it that you can do for someone else today or this week or this new year?
  3. ‘Flexibility and elasticity’ often trump ‘plans and expectations’ – No matter how well we plan, things change. Planning is good provided it helps keep you on track. But, we can never develop an over-reliance on our “plan.” Knowing that change is inevitable can help us develop the skills of flexibility and elasticity. Yes, that’s right… these are skills that we can develop and enhance. Learning to “go with the flow” and make the best of a bad situation can provide important survival skills when you are faced with adversity.
  4. Don’t overthink the future – Analysis paralysis is the reason many individuals fail to act when needed. The future will come whether we prepare or not… it will come whether we are ready or not… it will come whether we want it to or not. Don’t over-analyze.
  5. Enjoy the journey and stop focusing so much on your destination – Likewise, take time to enjoy life as it comes. I know too many people that are so focused on retirement (or some other life event) that they fail to enjoy what is happening right now. As a result, they miss those important early years of their children or special times with their spouse. Don’t miss it!
  6. Expect the unexpected and plan for it – Understand that something unexpected will happen in 2020. It won’t go just as you hope or plan. Knowing this can help you make mid-course adjustments, when needed. Who knows… that unexpected thing happening next year just might be the best thing that has ever happened to you!
  7. There is always time to love, to show kindness, and to appreciate goodness – In this new year coming up, why not re-commit to showing love, kindness, and goodness more? Why not consider doing some act of kindness every day? Why not make this a priority to your life? I can guarantee you this… when you commit to demonstrating love and kindness on an everyday basis, the payback to you will be more than you could ever imagine. Challenge me on this… see if you get more from this than you could ever give.
  8. Worry really is really just a lack of trust in God – Consider this example I just heard from my Pastor… What if someone you love said they love every thing about you? What if you were the best thing that had ever occurred to them? What if they loved you more than anything else? BUT… they said they couldn’t trust you. How would you feel? That is how we often treat God. We say we love Him and we want to know Him more and better. Yet, we don’t trust Him in the details of our life. Think about it. When we truly trust Him, the worry that we often experience seems to dissipate. Give Him a chance to take away our anxiety. His Word (I Peter 5:7) says, “Cast all your cares on Him because He loves you.”

Time marches on…. Today is a good day to look ahead, but let’s not forget the lessons of the past. And, above all else, cherish today because this is the only day promised to us.

Have a great end to 2019 and I hope 2020 is your best year yet!

What makes Christmas so magical?

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It’s occurring again this year. Strangers hug in the streets. Smells are more distinct and intense than any other time of the year. Children clean their rooms without being told. The music sounds better, the sun shines brighter, and smiles come easier than any other time of year. Christmastime is special… almost magical. Why is that?

To many, Christmas is special because of the memories. My parents loved Christmas. We had plenty of presents, candy, cookies, decorations, lights, and lots of fun around our house. We were often awake most of the night on Christmas Eve in anticipation. When given a chance, almost everyone has multiple favorite memories of Christmas when they were children or when their own children were small.

To others, Christmas is special because of the traditions. Nearly everyone has a routine that occurs every year… without fail. Around our house, Christmas Eve always includes church service and a few specific food items afterward. Knowing that you’ll be enjoying familiar activities, events, and foods with loved ones truly does make Christmas special, but are they what makes Christmas “magical?”

To others, Christmas means they will see loved ones that they may only see rarely or not at all the rest of the year. To them, Christmas simply may mean “going home.” Perhaps, Christmas is special because it seems that people more readily express their love during these few weeks. Somehow, it is just easier and, possibly, expected that we express it more just because it is Christmas.

Possibly, Christmas is special because it reminds us of people lost from our lives. We remember times past surrounded by those we loved and miss. To have one more Christmas with them…

Christmas is special, alright, because of all these reasons. But, what is it that makes all of this happen. What is that “magical” piece that turns enemies into friends, strangers into buddies, sadness into smiles, and desperation into joy during Christmastime?

To me, the “magic” that makes Christmas special is the “light” that has come into darkness. For most people, the world can be a dark place. Just in 2019, we have witnessed many tragedies, both natural and man-made; hatred is the norm, not the exception; people live without hope; people are hurting; the future appears ominous. The world seems to be dark, lonely, and depressing. BUT, Christmas shines a “light” on that darkness. Christmas turns that dreary, cloudy world in which we live into one of beautiful sunshine… a place with hope and gives us a reason to believe in a happier, better future… if only for the season. The “light” of Christmas, of course, is Jesus Christ. When God sent Him into this dark, bleary world, He gave hope; He gave a reason for living; and He gave us a future that we can anticipate with gladness. God’s gift of Jesus was a gift of love. Because “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” we have a reason to rejoice… a reason to hope… a source of peace… and, a way to be reconciled to God.

“This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all.” – I John 1:5 – 

The “light” of Christmas (Jesus Christ) turns even a sinful, hateful, hopeless world into a special place at Christmas. And to those that accept Jesus as God’s Son, as Lord, and as Savior, the “light” of Christmas can shine in your life eternally. The presence of Jesus in your life will change you into a person with eternal hope and a new purpose for living.

“For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.” – John 3:16

God’s Word says simply that all who believe that Jesus is God’s Son and that He gave His own life to pay our debt will inherit everlasting life. That’s it… believe and receive.

I think we all wish that it could be Christmastime all year round. The joy we feel during this time of year can make us forget our challenges, our sorrow, and our loneliness. When we accept the “light” of Christmas as a gift from God, we can have that “light” illuminating our lives every day of our lives… and, into an eternal future with Him.

Merry Christmas! May you experience the hope, peace, love, and joy of God through His “light” this year!

It was just an ordinary rock…

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Are you striving to just get through today? Is your life marked by expectation and anticipation? Do you appreciate the opportunities that come with each new day? Are you assuming that tomorrow will be just like today? Here are a few thoughts that just might help you reset your perspective:

  • It was just an ordinary rock… until my grandchild turned it into a work of art
  • He thought he would work there until he retired… until his job was ‘rationalized’
  • It was just a date… until I fell in love and she changed my life forever
  • She thought it was just a lump… until it wasn’t
  • He awoke to just another ordinary day… until it became his best day yet
  • An ordinary phone call… became the best news she ever received
  • A simple act of kindness… changed the life of a distraught woman
  • The smile of a child… made him forget all his own problems
  • He yelled, “See you tomorrow”, but… tomorrow never came
  • It was just another night… until worry and fret pushed any chance for sleep away
  • I dreaded the day… until it produced my new best friend
  • I feared the unknown… until it became the best time of my life
  • Sunday night brought anxiety and worry… until she decided that was no way to live
  • It was just a few snowflakes… that turned into lifelong memories that we still smile about today

“Men spend their lives in anticipations, in determining to be vastly happy at some period or other, when they have time; but the present time has an advantage over every other–it is our own.”  – Charles Caleb Colton, Lacon

Today is the only day that we are promised. We have a duty – not only to ourselves, but to everyone we know – to make the very best of this gift of a day.

“Oh the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done! There are points to be scored. There are games to be won. And the magical things you can do with that ball will make you the winning-est winner of all.”  ― Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

One day, the last time will really be the last time. So, make the most of this time we have.

What are you looking forward to? Is there anything coming in your life that, once you experience it or achieve it, will be cause for celebration and excitement like you might see for Baseball’s World Series champions?

Let’s not just try to get through another day. Let’s not take today for granted. Let’s look for opportunities to share a kind word, experience a smile, or make a difference for someone else. Don’t just let today happen – make it an experience to be savored and remembered. After all, today just might be our best day yet! There is still a chance, so keep you eyes open and your head up and expect the unexpected!

 

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.

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.