Reacting graciously with frustration

The other evening I traveled to one of our plants. I decided to take the last flight out of town because it was the only direct flight of the day.  Smart, eh?  Here is a summary of my evening:

  • Flight was late leaving, thus, late arriving
  • Rough landing
  • Denied a rental car — my driver’s license had expired, so they would not allow a rental
  • Taxi cab called – stood outside waiting in the rain – had to direct the cab driver every turn all the way to the hotel (e.g., no relaxation even during the cab ride)
  • Arrived at hotel at about 12:15am
  • Grabbed a banana in the lobby – this was my only dinner for the evening
  • Banana rotten
  • Log onto computer – password failure – called Help Desk for password reset
  • Trouble getting to sleep – wondering about whether TSA would allow me to fly with an expired license
  • Awoke at 4:55am Eastern Time – about 3.5 hours of sleep – ready to rock and roll
  • Lots of coffee all day

Have you ever experienced frustration? How did you react?  Could you laugh about it afterward?  Sometimes, situations like this come into our lives to help us realize that we must be gracious no matter what happens.  Sometimes, these situations occur to remind us to be thankful for the little things.  Sometimes, these situations occur to remind us that it is easy to be kind when things go our way – the real test of character is to see how you react when things don’t go your way.

Have a great, frustration-free day!

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A “berry” nice day!

Today, we look at three quotes from Ben Franklin and examine how they apply to what we do:

  1. “Those disputing, contradicting, and confuting people are generally unfortunate in their affairs.  They get victory, sometimes, but they never get good will, which would be of more use to them” – Time for a true story.  July is wild blackberry time in Missouri.  Blackberries do not come every year being dependent upon the weather.  A good friend and his wife live in a neighborhood that has some undeveloped property.  In their ventures around the neighborhood, they noticed that there were wild blackberries in some of these undeveloped areas.  So, when they became ripe, they began occasionally picking a few for use in pies, as a treat for their grandchildren, etc.  So, one Saturday, they were picking a few berries when the owner of the undeveloped property with his wife came along.  They were not pleased that someone was picking on their property.  So, my friends left.  OK, maybe they should have sought them out beforehand to ask permission, but, truthfully, they said they were not sure whose property they were on.  To ensure that there were no hard feelings, they made a fresh pie and took it to their house.  They refused to accept it!  They said that they could absolutely not take that pie.  They acted still upset!  So, my friends went home and ate the pie themselves!  It seems that people live such sad lives sometimes… acting like that over a handful of blackberries!  Really?  We should not be so caught up on our own lives and egos that we are known as one of those “disputing, contradicting, and confuting people.”  Please kick me when/if I ever become that way!
  2. “Learn from the skillful; he that teaches himself, has a fool for his master” – Are you really taking advantage of those around you that have more experience, skills, and abilities than you do?  Have you asked a more senior individual to serve as one of your mentors?  When you face a sticky issue, do you go to another colleague to ask their opinion?  If not, why not?  What is it about us that we feel that unless we handle everything ourselves, we are failing the company?  Let’s use the collective knowledge of our organization to do what is best for all.
  3. “He that cannot obey, cannot command” – Henson’s corollary to this is, “He that does not comply with requirements, should not be given a position of leadership over those that must.”  We need to be good examples to others.  And, those of us in leadership positions must set the standard and be exemplary in our adherence to requirements.  We also should not be afraid to call out those that do not.  Agree?

What does Franklin say to you today?  Have a “berry” nice day!

Lowering the bar of excellence

I heard someone make the comment recently that “the bar for excellence has been lowered.”  This comment struck me until I realized that so many things in life we now consider “excellent” are far below what would have met that same criteria years ago.  How about a few examples:

  • When I was in high school, we had only one chance to take the college entrance examination (e.g., ACT test).  You accepted that one result and your decisions about which college to attend, how much scholarship money you received, and “bragging rights” hinged upon that one result.  Today, you can take the exam many times and only the highest score counts.  My wife and I had to remind our three children of that many times over the years as they took the test again to better their score.
  • My mother-in-law has a refrigerator in her basement that is still running well at over 50 years of age.  Today, you feel lucky to get 8 or 10 years of life from a refrigerator.
  • Years ago, there was a minimum standard of acceptable dress expected when you went shopping.  Today, there are entire websites dedicated to the sloppy appearance of shoppers of at least one store chain.
  • Standards of acceptable behavior are different today than several decades ago.
  • Stradivarius violins made hundreds of years ago are still considered the finest sounding violins in the world today.

Have we lowered the bar of excellence in the world of compliance or for our leaders?  Do we allow things to occur today that would have been considered unacceptable last year?  Have our standards for an acceptable investigation report lowered?

The bar of excellence is affected by gravity.  So, unless we are doing something to intentionally prop it up, the bar will fall and we will accept behaviors, work product, or results less today that would have been acceptable in the past.  So, how can we prop up that bar?  Do we really believe in continuous improvement?  Or, are we more interested in consistently just getting by?  Do your own work, effort, and results model the attributes of excellence?  Are we working to sustain our gains long-term or are we just interested in getting through today?  Today’s challenge is to consider again what it takes to be truly excellent and re-commit ourselves to pushing up that bar.

Have a stunning day!

More ways to achieve extraordinary success

Yesterday, The Porch reviewed the first half of a list I recently ran across an article in Inc.com (an on-line magazine – the full link is here http://www.inc.com/chris-dessi/24-ways-ordinary-people-can-achieve-extraordinary-success-.html) titled, “24 Ways Ordinary People Can Achieve Extraordinary Success.”  Today, we look at the remaining 12 of the 24 items highlighted.  I hope you find the combination of the Inc. article and the views below helpful to you.  Here is the list:

  1. Don’t forget where you came from – I was raised in a small Illinois town with small town values.  People there worked hard, supported their community, had high ideals for their children, and knew everything we did.  It was there I learned that life isn’t necessarily fair, but our attitude and intestinal fortitude make the difference.  It was there I learned the value of hard work and integrity.  It was there I first learned the importance of caring for others.  It was there I first learned that our life span is limited and you may say good-bye to a friend/teammate one night and never see him again.  I can honestly say that I hardly go a day without thinking of my parents, my hometown, and how my role in life now is, to a large extent, to pay back what so many have done for me.  Where did you come from?  Do you remember?
  2. Value education – Education is important.  But, it is equally important that we continue learning even years after our class final exam.  When you continue to purse learning, you demonstrate to your children, your coworkers, and everyone around you that it is important.
  3. Stay positive – Who needs a negative person?  Really?  There is so much in life to enjoy!  Despite your circumstances are today, they will change.  Cherish the good times and lean on others during the tough times.  As you’ve seen in QQQ before, a good day is not measured by what happened to you, but by how you responded to what happened.
  4. Know what real success is – Real success is that feeling that you did your best, that you gave everything you had, and that you made a positive difference for someone else.
  5. Fame, money and title mean nothing – If you spend your life chasing fame, money, or a title, you will be disappointed.  Though nice, these mean nothing in the long-term cycle of life.  Your life should not be measured by those tangible things you collect, but by the memories you create and by the difference you make in the lives of others.  In the end, all the gold in the world will mean less to you than the presence of loved ones in your life and knowing that you made a difference to them.
  6. Ask for help – “Don’t be bull-headed!”  Have you heard that before?  It is an honor for others to help you, so give them that satisfaction.  Don’t withhold it from them.
  7. Know what you want – It is important to know where you are headed.  When you identify what you want, you can investigate the alternatives to get there.  Without direction in your life, you may waste valuable time and effort in the journey.
  8. Be yourself – People care about us for who we are, not who we pretend to be.  Let others see the real you.  Don’t try to be someone you are not.
  9. Take risks – Life is too short to not occasional step outside our comfort zone.  Don’t be afraid to see how high you can jump or how far you can run.  If you don’t try, you’ll never know.
  10. Failure is not a sin – Mistakes merely represent a chance to learn and improve.  Failure comes when you fail to learn from our mistakes.  And, if you lead people, remember this when the next issue arises.
  11. There is no such thing as luck – Luck is not a strategy upon which we should build our life or our career.  Intentional, consistent, and concerted effort pay off many times more than a reliance upon luck.
  12. Stop feeling sorry for yourself – It might be OK to feel sorry for yourself for one day — but then, pick yourself up and move on!  We have individuals depending upon us, so we need to quickly get beyond our disappointments, when they occur, and resume our role.

If I could add one thing to this list or emphasize it even more, “Don’t neglect your existing friendships and, if needed, add individuals to your life that will share the good times and bad times with you – I can tell you first hand that having these individuals in your life can make all the difference!”

Achieving extraordinary success

I recently ran across an article in Inc.com (an on-line magazine – the full link is here http://www.inc.com/chris-dessi/24-ways-ordinary-people-can-achieve-extraordinary-success-.html) titled, “24 Ways Ordinary People Can Achieve Extraordinary Success.”  This is a good article and worth reading.  Today, I list the first 12 of the 24 items highlighted in this article and provide my own color around each item.  We will finish the list tomorrow.  I hope you find the combination of the Inc. article and the views below helpful to you.  Here is the list:

  1. Protect your reputation – You develop your reputation every day and in every encounter you have.  Every interaction is an opportunity to either enhance your reputation or destroy it, at least with that/those individuals.  Stay “on your game” in these interactions and be careful about how you handle social media.
  2. Give back – At the end of your career, you are likely to define it by the lives you touch.  Did you make an impact on the lives of others?  Have you helped others to grow?  What individuals did you mentor or coach or sponsor?  Whose career is better because of what you gave back?
  3. Bring small-business ideas to big-business boardrooms – Though we are not in what most would call a small-business, we need to think in that way.  How would we spend our budget if the money was our own?  How can we make decisions faster and better without multiple approvals and excessive reviewers?  How can we instill an attitude of being fast and nimble?
  4. Leave room for play – Everyone needs to have a hobby or passion outside work.  Sure, it is understood that for many, this means coaching little league, selling Girl Scout cookies, or spending full days at the gym, track, or field.  However, each person needs to have some way that they personally can escape.  Some might choose music, reading, or sports.  Others may choose photography, quilting, or some other activity.  Find something that you can do and carve out the time to enjoy it, at least occasionally.
  5. Find a supportive life partner – I have been highly blessed and fortunate to have the most supportive and loving spouse in history!  If your spouse is like this, please take the time to show your love and thanks.
  6. Cultivate community – Develop a network of individuals that you stay in touch with.  Staying connected through the years is a great way to nurture relationships that could make a difference in your career someday.
  7. Do what you love – It is really difficult to do your best work when you don’t love your work.  The best advice in this area I could give is either find ways to truly enjoy what you do or find something new to do.
  8. Take charge of your personal finances – Work to achieve a proper balance with your personal finances… some for you, some for others, and some for retirement.
  9. Listen actively – I’ve heard it said, “Listen for understanding, not for how you’ll respond.”  You enhance relationships when you let others talk about what interests them, then, engage yourself to learn from that other person.  When you think of listening as an opportunity to learn, not to eventually show what you know, it will change how you interact with others.  A colleague recently shared that LISTEN and SILENT both have the same letters.  The next time you are asked to listen to someone else, remember this connection.
  10. Think big, act bigger – We don’t always have to “win.”  Sometimes, it is more important to stay true to our values and beliefs than get in the last word every conversation.
  11. Have gratitude – Be thankful for what you have and what others do for you.  It is too easy to take what others do for you for granted.  Say thanks!
  12. Have fun! – Yes, we need to have some fun in our lives.  And, we can enjoy what we do at work.  Find a way to make it enjoyable to come to work.  Finding a “fun outlet” outside of work is important, as well.

We’ll see the remaining 12 items tomorrow.  Thanks for what you do and have a fabulous day!

Taking that fork in the road

Yogi Berra, Hall of Fame catcher for the New York Yankees, once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”  Of course, Yogi didn’t offer any advice on which fork to take.  We all come to a fork in the road sometimes.  In the corporate world, there are times when we must decide which career path makes most sense.   Many factors come into play, but it seems there is always that “safe” pathway and that “more risky, but potentially more gratifying” pathway.  When faced with this, which do you choose?  Some have that natural tendency as adventurers and will always take the riskier path.  Others, including me, tend to “leave well enough alone” or stay within our comfort zone.  There is a short, famous poem by Robert Frost that hits on the this same point.  It is well worth taking the time to read:

The Road Not Taken (by Robert Frost)

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim

Because it was grassy and wanted wear,

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

 

Indeed, we all come to a fork in the road sometimes.  Choices are essential and cannot be avoided.  As Frost so eloquently says, taking the road less traveled (e.g., the most unexpected, the riskier road, the road others fear to take, the road leading to some unknown place, etc.), could make all the difference in your job, your family, your life, or the life of someone else.  Are you at a fork in the road?  You may only get one chance to chose, so consider carefully.  You may never pass this way again, so we need to choose carefully.

Have a terrific day!  Let’s cherish the good we have in our work and in our lives and consider how we can make “all the difference” for someone else today.

What defines our “culture”?

There has been much talk lately in the business world about “culture” – what it is and how to improve it.  Companies like ours make use of culture surveys or engagement surveys in an attempt to measure the current company culture.  Then, we develop action plans to improve the culture believing that a better culture drives better performance, thus, better business results.  So, this begs the questions, “What defines culture and is it really possible to improve it?  And, if you do, what improved results can we expect?”

Culture can be defined as “the way of life, especially the general customs and beliefs, of a particular group of people at a particular time.”  Someone, perhaps me, once said, “Culture is determined not by what you say, but what you do.”  I believe in this one-hundred percent!  We do not change a culture by the use of slogans, banners, songs, and campaigns.  We create and/or change our culture day-by-day, action-by-action.  Culture is our way of life in the specific function, group, floor, plant, or company in which we reside.  It is what we do and, though, a targeted campaign might gradually influence what we do, the true culture is largely determine by the leaders of that group.

“The culture of any organization is shaped by the worst behavior the leader is willing to tolerate.”  – Gruenter and Whitaker –

Many individuals that read The Porch each day are leaders.  You lead something – a function, a group, a line, a family, a team – each person is responsible for other individuals to some extent.  What kind of “culture” are you creating in that group?  If you believe the quote by Gruenter and Whitaker above, you create a culture by what behavior you tolerate.  For example, in a family, the culture is defined by how much discipline you expect from each member.  Do you require that everyone make their own bed each day?  Do you require that everyone put away their own things?  The culture, then, is determine by whether you allow one member to consistently violate the rules of behavior.

In a company, the culture is, to a large extent, defined by how we allow employees to treat each other; by what standards of behavior we require; by the level of personal accountability we demand; by the level of quality we deem our minimum standard; by how much personal flexibility we allow; etc.  It is possible to define a company culture by requiring that everyone dress the same, by requiring everyone to work 12 hours/day, by prohibiting anything deemed fun, or by demeaning individuals when they fail to attain perfection.  We can also define a company culture by allowing individuals to take reasonable risks, by encouraging individual innovation, by demanding that we treat each other fairly, and by providing an environment that encourages work/life balance.  You can see that our actions as leaders define what culture our group will have.  In other words, we define the “way of life” for our team or family.

So, I would argue, that the best way to enhance the culture within our group/team/company is to embrace the statement above by Gruenter and Whitaker… we must stop allowing behavior that does not represent what we desire for our group.  All of us can help to create the culture we desire.  We each have a part in creating a culture of encouragement, fair treatment of others, high standards of work, and fun.   So, what do we do today to get this started?

This could be our best day yet!  There is still a chance.  Let’s go for it!

 

All in….

Kelli was anxious for Saturday.  That is the day her husband, Joe, would arrive home for a 2-week leave in the middle of his 9-month long deployment with the military in the Middle East.  Kelli was excited about having fourteen full days to be with Joe.  She hadn’t seen him in nearly 5 long, miserable months.  Sure, she had a great support network at home.  The other military wives were great!  They had outings, shared long talks about their dreams and fears, and celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, and special events together.  Her family, though a several hour drive away, stayed in touch and visited as often as possible.  But, in two more days, Kelli would finally have Joe all to herself for two weeks!

However, Joe’s coming visit also brought back those nagging fears and that dread of taking him back to the airport when the leave was over.  She knew that these two weeks were precious and that she must enjoy every minute.  But, the thought that any visit might be their last together brought back the tears and her fears.  Sometimes, these become so great that it caused her to hold back.  In some ways, these fears prevented her from enjoying these times freely.

Joe’s visit was great!  They enjoyed their two weeks together and with friends.  It was good to re-acquaint and re-connect.  Kelli loved these times, but still, she was pained to know that this time would end and Joe would be back in the Middle East in just a few days.  She struggled with being “all in” or totally committed to their time together because she knew the time was short and precious. 

Exactly one month after this leave, Kelli received the horrific news that Joe had been killed while on duty.  Their last phone call was filled with remembrances of their last days together and their plans for his return home in three short months.  Kelli loved Joe very much, but she spent the next few years haunted by the fact that their last days together were hindered by her fears and the fact that she could not allow herself to be “all in.”

“All in” is a term derived from gambling.  When you feel that you have a sure winning hand, you bet everything you have (e.g., all in).  In short, you put everything on the table to win.  Do you live your life with an “all in” attitude?  Or, are you holding something back out of fear, frustration, or lack of motivation?  Are you “all in” at work?  Or, home?  With your kids?  With your friends?  When you lay your head down at night, can you consistently say that you gave everything you had to every activity of the day?  Or, should you receive the horrific news that Kelli did, would you regret holding back from your work, your family, or your friends?  Do we need to re-establish our priorities in life?  Or, do we need to rebalance what we do with our time?  Do we need to refresh or restore any relationships?  Is there something out there undone that needs to be corrected?

Today, let’s consider what it means to live an “all in” life.  Then, let’s simply do what we need to do.  Have an awesome day and take the time to make this an awesome day for someone else!

 

Do you think big enough?

“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” – Michelangelo –

In the early 1960’s, then President John F. Kennedy issued a challenge to the US space agency to send a man to the moon and back by the end of the decade.  Most people thought this was utterly impossible and irresponsible to even suggest.  But, the many elements of government and private industry collaborated and in July, 1969, Neil Armstrong was the first person to step onto the moon and return safely to earth.  Kennedy’s big dream and impossible goal were the drivers that made this possible.

What about us?  Do we aim too low?  It seems we establish “aspirational” goals to improve by 10%, or some other incremental amount, year-after-year without really considering what might be possible.  Would we not be better to target a 40% year-over-year improvement and fall 15% short than target a 10% improvement and feel good that we beat that?

What about us as individuals?  Are we thinking big enough?  How often do we lower our own expectations because our goals seem too much, too significant, or too far out of reach?  Sure, I know… in this age of performance management and our effort to achieve an “exceeding” year-end rating, do we dare publish an objective that might be a stretch?  What is the proper balance between aiming high, but not so high that you risk missing your target?  How much should we push?

There is not a great answer to this question.  It is too bad that some performance management systems place a higher premium on “achieving targets” than it does “adding overall value”.  However, I would argue that if our focus is on adding value and driving improvement, the rest will take care of itself.  At the very least, we will each know that we made a positive difference.

Today’s challenge is this… Do we need to think bigger?  Do we need to push aside those barriers that appear to hold us back?  Can we do more/better/faster than we’ve ever done before?  Is it time to take that big risk that we have avoided?  Do we need to risk getting out of our comfort zone?  What is it that Michelangelo’s quote might be urging you to do today?

Have one of those “top ten” days!

 

Adding value to the lives of others

A colleague recently sent me the story below called “The Wise Woman’s Stone.”  The author is unknown, but its meaning is priceless.  Take a look for yourself:

The Wise Woman’s Stone

A wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream. The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food. The hungry traveler saw the precious stone in the wise woman’s bag, admired it, and asked the wise woman to give it to him. The wise woman did so without hesitation. The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the jewel was worth enough to give him security for the rest of his life. But a few days later he came back, searching for the wise woman. When he found her, he returned the stone and said, “I have been thinking. I know how valuable this stone is, but I give it back to you in the hope that you can give me something much more precious. If you can, give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me the stone.”

Notice a few things about this story.  First, the woman is called “wise” seven times.  Why do you think she is considered wise?  Second, the woman was generous.  You’ll notice that she gave of her food to the hungry traveler.  Then, she gave him the stone “without hesitation”.  Finally, the traveler returned the stone to her because he realized that what she had within her was more valuable than the material items she possessed.

This is a great lesson for us… What lies within us is much more valuable than what material items we possess.  Integrity… Service… Kindness… Character… Wisdom… Generosity… Sharing… Love… Respect… Courage… Humility… When we “give” these away to others, we add real and lasting value to the lives of others.

Have a productive day!  And remember, a single encouraging act by you today can completely change the day for someone else!