Workplace Stewardship: Impact on Culture and Performance

jefferson

A couple of years ago, I discussed the concepts and principles of workplace stewardship (Four Principles of Workplace Stewardship). Though it is important to understand that these principles exist, it is even more important to examine how to apply these principles. In effect, how can a solid understanding of these principles alter our actions in such a way that we see improvements in workplace culture? Then, as a result, what is the impact on individual and team performance?

To review, stewardship is the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care. So, for workplace stewardship, we have a responsibility to manage what gets done and how it gets done. It is not enough to achieve results alone; likewise, we can do things perfectly, but, without results, our business cannot survive. Creating that perfect balance, then, is our challenge.

The four principles of workplace stewardship are the principles of:

  1.  Ownership
  2.  Responsibility
  3.  Accountability
  4.  Reward

Today, let’s look at these in more detail and see how each can impact workplace culture and performance.

Principle of Ownership

  1.  I get to make meaningful decisions – I think everyone wants at least some autonomy in their job to make meaningful decisions. We all want to believe that we can personally make a difference. The primary basis of the Principle of Ownership is that we all have a key part to play in the role we play. Whether we serve as the CEO of a major corporation or provide face-to-face service to customers, we must make decisions every day that impact others. An owner of an ice cream stand cannot abdicate the need to decide what flavors to offer, who to hire, and what hours to be open. This Principle requires that we act like the sole owner of the function entrusted to our care. And, as the owner, we must act in a way that will meet the needs of our customers (both internal and external) and serve the needs of our business. So, in your current role, what do you own? What decisions must you make to ensure your function thrives? Have you been abdicating critical decisions that only you can make?
  2.  However, it is not mine – Being an “owner” in the workplace also means that I must share… it isn’t mine to hold alone. The best decisions are rarely made by one person acting alone. Information I hold is likely needed by others. I need to realize that the decisions I make impact others… in fact, they could impact MANY others. Have you ever worked with another individual that withheld information because they were insecure? The belief that “… as long as no one else has that information, I am indispensable.” Being an owner means you share resources, you share information, and you share decision-making. You work together to make the workplace better and to achieve better results. The best outcome usually comes when the power of the team functions together to achieve more than could have been achieved individually. And, as a leader, you need to learn when to let go. In my own experience, some of the greatest results ever achieved within my groups was when I relinquished control and allowed others to use their own abilities and creativity to achieve results. People are empowered when you give them freedom to operate and excel without the limitations incurred when you get in their way.
  3.  Achieving the greatest good for the most – The ultimate goal of an owner is to create the most value possible with the resources expended. In other words, a good owner is continuously striving to create results better today than yesterday. In our own workplace, we should be continuously asking questions about the value of what we do. For example, what things do we do that create no value? Should we continue them? If we stopped that activity, would anyone notice? I remember once stopping a report that had been generated each week for years. No one notice or asked why no report was issued. It was just that simple to save an hour each week to spend on things of greater value.

 

Principle of Responsibility

  1.  Others first – The first thing we must understand within the Principle of Responsibility is that it is not about us. Though we would like to think that our thoughts, ideas, and plans are most important, that is not necessarily the case. When we realize that our responsibility is to do what is best for the whole, not just me, we’ve taken a large step toward being the kind of coworker, leader, or teammate that will drive the most success with results and satisfaction in the workplace.
  2.  Doing my part – Another key factor in being a responsible individual is to do your part. I’ve seen many individuals that seek any possible excuse to not get their specific job done on time. As a key member of a group, we have to realize that we are all important components in a process. If any component fails to fulfill their part, the process could fail. Additionally, when one member fails to do his/her part – that is, he/she becomes a weak link – the impact to all other members is significant. Someone has to pick up the slack. One weak link, especially when it is simply by choice, can impact the morale of the entire group.
  3.  Getting things done, despite what others do (or don’t do) – Finally, we must all understand that there is no excuse to fail to achieve what is expected. That goes for individuals and teams. When one individual fails, others must fill that gap. When one individual cannot fulfill their task, others need to come alongside that person to do what is best for the whole. The bottom line is that getting things done is our responsibility. And getting things done often means we are outside our comfort zone, that we are taken advantage of, or that we don’t necessarily like the situation we find ourselves. We have to do what is necessary to meet the responsibilities we have accepted or been placed.

 

Principle of Accountability

  1.  Doing what you say you’ll do – With responsibility comes accountability. We all answer to someone. We all have others that depend upon us. I’m sure we have all worked with individuals that were very willing to make promises or commitments, yet it was rare when these were kept. Being a person that can be trusted to do what they say is a marker for credibility. An honorable individual – a person of integrity – does not have to be continually reminded to fulfill commitments.
  2.  Meeting expected timelines – Likewise, doing what we promise on the timetable promised is another factor that drives both results and morale. A family member made a contract with a contractor to perform work at their house last fall. The agreement was that the contractor would build a backyard pool beginning in March. However, excuse after excuse delayed the start of the project until June. At this point, no matter what the ultimate work quality might be or the service from this point on, the contractor is tainted because he failed to begin (and complete) the project when promised. Do what you say and do it on the timeline promised. It is basic element of that thing we call integrity.
  3.  Doing the right things the right way – Sometimes it is easy to get things done on time, but corners must be cut to achieve it. In the workplace, it is expected that we’ll do things the right way. It is a basic expectation that we will treat others well, that we’ll be kind, that we’ll be a good teammate, that we’ll add value. Knowing that our work reflects, not only on ourselves, but our teammates and our company should motivate us to be reliable and considerate of the expectations of others.

 

Principle of Rewards

  1.  Recognizing the efforts of others – One of the key “rewards” we receive in the workplace is the recognition from others of a job well done. Certainly, it is good to receive the praise of our boss. However, being recognized by peers may be even more desired. Think about a time when someone you work with every day said thanks for doing such a great job. It probably made your day! Seeing the good work of others and making a point to highlight it can make a significant different both to that individual and the team. Try it!
  2.  Passing it on – Similarly, when you are praised for a job well done, it is important to also recognize others that participated. When in doubt, praise the work of others. Be liberal in your recognition of others. It will pay off in both results and in creating a positive, collaborative workplace.
  3.  Fulfillment for a job well done – Finally, one of the rewards we receive is that of knowing that we made a difference to someone else. Helping the ultimate customer, providing a needed service, exceeding the expectations of others all feed our need of job fulfillment. I am convinced that many individuals lack fulfillment in their job because they see no value in what they do. When you walk to your car at the end of the day, you can hold your head high knowing that you did your part and made a difference to someone.

 

Finding joy in your work, contributing to something important, helping others become successful, being a man/woman of integrity, turning a bad day into a good one for someone else… these are the things that make work worthwhile. These are the things that show others you care. When everyone does these consistently, your results and culture will be the model for every other group. And, your results will consistently exceed expectations.

 

Pragmatic GXP Compliance

Pragmatic GXP Compliance

To everyone interested in or involved in GXP compliance, I am glad to say that my newest book titled, “Pragmatic GXP Compliance” has been published. It is available on Amazon at this link:

Pragmatic GXP Compliance

This book not a typical book on the nuts-and-bolts of GXP compliance, but one that has, as its goals:

1. EDUCATION – To help compliance practitioners teach others the importance of GXP compliance and create an enhanced culture of compliance

2. FOCUS – To provide focus on GXP compliance activities that are important and, thus, stop doing activities that provide no GXP compliance value

3. READINESS – To provide guidance on compliance and inspection readiness activities that focus on the “majors” and minimize activities that are meaningless

4. OUTCOMES – To provide tools and advice that enhance success of regulatory inspections and management of inspection outcomes

5. FUTURE – To provide perspectives and guidance on the future of regulatory inspections and activities that need to begin now

I think you will find nuggets of value in this work that will make it highly value-added as you seek to balance the need to fully comply with GXP requirements, yet do so efficiently.

A Kindle version should be available soon.

 

Career Accelerators

Finding the best path forward in your career is, possibly, the most challenging part of success in the workplace. To help with that process, today I am including an excerpt from my new book, Achieving your best day yet!: A more fulfilling career… a more impactful life (available from Amazon.com in either paperback or Kindle version). I hope this might provide encouragement or direction as you consider next steps:

 

Career Accelerators

Over the course of the last few years, I have had the privilege of hearing the detailed career journey experiences of over 20 successful executives. These individuals encompass many different disciplines and most covered multiple companies and very diverse experiences. Some have worked their entire careers at one company. Others have changed jobs many times. Most have relocated. Many have faced challenges, layoffs, acquisitions, divestitures, disappointments, victories, and any kind of career event you can imagine. All have had successful careers. Everyone has a unique career journey, but I have learned that each of these individuals experienced similar defining moments along the way.


The experiences of these individuals can help each of us better understand our own journey or at least anticipate what might occur and how we can prepare for them when they do occur.


Here are those key learnings shared by these successful individuals that either impacted or accelerated their career paths:


1. Don’t expect your career to be a straight line – The traditional thinking when you begin your career is that you will spend a few years at one level, then move to the next logical progressive position each few years in orderly, step-wise fashion. However, that is simply not the norm. Careers more often have several points when progress might involve a step sideways or even a downward move. Of the 20 or so career journeys I heard, probably half of them involved taking a lateral or downward moves out of necessity or as a result of another defining event. Be prepared for multiple career detours as you progress.


2. You will face multiple decision points – As with anything in life, your career journey will involve several significant decisions points. For example, all the executives I reference faced career-defining decisions. One had to decide whether to stay in research or move into more business-related areas. Others moved from Operations into areas completely outside it. Most had decisions about knowing when to stay or leave a company. Anyone starting early in their career must understand that key decisions will arise and you need to begin now considering what values you hold, what work you are most passionate about, and what risks you are willing to take to advance your career.


3. You will have setbacks – No successful executive has a setback-free career journey. All 20 of the executives faced adversity, such as a job loss, devastating defeat, or other seemingly crushing event in their career. However, each one took that event as a learning opportunity and moved on to something even better. In some cases, the executive mentioned that they would never have taken a risk on their own without the “push” they received by their unexpected event. So, when those events do occur, look at them as that push you need to do something different or go where you would not have otherwise. Learn from it and be better as a result.


4. Other individuals will impact you – Each executive mentioned the importance of other people in their career journey. Some talked about mentors, others about a boss that took a chance with them, and others talked about the immeasurable influence that a leader had on them. The point is that you cannot do it alone. You need to network, you need to have relationships, you need to open yourself up to what you can learn from others as you advance in your career. When you find such a person, don’t let them go!


5. Chasing a title or salary is a mistake – Each successful executive talked about their motivation. They talked about why they did what they did. None of them talked about chasing a title, except in the context in terms of how that sidetracked their career. No one benefited by taking a position merely for the title or merely for the increased salary. Learning what motivates you… learning where your passion lies… learning what is important to you will drive your career in positive ways that you’ll talk about decades from now.


6. You will feel completely overmatched at some point – Every individual mentioned a time when they assumed a role that they honestly felt they were not ready for. They all were in a position that felt overwhelming or too much. Yet, each talked about how much they learned from that experience… how much they learned about the job and how much they learned about themselves. Taking a role that seemed too much, taught them their limits. Had they never assumed a “stretch” position, they would have remained in their smaller, more confined place. Stretching taught them about thriving when they were uncomfortable.


7. Eventually, you will define career success in ways you never expected – Early in my own career, I defined success as the right job, with the right salary, in the right location. However, as I progressed through my career, I began finding greater career fulfillment in helping others achieve their own success. This same conclusion was true for most of the executives I know. Their career focus seems to change from a focus on their own personal success to the success of their teams and individuals around them. When you begin seeing the success others experience, you begin defining your own career as complete.


8. You own your own career – You cannot expect anyone else to manage your career. Certainly, you can rely upon mentors, bosses, and others to advocate for you. You can utilize their advice. You can lean on others for guidance. But, you cannot take the attitude, “I’ll just do my best and trust that things will work out,” and expect great things to happen. You need to take initiative. You need to take the ball and run with it yourself. The best advice I could give would be to envision what role or what responsibilities do you hope to have in five years. Ask yourself, “Can I get there from here?” If the answer is “yes,” then develop a plan that would make you the obvious choice when that opportunity arises. If the answer is “no,” then develop a plan to either make a significant career shift or begin looking for that next opportunity elsewhere.


9. Expect the unexpected – No individual has a career journey that did not involve an unexpected turn or two. You must expect it… or at least not be surprised when it happens. So, it is good to have alternate pathways in mind. Make yourself indispensable in more than one area. Become an expert in something else.


10. Some risks are necessary – It is almost inconceivable in this day to spend an entire career without being faced with “that risky decision.” Taking some risks is almost synonymous with success. You have to be willing to venture out of your comfort zone… out of that nice, easy rut that you find yourself in. You may have to move into a new functional area. You may have to relocate to a city where you know no one. You may have to take a temporary role. In hearing the career journeys of the individuals I mentioned, almost everyone mentioned a role they had where they knew very little about the job before taking it. Most said they had to sink or swim right away. And, most said those roles were amongst their most satisfying afterward. Don’t be afraid to try something entirely foreign to you! If you can make it with that kind of role, you can make it anywhere.


11. Some sacrifices are required – Most individuals agree that sacrifices may be required to advance your career. For some, it means moving your family away from family, friends, and comfortable surroundings to a new area. For others, it means financial and time sacrifices to pursue additional degrees. For others, it means assuming roles you may not have chosen in order to learn something new. In every case, individuals were faced with those difficult decisions that involved tough choices. So, just be prepared… nearly everyone faces that fork in the career road that means making either a safe choice or one that involves personal sacrifice.


12. Learn from both the good and the bad – Every individual experienced good situations in their successful careers. However, each also experienced a very difficult situation… a bad boss, bad company, difficult time, high stress, negative consequences, etc. The advice from these experienced individuals is that we must learn from every situation. With a bad boss, learn how to treat others. Learn what you will never do when you are in that role. In a stressful position, learn how to deal with the stress successfully. Learn about yourself. Learn how you thrive. Learn how to survive. Learn from both the good and the bad.


13. Your network is critical – Every successful individual develops and nurtures a network of others. Most individuals experienced career advancement because of someone they previously worked with or worked for. Many had career surprises because of someone they met, someone that knew a friend, or someone that had something in common with them. You will be surprised how impactful a good and growing network can be to your career. Nurturing it is essential.


14. Pay it forward – Every individual also stated that they eventually came to a point where their greatest career desire was to “pay it forward” — to give back to others in ways that others had benefited their own careers. Making a difference for someone else eventually became a key driver to each one. Giving someone else a hand in the same way they had benefited became a career driver. Service to others accelerated careers in some instances. When individuals stopped becoming focused only on their own success, they saw their careers advance faster and in ways they did not expect.

A career journey is perilous. It can be filled with risk, unknown pathways, detours, and, sometimes, fear. However, as you watch it unfold over the years, you’ll see that your own story, though unique, will mirror what others have experienced. You will see that you had to make career changes as conditions dictated, you were forced to make uneasy decisions, you took risks, you survived the setbacks, other individuals played a major role in your success, you found fulfillment in unexpected ways, and, despite your education and training, you had to thrive in unfamiliar surroundings at times. Your journey will likely include all the things that most successful executives face. Your ability to achieve ultimate success may depend on how you handle these events and situations as they occur. Don’t be surprised. Don’t be afraid. Charge forward with confidence. And, don’t forget to have some fun along the way.

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

commitments

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!