Wednesday, April 30, 2008

How do you feel about....

...inspirational speakers?

Not "Motivational Speakers," but "Inspirational Speakers." People who help us to see the best within us. People who try to show us that whatever we want or need or wish for can be ours with focus, effort, and hard work. Here's why I differentiate between the two.

A Motivational Speaker seeks to somehow motivate you to action through external solutions. They tell you what to do. They give you a system, an approach, a quick-fix solution to all of your problems is you just follow their "simple 5-step program."

An Inspirational Speaker seeks to motivate you to greater things by helping you look within yourself for what you need to be inspired to action. They help you see that you don't need some "5-step program" to find the answers to your own success. They help you realize that everything you need is right inside of you and they help you find it.

I aspire to Inspirational Speaker status. I hope that my words here have helped inspire you to see you have within you what you need to be successful, effective, wealthy, etc....

Who do you find inspires you?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Tax Rebate?!? It's YOUR MONEY!!!


Abolish the IRS
Originally uploaded by jordaneil

The arrogance of government continues...

With the "economic stimulus" package...huh?...

How did this nation get along for so many years without taxing the hell out of it's citizenry? The government of our nation has grown fat, dumb, and happy on the sweat of folks earning an honest living...period. Not news, I know, but still a bit frustrating.

As gasoline prices skyrocket and our government sits idly by, collecting even more tax revenue from us for just driving our cars! Will we see a rebate from that when (if) the prices come back down?

The money you are receiving is yours in the first place. It's an election year and the government is still only interested in itself, easing its collective conscience by "giving back." Get real!

Leadership in our government is a joke. Our government was not intended to be a career. Not intended to be a burden to the citizens of this country. Yet that is exactly what it has become.

Thanks for the "rebate"...now let's start drilling for oil on our own lands.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Uncomfortable Yet?


Uncomfortable
Originally uploaded by Morlith

Too often as leaders, we get into the "comfort zone."

You know the one....go to work at the same time, do the same type of routine stuff during the day: get yanked to meetings, fight the latest fires, make excuses for lack of performance, promise to do better, really think we are doing better when we are not, hope things are set for the next 18 hours, try to go home at a reasonable time, kiss the wife, hug the kids, collapse after dinner, go to bed too late, and get up and do it all over again.

Whew!

I all adds up to ineffectiveness across the board. We float along the Niagara River, up stream from the falls, kidding ourselves that since we are moving, it must be in the right direction. Here's some advice....SWIM!

Get out of the comfort zone! It's a dangerous place because laziness and complacency will never move you forward. You have to have a plan or you will always be subject to the whims of others. How do you know what's important if you don't sit down and think about it and make a plan?

"But I always get interrupted!"

"I can never stick to my plan because work is such chaos!"

"Planning doesn't work for me...I prefer to go with the flow, be flexible, you know...not get too stressed out..."

All of these are cop outs. Of course you get interrupted! You have to plan for those interruptions or they will consume you! Work is chaos because you don't know when to say "no, I can't come to that meeting because this planned item is more important...I will delegate that meeting..." And going with the flow is the guy who will ride along the Niagara until he's thrown over the falls, and as he ponders his impending doom on the way down will wonder "how did this happen?!?"

Get out of your comfort zone and do something different. For one week, plan to break with routine: come in earlier or later, leave later or earlier, plan your days instead of letting others drag you around in theirs, delegate non-essential items and ask your developing leaders to step up, try not eating at your desk for cryin' out loud! Take a walk, go for a run, sit and talk to your children about what's important to them instead of telling them what's important to you. Go out and play!

Anything to break the routine and boost yourself out of the rut. I think I heard Tony Robbins tell the joke "How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: Just one, but it's very expensive and the light bulb really has to want to change!"

You can never really change others unless they want to change themselves. You can only change yourself. It's the only person you have complete control over, even though sometimes it doesn't feel like it. Take charge of your own life because if you don't, there are way too many people out there willing to do it for you and use you up.

GET OFF YOUR BUTT! You'll be glad you did.

p.s. if you're at a loss as to how to get started, comment here or drop me a line at joe@nthdegreeconsulting.com and I will help you get going.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Friends


Buddies!! Little League Baseball T Ball Johns Island, SC

When we were small, we had lots of friends.

Remember when you'd just go out and play? I remember growing up in east Baltimore, summer days spent playing any kind of baseball we could (it WAS a major league town!). I never went anywhere without a mitt and a ball on the handle bars of my bicycle with the purple banana seat and the playing cards in the spokes. If there was a group, we'd play a game. If there was only two, we'd have a catch....for hours....

As we got older, we lost touch with many of those friends. We moved away, "grew up," college, the Army, the dreaded "responsibility." If we knew then what we know now...

Yesterday, I was reminded of the value of friendship. I have a Jeep Wrangler with the ever problematic exhaust system. I was told by a dealership it would take $1500 to get it to pass inspection. Fretting over the enormous cost, I have let it sit parked for many months until I can pay cash for the repairs. When I spoke to my friend about it, he said "that's bulls$%t! I can have that thing squared away in no time."

What a Godsend! He gave me his code reader to use and then we zeroed in on the O2 sensor (also classically problematic on a Jeep Wrangler) as the problem. When I couldn't remove the rusted-in-place sensor, my friend said "bring it over and I'll get that thing off in 2 minutes!" Famous last words...

3 hours, a trip to 4 different auto parts stores, cutting, welding, fabrication, extremely strong magnets, and an 18mm inside-thread nut still somewhere in the exhaust system...that's what "2 minutes" turned into. And through it all, at the end of a long day already, we chatted and joked and worked without complaint...well...actually he worked and I handed tools....but all without complaint.

It was on the drive home around midnight, after the repair and an hour-long conference call with our business partner, that I realized how much it all meant to me. I number very few people in my circle of friends...real friends. I realized that I had added one more a while ago, but hadn't even noticed until that moment.

Remember the value of friendship. Recognize those who you can really count on and make sure they know you will always try to return the favor.

Thanks, buddy.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Leadership Or Management?

You've heard me say here before that Leadership is different than management. Leadership is about serving others, humility, trust, integrity. Management is best relegated to "things," not people. Yet many of us have official titles of "Manager." The unofficial title of "Leader" is bestowed by the led. Here are some observations on the differences between a leader and a manager. Please add your own observations in the comments section to keep this thought process going.

-Leaders say "we" for good or bad news
-Mangers say "you" for the bad news and "I" for the good news.

-Leaders say "follow me"
-Managers say "you need to get movin'!"

-Leaders work to push information down to the lowest responsible level
-Managers act as if information is power and horde it while complaining about all the calls they get at home.

-Leaders say "how did we fail this individual?"
-Managers say "why is he such a screw-up?"

-Leaders ask "how can I help you?"
-Managers ask "Why don't you get it?"

-Leaders ask "how are you today?"
-Mangers can't really be bothered with how you are today.

-Leaders praise in public and criticize in private.
-Managers criticize loudly and publicly and rarely, if ever, praise.

-Leaders ask for input and ideas.
-Managers believe they have all the answers and don't need anyone's input.

-Leaders look for ways to lighten your load.
-Managers are too busy to deal with lightening your load.

-Leaders focus on results and objectives.
-Managers micro-manage methods.

Which one are you?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

To Those Who Know me From Work....

Welcome to those who know me from work. Please feel free to take from this blog whatever you wish. Some of you will learn from what is here. Some of you will not. So be it.

Yes, I know you read my blog. Yes, I hope you are enjoying it. Yes, I know some "crybabies" out there are "lurking" (look it up) around the blog hoping for some way to cause trouble with it. If you're one of those sad, pathetic people, I can only say: grow up.

If you've read it and like it, feel free to say so. In person is fine. Commenting here in a way that identifies you is also fine. Commenting anonymously is for cowards, so have the personal integrity to identify yourself or cower in darkness somewhere else.

You see, I wore the Army Green for many years to "defend The Constitution of The United States against all enemies, foreign and DOMESTIC." That wonderful piece of old parchment has an amendment, the first one, that guarantees freedom of speech. What I write here generically refers to no one and every one, but names not a soul or a company. I strive to make what I share here applicable to as many as possible.

If what you read here bothers you, that is entirely your problem. Deal with it. I don't have to.

To my loyal readers and people who come back because they like what they read here, thank you for your patronage and drop me a comment once in a while.

To the paranoid "lurkers" looking to cause trouble, get a life. Really. Your cowardice is actually pretty pathetic.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Nice Family Weekend

We travelled to Baltimore (where I grew up) to visit with my family on the occasion of my parent's 50th wedding anniversary. It was an excellent visit with the family and friends. The video above, courtesy of my 15 y/o son Ben, is of them renewing their vows. The mass was beautiful. My parents were as much in love as 50 years ago.

What does this have to do with leadership? For 50 years, for better or worse, my parents have set the example of what marriage is about. It's a deeply beautiful thing on reflection. We often fail to see the beauty of it when we get caught up in "the thick of thin things." But when we pause to celebrate the milestones, we reflect on the depth of commitment, love, understanding, and powerful feelings we have as a family.

I love you two. I honor your marriage and we wish you all the best.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Dad is not Happy!


Kuromi's Dad
Originally uploaded by Onegai My Kuromi

As leaders in our daily lives, we as parents often become a little irate with surprises handed to us by our children's teachers. They often seem to think that we are mind-readers or expect us to frequent their websites to get information. The point is in this day of instant communications, many teachers have refused to stay current with technology and are even more uncommunicative (is that a word?!?)

Recently a friend and classmate sent me this communication to a teacher who surprised him and his son. Any of this sound familiar?

Dear Ms. Whywouldicare (name changed to protect the guilty),

My name is IMnothappy (name changed to protect the righteously angry) and I am IMnothappy, Jr's (name changed to protect the youngster) father. He arrived late to school on Wednesday and was not able to receive his 3rd quarter report card. However, he did receive the 3rd quarter report card today.

Although we are very pleased with the progress IMnothappy Jr. has made with his grades in all of his classes; we are extremely disappointed and surprised with his grade in your Leadership class. According to the report card, you gave him a failing Leadership grade (E) (yes an "E" is a politically correct "F"), because he did not turn in paperwork for a major project. My wife and I have questioned him about your comments in this 3rd quarter grading report and he is insistent that he did in fact turn in the required work for the project in question.

This is a critical time for IMnothappy Jr. as he prepares to send off his transcripts to several colleges and universities. It is imperative that there is a quick and timely resolution to the failing grade that was assessed for this 3rd quarter. I would like for you to provide me the days and times that my wife and I can meet with you early next week at the school.

I also think it would be helpful for you to know that my wife and I are both graduates of the South Hudson Institute of Technology (yeah, you do the initials...). This school is regarded as this Nation’s premier leadership institution. We both served in our Nation’s Armed Forces, corporate America, and several successful private business enterprises. Thus, we feel that we have a significant understanding and practical application of theoretical and real world leadership. This will help explain our heartfelt interest and significant disappointment in the failing leadership grade you assigned IMnothappy Jr. in the 3rd quarter, but more importantly the apparent discrepancy in the disposition of the major project IMnothappy Jr. insists he handed in.

Since you are teaching the Leadership course at the County’s number one High School , my wife and I presume you are appropriately versed in this subject matter. Thus, we find it difficult to understand how IMnothappy Jr. (a student) was not aware of his failing status in the class prior to the grading report. Especially since you noted that a major project was not turned in.

The Best (name changed because I don't want to get sued) High School is known, praised, and nationally recognized for teachers that take the extra effort to assist each student to reach their potential. This perceived unifying trait amongst TBHS teachers is a true display of leadership in action. We are trusting that there is an apparent misunderstanding and that the full measure of the subject matter you have been charged with instructing was not lost on IMnothappy Jr. during the 3rd quarter.

My wife and I look forward to speaking with you face to face and we look forward to addressing the critical issue of IMnothappy Jr.'s 3rd quarter grade and rectifying any misunderstanding on the work in question.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Sooo....to wrap it all up....


Hannah wrapped up.. close up
Originally uploaded by Aimee*//..

"The only constant is change."

I think most of us have heard this phrase that originated with the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus. Given my experience with change, that might be why Heraclitus was known as the "weeping philosopher."

I hope you enjoyed this four-part post from the previous week. I actually gave a speech at Toastmasters this week that was largely comprised of these posts. It went pretty well!

When faced with having to adapt to change, or implementing change yourself, remember the four reasons change is challenging: That little voice in your head, the Pride of the Past, No Gain before Pain, and It's just not Fair. If you anticipate these challenges and prepare to deal with them head-on, you'll be better prepared for change.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Why Change is Challenging - Part 4: That's Just Not Fair!


Life is so unfair sometimes (63/365)
Originally uploaded by labspics

Picture if you will the perfect brat...

You know the one. The foot-stomping, ill-mannered, mean-spirited little cretin, complete with slingshot and ice-cream smeared dirty face.

Now picture that same brat all grown up, stomping his/her foot and saying in a high-pitched, whiny voice "That's not fair! It's not like it used to be! It's not fair!"

Change can turn any one of us into that little brat. It's just human nature that develops somewhere around the age of 5 or 6 that says things ought to be fair. Change often comes without our knowledge or input, yet can greatly impact our lives. We feel a little helpless and we don't like that feeling, it just doesn't seem fair.

This feeling of change being unjust is the fourth reason why change is challenging. Being aware of this feeling in ourselves and others will at least prepare us for the resistance we feel towards change. Recognize it in others as well. Then work to assuage those fears by asking questions and really listening to the answers about how others feel when you try to implement change. If you're the one being "changed," speak up. Question the "changers" and clarify the why.

If it's going to happen anyway, we ought to at least try to understand the change instead of fearing it.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Why Change is Challenging - Part 3: No Gain Before Pain


no Pain
Originally uploaded by lost2society

The third challenge to change is the knowledge that most of us have that it's going to hurt. Sometimes in the physical sense, but more often, in the way it impacts what we do.

The easy example is weight loss and physical fitness. You have to watch what you eat, get off your butt and exercise, drink less beer (hate that!), etc, etc, etc. There's some degree of pain in all of that in exchange for the long term gains: more energy, clearer thinking, being around to get to know your grand children....

Have you ever gone through a software change at work? We did. The company converted to Oracle as our MRP system. What we had worked fine, but they wanted to see all the details at the corporate level (yeah, that had value at the plant level....not!). It was aptly named "Project Century." I think that was because it will take that long to actually finish....a century!

So many folks who foment change do not consider the users in their zeal to make an impact or a name for themselves. They inflict the pain unnecessarily. If these people would just put themselves in the "changees" shoes, they would be so much more effective and make such a larger impact.

And a positive one at that.



Saturday, April 12, 2008

Why Change is Challenging - Part 2: Pride of the Past


Arthur Proud and Colleagues
Originally uploaded by J0nny_t

The second reason change is challenging is the "Pride of the Past."

Someone new comes into your organization and is an "Agent of Change." (Sounds like he should be carrying a badge, doesn't it?) You know the guy: He's got more sheepskins than a whole heard of Barbados Blackbellies, still wet behind the ears, loaded for bear because he's smarter than everyone else.

"I've got a better way to make that widget," says he. "We're going to change how we do it and make it better." Never mind the fact that you've been making that widget just fine longer than the lad has been alive. Never mind the fact that he didn't ask for your input or try to explain the why and wherefore of the change. Nope. He's just hell-bent of leather to change everything.

Many (most?) people take a great deal of pride in what they have accomplished. Change becomes most challenging when they feel like no one is giving them credit for what they have already accomplished.

Take the time to consider the person whose world you will impact by changing things, and try to understand the change from their perspective. Then take action to ensure they have some voice in what you are planning.

The respect you show in that effort will not go unnoticed.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Why Change is Challenging - Part 1: That annoying little voice...


That annoying little voice in your head...
Originally uploaded by Bobshaw Pete


Welcome to the first of four posts on why change is challenging.

We've all been there. Things are finally starting to run smoothly and you are beginning to be more effective at what you do. Then the boss calls a meeting and says "we're going to change ______________ (fill in the blank)" Change is usually a challenge. You may have heard the paraphrase of the Greek philosopher Heraclitus "There is nothing permanent except change," or more commonly "The only constant is change." But why is such a challenge.

The first reason is that little voice. You know the one. Some call in conscience...some call it nuisance. "Change? That can't be good...remember the last time someone had a big brain storm and changed everything?!? What a disaster! It never works our for the best! Someone's going to lose their job....maybe it'll be you this time! Oh No!!!"

That little voice can wind you into a big knot. Take comfort in the fact that we all hear it to some degree. Ask questions to obtain the data and fact surrounding the change and the voice will be less of an obstacle. If the answers don't add up, or the data is iffy, it's time to speak up. Kind of like I have been doing about Erie County's foolish foray into Six Sigma at the hands of Chris Collins and Al Hammonds, Jr.

Change for change's sake is never a good idea. Ask questions and decide whether or not you can support it. If you can, get behind it and look forward positively. If you can't, you may have some hard decisions to make.

Be the smart person we all know you are and decide for yourself.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Sooo....pretend then!


Fake Smile
Originally uploaded by Mikeius

I cannot believe how much redundant information, presented in complete disrespect for my time, has the effect of making me so productive as a writer!

When I find my brain disengaged from the boring and repetitive, I pick up my pen and write. It really is the best of both worlds.

On one hand, I look like I am taking copious notes. The speaker thinks I am so absorbed in his message, that I really want to capture his ideas in my notes! Occasional eye contact and a head nod or two will keep him happily droning on....and on.....and on (which he will do anyway)!

On the other hand, I have an opportunity to capture my thoughts on more important issues and really make productive use of what would otherwise be very wasted time. I am not advocating doing this at every meeting you attend. There are meetings that do actually require your attention. If the idea is relevant and requires your input, you really should be paying attention.

But....

If its so bad you want to stick a pencil in your eye, it's time to shift mental gears and work on something important. Get out your notepad or planner and capture the things you have in your head. Make your thoughts concrete by distilling them to writing. Write down your tasks, your thoughts on important....stuff....and use the time to change your own path to excellence.

Maybe you'll even discover how to consider other's time by not making them come to pointless meetings when a quick e-mail will do!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Synergy

I was recently invited to join the board of directors of the Amherst Youth Foundation. It's a group of people who have come together to try and maintain a facility centered on the youth of our community. I am sure these types of groups exist in your community as well. You should check them out.

Tonight, a committee got together to explore some possibilities for a fall fund-raiser. As we all sat around and pitched everything from a 5K run to a "Duck Derby" to a dinner theatre, I was struck by the energy we created as a group. We all had individual ideas, but when we started kicking them around as a group, more and more ideas flowed. By the time we finished the meeting, the group dynamic had changed. Where there was doubt, there was now confidence...where there was a feeling of too much being done by too few, there was hope.

These groups energize me and reinforce my belief in the power of people united for a common cause.

You should try one....they're delicious!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Motivation and Success

Today I suffered a minor panic attack. You know the feeling....you start thinking of how enormous your responsibilities are and your chest gets tight, you get a knot in your stomach, your palms sweat...then the fun begins. Self doubt, that tiny little dragon with the fickle sense of humor, starts gnawing on your brain, just below the surface of every thought: "You can't handle it.....You're going to screw this up.....you should just quit and go home.....forget about success, you can't get there from here....etc, etc, etc."

Ahh...I hate that little sucker.

You see, that little voice is normal. That little voice is our lazy society where the liberal press would have you believe the average person views life as a "zero sum game," i.e. if someone wins, someone loses. We are bombarded daily by people we know and people we know of complaining about life not being fair, life being out of their control, life being overwhelming and too much to deal with some days. Tell me if this sounds familiar: You're with a group of people and someone remarks "did you hear about the 80 year old man in (pick a town) who won the lottery?!?" Another friend pipes up with "that's so unfair! What does an old guy like that need with all that money. That sucks!"

Nothing has changed for the worst in friend #2's life, yet he gets fired up about someone else's fortune. This is what I mean about "zero sum game" people.

Life is not a zero sum game. There is enough wealth, fame, fortune, love, caring, for all of us to have our fill and share some more with others. We need to realize the abundance of life, not the scarcity.

So...when that pesky little dragon of self doubt starts breathin' fire in your ear, take a breath, realize him for what he is....a minor annoyance....and continue on the path of success, taking the right actions to prove him wrong. Don't panic. Be strong, be confident, and take action to achieve what you know in your heart you can.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Springtime, Renewal, and Personal Development

Today was a glorious day in Buffalo. Spring is pushing its way through the westerly winds and sunshine has made an appearance. It has been a while since we've seen it and it is definitely welcome. It's time to take away the Wii and the X-box and throw the kids outside. Have a catch, barbecue a steak, clean up the yard, and watch the springtime flowers bloom. It's also time for you to pursue some renewal.

Any "new beginning" can be a good excuse to pursue renewal and personal development. Springtime, summertime, New Year's day, your birthday, Monday....anything that is a new beginning. Renewal can take many forms: eating better, exercising, getting more rest, prayer, new hobbies, old hobbies you pick up again, anything that moves your life or your health in a positive direction.

Personal development at this time seems a little easier too. Take time to really think about those things in your life you would like to make better. Your relationship with your spouse, children, God,...are they as good as they could be, as fulfilling as you want them to be? Are you running your life or is it running you?

The really beautiful thing here is that anything you don't like about your life, you can change. You just have to make the right choices to do so. There is thankfully very little that is actually out of your control. You just have to think a little more, and take action.

Have a great spring full of growth and renewal.

Lead your life.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Headwinds....


I am quickly coming to detest a word that has crept into the current corporate lexicon. The word?
.
Headwinds
.
Used in a corporate sentence: "There are headwinds keeping us from hitting our numbers" or "Given the unanticipated headwinds, we are facing future profitability concerns" or my personal favorite: "With these headwinds, how can we be expected to perform?"
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Here's what I have to say to all the users of this word....STOP IT!
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It's an excuse. It's a not-so-cleverly disguised way to say "Oh well. Not my fault." The types of things called "headwinds" today are the same things they have always been: Higher material costs, unreliable labor and commensurate excessive overtime and training costs, price pressures, the economy,....and the list goes on.
.
All of these things are a result of poor planning, poor business practices, poor (non-existent) leadership, dysfunctional management/labor relations, no strategic plan, "fire-fighting," Old school management living in the past, etc, etc, etc.
.
Stop making excuses. In the age of sail, successful captains did not whine about "headwinds." They would tack and sail on. They anticipated the headwinds and planned their journeys accordingly. They were only reactive when absolutely necessary. More often, they were proactive and read the signs and signals of impending headwinds and leveraged them to their advantage.
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That's what leaders do. They plan for success then work their plans.
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They don't sit around and whine about "headwinds."

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

R.I.P. Respect?

Today, I had a discussion with a subordinate about his inappropriate e-mail communication. He works for one fo my peers and does not report directly to me, but he is a salaried subordinate in the company chain of command. I was amazed at his complete non-chalance about his communication, his total lack of respect, and his continued insistance that he did nothing wrong.

The details are immaterial. The demise of respect is the topic here.

In this fast-paced, stressful, hectic world, many people justify their transgressions by the transgressions of everyone else: "He did it, why shouldn't I?" "He dosen't treat me with respect, why should I treat him with respect?"

Remember Mom or Dad saying "if everyone else jumped off the bridge, would you?" Every day weak and unprincipled people jump off that bridge of appropriate behavior and into the troubled waters of disrespect, arrogance, and ineffectiveness. Those turbulent tides lead right over "Failure Falls."

Someone once said "when the accepted minimum becomes your CHOSEN maximum, the product of your life is mediocrity." How true this is. If you are only willing to give what you get in return, you will be a sheep, not a shepherd; not a leader of any type.

Bottom line: Establish your own high personal standards and stick with them, regardless of anyone else's behaviors.

Stay on the bridge.