No Surprises…the Secret to Managing Up

“I love spontaneity, as long as it’s well-planned.”  –Says nearly everyone in business

Surprises can be great.

We love surprises when they bring unexpected wealth, unexpected fun, or unexpected comfort.

Sadly, surprises aren’t always good news:

  • Surprise! The IRS just sent you an audit letter.
  • Surprise! That small mole on your cheek is melanoma.
  • Surprise! That neighbor you thought was a nice guy is wanted in another state for armed robbery.
  • Surprise! Microsoft just added a feature to their operating system that makes your profitable utility app obsolete.
  • Surprise! Your private financial and credit information was just hacked at Equifax (well, that type of thing shouldn’t really be a surprise nowadays).
  • Surprise! Your most promising employee is leaving your company…to join your competition!
  • Surprise! The executive that “owns” your company’s contract and projects just got fired.

Surprises in business are rarely the good kind.

In fact, a “good” surprise in business can become a nightmare if you’re not prepared.

Think about that sudden and unexpected increase in demand for your service or product.  Great news!  But, now your staff is feeling overworked and things are starting to break under the pressure of all this new business.

How does all of this connect with managing up?

The number one thing your boss, and your boss’s boss (and so on) need from you is to minimize the surprises that come their way.

Does this mean you should keep information away from them?  Of course not!

It means creating an open and thorough communication path between you and your boss.

It means anticipating surprises before they happen.  Preparing for the unexpected, since you can always expect it.  I’ve seen lots of surprises that shouldn’t have been surprises at all.

Your boss needs to know when something is wrong, or about to go wrong.

Your boss needs you to be honest.  Always. Even if you’re the one causing the surprise.

If you, or someone in your organization, make an expensive mistake, your boss needs to know about it.  Now.  More importantly, your boss needs to know how you plan to learn from that mistake, and avoid a similar mistake like this one in the future.

If you see or hear something in the marketplace that can help (or hurt) your organization, your boss needs to hear from you.  Now.

The last thing you want is for your boss to learn about a problem (or a surprise, which may be the same thing) within your organization from someone else.  This does two things:

  1. Lets your boss know that you may not understand that something is going wrong, and
  2. Makes your boss wonder if you’re hiding bad news and if you can be trusted.

When I was a kid, we lived in a small 3-bedroom house.  We had a hallway that got pitch black when all the doors were shut.  Even when your eyes adjusted, there was almost no light to see where you were going.  I always had this (unfounded) fear that I might run into something, hit my head, or crack my shins on some unseen edge.

Your boss might as well be walking in that same dark hallway, whether he or she realizes it.  It’s tough to see what’s coming, and in the real world, that fear of being hit by something in the darkness is often justified.

Many of the lessons we learn from the “school of hard knocks” begin as surprises.

Lesson One:  expect the unexpected.

Lesson Two:  make sure your boss knows what’s coming.

Lesson Three:  don’t ever forget about Lesson Two, and you’ll be doing a great job of “managing up” in the process.

 

 

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

 

The Power of Repetition

We’re each born without skills.

We don’t know how to play the piano, hit a tennis ball, type a letter, program a computer, balance a checkbook, climb a mountain, drive a car, wake surf, back up a semi-trailer, finish concrete, ride a bike, race a motorcycle, fix an engine, pilot an airplane, or just about anything else.

Fortunately, humans are learning machines.  Watch a toddler for even a few minutes and you’ll see an aggressive and insatiable quest to imitate, experiment, test limits, check for patterns, see what works, see what parents allow, and see what happens when they push certain buttons (real and metaphorical).  Amazingly, they’re doing these things before they can walk or talk.

Toddlers also have an almost unending desire to “do it again.”  If throwing the ball once is fun, it’s even more fun to go pick it up and throw it again, and again, and again.

I took a typing class in my freshman year of high school.  There were about fifty students in the class.  Half of the typewriters were electric (the new IBM Selectrics) and the other half was manual typewriters.  Yes, I’m that old.

I started my year on a manual typewriter (we swapped to the Selectrics mid-year).  This meant that at the end of each line, after hearing the ding, I had to reach up and manually return the carriage…and place my fingers back on the correct keys to continue typing.  It also meant that my keystrokes had to be smooth, consistent and well-timed.  Otherwise, the keys would jam on top of each other.

We started with the Home row.  I must have typed ASDFJKL; a thousand times!  Then, we added the G and the H to the home row drill.  ASDFGHJKL;  Again.  Again.  Again.  Ding.  Manual carriage return.

Did I mention that all the keys on the typewriters were blank?  We were learning how to be “touch” typists.  Looking at the keys was not an option.  We had diagrams and workbooks that showed us what each key was, but nothing on the typewriter.

After mastering the Home row, we moved up to the QWERTY row.  The row that gives the standard keyboard its name.  QWERTYUIOP  Again.  Again.  Again.  Again.

Next, the drills included the Home row and the QWERTY row at the same time.  We were typing letters in random order from both rows.  QPJHFDRT Again.  Again.  Again.  Ding.  Manual carriage return.

Finally, we moved to the dreaded bottom row.  ZXCVBNM,.  I hated the Z.  The Z is in an awkward spot.  It requires pinky strength and dexterity in the left hand.  A tall order for a right-hander.  A right-hander who had broken his left pinky a few years earlier (another long story).

Now our drills included all three rows, and all in random order.

Oh yeah, every drill was being timed.  We started and stopped each drill as a class and typed the drills until we heard the ringing of the clock.

The drills got harder, included more randomness, and both upper-, and lower-case letters.  Again.  Again.  Again.

I don’t remember how many weeks we spent on all these drills, but one day our teacher told us we’d be typing actual sentences.  One more thing:  our typing speed would be measured in words-per-minute.

Any mistakes would subtract one word from our score, so accuracy mattered.

How could this be?  We’d never typed sentences before.  We weren’t ready to be tested…on real sentences.  We were just getting good at the drills.  We had practiced proper hand position, proper finger curl, proper posture.  But, this was uncharted territory.

“Ready?  Begin.”

“Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party.”

“The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.”

Why do I remember these two sentences?  They’re classic typing drill sentences.  They each use almost all the letters in the alphabet and require the typist to jump between all the rows.  I typed these two sentences continuously during the day of our first typing test.

I realized I was actually typing!  Not just a drill, but two real sentences.  I was typing them quickly…even on a manual typewriter.

After that first day of testing, we typed many more sentences.  We learned about the structure of various business letter formats.  We typed information into practice forms.  We keyed numbers into columns.  We centered text.  All before spreadsheets or word processors made these simple tasks.

Our teacher provided the drills, the structure, and the discipline.  We drilled, practiced, and drilled again.  And, again.

We were touch typists, using the skills we learned through repetition.  I was having my own “Wax on…wax off,” moment before Karate Kid was a movie.

Fast forward 35 years.  I’m still learning new skills.  Practicing.  Making mistakes.  Sometimes pushing too hard.  Sometimes jamming my keys in the process.  Always looking to improve.

Only with repetition can I learn, improve, and become.

Again.  And, again.

 

Photo by Jason Yu on Unsplash

 

 

Lessons from SpaceTeam!

I’ve never been much of a gamer.  The idea of more computer time at night, after spending an entire work day on a computer has little appeal for me.

Until I saw, or more accurately, heard, SpaceTeam.  My little cousins were gathered in a circle, yelling out commands to each other, swiping their devices, and pushing toward the elusive goal of HYPERSPACE.

Set the Duotronic Capacitor to 2!

They’re all on a malfunctioning spaceship, attempting to escape from a black hole.  The only way they will survive is to work together.

It’s called a collaborative shouting game for phones and tablets.

Commands whiz across each players’ device, but here’s the tricky part:  their fellow players are the only ones who can carry out those commands.  And, there’s a time crunch since the black hole is pulling at the ship the entire time!

Calibrate the Hypersonic Thrusters to 3!

Each player has to see their own commands, yell out those commands for their fellow players to execute, and also be listening to the other players’ commands that they can execute on their device.

Disengage the Warp Transponders!

As I watched them play, I thought the game looked like a fun way to practice reading, and learn about team work…and have some fun.

Then, they asked me to play.

My first thought was, “I’m not much of a gamer.  I probably have something else I should be doing.”  But, when do I get an opportunity to play a game with my cousins (who range in age from 5 to 11 years old)…especially where they’re teaching me how to play.

Remember to remove the slime!

Did I mention the slime?  As the game progresses, minor problems start to impact your device.  The game controls come unhinged and swing on the screen.  Slime oozes across the controls.  The slime can be cleared by swiping it away, but that distracts from reading your commands.  It also distracts from hearing your teammates’ commands and executing them as quickly as possible.

This game is a lot harder than it looks!  Like most things in life, spectating is much easier than playing.

Set the Flux Beam to 2!

Luckily, my team is strong and capable.  While I’m distracted with slime and repairing my control screen, they’re executing commands flawlessly.  I can hear the patience in their voices as they repeat their commands.  A sense of calm hovers over us amidst the yelling of commands.  We just might make it to HYPERSPACE!

Disengage the Tripolimer Conduits!

Do the commands have any rhyme or reason?  Does it really matter?  This is a crisis!  We don’t have time!  Our survival is at stake!

Sci-fi fans will recognize many of the words, but that won’t help you.  Your ability to quiet your mind, focus on your screen, and listen to your teammates will determine your success.  That and your teammates’ ability to do the same thing.

You win as a team and lose as a team.  Sound familiar?

If one player is weaker than the others, it’s up to the team to deal with it by executing what they can as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Deploy the Solar Sail!

Do you work with and trust others to achieve your goals?

Do you find a sense of calm and confidence when relying on your teammates to perform?

Are you dealing with “slime” in your life as you work to achieve your goals?

Are you called upon to deliver results without enough time, even when things are a little chaotic and difficult?

Do you allow yourself to be lifted-up by your team when you fall short of their expectations?

SpaceTeam will give you practice on all of these questions…and it’s lots of fun!

HYPERSPACE!

How’d we do?  I’m pretty sure I was the weak link.  We made it to HYPERSPACE anyway.  It pays to be on a strong team!  We didn’t get to play a second round because the evil Schedule Monster emerged from the shadows to remind us about the event we were attending.

I look forward to playing again!

 

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

 

 

Every Job Has a Suck Ratio (along with everything else)

Nearly every pursuit in life has some portion that sucks.  This is especially true for jobs.

It may be a short “phase” at the beginning caused by your lack of knowledge or experience. “I have no idea what I’m doing, so every day is torture!  I can’t wait until I get the hang of this new job.”

It may be a valuable sacrifice required to fully embrace the benefits of a new opportunity. “The position is exactly what I’m looking for.  The only problem is the 90-minute commute…each way.”

Maybe there’s 1% you don’t like that comes along with 99% you love.  “This company is amazing!  I wish the people I work with would realize it.”

What if the suck is more than 1%?

What if it’s 30% of the experience?  80% of the experience?

The ratio of suck versus awesome determines happiness.  As the suck goes up, happiness goes down.

Humans are more sensitive to the suck than the awesome.  We thrive on the negative.  Bad news travels fastest.  We assume and discount good news, so we don’t put much effort into spreading it…even to ourselves.

Measuring the suck is arbitrary and subjective.  Something that sucked only 1% last week may suck 95% today when that 90-minute commute causes you to miss your daughter’s award ceremony.

Are you considering a job change?  Just thinking about it means you’ve decided that the suck ratio is getting too high in your current job.  So, a new opportunity or a new direction seems like a good idea.

The new opportunities have their own suck, whether you choose to see it or not.  Sure, they have things you appreciate, but it’s easy to overvalue the good stuff and minimize the parts that suck.

It’s human nature to see only the “good” stuff that’s happening over there…and see only the things that suck, happening here.

The grass usually isn’t greener over there (wherever “there” is).  It’s usually just another shade of green that looks greener today.  The suck ratio is in play over there just as much as it is where you’re standing.

Does this mean we should never change jobs or career paths?  Hardly.  But, it’s important to keep some things in mind:

  • Every job has a suck ratio.

 

  • It’ll take a lot longer than you think to get good at your new job. Even longer before you become great at it.  Until then, it’s suck ratio will be higher than you like.

 

  • It’s hard to see the suck from the outside. Suck only shows itself once you’re on the inside when it’s too late.

 

  • Don’t measure the suck every day. Suck measures are only accurate over the long-term.

It’s easy to find something that sucks today if we look hard enough.  It’s just as easy to find something that’s awesome.

The effort we put into the search for suck or awesome dictates the one we find the most.  That’s true for jobs, too.

 

Photo by James Pond on Unsplash

The Joy of Not Being Right

We choose what we say, when we say it, and how we say it.  Each choice has a huge impact on the type of person we become.

Here are some examples and extremes to illustrate (maybe some will sound familiar):

  • “I always say what I’m thinking. I don’t need a filter.  I know I’m right.  I know what’s important.  I know what we should be doing.  If people can’t handle my views, too bad.  They need to toughen up and deal with my honesty.”
  • “I’m worried that my views might offend someone. I don’t do well with conflict.  I like to listen to all sides.  I appreciate everyone’s views and hope they agree with mine.  I’m sure they know more about this than I do.  I wish they’d do this the right way.”
  • “I don’t like it when people come out and ask me, point blank, what I’m thinking about a subject. That puts me on the spot.  It’s not productive to be in such a challenging environment.  I’m not in a position to influence the outcome anyway.”
  • “I need to be less critical of myself. If people could hear what I’m saying to myself about this, they’d be shocked.  I have to filter-out almost everything I’m thinking when I talk, especially at work.  I’d get fired if they knew what I really thought.  I know they won’t listen to my ideas anyway, so why should I speak up?”
  • “Here’s what I’m thinking, but you have to promise not to tell anyone. You’re the only one I trust and those others aren’t to be trusted.  I’ve never liked them.  I usually disagree with them.  They don’t know it, and that’s the way I like it.”
  • “Dude, you have no idea! Jerry is such a mess, he’s got us chasing shiny objects all over the place!  The guy has no clue about what he’s doing.  Why should I help him?  He got himself into this situation, he has to get himself out.  Besides, I knew he’d fail, and this will finally prove it.”
  • “I’ve been thinking this might happen, and now it has. I knew it would.  I hate being right.”

I’ve known each of these people, and truth be told, I’ve probably been some of them at one point or another in my life.

Each “person” assumes that “I’m right on this, and my approach is the right one.”  Not only that, they need to be right and want others to know they’re right (even if they don’t say it).

Why this need to be right?  For some, it’s simply a matter of winning (the argument, the situation, the test of wills, the day, etc.).  For others, it’s a way to calm that internal voice that describes their flaws so accurately.

The theory goes: “If I can be right and have others acknowledge it, maybe that’ll convince my internal voice that I’m not so bad.”  Don’t count on it.

Here’s a challenge:

  • Consciously think about the things you give voice to each day, each week, each year. Think about the amount of time and effort you devote to “being right.”
  • Imagine spending that time focused on doing things that bring true joy instead (like diving into some water).
  • Now that you’ve imagined it, put it into action. Focus on doing those things that bring joy to you and to others.

Being right will find itself whether you worry about it or not.  Enjoy!

 

Photo by Benjamin Voros on Unsplash

 

Looking for Permission

We’re taught at an early age to seek permission.  At the most basic level, permission is a great defense against chaos.  Imagine if every kid did whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted.  For that matter, imagine if every adult did whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted.  Chaos would result.

We seek direct, indirect, and implied permission.  We operate within the bounds of what our cultural traditions permit.  We stay within what the law permits, at least most of the time.

The permission of others surrounds us.  It shelters us from responsibility.

The big challenge comes when we start asking ourselves for permission.  We look for a direction that fits within our comfort zone.  We seek our own okay to try something new.  We can imagine doing the impossible, but the easiest path is to deny ourselves permission to try.

When we can’t get permission from ourselves, we look for it elsewhere.  We ask our friends and family.  We read articles, blog posts, and books.  We listen to podcasts and speeches (TED talks come to mind).  All is an effort to find someone who approves.

We wonder if anyone else is thinking the same things.  What would they do?  How would they handle this?

Permission’s power is immense.  Without permission, our next indicated step is a mystery.  The un-permitted transforms into the impossible before our eyes.  “Hey, nobody else is doing this thing, so it must be a bad idea.  Let’s bail.”

I’ve read many times that each of us is the product of the five or ten people we interact with the most.  If this is true, we’re really the product of what those five or ten closest people permit from us.  We grant each of them the power of their permission, often without realizing it.

What if those five or ten people, out of concern for our safety, or possibly their own comfort, don’t grant us the permission we seek?  What if their collective box of permission is too small for our life’s goals to fit?  Should we find another five or ten people?  Maybe.  But, that’s not the real answer.

The answer lies in realizing that the permission we seek comes from within.

Our ability to visualize the future, and see ourselves within that new reality is the change that’s needed.  Once we find the courage to consider and see that future, permission for growth and new challenges comes naturally.

Will this be easy?  No way!  This requires a commitment to personal responsibility.  You won’t have anyone else to blame, or forgive, when things go wrong.

You’ll be living a life without the foundation of outside permission.  Your internal permission will become that foundation.

The permission we seek from others must build upon our own internal permission, not the other way around.

“It is often easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.” —Grace Hopper

 

Photo Credit:  Unsplash.com, Aziz Acharki

Fishing and Catching–Bruce Kerner Style

Bruce Kerner loved to fish.  He didn’t get to fish often.  He was a sign painter for various studios and was away working on movies a lot.  He and his family vacationed with us many times when I was a kid.  Back then, vacation time meant Big Bend Resort on the Colorado River and day trips to Lake Havasu.

We’d get a cove on the lake and set up our day camp with a shade, lawn chairs, and coolers.  Bruce always had a bunch of fishing gear that we’d bring ashore.

While the rest of us focused on swimming and water skiing, he focused on fishing.  The pursuit.  The exploration.  Deciding which baits to try.  Changing rigs.  Trying new lures.  Moving down the beach to a new location.  Floating out in a rubber raft to cast near the “proper” pile of rocks.

He always had a look of contentment on his face as he stared at that place where the fishing line meets the water.  Constant vigilance, looking for any sign of a bite.  Maintaining soft hands to feel the slightest movement.

It didn’t matter that the fish usually showed little interest in his bait.  For Bruce, fishing was more important than catching.  When he did catch a fish, he was rarely prepared to keep it.  Somehow, his stringer was always left back at the camp.  He knew that as long as we had daylight, he could cast his bait out there another time.

Come to think of it, we fished at night as well.  Down on the dock along the river, after dinner.  A bunch of us would look across at the lights on the Arizona side and cast out.  Our quarry on the river was catfish, and that meant stink-baits and lots of waiting.

Funny thing is we didn’t catch many catfish either.  When we did, we’d get a flashlight out, or flick a Bic lighter, to see what we’d caught.  The stringer?  Usually up at the trailer.  We weren’t prepared to keep anything we caught.

Sitting there in the dark, fishing pole in hand, staring up at the stars, a kid can learn a lot talking with a fisherman like Bruce.  The meaning of patience.  The dignity of discipline.  How the journey is more important than the destination.  How quiet time is a good time.  The way opportunity meets preparation when that fish hits your bait.  How stories about nothing can mean everything when they’re gone.

Bruce was taken away too early from this world by a heart attack, many years ago.  I find him in my thoughts a lot around July 4th.  That was one of the times each year that our families vacationed at the river.

When I think of Bruce, I remember the fishing and the laughter.  I don’t remember the fish we caught.

They weren’t that important.

 

Photo Credit:  Unsplash.com, Andrey Trusov

Baby Steps…

-Don’t look like much at the beginning

-Are difficult to measure

-Take lots of patience

-Require focus

-Won’t bring acclaim (at first)

-Are seldom seen or appreciated

-Are quietly rebellious (which makes them fun)

-Deliver results.

It doesn’t matter if you’re building the world’s longest suspension bridge, assembling a 500-piece puzzle, or rolling out a new digital marketing campaign for your business.

The key to success in any of these endeavors is baby steps.  A relentless pursuit of the smallest possible step in the right direction will yield surprisingly impactful results.

A big challenge with pursuing the smallest steps is the overwhelming desire to provide evidence of progress.  First to someone else, and then to yourself.

Baby steps aren’t impressive when measured individually.  Most people can’t see them.

The power lies in being the one who sees them.  More importantly, when you motivate others to take baby steps with you, their impact will be profound…often before anyone realizes what’s happening.  Multiplication drives organizations, especially when it comes to baby steps.

Just for giggles, look back every now and then.  You might be surprised to see how far those baby steps have taken you.

 

Photo:  Unsplash.com, Emma Frances Logan Barker

Be the reason…

someone goes beyond their limits

someone laughs today

someone has a fond memory they cherish

someone learns something new

someone chooses life

someone believes more deeply

someone cares beyond themselves

someone knows they have unlimited potential

your boss can’t imagine delivering results without you

your employees can’t imagine delivering results without you

both can deliver results without you because you’ve taken the time to ensure they can

each person you encounter remembers your positive energy

your children know right from wrong

your children are independent and productive members of society

someone finds clarity

someone uses their imagination

someone thinks first

someone stops using lame excuses

someone steps outside of their habits

someone enjoys their day

someone smiles

someone is forgiven

the world is more beautiful.

 

Photo Credit:  Unsplash.com, Michal Grosicki

Strategic Rebellion

I’ve had a few chances recently to watch my grandkids coloring.

It was a bit torturous for me, watching as they scribbled around the patterns, with no regard for the lines.  Was that a horse, or maybe a flower?  It didn’t matter to them.  Color selection was random.  A green horse?  Perfect.  Blue?  Even better.

Faced with this onslaught of coloring chaos, what’s the first piece of grandfatherly advice I wanted to give?  You guessed it:  Try staying inside the lines, which would inevitably be followed by advice on color choice and coloring patterns.

Most of us were taught from an early age to color inside the lines, follow the rules, avoid poking the bear, err on the side of caution, measure twice and cut once.

These are all good guidelines…most of the time.

However, I’ve found that a sprinkling of “strategic rebellion” from time to time can be quite useful.  Poke that bear, make a few waves, dare to color outside the lines.  In fact, who needs lines?  Just bring some color and see what happens.

Thankfully, I caught my advice before giving it.  It remained safely in my head.  They have plenty of time to learn about staying inside the lines.  Here’s hoping they also get a nice dose of strategic rebellion along the way.

In the meantime, purple is a perfect color for grass.