Category Archives: Discipline

Mistakes Were Made

Uncle Lou, our March Madness Bracket Master and Chief Referee, sent an email to our group with “Mistakes Were Made” in his subject line.

What a great subject line, especially from our referee!

It let us all know right up front that things aren’t perfect, and it revealed the one thing many of us avoid admitting at all costs:  mistakes.

Mistakes can be the first step toward that other really bad thing in life:  FAILURE!

Mistakes and failures.  Even more powerful in our lives is the fear of making mistakes, and experiencing failures.

Fear is a good thing.  It keeps us alive.  But, it can also stop us from taking action, changing course, making corrections, or dumping one idea in exchange for another (possibly better, but maybe worse) idea.

Imagine if you wrote an email every day, or maybe just once a week with the subject:  Mistakes Were Made.  In this magical email, you’d describe the areas where you made mistakes, describe the failures that had happened that day or that week, and spell out what you learned.

As challenging as writing this email might be, once it’s written, send it to your boss.  And then send it to the people who report to you.

Does this little challenge strike fear in your heart?  That’s natural.  You should do it anyway.  By admitting your mistakes, you’re letting your boss and those who report to you know that you are human.  You are vulnerable.  You don’t have all the answers.

None of us likes to admit to our mistakes or our failures.  But, the act of admission frees us from the fear and other emotional baggage that we often carry when we make mistakes.

Acknowledging our mistakes and failures is the first step toward forgiving ourselves.  Forgiveness lies on the opposite side of our fear.  Its power against fear cannot be underestimated.  A forgiving mindset, especially toward ourselves, opens us up to real learning and improvement.

I remember learning to water ski.  After a while, my brother and I were pretty good skiers.  We could go for miles and miles slaloming, jumping across the wake, and throwing up huge rooster tails without falling.  That was nice, but our dad had a different view.  He used to say that if we weren’t falling, at least occasionally, we weren’t trying to get better.

The trying was always as important (maybe more important) than the result.  Dad wanted us to always be improving, so in his way, he was asking us to welcome the mistakes that led to better performance.

It’s clear that mistakes will happen.  They come with the territory if we’re pushing our limits and getting better.

Embracing our mistakes is much better than fearing them.

 

Photo Credit:  Unsplash, Nathan Shively

Self-Talk

It’s not what you say out of your mouth that determines your life.  It’s what you whisper to yourself that has the most power. –Robert T. Kiyosaki

The first person to give you feedback is yourself…in the form of self-talk.  You have 24/7 access to your internal talk track.  Your messaging is unfiltered and brutally honest.

Does unfiltered and honest mean accurate?  Does it mean valuable?  Not necessarily.

The truth is that no matter how incorrect your self-talk is, or how much you try to ignore it, you are your most trusted advisor.  You have the most power over yourself (for better or worse).

Negative self-talk is easy.  Bad news travels fast, especially when it doesn’t have to travel.

Positive self-talk is harder, and sometimes difficult to believe.  Our positive self-talk can sound a bit crazy, which makes it easier to discount.

Status quo is powered by doubt in our positive self-talk.

The most successful people I know face challenges with self-talk.  They happen to believe their positive self-talk just a little more than the negative.

The negative is right there, trying to hold them back.  Somehow they’ve found a way to focus on the positive, finding ways to push past their wave of doubt.

They’ve usually found kindred spirits who can help strengthen their positive self-talk.  A support network that reinforces their crazy ideas.  The best support network doesn’t fully buy-in to the crazy.  They merely create an environment where it’s okay to explore the crazy.  To bring it out in the open and let it breathe a little.

And, that’s the real secret of self-talk.  We all have negative and positive self-talk rolling around in our heads.  But, if we can allow the positive to get a little breathing room, that’s usually all it takes to win the internal battle against the negative.

Here’s the challenge:  The war between negative and positive is never over.  You have to win it one battle at a time.

Note to Self

Maybe it’s all the close calls, existential threats, newly-invented liabilities, newly-minted regulations, new competitors, old competitors, angry customers, happy customers, former customers, new customers, potential opportunities, new ideas, new methods, better mouse traps, and everything else that comes our way in business (no matter the size).

Maybe it’s the fight-or-flight instinct that gets honed to a fine edge through years of experience.  Knowing when to hold ‘em, and when to fold ‘em…but always allowing room for doubt.  Knowing when the silent customer is more important than the loudest one.  Knowing that the employee you don’t see is just as important as the one you do see.  Knowing we always have a competitor, whether we realize it or not.

Maybe it’s that standard defensive posture that every business assumes at times, even when it knows that only a strong offense will win the day.  Understanding that this isn’t a game we get to win every day.

Maybe it’s just fear of failure, or more likely, fear of success.

Whatever it is that stops me from getting the most enjoyment from this business…now is the time to let it go.

Life is way too short to let the small stuff get in the way.

Here’s my promise to myself:

  • I will go on offense, every day
  • I will acknowledge my fears, but only if it helps create a stronger offense
  • I will focus on the next step forward, and let the past remain there
  • I will create opportunities for those around me
  • I will love and serve
  • I will let go
  • I will enjoy each day as the gift that it is.

I will do these things as a promise to myself, knowing that I’m not the One who is in control.

The Puzzles We Build

 

jigsaw-puzzle_pieces

When was the last time you assembled a puzzle?

Did you do it yourself, or did you have help?

How long did it take to assemble?  Minutes?  Hours?  Days?

In our house, whenever we started a puzzle, it was an “all-hands-on-deck” affair.  We’d all start working it.  Some of us would focus on organizing the pieces to make them visible.  Others would dive right in and start putting pieces together.

I worked the edges.  It’s the only thing that helped me get my bearings on the puzzle.  Start with the flat sides and establish a border…then work into the middle.  Working from the middle, out, was way too random for me.

“Hey, does anyone want some hot chocolate?” always seemed like a good question for me to ask after about a half-hour of diligent work.  With marshmallows.  Without looking up, I’d get some slow yesses and a few grunts.  By the time I came back with the hot chocolate, I was always amazed at the progress.

I’d get back to working the edges.

Each of us had our specialty and our own pace.  Some of us were easily distracted (me).  My wife would stay focused for hours…one piece at a time.

“Hey, who’s up for a break from the puzzle?  Maybe we can hit it again in a couple of hours with fresh eyes.”  I was always a proponent of fresh eyes.

But, then we’d get most of the edges completed.  I’d get my own personal rhythm, and I could start to see the patterns.  The puzzle started to take shape.  First, in my mind and then on the table.  My perspective on the puzzle and my ability to add value to it changed as the image emerged from all the pieces.

I don’t know if my wife and daughters (or anyone else who’d stop by and get sucked into the assembly project) went through the same evolution in their perspective as I did.

Our latest puzzle is a new business (actually, an existing business that we recently purchased).  Once again, our family is building a puzzle together.  This time, it’s not at the dining room table with a clear picture of the final product.  In fact, new pieces are being added to this puzzle all the time.

Once again, we’re each approaching the puzzle in our own way.  Center-out.  Edges-in.

Distractions?  Definitely.

Is an image beginning to emerge?  Yes.

The best (and most challenging) aspect of this puzzle is that it’s never finished.  It grows and evolves.  It occasionally leaves us feeling a bit perplexed.  But, it also takes beautiful shape before our eyes as we continue to build, one piece at a time.

Anyone up for some hot chocolate?  We’re gonna be here a while!

 

 

Microwaves and Slow Cookers

I recently heard someone make reference to their art not being microwaved.  Their art is the kind that comes from a slow-cooker.

An interesting concept.

The food (or drink) that we place in a microwave is already mostly prepared.  We aren’t interested in the process.  We just want it to be hot, and we’ve relied on someone else to handle the actual work of preparation.

With the slow cooker, it’s up to us.  We choose the ingredients.  We do the preparation.  Separately, the ingredients just sit there…waiting to be part of something.  But, blended properly, with the right amount of time and heat (energy), those separate ingredients (hopefully) combine to create something unique and tasty.

The microwave measures its cooking time in 30-second increments.  Hot dogs wrapped in a damp napkin take about a minute.  Popcorn takes three to four minutes.  Organic brown rice from Trader Joe’s takes four minutes.

Slow-cooking time is measured in hours.  Six hours is usually too short.  Eight to ten hours gets it right.

And, what about the accompaniments?  With a microwave cooking cycle, there’s only time to get your plate ready, find a clean fork, and maybe pour a glass of your favorite beverage.  Linear and task-focused.

Slow-cooking provides time for the cook to consider what goes best with the main dish.  What shall we have for dessert?  Would a loaf of fresh French bread go well with this stew?  The fullness of the dining experience is in play.

Neither method is perfect.

Ever burn popcorn in the microwave?  If so, you know how quickly it can happen.  Something so simple becomes a lump of smoking charcoal.

Slow-cooking disasters are equally possible.  Your reward for that ten-hour wait may be something that’s not even edible (at least for anyone who has taste buds).

Both methods have their place.  Both carry risk.

The question is how are you deciding which parts of your life to microwave, and which parts to slow-cook?

A tougher question might be:  Are you making the choice, or allowing someone else to make the choice for you?

There are no self-driving…

Airplanes have auto-pilot.  Cars are getting closer to self-driving.  In fact, I just saw a headline about a police officer pulling over a self-driving Google car (not sure who gets the ticket in that situation).

As Aldous Huxley said in his 1931 book, it’s a brave new world.

Auto-pilot and self-driving systems have one thing in common:  they know where they’re going.  Actually, the systems don’t know.  The operator who is (ostensibly) in control knows the starting point, and the destination.

Real life doesn’t work that way.

There are no self-driving:

Friendships.  We don’t know when a new friendship will start, we surely don’t know where it’s going, and we hope it never ends.  The journey is what makes it so good.  Have you put any of your friendships in self-drive mode?  It’s a conscious decision, even when you act like you didn’t notice.  Here’s the good news.  In most friendships, you can switch out of self-drive mode and restart the journey.  Your only decision is when to flip that switch.

Projects.  We usually know when a project starts, and when it’s supposed to end.  We have plans, resources, and our schedules.  We (should) know what defines success in a project, and what the end result needs to be.  That’s all the ingredients a project needs to switch to auto-pilot.  Right?  Not so fast!  Show me a project that’s out of control, off schedule, costing more than expected, and I’ll show you a project that went on auto-pilot while nobody was looking.

Parenting.  We know when parenting starts, and that’s about it.  Parents understand that every day with their kids is an adventure.  It’s an adventure they hope never ends.  There are days when they’d like to go on auto-pilot, but those are the days when they should be most engaged.

Companies.  It doesn’t matter what size they are, or how long they’ve been around.  If people inside a company start to “mail it in,” stop caring, assume someone else is asking the tough questions, assume someone else is making the hard choices; that’s the beginning of the end.  It may take some time, but the end is baked-in the moment self-drive mode is engaged.  It’s just a question of when, and it’s never pretty when the end arrives.

Marriages.  We certainly know when marriages begin.  Sadly, some marriages have ended, yet the people involved don’t even realize it.  Why?  Self-drive.  One or both have engaged the self-drive button and decided that they’re just along for the ride.  Only together can a married couple steer, accelerate, hit the brakes, seek out new routes, find shortcuts, or just enjoy the scenery.  It takes constant work, endless attention, and unending love to share this most important steering wheel.  There’s no room for self-drive in the front seat of a marriage.

Self-drive may seem easier, but its sole focus is the start and the end.  These are only two points on the journey.

The part in the middle is the real reward.  Engage self-drive and you will miss it.

 

Discuss or Defend?

Discussing involves active listening.  Curiosity.  Openness.  It requires genuine interest in ideas, even if they contradict your own.

Defending involves taking and holding a position.  Looking for openings to argue against another idea.  Preparing your response, while you should be listening.

Discussing takes time.  Discussing requires courtesy, respect, and patience.  Defending, not so much.

Most discussions we see on TV, or hear on the radio, aren’t discussions at all.  They’re exercises in defending.  Questions and answers are metered out in an attempt to defend one position or another.

It’s often the same in a business setting.

The search for alignment, a conclusion, a decision, or an all-out victory often trumps everything else, including a meaningful exchange of ideas.

How often do you defend, instead of discuss?  Be honest.  We’re just discussing here…no need to get all defensive.

What if you went through an entire day without defending?  Think you could do it?

 

Your Employees Don’t Work for You

The following is an excerpt from my book, Leadership Starts (and Ends) in Your Head…the rest is detail.

Chapter 3.  Employees Don’t Work for You

Ask employees to list the things they “work for.” I guarantee managers will not be at the top of that list, if they make the list at all. The following is generally what employees are working for:

  • To earn a paycheck
  • To make a living for myself and/or my family
  • To experience the challenge
  • To grow
  • To have fun with my coworkers
  • To create something bigger than myself
  • To be a part of an organization that shares my values

Ironically, if you ask a lot of managers to describe their organizations, they will often tell you how many people they have working for them. Really? How is it that employees are working for a whole list of things other than managers, yet managers list how many people are working for them? How can this basic premise of the relationship between management and employees be so disconnected?

Is it just semantics to say that employees don’t work for their managers; they report to their managers? Quite the contrary. It’s critical for managers to realize that their employees merely report to them. Employees take direction, seek motivation, look for clarity, look for support, and often look for permission or forgiveness from their managers. But they don’t work for their managers.

Great managers actually work for their employees. The managers’ focus should be creating environments where their employees, and by extension, their businesses can be successful. This means that managers are, first and foremost, service providers to their employees. Managers are responsible for ensuring that any obstacles to great performance are removed from their employees’ paths. These obstacles may come from outside the organization, or, as is often the case, the biggest obstacles will come from within.

What are some obstacles to great performance? It can be as simple as the climate control in the office. It may be too cold or too hot for employees to concentrate on their work. Employees may be struggling to get their jobs done with faulty or worn-out tools. How about the work environment that has an employee who disrupts the rest of the team or isn’t pulling his or her weight? All of these are examples of issues managers need to be aware of. Not only that, managers need to take swift action to eliminate these barriers to performance, in service to their employees.

And that’s just it, if managers are paying attention to the needs of their employees, they will be able to move quickly to help their employees succeed. After all, an employee’s success is the key to the organization’s success, and, in turn, the manager’s success.

 

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© 2014 Bob Dailey.  All rights reserved.

 

 

 

Two Standard Deviations

The following is an excerpt from my new book, Leadership Starts (and Ends) in Your Head…the rest is detail.

Chapter 4.  Maintain Two Standard Deviations

I had lots of statistics classes in college. We learned a ton of formulas for measuring things like economic order quantity, measuring cycle times, and the differences between mean, median, mode, and midrange. We learned how to calculate the probability of certain outcomes and how various outcomes relate, or don’t relate, to each other. These are all great, and each has its place.

One of my operations management classes (which came after finishing the statistics prerequisites) showed us a nice set of measurements and formulas for determining if something is “in control” or not. Funny thing is, I don’t remember the actual formulas, but I definitely remember the lessons.

If you take a series of measurements of something like cycle time (the time it takes to produce a widget, for example), you can plot these measurements on a graph. By calculating the average (which might actually be the mean, midrange, or mode—I can’t remember), you can then derive the standard deviation. If your cycle-time measurements in this example are all within two standard deviations of the average, then your system is, by definition, “in control.”

I’ve probably botched it in terms of the statistics, and that isn’t the important thing here. The key lesson is that everything you do as a manager should be within two standard deviations. The standard-deviation measurement is a metaphor for your behavior, your reactions to good and bad news, your response to competitive threats, and the way you conduct your life in general. By maintaining two standard deviations, people around you can rely upon that aspect of your character. They need to know, and rely upon knowing, that you will be measured in your response, your feedback, and your approach to business issues.

This means that you won’t be the type of manager who storms around the office, yelling at people when bad news arrives. You’re also not the person who runs around whooping it up and hugging everyone when good news comes your way. When a competitor makes a move that potentially damages your organization, you will exercise restraint in your emotional response.

Does this mean you become a robot? I sometimes say that I am a robot in a work setting, but I am joking when I say it. As a manager, you are by no means a robot. You can be happy, sad, angry, afraid, sick, and tired, or any other range of emotions. But you are the one in control of each of these emotions.

The two-standard-deviations rule provides a lot of leeway in your behavior, both positive and negative. You will become a more subtle and thoughtful operator if you keep two standard deviations in mind as you move through your day and your career.

Those who work with you, report to you, and rely on you will appreciate this two-standard-deviations philosophy. Volatility in a work setting stifles creativity. Who will take the risk of being creative when his or her manager is a powder keg, waiting to blow up at the first sign of a mistake? Creativity breeds innovation but also carries the risk of failure. A failure that no employee will risk if his or her manager’s response to failure is to blow up and start yelling.

Such an environment also stops the flow of honest and accurate information. Employees will adjust the flow of information to a volatile manager in an attempt to yield a positive response. The content of the information becomes secondary. The delivery becomes the primary concern for the employee. This leads to information being skewed, manipulated, or shielded from the unreasonable manager. Without an accurate information flow, decisions and strategies will not be as effective, and may be wrong altogether.

Employees take on the style and demeanor of their managers. Not just their direct managers, but all the way up the chain of management to the top of their organizations. While this adoption isn’t 100 percent, obviously, the adoption is quite evident.

A volatile or out-of-control manager will have an employee base that is similarly volatile. An environment that lacks trust will develop. Trust is the bedrock of any team. Without an environment of trust, the multiplying power of the strong team is eliminated. Without trust, working across organizational boundaries is nearly impossible. The organization becomes a group of disconnected islands, often lobbing shells at each other, instead of focusing on delivering results for the organization.

One hundred people who are working separately will never lift a thousand-pound boulder, but one hundred people working together and trusting each other will be able to lift it. Maintaining two standard deviations in your approach to management will lead to honest and accurate flows of information, promote a trusting environment, and leverage the power of a strong team of employees. Harnessing this power is the key to management success and the success of your organization.

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© 2014 Bob Dailey.  All rights reserved.

 

 

The Smartest Person in the Room…

albert_einstein

Isn’t who you think it is.

Isn’t the one who spends most of the meeting talking.

Isn’t the one who thinks everyone will benefit from their wisdom and experience.

Isn’t the one worried about their image as a go-getter.

Isn’t the one trying to answer every question.

Isn’t the one who knows everything.

The smartest person knows they don’t have all the answers.

The smartest person knows they don’t have all the right questions.

The smartest person is constantly learning, and always curious.

The smartest person spends most of their time listening.

The smartest person always surrounds themselves with other smart people.

The smartest person never worries about who gets the credit.

The smartest person in the room doesn’t care who the smartest person is.