Category Archives: Excellence

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

Advice to My 25-Year-Old Self

I regularly listen to the Tim Ferriss Podcast.  In fact, it’s the only podcast I listen to.

A question he asks nearly every guest is:

What advice would you give to your 25-year-old self (or whatever age is about half your current age)? 

For me, that was late-1992.  I’d been married for four years.  We had a two-year-old daughter, and our newest daughter had just arrived.  We’d purchased our first home in 1990 (at the high-point in the market before a 5-year down cycle).  I was about two years into my first management job, working in the healthcare industry.

Here are 10 things I’d like my 25-year-old self to know (in no particular order):

  1. Don’t change a thing! You’re about to be blessed with 25 years of awesomeness.  You may not realize it while it’s happening, but trust me, it’s going to be amazing!  You will face triumph and tragedy, hardship and happiness.  Take lots of photos and videos so you can remember just how small your kids were and the things they used to say.  You’ll get a kick out of the photos of yourself when you actually had hair and it wasn’t all gray.
  1. Take time to write about the things you’re experiencing, what you’re thinking about, and what’s motivating you. These things will probably change as you get older and you might appreciate seeing where your thinking started compared to where it is in 25 years.
  1. Be sure that you include the words, “Have Fun” in as many of your mission statements and plans as possible. These words are easy to forget while focusing on the day-to-day dramas that you will inevitably let drive your life.
  1. Seek out mentors, and be a mentor to others. Find ways to serve others while never thinking of how you’ll be “paid back.”  You’ll do a pretty good job at this, but it’ll take you many years to get started, and those are years you’ll never get back.
  1. It’s okay to ask for help or admit that you don’t know everything. “Knowing everything” and getting the highest score in all your classes may have brought you straight A’s, but trust me when I tell you that you don’t know nearly as much as you think you do.  You never will.  Here’s a corollary:  when you think you’ve thought about every angle of a problem, or come up with every contingency in considering a new strategy or idea, you haven’t.  The only way you’ll ever approach a full understanding of a new strategy or idea is to get lots of other people involved.  Have the patience and humility to do this on a regular basis.
  1. You are surrounded by the love of God. You need to take the time I didn’t take at your age to realize it.  The signs of His love are all around you.  Stop and listen.  Stop and look.  Just stop.  What are you running from?  It’s going to take you another 20-plus years to realize this unless you follow my advice today.
  1. When you look at starting that new home automation business (it’s a long story), remember that the most important question in any business, especially small businesses, is who is your customer and how will they find you? The next most important question is why should this elusive customer come to you for your service or product?  Until you can answer these questions, you’re wasting time (and money) on everything else.
  1. Realize that just about everything takes longer than planned. As you make progress in your career, initiatives that you think should take 3-6 months to complete will actually take years to fully bear fruit.  Practice looking at things on a longer horizon.
  1. Read more fiction, especially science fiction. It’s a great way to declutter your mind.  Of course, books come on paper in your time and we have these new devices that make reading so convenient.  Don’t let that deter you.
  1. I recently heard this, and it’s something you should consider…you can always go back to the museum. What do I mean?  Most people go to places like museums, theme parks, other states, or other countries only once.  At least, that’s their plan.  With that in mind, they try to cram everything into their “one and only” visit.  Their visit becomes a long checklist of things to do and things to see.  Instead, approach your visits with a plan to return again someday.  Focus on the few and leave the rest for your next visit.  Be present and let go of the checklist.

Bonus advice:  You’ll have trouble with that patience and humility thing, but embracing these will be your key to happiness.  There is no checklist.  Life isn’t a race.  Life isn’t a destination.  It’s a journey and an infinite opportunity for experience.

Realize that you aren’t the one holding the compass and you’ll find more joy than you ever thought possible.

 

Photo Credit:  Unsplash.com, Justin Tietsworth

Starting Line Quiet

“On your marks!”

“Get set!”

Most starters wait about 1.4 seconds after the “Get set” command to fire the start gun.

The silence freezes us in time.  We listen for the first hint of sound from the gun.  Breath relaxed but held.  The faint sound of a heartbeat in our ears.

We visualize our next move even as that second moves slowly in the distance.

Everything has led to this moment.  Everything is this moment.  All the training.  All the drills.  The intervals.  The stretching.  My coach’s advice.  All my doubts.  All my hopes.

What will the next second bring?  Will I exit the blocks cleanly?  Will I stay within myself to the finish line?  Will I run my own race?  Am I good enough?  Can I dominate?

I love starting lines.  A quiet eternity of 1.4 seconds plays out for all to see.

You can learn a lot about yourself in 1.4 seconds.  What you say to yourself is critical.  Are you asking questions or making declarations?

Imagine asking what the next second will bring and giving yourself nothing but answers.  I will exit the blocks cleanly.  I will stay within myself to the finish line.  This is MY race to win.  I’m definitely good enough, in fact, I’m amazing!  I will dominate!

It’s okay to question yourself as the race approaches.  Questions prioritize preparation.

When it’s time to deliver, time to start your race, time to show what you’ve got…that’s when the questions must exit your mind.

Questions at the starting line raise doubt and inspire needless fear.

The gun fires!

Go run your race.

 

Photo Credit–Unsplash.com, Braden Collum—why this photo?

I looked for photos of a bunch of sprinters in the “set” stance.  I found a few, but none grabbed me.  This one gets to the heart of the matter.  It’s just you in the blocks, alone with your thoughts.  I also focused on the baton.  Although we run alone, most great things are created by a team.  We must be prepared to make a smooth hand-off when the time comes.

 

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

Getting on the Next Pole

I sat in front of a pole vault coach on a recent plane ride. Overhearing his discussions brought back memories of my vaulting in high school.

I had no idea I’d become a pole vaulter when I went to the first track practice in my sophomore year.  The coach told us to go run a green (running around all the grass in the school, maybe a mile) as a warm-up.  I didn’t know anyone on the team as I started my warm-up run.  Suddenly, a group of guys ran up behind me and asked what my event was.  I said that I didn’t know, but I was a pretty fast runner so I figured I’d do one of the running events.  Looking back now, I really had no idea.

Immediately their response was, “You should be a pole vaulter.  It’s the best event out here!”

My response, “I’ve never vaulted before,” was met with an even quicker response of, “No problem, we can teach you…it’s easier than it looks.”

So, by the time we got back from running the green, I was a vaulter.  When the coach called my name and asked what event I was trying out for, I said, “Pole vault,” like it was my plan all along.

Fast forward a year or so.  I was stuck at 11 feet for the longest time.  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t clear 11’ 6”.  We were blessed to have a pole vault coach, and he recommended I move to a pole that was a foot longer and rated for a bit heavier vaulter than my actual weight.

Moving up to the next pole is quite an adjustment.  It feels completely different.  Everything is off from what you’re used to.  The run-up needs to be adjusted to accommodate the additional height of the pole.  Plus, you have no idea how the pole will respond on your first jump.  In a worst-case scenario, your step may be off, the plant goes poorly, the launch is compromised, and the pole might spit you back, instead of taking you into the air.  For a high school kid, that’s a lot to consider.

In practice, I never actually took any jumps with the new pole.  I merely worked on adjusting my run-up to get the plant right.  As our next meet, against Warren High School, approached we decided to bring both my old pole and the new, longer and stiffer pole.  I remember the bus ride to Warren, wondering if I’d have the nerve to jump with the new pole in competition.

Warren had the “new” rubberized track and runways (standard nowadays).  The rubber runways added bounce and speed to my approach.  This was the perfect time for me to get on the new pole.

My coach’s advice was to block out any negative thoughts (always good advice, by the way), focus on a smooth approach, and nail the plant.  He said that if I relied on my technique, the rest would take care of itself, and I’d have no problem making my first jump.

My warmups were over and I still hadn’t actually vaulted with the new pole.  The plan was for me to take my first attempt on the new pole, and if it didn’t go well, then use the old standby pole to clear a height.

My opening height was usually 10 feet, just to establish an opening.  We decided to pass to 11 feet since our competition was good and we might need to win with fewer attempts.  Pole vault competitions are won by the vaulter who goes the highest with the fewest number of total attempts on the day.

I passed at 10, and then 10′ 6″.  Other vaulters cleared their opening heights.  My tension mounted as 11 feet came up.  He gave me the sign to pass that height as well!  So, I did.

Finally, at 11’6″ I took my attempt.  My heart pounded in my ears.  I didn’t hear anything else, except for my deep breath as I readied for takeoff.  My run up felt great.  I focused on hitting my plant perfectly and blocked everything else out.

The plant was perfect and I felt a sensation I’d never felt when vaulting. There was a noticeable pause in the takeoff and then a sudden lunge straight skyward.

As I twisted at the top of my vault I saw the crossbar whiz by and still I was climbing.  I had skied over the crossbar by at least two feet!  Everything slowed down and I reveled in amazement that I was higher than I’d ever been before.  I caught myself celebrating in my mind before realizing that I needed to let go of the pole and prepare for my landing.

I fell backward toward the pads in slow motion.  All I saw was that crossbar sitting there, motionless, as I cleared my opening height with a pole I’d never used before that day.

The cheers from my fellow vaulters (my team and the Warren vaulters) and my coach were deafening. The height I cleared wasn’t high (even by 1983 standards).  But, everyone knew that I’d just catapulted (literally) to the next level in my vaulting career.

“You flew that vault!  You could have easily cleared 12’6″ or even 13′!” my coach yelled as he patted me on both shoulders.

We decided to pass at the next two heights and come back in again at 12’6″.  Another height I’d never cleared in my life.

On only my second vault of the day and my second vault on the new pole, I easily cleared 12’6″.  My new personal record.

I don’t remember what place I finished that day.  I think we swept the top three spots in the vault and collected all the points from that event for our team.

It didn’t matter to me at the time.  Overcoming my fears, leaping to a new level, delivering for my team, and creating a new launch pad for future improvement was more important to me than my place in that day’s standings.

We are being formed throughout our lives, whether we realize it or not.  We face opportunities for failure every day.  Opportunities to let fear win, for status quo to take the day.

Overcoming the mental terrorism that only we can inflict on ourselves is the key to finding that new level.  The new levels are there, waiting for us to arrive.

Once we arrive, we can choose to stay or leap to the next level.

Wishing Well

fyh2fbjcnpq-brandi-redd

What’s the first thing you think of when you see a stranger?

How about your competition?

Or, the jerk that just cut you off in his Porsche?

What’s your default setting when it comes to others?

How critical are you?

How many stories have you made up about that stranger—stories that only you hear—based on nothing more than appearance?

It’s easy to be critical.  It’s easy to look for the worst, and even easier to find it.  Defaulting to fear and distrust is the safest play.

What if you defaulted to wishing others well?  Even strangers?

What if the stories you tell in your head give that stranger the benefit of the doubt?

What if you looked for the best, instead of the worst?

What if you had no opinion about that guy who just cut you off?

What would happen if you helped your competitor improve?

Starting with a mindset of wishing well, looking to give instead of take, understanding rather than responding, reveals our best self.

Our best self hides behind walls of criticism, doubt, distrust, fear, and ill will.

Take away its hiding places and get to know your best self…default to wishing well.

 

Photo Credit:  Unsplash–Brandi Redd

Anyone But Me

  • unsplash-benjamin-child“Who wants to start?”
  • “Any volunteers?”
  • “We need to think outside the box.  Do you have any ideas we can pursue?”
  • “Who’s gonna drive innovation for our company?”
  • “Did you see what they just did?  Who’s heading up our response?”
  • “I’m sure glad he’s running with that project.  I wouldn’t get anywhere near that thing!”
  • “Who’s next?”
  • “You’re kidding me!  She’s leading our brainstorming session?”
  • “I sure hope they figure this thing out.  We need answers and we need them fast!”
  • “I can’t believe we’re doing this.  Who came up with this idea?”
  • “They’re idiots to think this will matter.”

It’s easy to hide.  Easy to complain.  Easy to snipe from a distance.

It’s easiest to let someone else.

The hard thing is stepping up.

Volunteering.

Risking failure.

Taking charge.

Risking embarrassment.

Choosing to lead.

Risking success.

Turning “anyone but me” into “why not me” is the first step…and the hardest one of all.

 

 

Photo Credit:  Unsplash–Benjamin Child

Service…It’s Everyone’s Advantage

service-unsplash-mike-wilson

Take a good look at that picture.  Let it burn onto your consciousness.

As the world becomes smaller, and yet, more remote; as customers become closer, and yet, more distant; as you begin to blend in with everyone else…

Service is all you have to actually differentiate yourself.

When anyone can provide what you provide, do what you do, be what you want to be, your focus on service is all that matters.

How does an individual compete against a huge, well-entrenched company?  By providing better service.  Being more responsive, more flexible, and more personally accountable.

How does a huge, well-entrenched company compete against the scrappy upstart individual?  By providing better service.  Being more responsive, more flexible, and more personally accountable.

Sound familiar?

Who has the advantage in this battle to provide the best service?

The one that actually lives a service-first mindset.  The one that considers the customer’s perspective before their own.  The one that delivers excellent service…every time.  The one who knows that no company can survive or thrive if it forgets about creating an excellent experience for their customer.

Customers always have an alternative.  If your organization isn’t committed to making their experience an excellent one, they’ll figure it out quickly and choose an alternative.  It’s that simple.

It all comes down to execution, which comes from your uncompromising mindset toward service excellence.

Service is your only advantage.  It’s the same advantage everyone else has if they choose to execute on it.

 

Photo Credit:  Unsplash.com—Mike Wilson

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.

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.