Category Archives: Listening

Always Better

We’re taught at an early age to do our best.  That we should strive to be the best.

Being the best is a great accomplishment.

Best student.  Best musician.  Best cook.  Best athlete.  Best employee.  Best boss.  Best entrepreneur.  Best leader.  Best parent.  Best friend.

There are at least three problems with best:

  1. Best is often a subjective comparison to the subset that’s around you. There’s a phrase, “big fish in a small pond,” that represents this well.  You’re the best runner in your school.  But, when it comes time to run against another school, your best isn’t good enough.  You finish second in the race.  Every time the subset gets larger, best gets redefined.
  1. Best is a fleeting moment in time. You might be the best today, but what about tomorrow?  Next week?  Next year?
  1. The value of best goes down quickly. Does it matter to your 48-year-old self that you were the best student (however that was measured) back in high school?  Sure, it’s a proud accomplishment from your past, but does it really impact your life 30 years later?

I propose an alternative to being the best:  being always better.

Consider the challenge and reward of always better:

  • No matter what measuring stick you use, if the goal is to always be better than yesterday, the challenge is clear, and the improvement is measurable.
  • There’s no place to hide when the goal is always better. No excuses for not improving, even just a little bit, from yesterday, last year, ten years ago.
  • Always better pits you against your past self. The subset never changes.  It’s you.
  • If the definition of success is to always be better than before, you get to celebrate success every day that you improve.

What if you don’t improve today?  That’s okay, we all have setbacks.  Setbacks remind us not to take our improvements for granted.  We get to see how great it is to come back to where we were, and then take another step toward our better self after that.

Seeking better every day yields a compounding effect that far surpasses the value of merely being best for one day.

Ask these questions of yourself:

  • What am I doing to improve today?
  • Am I focused on learning from my mistakes, or imagining a new way, and charting an improved course today?
  • Do I realize that each day is an opportunity to be better than yesterday?
  • Am I willing to challenge my own status quo, my comfort zone, today?
  • Am I a better student, musician, cook, athlete, employee, boss, entrepreneur, leader, parent, friend, or whatever else you find most important, than I was yesterday? If not, why not?

Ironically, if you work on always being better, there’s a good chance you’ll become the best.  But you won’t care, because the reward you seek comes from the never-ending quest to be always better.

God gave us all weaknesses.  It’s a blessing to find out what they are so we get a chance to turn them into our strengths.

Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash

 

Yahtzee Lessons

I was probably seven when Grandma Anne taught me to play Yahtzee.  I’d spend the night at her house with my cousin, Devin, and invariably, we’d be at her kitchen table, playing Yahtzee all afternoon.

It’s a simple game…on the surface.

Each player gets thirteen turns to complete their score card.

The top section of the score card consists of numbers 1 thru 6.  You need to roll three ones, three twos, three threes, etc. to get your “minimums.”  You could also roll four fives (or four of anything), which comes in handy if you were only able to roll two threes on a previous turn.  The idea on the top section is to score at least 63 total points, so you can get the 35-point bonus.

Yahtzee! scores 50 points.  That’s when you get all five dice to be the same during your turn.  Some players focus solely on getting Yahtzee at the expense of everything else.  The theory being that 50 points is huge, and if you get a second Yahtzee that one’s worth 100.  Of course, the odds of getting a Yahtzee are against you, but the payoff is big when it happens.

Grandma was always clear that while a Yahtzee is nice, the most consistent winning strategy is to get your bonus on the top section.  Rely on those 35 points as your foundation.  A Yahtzee, or a big four-of-a-kind on the bottom section of the score card would be icing on the cake.

Relying on the foundational 35 and less on the Yahtzee probably explains many of the best decisions I’ve made in life.

Each turn, you roll five dice to start.  You get two more rolls in your turn.  Depending on what the dice show after your first roll, you may not need to take those additional rolls.  Life is good when you roll a complete large straight or a Yahtzee on your first roll!

The bottom section of the score card has three-of-a-kind, four-of-a-kind, full house, small straight, large straight, Yahtzee! and Chance.

Chance comes into play when you’re rolling for something that doesn’t happen.  Like, you already have your small straight, and now you’re rolling to complete a large straight.  Unfortunately, that last number doesn’t come up.  You count-up the total of all the dice and enter that number into Chance.

Chance is a lot like a mulligan in golf.  A do-over.  In this case, you get to capture some points even though the rolls failed to produce.  They say there are no do-over’s in life, but I disagree.  There are plenty of second chances, if you’re willing to ask for forgiveness (mostly from yourself), learn from your mistake(s) (hopefully), and try again.

How often do three sixes come up in a roll?  How likely is it that you’ll be able to roll that one specific number you need to complete your straight or full house?  When you’ve used up your Chance spot, and your rolls have led to nothing, which slot are you willing to sacrifice to end this turn?  Odds and decisions.

Yahtzee seems like a game of chance.  It’s much more.  It’s a game of decisions and imperfect trade-offs.

After a while, we graduated to playing Triple Yahtzee, which entails playing three games simultaneously.  You get 39 turns.  One column is worth triple points, one is double points, and the last column is regular points.

The decisions and trade-offs from the “Single Yahtzee” game are in play, but now you want to maximize the point values in your triple column and consider sacrificing some of the slots in the regular column.

Don’t be fooled.  Mastering Triple Yahtzee isn’t just triple the challenge.  As in real life, something that should be only triple the challenge is often exponentially more challenging than it first appears.

What is the answer to all this exponential chaos?  Methodical effort and focused strategy.  The priorities and the strategy are defined.  The decisions that follow from these priorities become clear.  Maybe even simple.

There’s a certain genius in showing a seven-year-old the game of Yahtzee.  They haven’t fully formed their approach to decision making.  Success, failure, decisions, and sacrifices are in play with every turn.  Excellent practice for the real thing.

Yahtzee illustrates how something completely random and driven by chance can be managed within a solid set of priorities and strategies.

I didn’t just get to learn about rolling dice, counting numbers, and making decisions.  Grandma gave me the gift of lasting memories that I cherish to this day, playing Yahtzee at her kitchen table.

Now that I have six (!) grandkids of my own, I can’t wait to teach them the game of Yahtzee…and then, Triple Yahtzee!

Photo by Lea Böhm on Unsplash

 

 

The Interview—7 topic areas to include every time you conduct an interview

Your success is all about “the people.”  More specifically, your company’s success comes down to the employees you can attract, hire, train, grow, encourage, motivate, challenge, and retain.  In most service-based companies, 95% of the company’s assets go home every night.

Employees make all that customer stuff possible with the skills and work they bring to your company.

A huge step in the “people” process is The Interview.

I call that meeting you’re having with a potential job candidate a recruiting interview.  Why?  Consider what’s happening.  You’re attempting to recruit them to your company, and they’re attempting to recruit you into the belief that they’re the one you should select.

I’ve seen countless articles about ways to “ace an interview,” or “answer all the interview questions correctly,” or “how to control the interview process” from a candidate’s point of view.  To be fair, I’ve also seen a bunch of articles about ways for the interviewer to “put the candidate on defense with curve-ball questions,” or “ways to get the candidate to tell you about their true selves,” or “how to use the secret questions Google (or Apple, or any other successful company) uses in their interviews.”

The reality is that there aren’t any secrets to creating a perfect interview.  Each interview is as unique as the human beings involved.  Having said that, I always try to get the following questions or topics into each recruiting interview I conduct (not necessarily in this order):

  • I’ve seen your written resume.  Can you take a couple minutes and give me your verbal version?  Also, tell me how you found us, and why you’re here today.  I like this line of questions at the beginning because it gives the candidate open-ended questions to talk about their favorite subject (themselves).  It also lets me see what they prioritize or emphasize.  The answers to these questions usually lead to a series of follow-ups and propel the conversation in a way that most candidates find comfortable.

 

  • What do you know about our company and the position we’re trying to fill?  This one lets me know if they’ve done any research on my company.  At a minimum, have they looked at my company’s website for a few minutes?  They can also tell me about people they know who either work for my company or people who have told them about my company.  Do they have a sense of what makes this company special?  Do they know the company’s position in the marketplace?  What is their view of the company’s reputation?

 

  • Tell me about the training you received in your past positions.  How did your training process go?  What did you learn?  This line of questions gets to how “trainable” someone is.  It doesn’t matter if this is a 20-year veteran or someone who’s just out of high school or college.  Getting them to talk about how they learned their craft, obtained their skills, hone their knowledge, their favorite classes, who taught them, etc., provides a window into their trainability.  It’s also good in the interview to mention how important trainability is to you.  You like a person who knows they don’t know everything (since none of us do), and who has the humility to know it’s okay to ask for help.  This person will have to learn how to be successful within your company, regardless of their technical skill set.  The trainability factor is critical in evaluating a candidate’s fit for your company.

 

  • This position works independently.  You won’t have a manager or supervisor (or me) telling you what to do throughout the day.  Tell me about how you’ve worked independently in your past positions.  Do you consider yourself to be a self-starter?  Are you someone who takes the initiative and runs with it?  Tell me about a time when you took the initiative and delivered beyond the expectations of your managers.  This line of questioning is obvious, and often people answer these questions with what they think you want to hear.  It’s important to be thorough in this section of the interview and ask for examples.  How do they anticipate taking the initiative, or being creative, within your company?  It doesn’t matter that they don’t know anything about your environment.  Ask anyway.  See how they respond.  You’re looking to see how engaged and creative this person will be in your environment.

 

  • The “goals” questions…  These are so commonplace that they’re almost cliché.  But, they’re worth asking:  What are your goals with this position you’re applying for?  What do you think is an ideal role for you in a year, two years, five years?  How do you see this company fitting into your personal goals over the next 5 years?  I’m interested in their personal goals, the vision they have of their future, and what they see as their future self.  How does my company fit with their view of the future?

 

  • Do you have any hobbies?  What are you most passionate about?  What do you do when you’re not working?  Often when the person tells me their hobby, I ask them how they got into that hobby, how long they’ve been doing it, what do they like about it…all focused on learning more about this person and what motivates them.  If I happen to know anything about their hobby, I ask some specifics.  If they say that they like to watch movies or read books, I ask them what they saw most recently or the last book they read.  I want to see how they think on their feet, and again, what interests them the most…plus, I’m curious about them as a person.

 

  • I haven’t mentioned it yet, but I also spend time describing the company, its history, why I love it here, the position we’re trying to fill, the reasons the position we’re filling is difficult but rewarding, why it takes a special person to fill the role, and how important the role is within the company.  I want the candidate to know what our company thinks is important, the values we have, and the culture we’re trying to create.  The way a person fits into our specific company culture will be critical to their success.  They may be the best fit technically for a job, but not fit in with the culture…a recipe for failure.

 

  • Wait, I thought there were only seven topics! True, but there’s one more thing to mention:  the technical abilities of this candidate.  The topics listed above will touch on the candidate’s technical skills (whether in accounting, programming, deep tissue massage, customer service, call center operations, marketing, ad copywriting, concrete finishing, auto mechanics, or any other skillsets you’re trying to hire).  But, none of them directly test or assess a candidate’s actual skills.  It turns out that it’s almost impossible to assess a candidate’s actual skills in an interview setting.  Some companies require candidates to take a technical test, but that’s not a common practice.  Beyond a technical test, you have their resume, the stories they’ve told you, your assessment of how they might fit within your organization, and then a leap of faith that they have the skills they’re representing.  Not ideal, but that’s where your ability to assess and improve their performance (once they’re hired) enters the picture (and that’s a topic for another day).

Will these topics ensure a perfect interview?  No.  In fact, you may not get to cover one or more of these topics in the interview (which is a warning sign).

Will these topics guarantee you’ll always choose the perfect candidate?  Again, no.

But, if you cover all these topics, your batting average will increase dramatically, and you might even hit the occasional home run.

 

It’s your turn:  What other topics do you include in your interviews?  Let me know in the comments section below.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

 

 

Advice for College Graduates

It’s graduation season.  An exciting time!  For the college graduate, this is an especially challenging time (whether the graduate realizes it or not).  With other graduations that led up to this one (kindergarten, sixth grade, eighth grade, even twelfth grade), there wasn’t much of an expectation placed on the graduate to have things figured out.

Those prior graduations were mostly about celebrating the achievement and passing a milestone on the way to adulthood.

College graduation is different.  The college graduate is supposed to know “what they’ll be doing with their life,” or “where they’re going after graduation.”  The real world is out there waiting for them to take it by the horns and wrestle it to the ground!

Everyone assumes that since the college graduate spent most of their life getting an education, now’s the time when they should be ready to leap into the next stage of their life.  Ready to go forth and conquer…following their dream and delivering on all that potential they’ve been gathering.

Listen to almost any commencement speech (there are some excellent ones on YouTube).  The speeches often contain solid advice, encouragement, and usually a bit of a life story of the person giving the speech.

I’ve never delivered a commencement speech.  I’m not sure how I’d approach such a talk, or what personal stories I’d tell.  But, I know that my commencement speech would, at a minimum, cover this short list of items:

Life doesn’t come with an answer key.

The answer key is the Holy Grail of any textbook.  Put simply, it contains all the answers.  It can quickly tell us if we’re right or wrong.  Of course, life doesn’t come with an answer key.  In fact, many of the toughest problems you’ll face don’t have specific right or wrong answers.

To make it even more challenging, something that’s right for one person or situation is wrong for another.

How will you know when you’re right?  You won’t get that luxury very often in life.  But, I’ve found that when I narrow my focus on a problem or question down to its impact solely on me, I usually make the wrong choice.  When I consider how the outcome of a problem or question will impact the people I love, the people I work with, and the people that rely on me, I usually make far better decisions.

Nobody will tell you if this or that will be on the exam.

This is sort of related to number one.  The reality is that there are very few final exams in life, and nobody will tell you what’s on the exam.  It’s up to you to determine what’s most important, not only to yourself but to your audience.  In this case, your audience is anyone that matters to you.  This could be a boss, a loved one, a work associate, or all of the above at the same time.

The project, assignment, or paper that’s due at the end of the semester doesn’t exist in the real world.

Sure, there will be deadlines, but the semester doesn’t end. Even if you’re working on a project at work, the work doesn’t end when you turn in that project.  That project is probably part of an even larger project or set of projects that are all part of some larger strategy.

The project isn’t the goal, even when it’s consuming all your time and attention.  Understanding how this project fits into the overall mission is what matters.  When you learn to think about the bigger-picture goals, while focusing on the specifics of the project at hand, you’ll leap ahead of most people.

But, what if your work doesn’t seem to be part of anything larger.  Maybe it isn’t, but that still doesn’t mean that it ends when you turn it in.  Chances are that the work you’ve completed will take on a life of its own, and you’ll get to see that happen.  You’ll also be called to defend it, especially when things go wrong.  And, if you stay around long enough, you may be the person who works to replace the result of your prior work with a new and improved version.

To be successful, you must be willing to seek out the best solutions to problems and new challenges, even when those new solutions make something you did in the past obsolete.

Get used to the concept of constructive destruction, because it’s with you all the time.  There’s a quote about the caterpillar thinking everything was over just before turning into a butterfly.  For the butterfly to emerge, the caterpillar must cease to exist.  In fact, the caterpillar works its entire life to fulfill the goal of destroying itself so it can become the butterfly.

When you create something or become part of something that’s successful, always be on the lookout for ways to improve upon that success.  Celebrate the success, but never be satisfied.  Always look for ways to tear down what you’ve built to make room for a new way of achieving that success.  Trust me, if you’re not looking for, and embracing new possibilities, your competition will.

Life doesn’t divide itself into perfectly scheduled segments like school does.

This isn’t entirely true.  Life has years, and each year has four quarters.  When each year ends, you’ll be asked to look back (if only briefly) and tell Uncle Sam about how you did, financially.  And, Uncle Sam will want to share in whatever you did in the prior year.

Most companies, whether privately- or publicly-held (or governmental agencies) operate on an annual financial reporting calendar.  They look at their performance monthly, quarterly, and annually.  This cycle will become a constant for you in almost any line of work.  It’s a cycle that will have even greater importance to you as your level of responsibility within an organization grows.

What did you do this year?  How does that compare to last year?  How does this quarter compare to the same quarter last year?  What are you expecting to happen in the next quarter, the next year?

Ironically, one thing most people are missing when they graduate is a working knowledge of how income taxes, property taxes, Social Security taxes, Medicare taxes, and the IRS operate.

Always think of your accounting systems (whether personal or business) as a conversation between you and the IRS.  Be prepared for a conversation with an IRS auditor, always maintain copious records of your financial activities, and take an active role in planning your financial strategies with their tax implications in mind.  The day may never come where you’re asked to defend yourself in an audit, but if you’re purposely and actively preparing for that day, it won’t be a problem.

This reminds me to mention that as smart as you are, you will need some expert advisors in your lifetime.  Examples are CPA’s, financial planners, insurance agents, and attorneys.  Don’t be afraid of these folks.  In fact, seek them out as early in your life as possible.  They will help you understand a complex web of rules and strategies that are best to learn when you’re young.  Don’t wait twenty years to find these people.  By then, you’ve probably caused a bunch of financial damage for yourself without even knowing it.  On all things financial, start early, be consistent, and understand that you aren’t as smart as you think you are when it comes to finance.  None of us are.

Mentors matter more than money. 

Hopefully, by now you’ve had at least one teacher, coach, or professor who you can call a mentor.  They pushed you farther than you thought you could go.  They asked all the tough questions…and then they took the time to listen to you and challenge some of the nonsense you gave as your answers.

I can’t over-emphasize the importance of mentors in your life.  Find them, listen to them, and let them elevate you beyond anything you can imagine.

One thing most of us need is a little more humility, and openness to new ideas.  A good mentor is great for tearing down the barriers we erect around ourselves to shield us from our humility.

Mentors tell you what just happened in that meeting where you thought everything went great, but the opposite is true.

They tell you the “why” when you’re only thinking about the “what” of a situation.

Building lasting relationships is more important than money.

This is a cousin to the one about mentors.  Friends and loved ones bring beauty to our lives.  If you’re presented with a set of career options that force you to sacrifice your friends and loved ones along the way, find new options.  It’s as simple as that.

I’ve heard that if you have a friend for 10 years, they become a family member to you on a subconscious level.  I buy this theory, wholeheartedly.

Lasting relationships are built.  They take time.  They take effort.  They take patience.  They require you to care about someone else at least as much as you care about yourself.

By the way, it’s much easier to get a job when you’re referred or recommended by a friend.  It’s also an awesome feeling to know that you helped one of your friends find a rewarding career.

Okay, we’re running out of time, so here are some rapid-fire things to remember (in no particular order):

  • The popular kids aren’t always the ones with the answers or the ones having the best time. Seek out the quiet ones, the ones who spend their time listening more than speaking.

 

  • Be sure to attend as many weddings as possible. As a college graduate, you’ll get your fill of weddings for the next 5-7 years.  Enjoy them.  Let the positive vibes energize you.

 

  • Listening is the key to your success. Always be ready to listen.  You’ll find a lot more correct answers in your life when you listen.

 

  • Resist the temptation to panic. It’s easy to become overwhelmed or perceive yourself as being overwhelmed, and then to panic. Panic is a fight-or-flight mechanism and usually doesn’t have any use in our daily lives. This may sound easy to you now, but you’ll face more than your share of “panic-worthy” moments in your life.  Don’t panic!

 

  • If you’ve made a bad decision, make another decision and undo the bad one. Don’t just live with your bad decision. This also sounds easy, but this is a tricky one.  Things like pride, sunk costs, and pride (yep, it deserves to be repeated) will get in your way (if you allow them).

 

  • Don’t waste time second-guessing your choices. “Wait!?” you’re saying.  “What about the one above that talks about having the courage to change a bad decision?”  You’ll make lots of decisions that aren’t bad, and still, you’ll be tempted to second-guess them.  The challenge with most decisions is that the other alternative has its attraction.  This means you may be tempted to look back and let your mind imagine how things could be if only you’d chosen that other good alternative.  This is a fool’s errand.  It’s a form of self-torture and most of us are experts at it.

 

  • You are the most powerful enemy you’ll ever face. You know all the right buttons to push.  You know all your weaknesses, all your fears.  You know how to discredit your strengths.  You have the most unfair advantage against yourself of anyone.  That’s what makes you such a powerful enemy.

 

Last but not least.  Your life is a journey, not a destination.  If my daughters are reading this, I bet they’re rolling their eyes because they heard this a lot when they were kids.  It’s so simple that it’s become a cliché.

Understand that with each finish line you cross (and you’ve just crossed a big one by graduating from college), there’s an infinite number of new starting lines waiting for you.  I don’t mention this to overwhelm you, but as a reminder that your journey is continuous and it’s where you’ll find the most happiness.

Find joy in each day…even the hard days when everything seems to be going against you.  Enjoy the mundane chores of life.  Embrace the quiet but don’t be afraid to make lots of noise.  After all, shouldn’t this journey we’re on be filled with fun?

Enjoy the small pleasures that come from being present in the moment, present for the people you love, and aware of just how fortunate you are to be alive each and every day.

 

Photo by Vasily Koloda on Unsplash

 

 

 

The Freedom of Humiliation

Consider how much time and energy we devote to avoiding humiliation.  We’re taught early in life to strive for being right.  Quickly understanding, and then knowing the answer…especially to the questions that’ll be on the test.

Think back to your first job, your second job, in fact, every job you’ve ever had.  How was your first day?  What about your first month?  How comfortable were you?  What type of impression did you want to make on your new boss?  Your new co-workers?

I bet your main goal was to avoid screwing up, learn what it takes to be successful, and by all means, don’t embarrass yourself.

It’s the same in just about any new environment.  Meet a new group of people and one of the first things in your mind is how to present the best image of yourself to this group.  Don’t let them see your flaws, your fears, your anxieties.  Don’t let them know you’re completely uncomfortable.  For now, your goal is to fit in, get to know who’s who in the group and, don’t embarrass yourself.

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”   ― Rick Warren

What if you approached all these situations and nearly every other in your life without fear of humiliation or embarrassment.  In fact, imagine if you sought situations where humiliation was a distinct possibility.

What if you approached that new software tool, or the new sales program with the confidence of knowing that you’ll be learning something new…rather than worrying about arguments against them, or how they’ll push you out of your comfort zone?

We usually think of humiliation in its negative context, since we’ve allowed it to matter.  But, humiliation is closely related to humility, and humility is the first step toward real learning.

Once you approach a subject with the humility of a beginner, regardless of your tenure or experience, only then will you be fully prepared to learn.

The humble learner doesn’t allow themselves or their ego to come between new ideas and their pre-conceived notions of the truth.  They allow these new ideas to penetrate the veneer of pride and self-righteousness where many of us hide.  Then, they can truly assess and make a judgment about the new ideas.

Too often, we don’t even allow the new idea to enter.  We’re too busy coming up with reasons that our own ideas are correct, the only direction, the only way.  The new idea is like a foreign invader to be repelled at the gate.

A new and potentially rewarding relationship is placed behind a well-crafted wall of pride and imagery that hides our fears of humiliation or of letting this new person visit the deepest parts of ourselves.

All these walls and anxieties have their root in our fear of humiliation.  We can’t face the risk of being wrong, of being weak, of being vulnerable.  We are right, and our focus is on ensuring we reinforce this “fact” to anyone or anything we encounter…especially to ourselves.

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”   ― Ernest Hemingway    

The freedom of humiliation is a freedom to be open:  to new ideas, new people, new directions, new beliefs, and even new perceptions of truth.  When we’re free from the fear of humiliation, we don’t have to defend ourselves from new situations.  We turn the threat of the new into an opportunity.

This doesn’t mean giving up on our definitions of right and wrong, our definitions of how to live a virtuous life or our core beliefs.

It means dropping that wall of protection we place around ourselves and our ideas and allowing them to roam freely and interact with others.

“A true genius admits that he/she knows nothing.”  ― Albert Einstein

 

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

 

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

 

 

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

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