Category Archives: Uncategorized

What “commodity” do you value most?

As leaders we have a number of responsibilities and a variety of demands calling for our attention.  In addition, we all have good intentions of getting everything done.  For many of us, it means that our “to do” list is never empty.  Thus, we all have to prioritize and make choices that are going to impact our day, our well being, those around us, and even how we view our success.

How many of us have attended those time management classes, or bought self-help books that promise a 4-hour work week, or get more done in less time, or you can do it all.  Deep down we know that this is not possible. We try multitasking, balancing, delegating, etc.  But, what it comes down to is a basic value statement – what do you value most?  What commodity in your life – time, money, patience, etc. is highest on your list?

We get busy and caught up in the activity of life.  We go from one task to the next.  It seems that our priority is to get things checked off the list.  There are situations where at the end of the day – you may have checked a dozen things off of your “to do” list but you still feel that you did not get anything done.  This is a symptom of focusing on the activity rather than the accomplishment. You have focused on the wrong measurement or gauge to assess your day.  While what you did may have been important or had to get done – it may not have progressed you toward your goals.  

For me – the activity of life was not fulfilling.  I was not growing as a person or a professional.  Yes, it appeared that I was successful and happy.  But, I was spending the most precious of commodities on the wrong thing.  I wasn’t focused on the reasons for my behavior – I was focused on getting things done – thus, not getting the right things done.

Each of us has to ask the question of ourselves and truly be honest – why do you work? Yes, there is the needs part – I have to pay the bills, I have to have a place to live, etc.  But, there is that other part – I have chosen this profession because – I want to make a contribution to ……. Or, I want to be able to …… Or, I want my family to be able to……..  In many cases, we get so caught up in the day-to-day burdens of the job, or what Society says we should be doing – that we don’t have time to make that contribution, or do what fills in the blank.

To me – time is that precious commodity.  It can’t be saved for a rainy day.  It can’t be borrowed against. It can’t be retrieved when it has past.  We have to use it wisely.  We have to choose how we apply it. We have to make sure we are focused on the “right” things.  “First things first” as Covey says.  We need to reflect and get out of the rut of thinking that activity is success and focus on the why of the activity – not just checking it off the list.

So, carefully use some of that precious sand in the hour glass each day to reflect and prioritize.  Close off the rest of the demands for 5 minutes and truly take that time to focus on what is important to you.  Then, set up your to do list – you might find that it gets shorter, and is less activity based.  You may also find that in the end – you achieved more.

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Accountability

I just read a short blog about holding yourself accountable.  While it was directed to PR professionals, it is not just PR professionals that face an accountability challenge.  Each and every one of us do – and even if we hold ourselves accountable in one area of our lives – we tend to not do the same in other areas.  Thus, we really need to look at how we got to this point and what can we do to get us out of our current state of lack of accountability.

Blame/Excuses – How many times have you heard this statement “It was not my fault because……”  When we were kids – the imps from Family Circus were to blame for everything “Not me” or “I don’t know.”  We had a set of standard excuses, I couldn’t do this or that because there wasn’t enough time, the teacher did not show me how to do that, they didn’t remind me that the paper was due on Friday, etc.  Today, we can add – the internet was down or there was no reception at this location. 

We have become a society of “it is not my fault.” Or, I am not responsible.  Hooey – someone has to take responsibility.  OK, so the internet was down last night – why did you wait until the last minute to open up the computer to do the assignment or submit the application?  Yes, there are some things beyond our control – the plane was diverted to Helena, Montana when you were going to Denver, Colorado.  But, most of the time the root cause of our problem or failure is because of something we didn’t do or waited to late to do.  We need to think about the “what if’s” and plan ahead better.

We tend to rely on someone else.  It is not your boss’ responsibility to remind you of the deadline for submitting that report to the government is on Tuesday. It is not your boss’ fault that they have told you for two weeks that will be gone on a two week vacation on Monday – and you did not get the signature of approval on the report before they left.  Yes, sometimes it is the boss’ fault when the report sits on their desk for a week, but did you remind them?

Your crisis may not be the most important.  Don’t get angry when the boss or the instructor says too bad when the report is late.  They may have other priorities.  You need to plan ahead.  Recall, your failure does not necessarily create a crisis on my part – I have responsibilities as well.

As individuals – self doubt, worry, and being your own worst critic – become hindrances to productivity.  There is a saying that sometimes we let perfection get in the way of the good or excellent.  Time is an extremely valuable resource.  We don’t have infinite time to get something accomplished.  Yes, we need to turn out good work.  We need to edit, polish, and refine.  But, we shouldn’t hold up others or the project just because you can’t decide whether or not ebony or black is the perfect word for the sentence.

As a society – we have allowed this lack of accountability.  Instructors have accepted late homework.  Clubs and organizations have accepted applications past the deadline.  And, the government continually moves the deadlines to suit their needs.  As individuals, we need to show some leadership and stop sliding down the slippery slope.  Exceptions should be rare and not expected.  Currently, they seem to be the norm.  We need to hold the line on deadlines.  Hold ourselves and our colleagues accountable.  We need to have accountability partners.  We need to maintain the same accountability in all areas of our lives.

The Calm before the Storm

Merry Christmas!

During the next 12 days – most of us will be relaxing with family and friends; finishing up those few last minute tasks and doing a bit of clean-up up before January hits with full force.

If your business life is controlled by government regulations – you know that January is typically filled with a host of deadlines and government reporting.  If you are in finance – there are the calendar year reports, W-2s, 1099 Forms, and various quarterly/annual filings.  If you are in environmental – the list is very long.  Safety – there are injury and working hour statistics.  So you know that come January 2 – your “work” life doesn’t slowly come back – it is like hitting the accelerator pedal and it seems to get stuck.

So as leaders – we have to prepare to handle this avalanche of information, reports, tasks, and new year demands  – while at the same time help our colleagues, co-workers, subordinates, and families adjust.  What can we do?

You will find a host of articles discussing the usual – stress busting, get some quality sleep, break down the tasks into smaller action items, etc.  Everything you have heard before.  Some you have already built into your normal routines.  So you are thinking it is time for something different.  (Remember the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over while expecting a different outcome.)

So here are some thoughts that might set you on a different track and increase productivity while helping you balance all of the demands:

1) Ditch the massive daily “to do” list – focus on accomplishing three to four key tasks per day.  I keep a master “to do” list with due dates and sub-tasks.  This master list is reviewed and  updated frequently.  But, my daily “to do” list is written out each evening as I close my day – with only three or four key items.  The makes you set priorities and allows time for interruptions.  It helps to focus. Nothing is more frustrating than not being able to accomplish anything on a daily basis – and your “to do” list just seems to grow.  The shorter more focused list – allows you to make progress.

2) Take time for personal growth – even if it is only taking the time to read an inspirational quote.  Even this brief moment provides a bit of a recharge – particularly when you are stressed.  I have found that some quotes or messages seem to come at just the instant you need them.

3) Working longer does not necessarily accomplish anything.  While sometimes this cannot be avoided – you need to be aware that breaks are necessary.  When you are tired, stressed, etc. errors increase and you may find that you have increased your work load rather than improving your situation.  Take breaks or do a different task that  does not require the same mental effort.  For example:  you may do some of that filing or clearing of emails at the end of the day – rather than reviewing the production numbers.

4) Don’t try to implement all your new resolutions at once.  Work on one new habit at a time.  This allows the habit to take shape and mature.  Once it is a habit, it works for you and you can reap the benefits.

When you walk into the office on that day after your holiday vacation take a deep breath, focus and set off to have a wonderful 2014.

How do you handle …..?

As leaders, mentors, and sponsors; we are all faced with difficult situations.  Sometimes they are situations you are prepared and trained for like an accident, bomb threat, or process upset.  There are other situations where you aren’t or can’t even imagine how you could be prepared.  Examples of these catastrophic situations are the tsunami in Japan, the major typhoon in the Philippine’s. The emergency plans only went so far in these examples.  However for each of us, sometimes the unthinkable happens on a smaller scale – your boss is arrested for drug dealing or something worse, a colleague falsifies data which you have relied on for your grant or project proposal, your salesman promises that the production plant will meet the quality specification that will require violation of permit conditions, etc.

We all have a blind spot where we think that none of this can ever happen to me.  Yet, everyday there is the chance that this can happen to you.  In my personal history my greatest fear was being on the six o’clock news with an environmental incident.  Luckily for me, I had been planning for such an event, i.e. how would I handle the worst thing that could happen? Recently, this same type of thinking was presented in an anecdote by Canadian Astronaut Chris Hatfield.

Chris Hatfield was working with some individuals when they learned that Elton John was coming to their area.  They decided that they could use his fame as a International Space Station commander to meet Elton John.  He related this story – what was the worst thing that could happen?  Elton John would met them and learn that he plays guitar and had played David Bowie’s song “Space Oddity” on the space station, and would ask him to come up on stage and play something with him.  The likely candidate song would be “Rocket Man”.  So, he went home and learned the song.  Ultimately, he was prepared when just such a scenario played out.

While most of us would never think of Chris Hatfield’s situation as the worst thing that could happen, it does illustrate how we as leaders can prepare.  In my case, I had media training, and knew what I would be up against both internally within the company and externally with the reporters and the regulatory agencies.  No I did not have a specific plan ahead of time, but I knew how to buy those precious minutes that allowed us to pull a team together and develop a plan.

It is how we have prepared, even if it is not for the specific event, and how we “act” that defines us as leaders.  I have put act in quotes because there are many situations where we may have the best plans, and training but fail to act that gets us into trouble.  This is generally referred to as analysis paralysis or there are so many contingency plans – we don’t know which one to use.

So, these are my personal tips for preparing for the worst:

1) Define your worst.  What is the worst thing that can happen?  Some things are not under your control, but do you have an action plan for your worst?  You might also ask you what is keeping you awake at night?  This may help you define your worst.

2) What resources are at your disposal if the worst should happen?  If your worst is that your house may burn down in a wildfire – where would you go?  Who would you contact?  What insurance is in place? How would you communicate with family?  The list could go on.  From a professional level, what would you do if your company went bankrupt? What is your plan B?

3) What training do you have that you can utilize if the worst should happen?  In my case, it was media training.  In someone else’s, it may be logistics or counseling.  If you don’t have the skills currently, you might consider working on them or making sure that you have someone or some reference that you can access in the event of  worst happening.

4) What is your moral compass?  Let’s look at the worst being someone has falsified data or made a false reporting to a regulatory agency or maybe you are being asked to do something you feel is unethical or dishonest.  What are you going to do?  How are you going to balance the request with your personal values.  From my personal history, I found it to be quite liberating when I knew that I could find employment somewhere else if needed, e.g. I might be laid off, or I was fired.  I knew that I had a Plan B and could implement it.  Granted – I may have to make some significant changes in my lifestyle but I knew I would be alright.  Each individual has to assess this situation personally and discuss it with your life partner if necessary, but you need to know where your line is drawn.

5) Know your support system.  This is different than the resource item above as this relates to you as a leader.  No matter which path you take during that situation; someone is likely to second guess or point out your errors.  Even if history evaluates it as the most “perfect” of ways to respond, there will always be the advantage of hindsight and having more information than you had at the time.  You will have to act based on the information that you have at that point in time and based on your best analysis of the situation.  Because of this, there is and will be an emotional toll on you as a leader.  You will need to have someone to discuss your feelings, and be a sounding board.  You will need this personal support.

As we deal with events sometimes difficult and sometimes catastrophic, each of us has to make what we feel are the right decisions at the time.  Mistakes are likely to be made and hopefully there will be an opportunity to address those mistakes or that the mistakes don’t make the situation worse.  We have to assess and act based upon that assessment.  And, we have to evaluate our personal skills as well as those around us.  These five tips are not a “silver bullet” but they can help you to prepare and build up your personal emergency  response kit .

Leadership and Life Lessons in the most unlikely places

A posting that I read today reminded me of unusual places where I have learned life lessons.  Over time I have had some interesting “mentors” in the form of the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, the Who’s from Horton hears a Who, Ursula from the Little Mermaid, Wylie E. Coyote, and I could continue.

Think about it – you probably have floating around in your head little snippets of sage advice from a movie, a meme, cartoon, a little kid, or a sign in the grocery store.  These little snippets at times are more profound than volumes of Leadership or Self-Help books.  Another good read about life lessons is from Robert Fulghum – “All I ever needed to know I learned in kindergarten.”

The posting today was about a broken iPhone that helped the author think about being prepared not only for the next iPhone – but for her career.  I have found over time – that if we are willing to look at the humor of a situation or even just step back and consider the overall lesson – one can find great insight.

For example:  in my own personal life there have been serendipitous events that have resulted in finding the proper direction – i.e. the choice between engineering and fundamental science.  Chance meetings where ideas are planted and opportunities to share expand beyond initial comprehension. Real life demonstrations of flexibility and balance during presentations (the time when my children rearranged my slides on a talk about work/life balance).

I am sure that each person can point to events where looking back the event was simple – but the result profound.  The spark of insight helped to develop the course of your life.  These events need to be celebrated and recognized.

Today’s Leadership Insights

As previously mentioned, finding your own personal leadership style requires some self-discovery.  Julie Bawden Davis – posted a blog a couple of days ago titled “What the best leaders know about themselves.” https://www.openforum.com/articles/what-the-best-leaders-understand-about-themselves/?extlink=of-syndication-sb-p

In this blog – she captures some of the fundamental questions that you need to know about yourself.  The interesting thing is – while these things are something that impact our actions – we may not have formally articulated them in our own minds, or in words – be it oral or written in a journal. 

If a friend or interviewer were to ask you – “What energizes you about your work?” – Could you immediately come up with an articulate coherent answer?  Do you have your elevator speech ready for this one?  

If you wrote the answer down today – would it change as you thought about it over the next week?  I would suggest that you try it and see what happens.  Of course as we grow and hit different stages of life – there will be some modification to how we answer each of these questions – but fundamentally there is a sense of what drives you personally.  How you approach the world – your fundamental self.

We need to nurture and understand that fundamental self.  We need to feed it.  We need to allow it to grow and expand.  We need to know what hurts or kills it.  This type of exercise helps you focus on those things. 

Leadership is Dynamic and Takes Practice

Each day – we need a little pep talk.  Whether we just say to ourselves – here is the plan for the day.  Or we read a motivational quote, or read a short article.  We need that bit of refresher.  One of my leadership courses – called it recharging.  But, everyone needs a bit of focus on nurturing our inner voice.

Here are a couple of quick pep talks for today!

http://www.scottcochrane.com/index.php/2013/10/21/how-leaders-know-when-to-be-an-optimist-realist-or-pessimist/

https://www.openforum.com/articles/boston-red-sox-john-farrell-business-leadership/?extlink=of-syndication-sb-p

http://leadchangegroup.com/lessons-learned-from-messy-leadership/