Friday, July 31, 2009

Who Do You Wanna Be?

“What we truly and earnestly aspire to be, that in some sense we are.” Anna Jameson (English writer, early-mid 1800s)

Yesterday I presented “Why Do People Act Crazy at Work?” in Fayetteville. At the break one of the participants came up and asked me a question about conflict; specifically, how do you deal with someone who does something in the workplace that makes you angry.

When I explained that anger is only one letter (d) away from danger she said that she sometimes saw angry people “saying or doing something that was out of character.”

I drove home thinking about Anna Jameson’s quote. So often we aspire to be more than we have been when, unfortunately, we encounter obstacles that stunt our growth or lead us into, as the woman today mentioned, saying or doing something that is out of character.

Those situations are like any other obstacles in life. They are bumps (granted, sometimes big bumps) that are meant to be overcome.

As Anna Jameson pointed out; we already have the better self in us if we are the types of people who aspire to be better. In order to bring that better self out we must reaffirm the aspiration to be bigger, better, smarter, kinder, gentler…whatever, and then learn from the bump and move on.

Here’s another quote that fits. It’s from Thomas Huxley, another Englishman from around Jameson’s time, “The rung of a ladder was never meant to rest upon, but only to hold a man’s foot long enough to enable him to put the other somewhat higher.”

We only become the better selves to which we aspire by continuing to climb.

Enough with the quotes and the English. I’m gone to Myrtle Beach. Have a big weekend!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Overboard Strategy

Last night I was watching the ‘80s movie, Overboard, with Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn. A funny, silly movie and what a great couple on and off the screen.

I started to wonder what it would be like to experience Goldie Hawn’s character’s predicament. If you remember, she was a spoiled, rich girl who fell overboard off a yacht and awoke with amnesia. Kurt Russell is a down on his luck handyman with three kids who convinces Hawn that she is married to him.

What if you knew everything you know except for who you are? You could remember that brown shoes don’t go with a black suit, or that the Tar Heels are the greatest team…that…Ok, maybe in your mind that doesn’t happen, but you get my drift. However, you couldn’t remember a thing about your name, where you came from, your family…none of that?

What if you could make up who you are, starting right now? What would be different? Why not do that? Why not act as if you are who you want to be? In fact, that is what many psychologists and positive thought experts will tell you is the secret of success. To “Act as if.”

Try acting as if you are who you want to be; who you think you should be…for one hour. See how it feels. See how it makes you feel.

Why not try it today?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Climber or Surfer?

I have a beautiful, deep red rose on my desk in a plastic cup with water in it. The petals are starting to fold back and create the perfect, brilliant shape we associate with a rose.

I was marveling at the fact that the rose doesn’t seem to work at its beauty, it just is. I certainly understand that it took thousands of years to evolve to the point that it looks like it does, but I also know that in a generation or so man has cultivated this type of plant to look like we want it to look. But, it just doesn't seem to work at it.

The rose helps me understand that there are two ways to look at life: You work at it, or you don’t.

If you work at it life can be a constant struggle, or race, or climb, or whatever metaphor you want to use. Working at it means setting goals, planning and plotting, and celebrating small wins until, hopefully, you get the big win. If you do, great. If you don’t, it’s time to create more goals.

If you don’t work at it it means you kinda take what comes to you and ride the wave. The essence of this philosophy is learning to want/love what you have.

In fact, those two metaphors might be the best ways to think about life: you are either climbing a mountain or riding a wave. Both ways require balance, stamina, and the ability to find joy in the accomplishment and deal with loss.

Each philosophy seems to work, they just don’t work for everyone.

I’ll be the first to admit that most lives are a combination. But, just as some people are right-handed and others left-handed; and some people yell when happy while others simply smile, everyone has a dominant style.

Are you a climber or a surfer? Knowing which works for you can be a big help in your pursuit of happiness...and The Perfect Workday.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Are You Burned Out?

At least once a day I’ll hear someone talk about being “burned out” or I’ll see a story in the news using the phrase.

Here’s what I think: You have to at least flame up before you can burn out.

Most of the people who talk about being burned out never even started to simmer. Their problem is….they are bored.

Ok, Ok, I can hear some of you saying right now, “But, I’m worn out. The business situation is such that I’m doing my job and I’ve taken on the responsibilities of someone the organization let go. I can’t do any more.”

Gotcha.

However, I immediately start wondering how much more effectively the person might work by being better at time management, making better decisions in the workplace, not procrastinating; just doing a better job at doing the job.

Also, lots of folks who talk about being burned out are just flat out bored. There are three types of stress: Distress (what we usually talk about when we discuss stress), Eustress (the stress we feel about good things…Christmas is stressful), and Hypostress (you’ve probably never heard of this…it’s the stress we feel because we are bored).

Most people in the workplace are smart folks. They learn the essentials of the job within about 18 months, if not sooner. And then they keep doing the same thing over and over. That sort of worklife is a Hypostress breeding ground; it's a killer.

So, if you think you are burned out, have your feet even started heating up?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Do Better Next Time, Sir!

Have been dizzy lately and my blood pressure is elevated. I’m supposed to take some blood pressure medicine on a regular basis and am not supposed to stop taking it abruptly, but I did. Lost the medicine on a trip and was not diligent about replacing it.

The situation is one of those that continues to remind me of the connectedness of life. One thing leads to another, and another, and then a consequence appears that you didn’t count on.

In our workdays, and in our lives, we can’t imagine every outcome. Trying to do that would mean spending our lives trying to imagine outcomes instead of creating outcomes which is the objective of the game of life.

But, ignoring simple efforts that don’t take much time (or energy, or ego, or money) and would prevent a seriously negative outcome is just dumb. I should have ordered new meds when the original ones did not show up. Now, I’m headed to the doctor to check on the dizziness and blood pressure.

In situations like this you can’t keep hammering yourself with woulda, shoulda, coulda. All you can say is what my friends in the military say, “Do better next time, sir!” And do it.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Signs to Success

I've started posting signs in my house. Not everywhere, just in critical, "high visibility" locations. Places like the refrigerator door (no fat jokes!!), bathroom mirror, bedside table...places like that.

Times have been a little stressed and fast-paced and when that happens it's easy to blow by something that was important that you SHOULD have gotten done, but it just got missed in all the hullabulloo (that was kinda fun, I've never had the chance to write hullabulloo in anything).

Later, when life slows down a little the signs won't be needed.

The use of signs or notes or whatever works for you is especially important during times of change. One woman told me that she forgot to pick up her daughter at school during a time when the mother was a caregiver. So, something as simple as a sign on the dash of the car that said, "Mary/School" could work.

Trying to have a Perfect Workday may mean making changes. Give yourself some simple signs that point to success. The reminders will keep you on the right track, lower your stress level, and provide others with guidance.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Why Not?

Just finished reading A History of the World In Six Glasses, by Tom Standadge. A GREAT summer read! It’s a “hey, listen to this” book; every few pages you lean over to the person sitting next to you and say, “Hey, listen to this.”

The book’s premise is that six drinks have created much of the world we know: beer, wine, distilled spirits, coffee, tea, and Coca Cola. I’m not going to go into all the connections between history and the drinks; if you want to know all that get the book.

However, the key point I took away was an affirmation of an issue that, the older I get, the more important it seems….the interconnectedness of so many issues in life. When people started drinking more beer and wine they became healthier because the alcohol in the drink killed many of the germs in the water they had available. Same thing happened when water for coffee and tea was boiled. Healthier people are better workers, raise healthier children, and create more lasting societies. See the connections?

Nothing happens in a vacuum. One thing happens, and it affects another issue which reaches out to a range of issues.

In order to see the connections in your day and life start asking the question, “Why?” more often. And, start reaching back with the “Why?” question. Psychologists talk about The 5 Whys. You can use The 5 Whys to understand almost any life action.

For example: Lots of folks come to my programs about how to start a small business. I ask them, “Why do you want to start a small business?” Answer: To make more money. Question: Why do you need to make more money? Answer: Because I run out before the end of the month. Question: Why do you run out of money? Answer: Because I’m not careful about what I spend it on. Question: Why aren’t you careful? Answer: Because I don’t have a budget (or, I’ve always been a spendthrift: or, because I’m trying to keep up with everyone else). Question: Why no budget? Answer: No one ever showed me how.

See how it works?

Try The 5 Whys on a sticky life problem and see where you get.

Why not?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Back Room

Did some rearranging and ended up with a lot of stuff in a back room. At your house this could be a spare room, a basement, an attic, or a closet.

The great thing about a back room is that you can close the door and you don’t see the stuff. The rest of the house looks great!

The bad part is that you start forgetting what is in the back room. And later, when you really need something, you either do without, go buy another one (which, as you later discover, you didn’t need so that’s wasted resources), or suffer because you needed the thing and didn’t remember you had one.

Sooner or later you have to go through the back room. You either do it like most people (OK! Time to clean out the back room!), or you do it in a structured way (OK! The back room is not a junk room, it’s a storage area. So, we have to at least walk back there on a regular basis and look around in order to remember what we have.)

I know folks who, in order to have a Perfect Workday, throw stuff in a drawer or box or closet so they have a neat workplace. But, there’s a difference between neat and organized. “Neat” means things look in place. “Organized” means that things are in place and you can find what you need.

What’s your back room? Is it a tangible place, such as a room in your house? Or, is it a room in your mind where you throw the things you don't want to think about? Disorganization, inside or outside, slows us down.

Ok, now where is that book I was looking for?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Travelin' Man

Today was a day for putting in miles. Only a few things to do but there were a lot of miles between each thing. So, it was a matter of sitting, driving, thinking, listening to music and more sitting and driving.

Sometimes, in order to get where we want to go, we have to get...where...we...want...to...go. The journey requires patience and both focus and distraction.

We have to stay focused on the goal or, at least, the task. But, sometimes the time and miles is so great that we have to distract ourselves so we don't go nuts during the time it takes to get there.

But, now I'm here. And that's value of the day.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Biscuits, Mac and Cheese, and Being You

I had lunch yesterday at Time Out in Chapel Hill. Time Out is a 24-hour restaurant that is open 365 days a year and serves what most Southerners would eat at grandma's house. Their mac and cheese is out of this world and they have collards, green beans, corn, mashed potatoes, barbecue chicken, barbecue pork, square biscuits, and cornbread...24 hours a day.

I love it.

They don't serve breakfast foods unless you want to eat what I listed above for breakfast. They don't serve pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers, sushi, hummus, baklava, or anything other than what I listed above. They know who they are and are successful with that.

In Tribes, the wonderful book about leadership by Seth Godin, he talks about being who you are and knowing that the folks who follow you care about the values you represent. You can only be who you are. If you try to be someone else folks will find out about it sooner or later. Or, worse, the stress you feel trying to be someone else will surface in some area of your life.

Take the time to define what your Perfect Day might be; and what your Perfect Workday might be. And then do everything you can to make that happen. The initial effects might not be pleasant but if you will keep pushing you will find that situations often align themselves so that you get what you desire.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Serving Time

Bernie Madoff (as in, Bernie "made off" with billions) just started serving his 150-year sentence at the federal prison in Butner, NC. Michael Vick is on the front page of USA Today. His sentence is almost up and his future is unclear.

There are times in life in which, if we are going to get where we want to go, we have to serve time. We have to go through experiences we don't want to go through, but the "going through" is necessary to get where we want or need to go.

I have a young friend who is smart, ambitious, and very talented. But, he doesn't want to go through some of the tough times he needs to experience to get where he believes he wants to be. He thinks he's going through those times now simply because the now is tougher than the past. But, he doesn't want to set deadlines or do work he believes is beneath him, and he refuses to believe that there may be another way to reach his goal other than his way. He's young and, as I said, he smart, so he'll learn and I believe he'll get there.

Getting to a Perfect Workday may mean serving time to learn new skills, create new habits, or simply work through a difficult relationship until you come out the other side in the new day you hoped for.

Understanding the realities, though, doesn't make serving time easier.

Uh, oh. Gotta go. It's exercise time in Cellblock 3.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Chewing Through the Restraints

Recently saw an anonymous quote: "Somedays just aren't worth chewing through the leather restraints."

We all have restraints in our lives: social, legal, emotional, simple habits. If you are trying to live a life that is anything more than a daily slog to the mines you are going to buck up against the restraints. And I'll have to agree with the quote....sometimes.

But, most days are worth chewing through the restraint. You might not like what you find, but at least you are trying (I mean, hey, it takes some doing to chew through leather).

One of the lessons you might learn is that some of the restraints are there for a reason. And it's a reason you didn't understand until you chewed through it. The difficult part is that leather tastes terrible; but maybe there's a reason for that.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Did You Skin Your Knee Today?

One of the first things we learn as children is that friction creates heat. We can't articulate the concept but we know that when we quickly slide a bare foot on a wooden or cement floor our foot burns..at worst we end up with a "strawberry" or injury that bleeds.

Engineers try to design devices so that movement creates as little friction as possible. Friction creates wear and heat that causes deterioration and breakdown.

It's not a bad idea to look at your workday every once in awhile and ask, "Where's the friction?" Is it caused by people, processes, decisions and/or habits? In our workdays friction causes stress and stress slows us down. If we can lessen or alleviate the friction our workday goes more smoothly.

Now, let's be honest (and here's a novel concept) everyone wants a stress-free, path-of-least-resistance day...and life. It's only natural. And it's true that none of us have those things...except for dead people.

But, if you can identify stress over which you have some control, and you can do something about it, your life gets better.

So, what stress can you lessen to make for a smoother ride?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Who Loves Ya, Baby!

There’s a big difference between talking about caring about employees and actually doing it.

I spent this weekend at a conference for North Carolina’s Farm Bureau Insurance and saw firsthand a range of examples of managers and leaders who care about the people who make the company work. One new father told me about the company president driving two hours to see the employee’s new baby. That doesn’t happen in a lot of companies.

I watched top company management interacting with employees at a dinner/dance and saw genuine interest and affection. While those emotions shouldn’t be rare, they are. Here’s a comment from one attendee; “They (top management) told us that people wouldn’t lose their jobs. That we might have to do more work and they wouldn’t immediately fill positions if people left or retired, but that they wouldn’t lay anyone off. So far they’ve kept their word and that really means something.”

Saying you care about the people you work with is one thing, actually doing it is another.

Have a great week.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Good or Bad...You Choose

Charles Allen is an executive with Farm Bureau Insurance and one of those wonderful people you meet in life in whom there is no guile. He's a truly good person who works to find ways to bring the best to the folks he manages.

While talking with Charles today he mentioned that he tried to believe that "all people are basically good." That's an interesting philosophical thought that some folks with jump on and ask, "Well, what about Hitler, or Sadam Hussein, or________." You can fill in the blank.

The key is not to be concerned about the anomalies, the oddities of the group...humankind...but to wonder about the majority of people.

If you go into relationships believing that, on the whole, people are good, that belief causes you to react, to behave, in specific ways. If you believe that most people are trying to get something over on you you behave in other ways.

So, the question is this: What do you believe? Do you believe that, on the whole, people are good, or that people are going to take the low road if you give them the chance?

Your answer colors your whole world.

What would your weekend be like if you assumed that the people you come in contact with are basically good?

Try it. Have a great weekend. See you Monday.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Grease or Sand, Which Is It?

How has the tight economy affected the S.L.U.G.G.O.E.S. in your workplace?

If you remember from past blogs, S.L.U.G.G.O.E.S. are Slack, Lazy, Unmotivated, Gross, Greedy, Obnoxious Energy Sappers.

A recent Wall Street Journal essay noted that there might be fewer jerks in the workplace because jerks are often the first to go in tight times and some jerks who are left will straighten up their act so they don’t get axed.

While I agree with the logic of the WSJ article I believe that the stress of today’s economy and workplace pushes some people to act out in a variety of ways. They may feel so “put upon” as we Southerners say that they feel compelled to withhold information, get territorial, try to grab more power and act selfishly in order to feel that they have some control, some agency, over their lives. In short, some people will act like spoiled children and others will act like bullies due to the stress they are feeling.

However, the silver lining to today’s stressful workplace is that another group of people will be more gracious, generous, caring and productive than they might have been. They understand that we are all in this together and that our behaviors throw either grease or sand into the gears of work.

Which are you throwing?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

I'm Lettin' Rick Take the Tag Today!

Wouldn't it be great if, sometimes, work was like a tag-team wrestling match? Your partner would reach out, you'd slap their hand, and they'd jump over the rope, grab your masked opponent and throw them over the ropes and into the audience!!

Well, today I'm gonna do that and my tag-team partner is Rick Reilly. As an award-winning, nationally-known writer for Sports Illustrated, ESPN, and a variety of other national sports and entertainment magazines Reilly's great! You'll love him.

So, here's the tag: go to espn.com and look for Reilly's link...it's on the lower left from the masthead. Click on his July 1 story about putting more sports in the workplace.

Do it now!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Good Grief!!

Last week was supposed to be a vacation week but it didn’t turn out much like that. Too many things going on. I got to thinking about over-scheduling, and missing out, and loss.

Trying to have The Perfect Workday means that you’re going to have to let some things go. In fact, The Perfect Workday is less about adding things to your day to try and get EVERYTHING done, than it is about taking some things out so you have time, energy, and focus to do the things you really need to do.

Releasing something from your day could involve changing the way you go to work, or changing a process, or discontinuing contact with a close co-worker so you have time and energy to focus on other priorities. Releasing something that has been important to you may be more than difficult, it can be traumatic. And any important loss brings some type of grief with it.

In 1969, Swiss-born psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross revealed her five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. While Kubler-Ross’s work focused on terminally ill patients later research has shown that in almost any major life loss (thousands of Americans are knee-deep in the five stages since they’ve lost their jobs) we must move through the stages of grief.

You cannot deny or skip a stage, and they don’t have to happen in a linear fashion. You will experience all the stages for varying amounts of time. Even people who stay angry about a loss do, on some level, finally accept the loss. It just takes time.

To say “change is hard” is, obviously, a cliché. But, as our great American philosopher Jimmy Buffett says, “Clichés say what they mean and mean what they say.”

Which brings to mind the phrase, "Good grief." Usually said as an exclamation, it can also be said as a description. But, it takes time to discover if it's true.

Friday, July 3, 2009

A Feeling About the 4th

If you have to work today I hope it's an easy day. If you are on vacation you should read this blog, take the moment I'll ask you to take at the end, and then do something fun.

I've always appreciated this George Orwell quote: "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf." Orwell understood that there is a price to freedom.

As we stand on the doorstep of July 4, 2009 I have a hard time seeing the faces of those "rough men." I tend to see the faces of young men and women, most of whom would much rather be in college or at a picnic or having babies rather than being at risk on the other side of the world.

We are at a pivotal point in our evolution as a nation. We face unprecedented challenges on a wide variety of fronts and, like most people, we want simple answers.

But, coming up with the answers is based on being able to understand the questions. Consider these two bits of information:
- The vast majority of high school students can not pass the same citizenship test required of immigants who want to become Americans. (in fact, I'm betting a startlingly large number of adults would not do well on the 100 question test) Without understanding the basis of our nation how can we answer questions about where it should go?
- Most people think their power costs will go down if we start relying on wind, solar, coal, and nuclear. In fact, costs may go up. The main determinant of cost for power is not the power itself, it's the delivery systems. The plants, towers, power lines, and distribution are what drives costs up.

If you are bored at this point you understand the challenge of making the decisions. It's easier to listen to, or read emails from, blow-holes, demagogues, and talking heads spouting simple answers, and nod and say, "OK, 'let's do that,' without taking the time to understand the underlying issues."

In the movie, The American President, Michael Douglas says, "Democracy is advanced citizenship, you've gotta want it bad."

I don't know if those young people on the other side of the world want democracy badly, but I'm sure they want a better life, for themselves and for the rest of us. Think about them tomorrow when you go to the beach, or the pool, or the grocery store, and no one stops you at a checkpoint and asks to see your papers. Or, comes to your home with a weapon and demands that you come outside to be checked. Or, leaves a satchel on the bus you are riding.

The government and the Port Authority of New York are reopening the head of the Statue of Liberty this weekend for the first time since 9/11. That is happening to a great degree because of those young people I mentioned and the people who command them.

Take a moment tomorrow and say a prayer for all who keep us free.

And then say a prayer for the rest of us...and future generations. I have faith that we, as Americans, will make it to that better future. But, we need all the help we can get. And being smarter is the start.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Where Is the Raccoon Looking?

While taking a vacation walk yesterday near the campus at UNC-Chapel I went to see The Raccoon.

The story goes like this: In the late '60s-early '70s, a woodcarver chiseled 7 animal figures into the trees of a park near campus. Thirty-one summers ago a friend showed me The Raccoon. It's in a tree beside a small stream that flows near Forest Theatre.

Now, here's the rest of the story. Supposedly, each figure looks at the next animal in the sequence so that the group is arranged in a large circle. And the only one I've ever seen or been able to find is The Raccoon.

You can stand next to The Raccoon and squat down and try to sight across the stream and seethe next animal. But, I've never found it. That doesn't mean the next little guy isn't there, just that I couldn't see it.

Are there situations like that in your workday or your personal life? You know the answer is out there somewhere. In fact, it seems that the logical sequence you are following would end in an obvious answer...and...then...it...doesn't...happen.

What do you do; follow the sequence again, or jump to a different process?

We often discover wonderful answers when we don't get the answers we expect. That's the process of living, not just floating through life.

That's the lesson of The Raccoon.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Truth or Illusion

Recently, I had a big decision to make. I walked over to my bookshelves and pulled a book, The One Decision, off the shelf…opened it and found: “This is as true in everyday life as it is in battle: we are given one life and the decision is ours whether to wait for circumstances to make up our mind, or whether to act, and in acting, to live.” Omar Bradley, WWII Army Chief of Staff, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

It went on to say,
"To be or not to be
A life of More or a life of less
Awake or asleep
Deep or superficial
Substantive or vacuous
Real or fake
Light or dark
Spiritual or temporal
Fulfilling deep desires or surface wants
Truth or illusion
Adventure or suffering"

Which do you choose?

Thinking and planning about the choice is one thing...even making the choice has a heady, optimistic feel to it...but, acting on the choice is the meat of the situation. And that can sometimes feel like the meat is in a grinder.