Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Basic Decision

The group yesterday was just what I anticipated; smart, quick professionals.

I asked the group a question and got some interesting answers. The question was, “How do you handle change in the workplace.”

They offered the usual responses such as, “I embrace it,” “I take it one step at the time,” “I work off the stress of it.”

One woman, though, had a wonderfully astute and self-revelatory answer. I can’t quote her exactly (because I was so stunned at the unique quality of her answer that I didn’t write it down and forgot to ask her to repeat it after the program), but she said something like, “When we are confronted with change here I first determine whether I want to stay or go. If I decide to stay I then start figuring out how I can make sure the change works in a positive way for me. I lay out the positive things about the change and then I use them to help me move into the change.”

A lot of people offer the second part of her answer….the part about looking for ways to make the change work for them. But, no one has ever offered the first part. There’s always an assumption that they’ll stay. In fact, for most folks it isn’t even part of the question.

But, here’s the really powerful part of her answer. The first sentence showed me that she understood that SHE was in control of her life, not the corporation or the people to whom she paid her bills. Lots of folks will pay lip service to that fact but don’t really believe it, and certainly won’t act on it. She obviously does.

My hat’s off to her. You don’t meet someone every day who truly is the captain of their destiny.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Are You Winging It?

On my way to New York today to talk about change with another group of folks who work with a large pharmaceutical company. These are really nice, professional, interested/interesting people so it’s always a delight to work with them.

They handle things in an extraordinarily professional way. Details are covered, people stay in touch to make sure I have what I need to maximize my time with them, and they think ahead and anticipate problems and have solutions ready.

Not everyone works like that. I’ve worked with other groups that say, “Be here at a certain time and talk about this topic.” And that’s it.

I don’t really mind the second type of group because I’ve been doing this a long time, there is not a whole lot I’ve haven’t seen, and if a problem comes up I can usually improvise and get us through.

But, there is a definite feeling of security when you deal with professionals and the older I get the less I like surprises and winging it. Flying by the seat-of-your-pants is stressful, it takes more time, and I don’t believe you can do as good a job as you might if there was a little planning involved.

In your work and in your life, where do you feel secure and where do you feel like you’re winging it? I’m all for the thrill of the hunt but we aren’t out on the savannah where we have to kill our food every day. Where can you make sure the details in life are covered so you can concentrate on the topics and issues of life that really engage YOU.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

500 and Counting

Yesterday was my 500th posting.

There aren't many things I've done in my life 500 times. Well, there is that.

I counted up once and I've worked out in a gym over 6,000 times. I've presented about 2,000 seminars. Been to around 250 Carolina football games.

What have you done a BUNCH of times in your life. The number often shows you what's important to you.

Thanks for paying attention.

Have a big day.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Davey Has Been Kidnapped!!

There’s been a kidnapping and Cary, NC, police are on the case…well…maybe not a kidnapping…more like a dolphin-napping.

Davey is, or was, a 30” bronze dolphin on a pedestal outside Davis Drive Elementary School. Sometime between 5 pm on August 17 and 8 am on August 18 someone took Davey.

The culprit was caught on video cameras located next door at Davis Drive Middle School. Described as a “teenager who wore light-colored shorts, a T-shirt and a hat,” the person was seen walking through the parking lot talking on a cellphone (now there’s a surprise!).

The statue looks like Flipper from the old TV series. It’s up on its tail with flippers extended and the story says little kids will actually go to the statue and hug it.

At this point you’re probably going, “Aaaahhhhh, that’s terrible! Now little kids can’t hug the statue.”

I’m not saying that. I’m saying, “Aaaahhh, that kid who took it was too stupid to look for the video cameras.” No kidding.

I’m certainly not condoning vandalism, but we all did dumb things when we were young (I climbed on top of a Pizza Hut and tore one of the Z’s off to give to a friend for his birthday, his last name started with a Z)…and according to some of the people who at least profess to love me I’m still doing dumb things.

But, here’s how the Davey Dilemma will probably shake out: The culprit will be caught because he (I’ve got $1,000 that says it was a guy), or some of his friends won’t be able to keep their mouths shut. And he’ll say he’s sorry, and he’ll return the dolphin, and his parents will pay the damage fee, and he’ll get some community service, and his parents, unless they are really mature, will forget that he owes them the damage money, and he’ll grow up with a story to tell, and he'll go to law school, and someone will remind him of his misdeed at a cocktail party 30 years from now and they’ll all have a big laugh.

Again, while I’m not condoning the theft, here’s how I compared it to what else is going on. On one page of my local paper there are three stories. One is about lifesaving relief not being able to reach 800,000 people in Pakistan isolated due to flooding; militants in Somalia killed 32 people when they attacked a hotel; and 42 people died in a Chinese plane crash.

Oh yeah, and there was a story saying that Lindsey Lohan may get out of rehab early.

In America we have a bad habit of letting the trivial, like bronze dolphins and Hollywood drunks, pull our attention and energy away from the important things.

A few years ago I attended a seminar in which I learned a truly valuable skill. The speaker said, “When your mind and attention starts going to topics that don’t benefit you simply start saying, ‘Delete-Delete-Delete,’ just as if you are hitting the Delete button on your keyboard. The exercise will pull your attention away from the unwanted topic, and then you can redirect it to something more worthwhile.”

(I’m sure that there are some folks who think, “Delete-Delete-Delete,” when their minds turn to me. That’s ok. They’ve learned to use the skill.)

Try the skill today. When your mind strays, Delete-Delete-Delete the unwanted topic, and send it wherever Davey the Dolphin is hiding.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Get In the Car!!! We've Got to Go!

Frustration has got to be one of the most difficult emotions for me to deal with. Emotionally, I see frustration as a type of waiting; waiting for something to happen, other people to make up their minds, nature to evolve.

I certainly understand that there are lots of things in life that you can’t directly control. But, for someone who believes that you only go through life once time spent waiting is usually wasted time and that is to be avoided at all costs.

Sooooo, frustration seems such a waste.

I’m trying all the strategies: Focusing on something else, understanding the logic of the situation, eating, drinking, reading, a whole range of other.

Not that it’s helping a whole lot.

All those cute clich├ęs like, “Time will tell,” aren’t helping because you know they were created by people who were frustrated.

Buddhists believe that frustration is the byproduct of wanting and that the less we want the less we find ourselves in conflict with life. I get the logic of that but it doesn’t mean that I spend less time outside Life’s house blowing the horn and shouting, “Come on, Life, get in the car. We’ve got to go!!”

Monday, August 23, 2010

We're All Freshmen

This is a great time of year in Chapel Hill or any university or college town. Freshmen are arriving and upperclassmen are coming back.

(OK, OK, so some of you don’t like the freshMEN and upperclassMEN …how does freshpersons and upperclasspersons sound? Dial your indignation down to about a 3 and just sliiiiiiide on by it.)

Anyway, before the Political Correctness Police got me off track, I was saying that all the kids coming back is fun, but a mixed blessing. It’s back to waiting in line for a restaurant and traffic has quadrupled.

Today, in church, the minister was welcoming students back and said, “When comes down to it, we’re all freshmen in life. We’re trying to make good decisions and get along in a life that often seems difficult and confusing.”

What if we all used that frame of reference every now and then?

How would you look at life differently if you were a freshman?

In business there is a style of planning that makes a similar assumption. The basic question is, “If we were not in this business already, would we get into it?” And, “What if we knew nothing about this opportunity/business/decision what would we need to know?”

Dropping assumptions and looking at a situation with fresh eyes is difficult, but worth it.

So, put on your freshman/woman/person beanie and ask, “What do I need to cast new, fresh eyes on?”

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Expendables

A buddy and I went to see The Expendables yesterday. It’s the new Sylvester Stallone movie that opens with cameo appearances by Bruce Willis and Arnold Shwartzenegger. The wonderful hook of the movie is that all the other co-stars were action stars from the 80s and 90s; Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolf Lundgren and Mickey Rourke. Eric Roberts makes a reasonably good bad guy.

The Expendables is definitely a guy flick with tons of violence, stuff blowing up, a couple of car chases, a really high body count and a guy-does-all-this-for-the-girl undercurrent.

As a big fan of the Rocky and Rambo movies (and the action movies made by all the other guys) I was a little dismayed to see how much Stallone has aged. But then, we all have.

I was delighted, though, to see them still at it. One more shot at doing what they love.

Life’s like that. If you don’t keep at it, if end up on the sidelines, for whatever reason, that’s where you stay. And lots of things can put you on the sidelines; age, lack of skills, the folks you care about decide they don’t care anymore, lack of motivation, a health situation.

If you are going to live, and “live” in this case is an active verb, you have to make the decision to step back into life and start trying again with whatever tools, skills, focus you have.

Some of the guys in The Expendables looked a little worse-for-wear even with Hollywood’s cosmetic magic. But all of them, even the ones who aren’t Oscar winners as actors, looked like they were having the times of their lives.

The weekend is here. There is no better time to have the time of your life than on the weekend.

Grab a friend and check out The Expendables. Grab some life! Have a great weekend.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ride'em Cowboy!!

If you read yesterday’s blog you can just call me Cowboy Mike. Got the dumpster problem solved, at least in the short-term, and probably have a long term solution in the wings.

Yesterday was a wonderful lesson in focus, cooperative communications, and the fact that a little money can solve a lot of problems.

At the end of the day I realized that the one important thing I had wanted to get done was done. By staying focused on the problem…and not let myself get pulled away by ten other issues…I had been able to concentrate my energy. There is a magic to focus.

The effort put me in touch with a wide range of people; city and county employees, neighbors, young guys who would do some moving for me, and contractors. In each case I focused on being clear and positive about what I needed (rare for me, I tend to be waaaaay too demanding a lot of the time) and in almost every case they came through. Looks like sugar does get more done than s***.

To make the short-term solution happen I needed a little money. Not a lot, but enough to pay someone to step in and take the short-term problem, a large pile of trash, away. I already had thought of two other solutions to that part of the problem if my first option had not worked.

So, the lessons of the day: Have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish; stay focused; keep moving.

What do you have in your life that you can apply those principles to?

PS: It ain’t like we don’t know this stuff. We just don’t do it.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I Need a Dumpster

I need a dumpster. And I need somewhere to put it.

The new fraternity house my group purchased early in the summer is ready to open and guys are starting to flow into town for the start of the school year. You can imagine how much trash 50+ guys create, not to mention all the trash from cleaning up and refurbishing. During the summer when no one was here we had a big industrial-sized dumpster so trash was no problem.

We thought getting a dumpster would be a breeze but we are finding that the town of Chapel Hill is incredibly strict about where to put dumpsters and we have a tiny parking lot so the quandary is where to locate it. We may end up sharing a dumpster with some of our neighbors.

Do I want to spend time finding a dumpster location and ordering it…no. But, as my brother, Joe, astutely said, “The problem with being a grown-up is that you have to learn so much about stuff you don’t care about in the first place.”

So, you have to Cowboy Up as Fayetteville Technical Community College President Larry Keen would say, and get it done.

What responsibility, job, task or conversation do you need to just Cowboy Up and get it done?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Sharpening the Saw

Recently, I was talking to some folks about life-long learning and the importance of investing in yourself.

Phrases like “staying current in your field” or Stephen Covey’s (Seven Habits of Highly Successful People) “Sharpening the Saw,” describe the effort of continuing to learn what you need to learn to succeed.

Do you have a structured and methodical way to seek out important information in your profession, learn it, and turn it into knowledge?

You don’t have to spend days or weeks in seminars or work toward a higher degree, unless that’s what it takes to succeed in your career. Reading, listening to books on CDs in your vehicle (you’re crazy if you don’t take advantage of the windshield university time), or catching a video (even on YouTube) can be great ways to increase your knowledge base.

What’s the biggest challenge in your profession right now? Google the issue as soon as you finish reading this blog and learn something you didn’t know.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Hope You Don't Get Pulled Over

This has not been a good year for state law enforcement agencies in North Carolina.

The Highway Patrol has suffered a number of embarrassing incidents involving troopers getting DUI’s, and using their status as troopers to get sex. The State Bureau of Investigation is embroiled in an ugly situation that seems to show that they’ve been sloppy with evidence in many cases.

Makes you wonder: Who can you trust?

If we’re going to live in a society of laws we have to trust that the laws will apply to everyone, evenly.

Now, let’s be honest; the reality is that the have-nots are judged by one set of standards and the haves by another. It’s the way things have been….forever. It isn’t that it’s right, it’s just that that’s the way it’s been.

If we don’t want it to be that way we have to step up and make…demand…vote for…changes.

In your life, what do you experience that’s “just the way it’s been?” But, you’d like to change it?

There are only three things you can do: Accept it. Alter it. Avoid it.

You get to choose.

Have a great weekend and stay out of the heat.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Business-like, or Hawaiian?

Am in beautiful Asheville today presenting a seminar for the North Carolina Association of Municipal Clerks.

Last night, as I roamed around the hotel I kept running into members of the association; people who would be in my program today.

I had on a business-like, blue and white striped dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up, shorts, and UNC-CH flip-flops.

When I would confirm that they were members of NCAMC I would ask, "OK, you get to vote. Do I go with a business looking shirt like this tomorrow or the Hawaiian shirt I brought." The vote was 100% to go Hawaiian.

I know it's kind of silly but it was fun. The key idea is that if, on something simple like this, you can poll the people who matter and give them a choice, get their opinion, they feel invested and appreciate the opportunity to speak up.

What if you and I asked more people in our lives to become invested, to give their opinion, instead of making assumptions? (Cause you know what happens when you ASS-SUME something!)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall of Life

I saw myself today in some other people recently and it wasn’t pretty.

One was in a seminar I gave yesterday afternoon and the other was in the audience of a keynote I presented last night. It really doesn’t matter what they did, but their actions were less than stellar.

When I later thought about their actions I realized, “I’ve done those sorts of things.”

I don’t do them now, but that didn’t keep me from being embarrassed.

In situations like this I believe that you have to cut yourself some slack, make a vow to learn from your mistakes, and move on. It’s the only way to grow and mature.

Take stock: What behaviors do you see in others that you know you’ve exhibited…and that you don’t want to do again? Have you learned your lesson, or is life going to have to present it to you again?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Wait a Little Longer

We live in a society in which waiting is not considered to be a good thing. It's a waste of time. We could be doing something important in the time we're spending waiting.

I spent a TON of time waiting...in one way or the other...from Thursday afternoon to around midnight on Sunday. You don't want to know (and I don't want to relate) the details of a trip to Orlando for a conference. But, let it suffice to say that the trip involved a bunch of flight delays, waiting for meetings to start and then be over, and sitting through dinners and lunches waiting for them to end.

However, there were moments in which I didn’t mind waiting because I had a book or magazine, or the person speaking in the meeting or meal was interesting or humorous, or I let my mind wander to something more pleasant than the situation in which I found myself. I was glad to be there.

But, I can’t shake the feeling that all the while I was waiting I could have been getting something done. The feeling is not necessarily uniquely American (pretty much everyone around the world doesn’t like waiting) but we do have a bad habit of wanting to fill every minute. This “busyness” as it’s called in the literature is considered by some health care professionals to be akin to a disease.

Dis-ease…get it?

Are you doing things just to be doing them? If I asked you to sit quietly for 10 minutes could you do it without feeling like I was pulling out your fingernails?

If you can’t chill for 10 minutes you’ve got a case of “busyness”.

(and, no, I can never remember if the period goes inside the quotes on something like the sentence above…but, if you obsessed on that you may be farther …or is it “further”…over the edge than I can help you with.)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Throw'em a Line...Or, Throw Yourself One

I’ve been trying to save someone for a long time. Not in the spiritual sense, but trying to help them have a different life.

Am not noting the above to get credit, but to recognize that I’ve failed. Deep down I probably knew a long time ago that I was going to fail but didn’t want to admit it to myself. So, I’m giving up and pointing that energy to other pursuits, mostly internal.

I don’t know if you can save people. The question really goes to motivation. You can point out a different future, help them prepare for it, and even push them in that direction. But, if they don’t want to start walking you really can’t make them.

Too often we focus on others when we should be focusing on ourselves. It seems easier, sometimes, to let external action take the place of internal exploration.

Look inside. You may find that you’re the one who needs saving and you’re the only one who can do it.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Brush Your Troubles Away

I have a new toothbrush. It’s made by Oral B and it has a big, blue and white handle and there’s about three kinds of bristles; some regular, some regular but thick and some are rubber.

It looks like the perfect toothbrush for a 5-year old. And I love it.

I bought it because it caught my eye, was funny looking, and a new idea for a toothbrush. At least it was new to me, I’d never seen one with rubber bristles.

Now, here’s the best part. It’s the best damn toothbrush I’ve ever owned. It feels great, does a great job and I like using it. That’s the hat trick of toothbrushing as far as I’m concerned.

I’m 58 and I doubt you’d put me and this toothbrush together. In fact, I’d wager that I’m one of the only 58-year old brushers with this brush that Oral B has.

Sometimes you have to try something that seems to be far afield from…you. You’ll be disappointed at times that whatever the thing is didn’t work, but simply trying something new makes you smarter and less set in your ways.

And other times, like this one for me, you’ll score big. You’ll find that extraordinary thing that makes your life better; that makes you smile.

Like my toothbrush.

Go buy a new toothbrush (no kidding, don’t wait to go to the dentist to get the free one, El Cheapo)…and have a great weekend.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Voice of a Friend

Recently, I had the opportunity to be with a longtime friend whom I hadn’t spent time with in quite awhile.

For the first few minutes it was almost as if they were someone I didn’t know very well.

But, after a little while the rustiness wore off and we fell into many of the old rhythms and I remembered why I cared about them and why they were my friend, and I their’s, in the first place.

Too often we get busy or are so enamored and distracted by the new and different that we don’t stay in touch with the well-known and comfortable.

If we have friends who are willing to overlook or understand our absence from their lives, and pick up pretty close to where we left off…we are blessed.

With whom have you not stayed in touch? Who would appreciate a phone call, email or visit?

Better yet, whose voice would you appreciate hearing? Whose voice would make you feel stronger, safer, more loved and/or more confident?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Hugs Create

I have two small, smooth stones on my desk. One says, “Create” and the other says, “Hugs.”

Last night I was working and trying to figure out a problem so I started rearranging things in front of me to get a different perspective. It’s a trick I learned from the late Claude McKinney, the visionary creator of NC State’s Centennial Campus.

He said, “When I’m stumped on a problem I rearrange a couple of small items on my desk to try and create a three-dimensional model of the problem. The exercise helps me see the situation in a different, unique way.”

So, last night I would change the order of the stones. First, they would say, “Create Hugs.” Then they would say, “Hugs Create.”

What I realized was that both phrases were not only correct, but revolutionary.

What if one of your main goals for today was to Create Hugs?

There’s a guy who travels to different large cities and stands on the corner with a sign that says, “Need a hug?” Go to Youtube.com and you’ll see him. He’s called The Hug Man. The reaction of total strangers passing by is amazing.

What if you understood that Hugs Create? What do they create? Closeness, that’s for sure. A feeling of security; that’s a good thing.

Now, if you put them together and kinda pump up the logic you get, Creating Hugs Creates. That’s growth, the essence of life.

And that is a very good thing.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

PBJ, the Easy Way

It’s amazing how simple some of life’s answers can be. I’m having a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on multi-grain bread and a glass of milk for breakfast; probably finish them off with an apple.

Simple, nutritious and fun.

How easy is that?!

One of Thomas Jefferson’s 10 Rules of Life was, “Grasp all things by the smooth handle.”

Too often we make things much more difficult for ourselves than they have to be.

What are you trying to do now that could be accomplished in a much simpler way?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Takin' Out the Garbage

As I completed my walk this morning I noted a young woman walking to a dumpster with a big bag of garbage in hand.

What a great message for a Monday; taking out the garbage of the weekend to start the week clean and anew!

Celebrate Monday morning. What garbage of thought, action or feeling do you need to take out so that you might start fresh this week?