No Regrets Monday- Your Life…Work?

Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com

This is a series describing some of the regrets folks have shared during the last days of their lives.  The goal is NOT to add guilt to your life, but to allow you to take a look at where you are and take the opportunity to make changes.  I hope this effort will provide insight into your behavior and your long-term goals.  Blessing on your journey!

One of the crazy characteristics of American’s is that most of us DON’T use our vacation days.  According to a survey by CNBC, only 28% of Americans in 2019 planned to use all of their vacation days that year!  

Are we addicted to work?  Are we afraid that taking all or most of our vacation days would send a message to our boss that we are not fully committed?  Do we dislike being at home?  Do we lack the funds to take a vacation therefore we decide to just work instead?  Do you feel that staying home is a waste of time?  I’m sure that all of these are excuses are used to forego our vacation time.

One of the most common regrets shared by those in their final days is that they wish they hadn’t worked so much!

I am SUPER guilty here.  I can’t remember EVER taking a “staycation”.  I have forfeited so many vacation days unused it is ridiculous.  I really can’t point to a single reason other than the feeling that taking a day off without a trip somewhere was just a waste of time.  Additionally, I remember judging my friends who would literally game the system to max out ALL the time off.  Some would take every last hour that was allowed in the formula.

I think that some of it is cultural.  We pound the work ethic into our children to convince then that this is the only way to get ahead.  But is it really that important in our career?

During the Great Recession, my salary was cut in half along with others in my work group.  Most of the group cut back their hours accordingly.  I was in leadership and sales (seeking work that wasn’t there!) and I felt obligated to continue to work full time for half pay.  Although I was commended for my efforts during these tough times, it really had no long term effect on my standing as an employee.  The folks that surgically cut their hours were not treated differently than I was.  I don’t regret what I did, but it was a real learning experience for me.

So what should you do?  TAKE THE TIME OFF!  Spend time relaxing.  It’s good for you!  Spend time with your family.  Create lasting memories with loved ones EVERY chance you can get.  I would lay out the ground rules early with your employer.  Tell them that you intend to use your vacation days.  They will respect you for it and won’t be surprised when you max out your time off.  EXCEED THE AMOUNTS IF YOU NEED TO!  If you are salaried and you wish additional time off, let them know that you are prepared to forego pay in exchange for vacation time, if necessary.  Don’t abuse the benefit, but TAKE ADVANTAGE of the opportunity that it affords..

PLEASE…Take your time off.  Relax, recharge, create memories.  You will find that it’s good for you, your family AND your employer.  The time off should make you a better employee (and spouse, and parent and friend)!  And more importantly, as you review your choices later in life, this is a formula to avoid a potential painful and very common regret!  

Photo Friday- You Have No Excuse!

Photo taken at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens by the author

I snapped this picture while walking with the twins at the zoo on the day after Thanksgiving. A beautiful flower, might be a golden rain tree, but exquisite in color and unique with its upright form. The zoo is a great place to see and appreciate the diversity of life. It is also a bit depressing to me to see these magnificent animals in cages for a lifetime of display. I am sure that they would all choose freedom in lieu of a life of protection and easy meals.

I believe that the incredible diversity and breathtaking beauty of nature points directly to the Creator. If everything was based on mere chance and natural selection, I believe we would see certain species dominate and we would miss the huge display of thousands, really millions, of unique species, crazy colors and beautiful shapes and designs. Chance would not result in this level of diversity.

When the scientists were mapping out the human genome, one of the lead scientists had an “ah ha!” moment in which he recognized that someone designed the DNA. It’s like seeing a precision machined part and recognizing that this part could not just occur naturally. He saw the fingerprints of the Creator. He recognized that it was too intricate and precise to happen by chance. He was an atheist before this discovery but this “ah ha” moment completely changed his viewpoint.

In the first chapter of the book of Romans, the scriptures declare that we have “no excuse” to deny the existence of the Creator. His work is breathtaking, delicate, massive, complicated, and orderly. He created as an artist works to create unique beauty for pleasure. He made our world both practical and beautiful. Without the artist touch, everything would resort to simply plain and practical.

I have witnessed beautiful flowers growing up through the debris next to a pile of trash in the inner city. I have heard birds singing in a burned out forest. The beauty of His work will overcome the ugly and our abuse of the land.

He hasn’t put His brushes down. The Creator continues to amaze with each and every sunset.

Don’t you see him?

He’s calling you to spend time with Him. Walk with the Him in the cool of the morning. You have no excuse. He wants you.

YOU are his greatest masterpiece!

Weak Leader?

 

Great companies have a common characteristic. They have strong leaders. But what is strong leadership? I think if you ask ten different persons you will get ten different answers! I think an obvious sign of a strong leader is they generally have a group of very dedicated followers who understand their role in the overall vision for the company. I don’t believe that strong leadership is characterized by the volume of their bark or purely the degree at which they drive their team forward.  Being strong doesn’t mean being feared or intimidating.  

But what happens when you have a weak leader? A leader that struggles at making decisions or providing vision or hitting deadlines? Is this a sign that they don’t have the tools to lead? Although these and other signs may be a function of overall weakness, it may not be their fault. You may be the problem. You may be the barrier to their leadership strength. Here are a few ways you may be weakening the leaders below you.

Changing Work Priorities

You have placed this person in a leadership role in order to use their judgement on managing the staff and prioritizing assignments.  If you are directing their staff to complete items that you think have a higher priority without consulting them first you are undermining their authority.  This is sending a message to the team that your leader is not capable of prioritizing correctly and that they are incapable and you need to get involved.  The real reason may be that you have a control problem. If you must change priorities for the team, follow the organizational chart and stay in the chain of command.  Don’t manage folks just because you can.

Gossip

If you are having issues with a report and you are running your mouth to other folks in the organization, the gossip will obviously be damaging to that person’s credibility.  And you may be just plain wrong.  Don’t assume you have it all figured out.  Keep your mouth shut and go to the person and discuss your issues.  Give them an opportunity to explain and rebut your assumptions. Gossip is never the answer. 

Different Management Styles

Don’t assume that another person‘s management style is weak just because it’s not the same as the way you manage or lead.  The measurement is the results.  Is this person doing their job as a leader?  Are the folks that they are leading engaged and performing properly?

Fuzzy Or Changing Goals

Have you been completely clear about what the goals are and what items are most important?  Do you change the priorities often?  If the person is unsure or in a constant state of flux, how can you hold them responsible for anything?  Provide clear objectives and be consistent.

Competition

Do you feel that this person is a threat to you?  This may sound strange since they are actually below you in the organizational chart.  Does this person intimidate you?  Are they sometimes more knowledgeable in some areas.  Do they just grind you?  Do they have a great following in the workplace?  This should be all positive, however some folks can be very insecure, have big egos or are narcissistic and will fight you or anyone else to “win”.  Just remember that you are both on the same team!  Showcase your talent and let your people grow in influence.  Don’t hold them down.  When they grow and prosper, you grow and prosper too!

Undermining Authority

Do you allow folks to come directly to you instead of their direct report?  This can be a situation where “If dad says no, go ask mom!”  Don’t provide direction or approve a decisions downstream.  Always push them back into the chain of command.  By directly managing people downstream you are undermining their authority.  You are directly weakening their leadership.

I am sure there are more examples of this kind of behavior that destroys the strength of their leadership.  If you want strong leaders, it is up to you to empower them!  Support them by respecting the chain of command and the organizational chart.  Give them all the tools they need to be successful.  Do not direct their people even if you are the owner of the company.  Support them in front of the rest of the company.  If you have issues with them, discuss the issues privately.  Respect them and their work and they will grow in strength and effectiveness.   Quite often the true “weak leader” is the person you see in the mirror!

Have you experienced this before?  Click on “Leave a Comment” and tell me your story!

So You Want To Change The World?

I believe most of us are wired with a goal of doing something really big with our lives. Write a book. Get our name on a building. Develop something new. Make a mark on the world.  Do something really big.

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Big goals are great. They stretch us. They make us see over the horizon. As I have grown older and gained more wisdom, I have learned that big is relative. Kathy and I have traveled the world on mission trips trying to help organizations make the big impact. And what we have found is that change is really about the one person that you encounter. One moment. A single soul. A single life at a time.

 

This has been our recent revelation. We don’t tend to look big anymore. The truth is you cannot place a price on a soul. A life. A legacy. It’s priceless. The value is infinite. A single soul can shake eternity.

The photo above is a group of life changers. No miracle drugs, new innovations or amazing technology solutions. No senators or mayors or CEOs. This is a group of teachers who had a profound impact on my life. I won’t pick them out or use names, but there are three of my elementary/middle school teachers in this picture.

First, my science teacher. He was well liked by me and my friends and he laid the groundwork for my leadership style. You do not need to be a tyrant to lead people. You can lead with your heart. Its ok to let your feelings show. You can truly care and its a good thing! While learning from this teacher, we were able to develop a friendship that was a positive influence on my life. This teacher even took me and two of my friends on a weekend ski trip. This was on his time. Not a school thing. Just a weekend of fun. Impact? Yes- a life changer!

Second, my geography teacher. She would give us maps to color and require that we memorize the capitals of obscure countries. At the time I thought it was a giant waste of time. But later I learned that this memorization exercise was a precurser to what was required in college and beyond. She also showed me a picture of a great big world beyond my corner of the world. She introduced me to different cultures and political structures. I have become a lifelong student of geography and this was only possible from the effort of this lady. She changed my vision of the world. Opened up my eyes and expanded my horizon.  Big impact!

Third, my english teacher. She would spend countless hours diagramming sentences, correcting poor grammar and building my writing foundation, that has been a strength for me throughout my life. (ahem- please don’t grade this!) She taught me about rules and precision. She taught me that being perfect was really hard. A small mistake counts. And if you can communicate effectively, your life will be better. I am a direct product of her work. I have often been tasked by my employers to write because it comes easy to me and I understand the power of one word. I learned this from my english teacher. She put me on a road toward excellence in communication. And for this, I am eternally grateful.

These three teachers changed my life. They had a direct impact on my skills, abilities and my attitude about learning. They were instrumental in my personal value and pursuit of life-long learning.

So you want to change the world? I say do it one person at a time. No giant programs. Just one-on-one. Soul to soul.

Change the world?  Be a teacher and be a life changer!

Give it Away!

One of the principles that I have learned as I have gained experience and wisdom is that the answer is often hidden or the opposite of logic. This realization has led me to second guess my observations and solutions and this has been very enlightening as I examine the issue from several angles and often get conflicting solutions.

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Africa 2009- Sunset on the Zambezi River

As I have coached and built-up leaders through the years, I have used this second guessing as a test on how I look at leadership and management styles and their effectiveness. For the most part I have concluded that, barring abusive behavior, as long as they are effective then their style is usually acceptable. People are somewhere between very tough to impossible to change. You work with what you got.

The outlier to this theory is how we give power to our leaders. I believe there are some pretty rigid rules in how you build a powerful leader. Much of this is common sense, yet few really follow the rules here.

The source of the power that exists in the leaders of your team comes from you! If you see a person as a weak leader, its is often a result of not being given the power and authority to do their job. You have to give it away. This narrative of weak leadership may actually be the voice in your head giving you the authority to meddle in their affairs and undermine their authority.

There are many damaging actions that thwart authority and lead to a weakened leader. Here a a few of the biggies:

Chain of Command: When you do not respect the chain of command you are undermining the authority of your leaders. If you continually direct people downstream of others you are sending a message that their leaders instructions are not important. Although you are the “big boss” and you can do whatever you want, this disregard for the authority of those you have placed in charge is damaging. Very damaging. Don’t do it.

Micromanagement: Getting in the weeds on issues and overanalyzing is damaging to authority. Accept that mistakes will happen. This is the only path to growth. Stay out of the weeds.

New Ideas: Don’t shoot down new ideas because they are not yours or they involve risk. Be receptive to new ways of doing things. This is empowering your leaders to think. To be relevant. To make a difference.

Hiding your Leaders: Celebrate and promote your leaders in the business world. Some folks will be fearful that by promoting there leaders they may loose them to another company. I say that hiding them will lead to the same result. Promote your leaders. It will strengthen your organization.

Limiting Decisions: By limiting the authority of making decisions you are also limiting their power. Give them the authority but make sure they know they own it. They will have to clean up the mess if it goes bad. This is also a path to growth.

Too many times we deduce that weak leadership is the result of a character flaw or the limited abilities of the leader we manage. The truth is that their power comes from you!

You can either build them up or tear them down. It’s your choice. If you want a strong organization you need to give your power away. Let it flow downward. Will there be problems if you let go? Yes- always. However, you will have a group of strong leaders below you and this will be a huge advantage in cleaning up the mess.

Wind them up and let them go. You’ll be happy with the results!

Lowest Common Denominator

Manage for your winners- don’t resort to designing your management systems for your bottom tier!

If you were awake in sixth grade math you probably remember the concept of the lowest common denominator in order to work with fractions. The concept was to evaluate and manipulate the numbers to obtain the lowest common number in order to make the denominator the same in order to solve the problem.

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This general concept is also used in management by instituting a series of rules to control issues that are occurring with employees. This set of rules are typically directed to only a few violator employees who are not performing or typically ride the edge of acceptability.

The root of the problem is that these employees are either disengaged, not managed properly, or are lacking feedback on a regular basis. Management by the lowest common denominator is a passive-aggressive style of management. Rather than attack the real problem, the manager will attempt to “hem in” the problem employee by developing a set of often silly rules in order to address issues in an attempt to keep employees productive.

The issue here is that this management theory requires that these rules apply to all employees. Your best performer and your worst performers.  Your best performers will resent being held to stupid rules. So you are actually catering to the lowest common denominator instead of attacking the real problem.

Don’t default to this style of management. Concentrate on the relatively few violators and address the issues at the root. Using a rules based system to lead your team is never the best way to lead. If your team members are not engaged and need constant attention then replace them. Resorting to the lowest common denominator style of management will cause unneccessary damage.

Lead your team. Provide continuous feedback. Let them know where they stand at all times.  Give them specific tasks and deadlines. Be a leader. Don’t punish your best performers by forcing them to comply with stupid rules.

Rules are for math problems, not leadership.

So what do you think? Have you experienced this management style before?  Click on “Leave and Comment” and tell me about your experience.

Punched in the Face!

You won’t really get away with it- they are watching you!

Kathy and I have been spending Saturday mornings serving at an inner city ministry giving out surplus bread and produce to the homeless and needy.  This has been our Saturday morning routine for the past seven years or so.  We completely enjoy serving and have helped to build a vibrant community that has taken the ministry far past the goal of just providing food.  This is a rough area.  An area of high crime and drug activity.  Shooting and violence are common in this neighborhood.

When we get set up, there is often a group of ladies who take cuts at the front of the line.  The men will often plead with us to do something about it.  These ladies are a tough bunch and have been fighting for their families for a very long time.  I get it.  Yet it is frustrating that they can get away with taking cuts. It causes unrest. Even when we speak up, they continue to do what they want and often ignore our requests.

After observing this activity and the reactions, I have figured out how they can get away it. If they were men, the other guys would take care of things. Right or wrong.

They would likely get punched in the face!

Respect and special treatment for women or other groups are not uncommon.  And there is nothing wrong with special privileges.

Unless you take advantage of the situation. 

Leadership often comes with some special privileges.  You may have the opportunity to be in the front.  First in line.  You may be able to avoid some unpleasant tasks or duties as a result of your position.  You are likely to be treated differently than the average person.

The key is how you decide to handle these privileges.  If you are a servant leader, you can’t differentiate yourself from your team.  The truth, in terms of servant leadership, is this:  You are part of the team and you just happen to be the leader.  You must stay in the trenches with your team.  You have to be willing to get dirty and do the work along side your people.  If you exalt yourself above your team and take advantage of your position, you have violated one of the key components of being a servant leader.

Special privileges with leadership must be used with caution.  You cannot hide.  They see everything you do.  Your heart is exposed by your actions.  Be careful.  Always.  They are watching you!

So what do you think?  Have you seen examples of folks taking advantage of special privileges in leadership positions?  Click on “leave a comment” and tell me what you think!

 

Don’t Be A Pac-Man!

Are you getting swallowed up?

Do you remember the game Pac-Man? This is going back a bunch of years, but it was one of the first video/arcade games where the Pac-Man travelled the course swallowing up all the cookies as he goes along. Never stopping. Devouring the cookies.  The cookies just go away.

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I used to work for a developer who required weekly updates to the project schedule. They developed a spreadsheet where everything was connected so when we were actually ahead of schedule, the final completion date would just move up to coincide with our hard work in trying to get ahead. So much for being ahead of schedule!  All of our hard work disappeared. The Pac-Man just swallowed it up!

I’ve seen the Pac-Man emerge in other places. There are times when we have an employee or team member that excels or works extremely hard in tough situations. They are just good at what they do. Dedicated and a hard worker.  These are your best employees.

They consistently STEP UP and take care of business.

They work HARDER and FASTER.

They carry MORE weight than the others.

And what happens next? The Pac-Man comes in and eats it all up.

All of the extra effort and skill actually becomes expected. It’s no longer seen as extra or exceptional. The bar just gets raised up under your feet. They move the goal posts!

Do you have a team member or employee that just knows how to get it done? Have you forgotten how much they really contribute to your business? These are your go-to people. Have you REALLY thought about what would happen if they left? Decided that enough was enough?

LEADERS: Don’t be a Pac-Man! Recognize what you have. If you continually move up the bar and deem this performance as normal you will WASTE your best workers.

Don’t get used to exceptional. If it’s exceptional then recognize it and reward it. Continually. Non-stop.

You will not explode if you say “good job” over and over again.  I promise!

Stars are stars. If they don’t shine with you, they will shine with someone else. Keep your eyes open! LOOK at what you have. Don’t be a Pac-Man or it may be GAME OVER for you!

So what do you think?  Have you seen the Pac-Man at your workplace?  Click “Like” to tell me you agree.  Or , click on “Leave and Comment” and tell me your story!  I ALWAYS appreciate your comments and insight!

Don’t Do This When People Make Mistakes

We all screw up sometime.  Maybe a careless moment or a poor evaluation of the circumstance.  There are consequences when mistakes are made.  I have been “blessed” many times with being clean-up crew when there is a big mess that needs to be cleaned up.

The fact is mistakes are how we learn.  I have really come to realize this as I have gotten older and gained more experience. There are so many times I get that “deja vu” feeling because I am in a similar circumstance I’ve been before and I remember the proper way to navigate out of it.  Experience is huge and you can’t always make up for it.

I have watched mistakes happen and I have watched how various leaders handle the problem.  There is one thing that I have learned that never seems to work in fixing a mess.  This is using blame.

When you are in the midst of fixing a bad situation the worst thing you can do is to immediately go to blame.  There is a time and a place to analyze and discuss the failures that led to the problem, but going to blame will only magnify the issue.

You will likely isolate the person who messed up.

They will feel that it was all their fault.

They will feel attacked.

They will not be in an effective position to help you fight your way out of the mess.

When one of your reports messes up its for a reason, in the vast majority of cases, the person responsible for the screw up is the person you see in the mirror.  They were not trained properly.  They were overwhelmed and you should have provided help. They weren’t ready for the assignment.  They didn’t have the proper resources.  It’s not them- it’s you!

So why are we quick to blame?  It’s our own ego and pride response.  We blame to protect ourselves.  Protect our perfect standing.  It couldn’t be me?  I did everything right!

After the dust settles and emotions die down, then you can take a look at the mistakes that were made.  The only way for learning is to confront the mistakes that were made and make changes so they don’t happen again.  This is the learning experience.  This is life.  The best lessons are learned out of pain.  It’s not fun- but it’s true.  When you have a mess, concentrate on clean up.  Jump in and help make it right.  Then, after things are fixed, take a good look at what happened and fix the problem.  Time to heal allows for objectivity and reflection.

Stay away from blame.  When you feel like you need to play the blame card- STOP AND THINK- about your role in the problem and understand what you are really doing when you blame.  A great leader will accept responsibility.  They understand that they are not perfect.  They are emotionally mature enough to know that they can make mistakes sometimes and they accept the failures of their reports.

Jump in and fix the problem.  Keep your mouth shut.  Talk about what happened later.

So what do you think?  Have you worked with a “blamer” before?  Do you see the connection between blame and pride?  Click on “Leave a Comment” and tell me what you think!

The Office Whisperer

We’ve seen the horse whisperer and the pet whisperer. What about the office whisperer?

The horse whisperer has a way to talk to a horse and connect with them. Reassure them. Calm them down.

The pet whisperer has the skills to find out how a pet is stressed. Find out the things that are causing problems. Trying to make things better. Provide a better quality of life.

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Africa 2009- Sunset on the Zambezi River

The office whisperer has other intentions. They often want to discuss people. They want to gossip! Not to improve. Not to help you. Not to make things better. To put themselves forward.

Scheming. Controlling. Divide and conquer.

There is nothing that is good that comes out of a whisperer. Nothing.

There is a reason they are whispering. They don’t want others to hear what they have to say or more importantly- what they are doing. The message is generally caustic. You don’t make a positive comment in a whisper. Think about this. Really. It’s like acid. It burns!

The purpose for whispering is about power. Period. You can comment below if you disagree. I wish you would!

Closed door meetings are fine and needed. There is a time in management when you need to close the door and discuss issues with staff. But how often do you find yourself whispering? I think that when you whisper you are really showing your cards. You are posturing. You are manipulating. You are trying to gather folks for your position. You are whispering to make your point. Why do you it? Why do you whisper? Please- really thing about this!

When I close my door it’s primarily to avoid the noise. Yes, I have to discuss things in private with folks occasionally. And that’s OK. But when I close the door, I don’t feel like I need to whisper. When you whisper you are delivering a secret. A special, often strategic message. Don’t bite on this. When the level goes low- think! Why do I feel like I need to whisper? Why can’t I talk in a normal tone? Who does this benefit? There is usually a reason for the whisper. Adults generally get rid of this when they leave the playground. Right?

Remember what your Mom told you- if you can’t say something good about someone then don’t say it at all! There is a time to discuss performance and management issues in a closed door setting but this should not need to be a daily event.

It’s really good advice from your Mom. Don’t whisper. Listen to your Mom!

So what do you think?  Do you know someone who regularly lowers their voice.  Do you agree with the me that whispering is a sign of a problem?  Click on “leave a comment” and tell me what you think!