Light Hearted Leadership

I attended Seth Godin’s Leadership Workshop a couple weeks ago and “Rule 6” has been sticking with me. “Don’t forget Rule 6,” Seth admonished us attendees. Rule 6 is “Never take yourself too seriously.”

As an adolescent, I worked at my uncle’s restaurant, washing dishes. One day, I opened the faucet and the handle snapped, creating an instant water fountain in the kitchen. The cooks scrambled to save food. The bus boys scrambled to cover surfaces and keep things dry. The waitresses fled to keep their hair from getting wet. And the water kept gushing toward the ceiling. I was the only who didn’t move. I froze, panicked. I knew my uncle was going to kill me, I just knew it.

What I did not know, though, was my uncle had learned Rule 6. While I stared in awe and terror at the water-spout, my uncle grabbed a towel and forced the water down. “Mikey!” he said, snapping me to attention. I thought I was about to get fired… and then terminated. When I glanced up, though, my uncle looked like a dog who went swimming for the first time. He was soaking wet, hair in his face, and water dripping off every corner of his body but he had the biggest smile I had ever seen. Unbelievably, he started laughing. He said, “Guess we didn’t see that coming, huh?” I had no idea how much food we lost or what the clean-up was going to cost us but I knew it was a big hit financially that day, and it was somehow my fault, and my uncle was going to have to pay for it all and was about to fire me, and he was laughing?

“Hold this while I grab a wrench,” my uncle said, putting my hand on the towel holding back the water-spout. Seeing him laugh also eased the tension with everyone else in the kitchen. Within minutes, the cooks and bus boys were singing songs while they frantically cleaned up and sent orders out. Everyone was laughing and making jokes about what just happened.

After the water was mopped up and everything was put back together, I knew the yelling would come but it never did. I learned, over time, that my uncle had a light heart about the worst disasters. It was not that he did not respond or take appropriate action when bad things happened. It was that he did it while appreciating the absurdity of the unexpected. He knew things do not always go the way we want and when bad things happen, there was no point in reacting badly and making them worse.

Today, I lead with a light heart, too, and I appreciate Rule 6.

Problems are serious. Situations are serious. Strategy is serious. Emergencies are serious. But you don’t have to be. When problems arise, you do not have to be the type of person everyone expects to die from a stress-induced heart attack or brain aneurysm brought on by yelling so angrily you burst a blood vessel in your forehead.

Try being someone who understands life is not always perfect and knows the unexpected is the fun part. It’s okay to smile when bad things happen. It does not mean you do not recognize things have gone badly. It means you are committing to not making them worse. What good will lending a bad reaction to a bad situation do?

Life would be boring without the challenges, anyway.

Leading with a light heart during tough times endears your team to follow you and rise up, keeping light hearts as well (of course, some people will feel angry that you are not being “serious enough” for them–but that is their problem, isn’t it?). Think about it. If there was a disaster, which team would you want to be on?

The one singing and smiling while they continue to serve customers and get the job done, or… well… the other one?

You can choose to smile.

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Theory of Business Complexity

The father of computer science and artificial intelligence, Alan Turing, created a theory of computation which describes the limitations and capabilities of any computers we can imagine.

Turing’s theory, dumbed down to a basic of rule of thumb, tells us computing power is limited by only three things. These three things are also, I think, the limitations of human ability.

Consider that humans are essentially extraordinary computers. What we call “computers”, after all, are merely tools we have made to replicate facets of human behavior. Therefore, Turing’s limitations of computers applies to human brain power as well.

As a leader in your organization (or just as a leader in your life), these are the same three limitations you face against any complex problem. Here they are:

1.  Size. An easy way to think about this is to compare us to, let’s say, chickens. Why can’t chickens solve problems like transportation, communication, and space travel? Well, one obvious reason is they simply do not have the brain capacity. They are simply maxed out on storage space and memory. If their brains were big enough, though, they would have the capacity to know anything.

As humans, we have an abundance of capacity. Our brains are big enough to understand the mathematics of the universe and still leave room for remembering where our car keys are (most of the time).

Is the size of your team or organization large enough to handle the problem(s) you are facing? Do you have far more capacity than you can use?

2.  Speed. Chickens simply can not compute as fast as humans. If they could, they would be able to outsmart us (assuming they had enough capacity for planning), and perhaps even overthrow us as kings of the Animal Kingdom.

The reason a computer can outsmart a person when playing chess, is not a size issue. The human has the storage space in her head to know all possible moves and think through them accordingly. The obstacle is speed. A computer can calculate those possible moves in a fraction of the time a human can. Given enough time, a human can (and does) beat a computer at chess.

Does your team have the resources needed to move fast? How much of your return on investment goes back into improving training and providing better tools? Are you allowing your team the flexibility, trust, and authority to make decisions quickly, without you as the middle man? How can you go faster?

3.  Society. Actually, the word I want to use here is “culture”, but “society” keeps the alliteration with the “s” sounds. Nonetheless, think about the society chickens surround each other in. It is not a social norm or cultural expectation for them to develop their brains or think about complex problems. Chickens did not create fire or invent the wheel because chickens have not evolved a culture of learning, of problem solving, tinkering, or exercising creativity.

What is the society or culture of your company or team? Do you have a culture that embraces creativity or stifles it? (If you are stifling it, then you are probably doing so by limiting the Size or Speed of your team.) Do you have a culture of problem-solving, tinkering, and trying new ideas?

 

Turing came up with his theory of computational scalability in the 1930’s. The concept remains useful and relevant close to a hundred years later and in areas he probably never thought about it.

When facing what seems to be an insurmountable problem, take a step back from the issue itself and look at the three things that are actually limiting you from solving it: Size, Speed, and Society. If you focus on the underlying problems of capacity, timeliness, and culture (size, speed, and society), then you just might be able to solve any problem you come across.

I’d like to share more about this but my tablet’s battery is running low, I’ve got to hurry to another appointment, and my pets are looking at me like I spend too much time writing.

Size, Speed, Society.

Invest In Something Worthwhile

If you are chasing a career, passion, or hobby, the best way to succeed is to spend your money and time improving your skills.

The folly of many professionals is they do not understand this simple fact. They think training is something the company handles because it is in the company’s best interest, not something the employee should handle because it is in his or her own best interest.

Over the weekend I attended a Leadership course hosted by Seth Godin. The company I work for did not pay for it. I didn’t ask or tell anybody I was doing it. I ponied up for it on my time with my money because I am passionate about leadership and I want to further my skills.

I buy and read books about writing and marketing for the same reason.

There are lots of places and ways to invest your time and money: television shows, video games, car accessories, drinks with friends, etc. The thing is, all of those things do not give anything back to help develop you. There is nothing wrong with investing in those things but recognize most of the time they will not provide a good return on your investment.

The best investment you can make is in yourself. If you want a better future, invest in yourself now.

 

 

Finish Last, Not First

 

Last week I wrote about the importance of starting first. Many people fail simply because they fail to start.

Another way to fail is to finish before the race is over. You know the story already… a product that was ahead of its time and faded away just before the market exploded (think Odeo before podcasts really took off, or Chrysler’s first electric car before Tesla and Toyota timed it right).

In business, the first one to the finish line is not necessarily the best. The one who takes time to hone their product or craft and takes the long route to ensure what they deliver is the absolute best wins time and time again.

While companies like Blackberry, Microsoft, and Palm were rushing to put more and more junk phones on the market, Apple took the time to re-envision what a portable phone could be and when they hit the market, they revolutionized it. The same is true of Netflix (CD’s and DVD’s by mail order already existed but Netflix took the time to get it right). The same is true of Amazon (there were lots of companies with online stores but Amazon took the time to build a faster shipping platform and better return process). The same is true of Starbucks (there were lots of ways to get good coffee but Starbucks took the time to perfect the experience of buying it).

If you want to go from forgettable to remarkable… start first, not last and finish last, not first.

 

 

Start First, Not Last

I announced that Nicole and I are starting a new blog together, A Couple Vegans. We don’t know how, exactly, it is going to work. Do we take turns writing articles? Do we write them all together? Who is responsible for the website maintenance? Who is going to take on getting a logo created? Do we want a logo and brand? What is our long-term goal with the blog? The list goes on…

Many times we fail because we have the notion we can not start until everything is perfectly in place, until we know the end result and every step along the way. That is definitely a viable option for a select few but most of us (and I mean nearly all of us) will never move past the starting line if we wait until the plan is perfected.

“Start” can not be the last step of the plan. If we wait until everyone else finishes before we start, there is no point to trying.

Strong leaders have vision. They know (roughly) where they want to end up. They have a few ideas of how to set things in motion to get there. Then, they start. They do not plan for every eventuality or hiccup along the way. They plan for as much as they can, practically, and wait only as long as they have to. Once the essentials are in place, though, they go.

A Couple Vegans will evolve as we figure out what we want from it and how we intend to reach that goal, but the important thing is, the website is alive, now. It is real and in the world. We started first. We will figure out a lot of it as we go.

Put another away, the first step to success is Commitment. The second step is Execution. The final step is Repeat.

Start first, not last.

 

ANNOUNCEMENTS

THREE BIG ANNOUNCEMENTS:

First, I am excited to announce our new blog!

Nicole and I have been working hard on creating something together and we decided it is ready for prime time. Check out http://ACoupleVegans.com for our thoughts, help, support, and reviews about being vegan in Tampa (or anywhere, really)!

We are going to share our experience of being vegan, living a vegan lifestyle, how we eat, what foods we like, what we wear, and what we think of the local fare, plus a bunch more.

All my posts about being vegan have been migrated over there for your convenience.

Even if you are not vegan, I hope you will subscribe to A Couple Vegans because it will be full of good ideas, things to think about and talk about, rant about, or make fun of.

Second, I have added a “Donation” button to both blogs. It is crazy to think there are enough readers of my little blog in the blogverse to help support the cost of hosting, domains, writing, and web maintenance. Blogging is a labor of love with little pay (actually with zero pay over the first 10 years or so) and it is humbling and exciting to have an audience big enough and generous enough to want to support what I am doing.

I have no plans to “commercialize” my blogs by junking them up with flashing banner ads or sponsor announcements, so the “Donate” button is pretty much all I am going to offer or ask for in terms of support.

Feel free to donate as little or as much as you choose. Frankly, if every reader of this blog donated $1, I could run both blogs for 3 years (but that would not cover the time investment of writing, editing, or reviewing restaurants, so if you want to donate more, we will not be offended!).

Finally, this is only the first of three phases. MichaelSalamey.com will ultimately split into 3 separate blogs: the main one (this one), A Couple Vegans, and one I have yet to announce (I have not settled on the name but it will be coming later in the year and will be centered around leadership and vision). If all goes as planned, you might even see a book for sale by the end of the year (say what? A whole book?!? Yep–who knows? We could go totally crazy and write TWO! The internets will let you have as many as you want!).

This blog (MichaelSalamey.com) will continue to be the home for my random musings, rants, and miscellaneous stuff, but the postings will be less frequent as I build and contribute to the other blogs (lessons of the day might become lessons of the week, but I will make sure they are powerful lessons!).

So that’s it. Check out A Couple Vegans. Subscribe to it, please, to have posts delivered right to your inbox (and there might be a few extra surprises only for subscribers later this year).

If you like the content of either blog–if one of the lessons has improved your life in some way, or if being a little more vegan has made you feel a little better–please give back via the Donation button at the top.

Be sure to let us know what you think. You can, of course, catch me on your social media of choice by simply looking for me by name.

Thanks!

Update on Goals

I had 3 BIG goals for the last half of 2015:

  1. Rent a Stand-Up PaddleBoard.
  2. Climb a tree.
  3. Read fiction.

Of course, these were not big goals at all… except they were. The point was to show before we worry about life goals or changing the world, maybe we should work on small stuff that can have big impact on changing us.

So… how did I do?

1. Rent a Stand-Up Paddleboard… accomplished in late June or early July, shortly after I set the 3 goals, while I was still excited about them. It turns out, I have a passion for paddleboarding and have since made it a hobby! This was a very satisfying goal because it turned into a lifetime habit.

2. Climb a tree… accomplished November 25th. This was a lot scarier than I thought it would be and I procrastinated as long as I could. The last time I climbed a tree, I think I was in my teens and practically invincible. At 43, climbing a tree is a daunting, fear-inducing challenge. What if I fall? What if it’s covered in ants? What if there is a snake on that branch? What if I can’t get back down? I’m glad I did it but I have to admit, I probably won’t climb a tree again without a lot of incentive. Still, I had to pull up some courage to do it, and that was good.

3. Read a book of fiction… This was the toughest one. I finished “Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children” in late December, cutting it close. Over the last few years, I have read nothing but non-fiction. Reading fiction was a lot tougher than I thought it would be. I started about 10 books, including many classics, before I found one that captivated me enough to read it all the way through. By all accounts, this was not a well-written (or well-edited) story but the approach was clever and I enjoyed it. I can’t tell you if it worked my creative muscles–they feel the same, but I would not say it was a waste of time. It was fun to explore a new world in my mind.

Will I set another 3 goals for the first half of 2016? Definitely! It was a great exercise that gently pushed me from my comfort zones and, if nothing else, I gained a new skill with paddleboarding. I haven’t decided what my next 3 goals will be (I am probably going to carry over “reading a book of fiction” though) and I do not plan to blog about them (been there, done that) but it is a great, practical exercise everyone should try.

Before you set your New Year’s resolutions up (for failure)… consider scaling them down to 3 absurdly small goals that can make a big difference. Maybe instead of “lose 20 pounds”, try “explore three new places while walking around my city” or “iron my work clothes every week for a month” or “write a poem”.

Sometimes thinking small is the best way to achieve BIG results.

What’s Your Vacation?

 

We had 3 guests visit us over the last 2 weeks (when it is winter, people like to vacation in Florida–who would have guessed?). It was interesting because we try to be sure when we have visitors, we give them enough space and offer some novel things to do that we think might interest them. We also want to be sure they have a chance to do everything they wanted to do if they came with ideas of their own.

Each of our 3 guests, I think, had a completely different vacation.

Guest Number 1 came here to relax. She wanted to spend time coloring and having drinks with friends. She was up for pretty much any adventure in between those things–so we took her ziplining, paddleboarding (but it was too windy so we bailed on that), and walking along some trails on the Bay.

Guest Number 2’s ideal vacation was straightforward: spend time on the beach. Wake up on the beach. Lay out in the sun on the beach. Eat oysters by the beach. So we went to Clearwater Beach, Treasure Island, and R-Bar…a highly recommended oyster bar (I had tater tots).

Guest 3 was younger and wanted to see the nightlife and get some sun. Clubs, girls, drinks, sun, and laughter–perfect vacation for this one. Ybor City, St. Pete, the River Walk, Hard Rock, and Pier 60.

When I go on vacation (even if just around Tampa), I want to explore and find great vegan food. I will walk for miles, enjoying the architecture and scenery of a city, in between dropping by local coffee shops and veg-friendly restaurants. Drinking is optional. Beach is optional. I don’t care about museums or history tours or bars or dancing or sitting on a beach. I want to go on an adventure, see the parks, look at the buildings, and do at least one  thing I haven’t done before.

It turns out the ideal vacation is the one you enjoy, not the one you travel the farthest to or pay the most for.

It was great having friends and family visit. As the host, you can never be sure people are having a great time (unless they keep coming back, I suppose, but not everyone wants the same vacation twice).

Maybe the best part of vacation, though, is when it is over. Looking back and enjoying the memories again. Maybe the best vacation is the one you are quickest to remember with a smile.

 

Weak Nights

Most nights we are in bed around 10pm. With a friend visiting from out-of-town, though, Nicole and I spent the evening strolling downtown and trying a new restaurant.

I realized I had not seen the downtown river walk at night for months. A lot had changed and it was well worth the trip to stay out a little later than usual.

Do something outside of your routine now and then. The world is full of surprises.

Life Style

Everyone struggles to find work-life balance.

That struggle has made me a firm believer in managing by results over location and I am helping our organization transition to a workplace where the “place” is not part of the “work”.

A team-mate told me his plan is to move to another state in a few years and he is hoping we have an opportunity for him in Georgia. He quickly added, “But, by the way you are leading the company, we might all be working from wherever we want by then. You might already be living there when I get there!”

I was happy to hear his confidence in me, but it also got me thinking… when we are no longer location-centric because of work, what might life look like?

For me, I imagine designing my life in the style that works best for me and Nicole. Maybe we use technology, like Airbnb (for timeshare living), Uber (to get around), and Skype (for team availability) to stay connected and on-the-move at the same time. Maybe we have temporary set-ups in the places we most want to live, planning each year ahead.

It would take some planning but we could always live in our favorite places while working the same job. Nicole and I could spend Summer in Grand Rapids–June, July, and August. Fall in Portland–September. Winter in Tampa–November and December, Orlando–January and February, and Miami–March. Spring in Savannah–April and May. The next year it could be Chicago, Austin, Key West, San Diego, Detroit, and Seattle. Then Hawaii, Costa Rica, Paris, Ireland, and Montreal.

The only reason to limit the possibilities of Work, Life, and Balance is for fear of the alternative: limitless possibilities.