Your Big 3 Changes This Year

New Year’s resolutions do not mean much to me since I don’t celebrate holidays. I have the freedom (and responsibility) to transform my life at any time, not just when a calendar flips. Here are 3 big experiments I am working on this year…

1.  Leaving Social Media Behind.

This is a big challenge for me, especially since I rely on social media to help distribute blog content. Still, I find Facebook and other services are not contributing to my life. If anything, they offer collections of complaints and negativity from people I honestly do not know well. I complain enough for everyone in my life. There is no need for additional support from Facebook “friends”.

Instead of mindlessly scrolling through social feeds, I fill time with things like reading and actually listening to people. It is harder than it sounds. I am used to half-listening while perusing memes. Now, I am relearning how to become comfortable with being bored.

Almost all creativity, I think, starts with boredom, with letting our minds wander.

2. Embracing Creativity.

I have all but abandoned my creative side in my quest to be a better leader, thinker, and blogger. I used to write poetry (you can read some of it here) and fancied myself a burgeoning novelist. I am not a good fiction writer, though. I want to shore up that part of my life and explore creativity with a bit more maturity.

Both sides of the intellect are important to me: creativity and logic. I bet I will bring better, more innovative ideas to leadership and business challenges by reuniting with my creative side.

3. Loving my body.

I know it is cliché. We are encouraged to love our bodies. For me, this does not mean unconditionally. Especially since I value my mind, I am not happy with my excess weight and the sluggishness it brings. My mind resides in my body. Therefore, having a sluggish body means having a sluggish mind. How much faster and better will I think when my body is running properly?

When we moved to Tampa, I assumed having summer year round meant more physical activity and easily dropping 20 or 30 pounds. It didn’t work that way. Nicole and I are more physically active year-round but vegan options are not as healthy or plentiful as in Grand Rapids and Detroit. That was a surprise, but the bigger surprise is I have not lost a pound after living here 2 years and being more active. Instead, I have gained a couple of injuries my extra luggage doesn’t help with.

I am learning about body alignment and how our bones and muscles are designed to bear loads. I saw a specialist to help with Achilles Tendon pain. Jen Hoffman is an alignment and movement specialist with her own short, weekly podcast, which I recommend. You can check out her Healthy Moving website here. Jen taught me how our muscles are attached to each other, creating a domino effect when something goes wrong. To help with my Achilles pain, for example, I am actually working on my Psoas (a muscle in my chest…to help with my foot pain–it’s all connected).

I don’t believe in diets and I hate gyms. That means, for me the path to success with health is through education and lifestyle transformation.

I am focusing on better alignment and eating better (and less) food. I am also experimenting with eating at different times (I used to eat dinner about an hour before bed). Being comfortable with feeling hungry is a struggle for me, as well, so I am embracing that feeling more often. I know those 20 pounds won’t drop fast but I’m not giving up until my body feels great again. Plus, I’m getting older, which means I lose muscle and bone mass faster than I used to.

 

Those are my current 3 big life experiments. They should carry me well into next year, when I will create more experiments. Living an experimental life is probably the best choice I have made, and one I encourage anyone to embrace. What experiments will you run in your life this year?

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Why I Left Social Media Behind

I am dropping off Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat, and most other social media platforms.

I know many people will not only relate to my reasons, but they might even applaud my decision (if only silently). I hope this experiment gives you some thought to the impact of social media and what value it brings to your life.

I am calling out Facebook here because it is easier than listing every platform, and it is the one I use most, as well as the biggest, easiest target. Think of “Facebook” as any social media service, though. I am talking about all of them.

Around 2005, I left cable television (hold on–this relates to the social media thing, I promise).

Watching TV stole months from my life. Time slipped away while I sat and watched it go each day. TV became my way of turning my brain off instead of engaging with the world. I found myself sitting to watch a show, and then channel surfing between shows, and then, before I knew it, half a day was gone. I didn’t even watch anything all the way through. That time was wasted. I learned nothing. I thought nothing. I did nothing. I might as well have been nothing, invisible to the world for the time spent staring mindlessly at a screen.

Dropping cable in favor of curated content from the internet or no content at all was a great decision. When I watch TV now, it is only when I actively choose to do so and I am engaged in the content. TV is no longer background noise to all my conversations. Instead, I listen to the person speaking rather than divide my attention between the person and commercials designed to steal my attention.

Facebook has slowly filled the gap cable television left. It has become the thing I do to avoid thinking when I am bored, scrolling mindlessly through my feed.

There are 5 real reasons I use Facebook and other social media and, except for one, they are all reasons I should reconsider…

1. Distribute my blog. This is the main reason I am on social media. Most of my readers find this blog and A Couple Vegans (which I write with Nicole) through Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Moving away from social media means damaging my audience size and reach. That is scary. I have built this blog over roughly 10 years to amass around 4,000 subscribers. Admittedly, not much compared to bigger brands or names, but I never chased an audience or marketed this blog. Still, only about 200 readers consistently visit MichaelSalamey.com (maybe the rest are subscribed via email but–how many email subscriptions do you actually read each week?). A Couple Vegans is only a few months old and only has a handful of subscribers itself (about a hundred so far–also with no marketing other than word of mouth).

So… for you 300 or so people consistently visiting my blog(s), you might be the only people I am writing to in the future. Thanks for subscribing, by the way, and for sharing the posts you like. You are my only advertising.

2. I use social media to have meaningless relationships with people I do not want to have actual contact with in real life. That sounds bad but it is not a bad thing. Facebook allows me to exist on the periphery of the lives of people I almost care about… but not enough to actually engage with face-to-face. For someone like me, this is of great benefit.

As a slightly sociopathic but high-functioning ambivert, I am friendly to everybody… but, to be honest, I do not relate to most people. I am not even sure I like most people. In fact, only one or two people have open access to my time. Other than Nicole, nobody hangs out with me regularly.

Socially speaking, maybe that is pathetic. It is not you, though. It’s me.

At the risk of sounding (more) egotistical, perhaps I am that rare thing everyone believes themselves to be, but almost no one is… a man who thinks for himself.

My values, philosophy, beliefs, moral code, and system of ethics rarely integrate with those of others. Actually… never, so far. But I suspect that is why people read my blog–you can expect a unique view of things. In my personal life, I have been told no one can live up to my standards. So maybe it is not that I do not like most people. Maybe it is that I have yet to meet people who are more like me.

Living a life where the common ground I have with most people amounts to polite tolerance of each other, honestly, is lonely for me. I wish I could be dumber or smarter, instead of in this middle ground between average and almost-greatness… floating in some purgatory, unable to feel part of either mass popularity or eccentric genius.

Woe is me. First World problems. The point is, Facebook is a great way for some people to feel involved in the world without actually having to BE involved in the world. That is a mostly good thing but it is something I can use less of.

3. I stalk people and popular news stories. The same curiosity that drives people to the zoo drives me to keep up on news and social circles. We visit the zoo expecting to see elephants in their natural habitat, but instead see morbidly depressed animals slowly pacing or pooping. Part of us yearns to hear the elephant’s trumpet or watch a lion charge across the plains. Similarly, Facebook delivers less on its promise and more on the mundanity of our lives.

Social media updates are about what someone ate, aspirational quotes the posters have never incorporated into their lives, open displays of the obscure relationship some people have with their faith and binge-drinking. People check-in from whenever they are standing in line, or spout the bizarrely irrational political or dogmatic views they have. Some people insist on sharing their ignorance with the world. It’s confounding, but I am also probably one of them.

Still, I am too often disappointed when I see someone’s Facebook feed. I liked them before knowing their goofball endorsements of products or illogical values. It was better when I could assume they were, on most levels, rational.

4. To learn about local events. Social media is helpful for this. Nicole and I do a lot of cool things because of events posted on Facebook. Another plus of leaving it behind, though, is I might save money by not knowing about most events.

5. I use social media to pass time and avoid human interaction. It is easier–preferable, even–to avoid engaging strangers while standing in line or waiting for food. Instead, I can pretend that scanning short, mostly irrelevant articles or updates is extraordinarily important right at that moment. While waiting to have my groceries scanned, I stare at my phone like I am reading my secret agent mission dossier or studying up on quantum physics. I’m actually just looking at Caturday memes.

We like to think that “catching up on Facebook” is the same as “catching up with friends” but it is not the same. I must have an investment in someone’s life to “catch up” on their life. People share superficial thoughts, vague requests for prayers about problems I don’t understand for people I do not know (I love the term for this: “Vaguebooking”). We share memes and sensationalized news stories. That is not catching up with friends. That is walking through conversations at a dinner party… except without dinner or a party, or anywhere to go.

 

What will I do when I am bored now?

Those 5 things are not contributing enough to me, so I am leaving social media behind. My phrasing is important, by the way. I did not say “I am leaving social media”. I am saying, “I am leaving social media behind.” I am moving on, not away. I am going to find something better. However, I do not know what that is yet, exactly.

I guess I will write, think, speak to people, and read more books. Maybe I will just be present, observing and appreciating the world around me. Maybe I will engage my creative side and take time to daydream. Whatever I do to fill the time Facebook sucked away, I doubt I will look back and think, “I wish I spent less time enjoying the breeze on my face and more time staring at my phone, scrolling through dumb articles and avoiding my life.”

That being said, this is still an experiment. I am not deleting my accounts. I might change my mind on all of this, or I might want to try again with a different approach. What I plan to do is log out of my accounts and uninstall the apps from my phone.

That means my blog will still post on my social media streams for now, but nothing else will, and I won’t be sharing my posts on my personal Facebook feed, where most people see them.

Some people actually might miss me on social media. Well, at least I like to think that, but I suspect most people will never know I left. It’s like quietly slipping away from a party. Maybe one or two people will notice they have not seen me in a while, but they will move on in a few minutes.

The fact is, I am not as important as I like to think I am.

If you want to know what I am up to or how I am doing, though, then you will have to do something scary. You will have to choose if you want me in your life, how much time you would like me to spend there, and then connect with me directly. I might reject you. You might reject me. Or we might build a real, legitimate friendship in the real world. I know. Scary, right?

There are some apps I am keeping, at least for now. I will stay on WhatsApp because I can create specific social circles with people I care about (like my brothers and parents) where we can have conversations in small groups that matter, where every word counts. I am keeping Hangouts for texting–again, direct one-to-one conversations, and I plan to stay on other direct message platforms like GroupMe and Slack.

Of course, you will be able to text me, instant message me on Hangouts, email me (MichaelSalamey@gmail.com) or reach me through one of my blogs.

Honestly, you probably won’t know I’m gone, but if you miss me, don’t be a stranger… or at least no stranger than me. Hopefully, not seeing me on Facebook will help you wonder what I am up to, and what you could be up to if you were not on Facebook.

Good luck either way. Maybe I’ll see you later… in the real world!

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Would You Have A Beer With Me?

When I choose people for my team, I look for the right skills and experience but I don’t bank everything on someone’s credentials or qualifications. I can teach a new team member how to do what I need them to do but I can not teach charisma, candor, or personality.

One thing I think about when I am interviewing is, “Would I want to have a beer with this person?” In other words, do I like this person? Are they interesting? Do I want to learn more about them? Could I see myself hanging out with them in a non-work environment?

One of the most important things you can do when choosing the people around you is choose people you genuinely like.

Working with people you enjoy being around makes life more interesting, work more engaging, and relationships more enriching.

(If you don’t drink beer, by the way, just replace it with “tea” or “lunch” or something else that works for you.)

 

 

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Why Do You Want To Succeed?

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This house sits across the waterway in front of the trail surrounding our apartment building. We live in luxury apartments on Tampa Bay but they are decidedly less luxurious than the mansions lining the other side of the channel.

Check it out. There is a white sand beach behind that house, with several beach chairs, hammocks, a jungle gym for kids, trampoline, spacious upper deck and huge lanai for those few rainy days. The house is surrounded by palm trees and sitting right on the gulf–that’s a saltwater channel. This is the house you dream of owning while putting yourself through college.

The thing is, I don’t know who owns it. I have never seen anybody there. Its own private beach built for parties and family gatherings or just for lounging after a long day, to my knowledge, has never been used.

I walk by that house and its many neighboring mansions at least twice a day, at varying times. For almost six months now, as I pass my apartment neighbors along the walking trail on our side of the channel, I see the mansions lining the other side every day.

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And yet… I have never seen anyone outside on that side of the channel. Not once. Nobody lounging in the yard, nobody barbecuing on their huge deck, nobody sunning by their boat docks, nobody swimming in their infinity pools in front of the bay.

20160305_070417My theory about that is simple. The people who own those mansions never have time to enjoy their house with private beach or huge double decks because those people are too busy working to pay for the home and car and lifestyle.

The point is, in our cultural addiction for succeeding (whatever that means), how often do we stop to ask, “Why do I want to succeed? What does success look like, to me? How will I know when I am there?”

We are steeped in a constant pressure cooker to buy more things, own bigger things, make more money, have a nicer car, hang out with more important people… to the point where success has become the means and the end in itself…a never ending cycle.

The problem, then, is if you succeed… then what?

Why own a house you never see? Why have a private beach if you never get to lay in the hammock at the water? Why own a luxury car if you will never have the spare time to read the manual and find out what makes it luxurious?

Success is important. Don’t get me wrong. Evolution demands that we, as a species, continue to improve, and grow, and prosper. It is our nature, literally in our genes. However, it does not matter how rich you become, or how famous, or how talented, if you have no idea what to do with your money, or popularity, or skills, once you attain them.

If you have no purpose, having more success won’t help.

Or, put another way, regardless of how old or successful you are… what do you want to be when you grow up?

Be that. The house, money, and car won’t make a difference… unless you wanted to be a big empty house when you grow up.

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Stay Cool Everybody

As our new hires wrapped up their training, I asked what was the thing they would most remember about their experience after we flew them back to their home markets.

“Everybody in the company is just so cool…” was their biggest take-away.

As a company, you can offer a lot of things to lure talented workers… money, benefits, job perks, starting bonuses, etc. The catch with that is there will always be a company that can offer more of those.

The thing no other company can offer is your culture. When employees know they are working with a purpose, surrounded by other motivated, friendly people who are there to support them, those other things melt away.

Every company has a culture and a subtext to the culture. The subtext lives in the parentheticals, fleshing out the full culture. It looks like this:

Our company culture is based on  Teamwork (but not across teams, only with the few coworkers in your trusted circle), Empowerment (but we do not actually trust you or want you to make decisions), and Integrity (but we have never looked that word up in a dictionary or defined what it means, specifically, to our company–it just sounds like a good, important thing to have).

Lofty words sound nice. As a new employee, I would assume the company I chose to work for believes in things like Honesty, Transparency, and Trust–but just because it is in the Mission Statement does not mean it is in the culture.

Creating a powerful company culture is a modern complexity and many (indeed, most) companies struggle with it, but it is super simple. Culture starts at the top, with the examples set by the company leaders.

Leaders lead.

If they live the culture they want others to follow, what fills the parentheses will take care of itself. In other words, a duplicitous leader creates a duplicitous culture. Leaders who show Teamwork, grant Empowerment and Trust before those things are begged for, define Integrity and demonstrate it, are Transparent about the what and why of decisions, and hold Honesty as high a value as proper hygiene… well, those leaders have employees who leave the corporate office saying, “Everybody in the company is just so cool!”

Be calm and stay cool, leaders.

 

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Lead With A Light Touch

There is a pervasive fear among inexperienced leaders: “I can’t trust my people.”

They never say it that way, of course. They may not even realize they feel that way. It comes out in more innocuous ways. It is the leader who is a borderline micro-manager (because people need direction), the person that resists delegating a task (because it has to be done “right”), or the time-watcher who judges their team’s commitment by what time each member’s day starts and finishes (rather than by the results they produced).

In other words, these people are heavy-handed leaders. They believe they have to be involved in everything, every step of the way. They worry if anyone else takes the wheel, that person will promptly drive the bus off a cliff.

I prefer to lead using cruise-control, adjusting course with a light touch, as needed. I grant my team a lot of authority and let them do things their way. In fact, one of the trade-offs of being a leader is you no longer get to decide what the “right way” to do something is. You give up having the only answers and trust people to reach the same results you would, but in their own way. In other words, I might show a team member how I perform a task but I do not expect them to do it the same way I showed them now and forever. I expect them to do it whatever way works best for them.

The way I see it, my job as a leader, has three primary functions:

1.  Teach my team to think for themselves and create their own ways of getting work done. Essentially, as long as we are doing nothing that is immoral, unethical, or illegal, we are on the right track.

2.  Stay out of their way. I provide their assignments and some direction. I am here for questions. Outside of that and asking for a regular update if I am not hearing from them (in case I have to update anyone), I trust them to do their work.

3.  Remove obstacles. The time when it is appropriate to step in as a leader is when your team hits a roadblock. Then, you jump in and clear that roadblock–whether it is to provide tools or  political cover or simply moral support–and then get back out-of-the-way.

 

Leading with a light touch helps your team rely on themselves, trust their decisions, and grow both personally and professionally. It helps you grow, too. When you learn to clear roadblocks instead of being a roadblock, you become an effective and trusted leader. You set the example for others and you end up determining the course of the whole organization, almost invisibly.

It is simple when you think about it. Just be someone you would want to work for.

Go. Lead.

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How To Succeed Despite Your Best Efforts

 

Nicole and I are both successful professionals but we each took a different path to arrive here. Nicole is a true professional any way you can define it. Her resume is polished. Her career path is clear and sensible. She has done a remarkable job managing her career and it has paid off.

Reading Nicole’s resume is like watching a Pixar movie. You can clearly see the formula to success and every plot point along the way is clear. One job leads fluidly to another with increasing levels of responsibility. She has two degrees, has done volunteer work in her field, has sought successful mentors and top-notch references, and has plenty of credentialed post education awards and certificates.

In short, she did everything right and is enjoying the fruits of her efforts.

I have found success, too, but I have done everything wrong. Reading my resume is like watching a Quentin Tarantino movie. It seems haphazard, the timeline is broken, and nothing makes sense until the end.

Both paths are fine and if you are driven, both paths will take you where you want to go despite the warnings of conventional wisdom. Nicole’s path is more reliable. It is the more intelligent way to go, in my opinion, but it was not for me.

I dropped out of college. I left high paying positions for lower paying ones to follow passion. I went into business for myself (and failed, twice). I tried to be an artist. I tried to be a customs broker. I tried to be a professional movie critic and an IT Security Administrator. I have been a public speaker, a sales manager, a pizza delivery driver, a telemarketer, a small business consultant, and (a LOT) more. I have been fired, demoted, and denied positions. I have gaps in my employment history, I have been in trouble with the law, and I have burned bridges with former employers.

The fact is, I have succeeded in spite of my best efforts, not because of them. The success I have found has mostly come from the wisdom of many, many failures.

Nonetheless, I would not begrudge anyone for doing things the hard way, like me. In fact, I would argue the wisdom I gained from being young and stupid has become invaluable to me as I mature into mid-life.

So, how do you succeed despite what seems like your best efforts to undermine your success?

Here is what I did…

To become an author, I did not pursue a degree in writing. I started a blog and read books about writing… and then I wrote. Terribly at first, but I kept going until I became better.

To become a leader, I did not go to school to learn about leadership or organizational development. Instead, I had bosses who recommended great books. Then I learned from both the books and the bosses until I gained enough knowledge and wisdom to try my own ideas. Then I applied myself. Terribly at first, but I kept going until I became better. I continue to read, learn, apply, and create.

To become someone with vision and a penchant for thinking outside of convention, I did not get a degree in Sociology or Information Technology. Instead, I read a lot of books by people who proposed ideas that seemed absurd to me (until I read them) and then I challenged everything I thought was true. I still do this and I am still amazed at how different the world is today from what I thought it was yesterday, every day.

I do not have a “natural talent” for anything. I was not born with a special gift. I do not have quick-response muscles like some people. I was never the smartest kid in class (until I left school). I don’t fight crime because my parents were murdered–I don’t have any special drive to be famous, or rich, or altruistic. The only thing that might make me exceptional is maybe being good at being persistent and resilient.

You can take whatever path to success you want, but if you want to succeed despite your best efforts to undermine a traditional path to success, then you have to be willing to do three things:

Get up every morning. Do what you did yesterday a little better today.  Keep going.

Maybe, one more thing… don’t get so caught up following the trail that you forget to stray away from it once in a while. There is a lot of cool stuff off the beaten path.

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Don’t Pay For Performance

I use a radical hiring ideology: pay the most we feel a position is worth.

In other words, when I look at an open position, the question I ask is not, “What is the cheapest we can get someone for?” It is not, “What is the competition paying?”. The question I ask is, “If we found the perfect person for this position, someone who will knock it out of the park and make our team even better… what would I be willing to pay that person if she was the world’s best negotiator? What is the price she would command?”

That’s where I start. Then I do a deep-dive compensation analysis of the market, the cost of living, unemployment rate in the area, etc. and adjust according to what we can afford.

This flies in the face of nearly every employer I have ever worked for… and it has been an incredibly successful approach.

There is a fundamental breakdown in the way employers approach hiring. Most companies have an entrepreneurial philosophy–start with a lower wage and reward performance as people help the company grow.

It makes sense on its face, especially in Sales. If you drive the business and bust hump, you will reap the benefits of “unlimited earning potential!”. Except there is no such thing. You might as well offer free unicorn rides to your potential hires… and they know that is what you are offering.

Performance-based pay generally breaks down in at least two ways…

1.  Potential hires know if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. If I could simply out-work my fellow team members to enjoy the laurels of success, then I would already be a multi-millionaire, and so would most of my friends. The fact is performance based pay is presented as a carrot when it is actually a stick. The target to success is a moving one (sales quotas always go up, never down), politics become involved, and, quite honestly, most employees do not understand how the financials of a company work–they just know the company made X millions of dollars last year and they made X thousands.

2.  When you start with a lower base-pay, you lower the quality of people in the running. This is the big one that most employers miss. You might have a starting pay of $8 per hour but you know that a decent employee will end up making $23 per hour if they are good at their job and earn bonuses. The problem is, the person you hired applied for an $8 per hour job. They didn’t do the math. They don’t know how your bonus structure works or what obstacles might be placed in their way. You are hiring the type of person who applies for an $8 per hour job. Why not hire the type of person who applies for a $23 per hour job from the start?

 

I get it. Most companies were started by, or are run by, entrepreneurs at heart. They are the rare few people who find a way to succeed no matter what. They see the world in a unique way and leverage their vision and nearly limitless drive to make things happen. Their folly is they assume the rest of the world is just like them. They assume that a meritocratic salary structure that rewards performance will automatically weed out the weak and reward the best in their best people.

Sometimes it works. There is always a diamond in the rough waiting to be found and developed. Here is another approach to consider, though:

Find the people who are already top performers and hire them. The guy that is already earning $23 per hour is not looking at jobs advertised at $8 per hour “with unlimited earning potential!”. He is looking at $30 per hour jobs. He has already put in his time to prove his value. He is already successful and motivated–that’s how he got to where he is. With rare exception, he is not looking to start at the bottom again.

If your hope is to find a total rock star employee, then start at the top–where they live, not the bottom.

Or better… don’t. I like not having to compete for the best people.

 

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Principles Instead of Goals

One of my goals this year is to do away with goals.

I have been wondering about the effectiveness of goal-setting for some time and it is hard for me to accept that setting goals is not worthwhile. Yet… in a world of constant fluctuation, I find goals to be merely placeholders instead of targets.

When you set a goal, one of two things happens. You achieve it or you don’t. If you don’t, typically, you just move the goal. Many people set a goal of “lose weight” at the beginning of the year, for example. Many people do not achieve their goal or, if they do, they quickly slide back. For those that do not reach the goal, they move the goal. “I’ll try again next year,” or, “I’ll just try to lose 10 pounds by March instead of 20.”

The same thing applies to business goals. Sales teams try to hit their target–sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t. If they do, the target gets set higher–it moves. If they don’t, the date to reach the target is adjusted–the goal still moves.

The point of a goal is to inspire people to do better but I think there is a better way to do that. Rather than living for goals, live by principles.

Principles work differently. If I live by the principles of eating healthy and staying active, then I probably will never have to worry about reaching a weight goal. If my organization lives by the principle of “deliver amazing service for a fair price” then the sales will take care of themselves.

Wherever I see a goal now, I am going to look at the underlying principle that is supposed to be driving it and examine why the principle is not being lived up to rather than why the goal is not being met.

I think if we identify the correct principles, we will never have to waste our time or energy on chasing goals and targets.

Goals are a finish line at the end of a race. Principles are what make you want to run in the first place.

Principles over Goals.

 

 

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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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