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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Why Should I Care About Eating Animals?

There are many ways people justify eating other animals and there is much misinformation around being vegan. It is sometimes difficult to wade through the morass of harmful perceptions, but today I will try, and try to do it concisely…

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I attempt to cut through the clutter of poor thinking and challenge conventional, broadly accepted ideas (the tagline of my blog used to be “Challenge convention; transform the world”) and reveal core truths using logic and rational consideration.

One of the big arguments for not going vegan comes down to some version of, “Why should I? Meat is delicious and change is hard.” Despite the myriad benefits to having healthier bodies, let’s appeal to our brains…

The best reason I can think of to be vegan is simple and profound:

Man is king of the Animal Kingdom.

Think about that. Whether we like it or accept it, we are the default rulers of this planet. We oversee the well-being of every living thing known in the universe. That is a profound responsibility, to say the least.

So ask yourself: what type of king (or queen) do you wish to be? Do you choose at every meal to be a cruel and merciless murderer of the very beings whose safe-keeping is (literally) in your hands? Or do you choose instead to be a benevolent ruler who demonstrates mercy, peace, and kinship with your entire kingdom?

The time may come when we are no longer the kings of the animal kingdom. What type of rulers would we want to be under the rule of?

Consider that the next time you move to swat a fly, put on a fur coat, or eat a burger.

I am not religious, but if I were, I would be frightened at the prospect that my Maker created me as one of the few animals on the planet who can choose not to kill for food. Why would He do that? My cat has no choice. She must eat meat or she will die; she is a carnivore. The mighty Brontosaurus had no choice, either; if the giant dinosaur ate only meat and dairy, it would die because it was a herbivore.

Humans are one of the select few omnivores to ever exist and we are unquestionably the only omnivores who can make a conscious, philosophical (or religious) decision about how we choose to live. No other creature in all of history or in the known universe has that distinction.

That is something to think about if you believe in a god or a judgment day. If you are Christian, even more scary because one of the cardinal ten rules God left for you was “Thou shalt not kill.” There is no asterisk after the commandment. It is unequivocal. It does not read, “Thou Shalt Not Kill*  (…*except on burger night or if bugs really bother you, or when driving mindlessly, etc.)”.

As one of the only creatures with the distinction of Choice, it is important to look at the choices we make and define our moral and ethical values. Food is such a crucial part of our lives. We are our own folly if we simply choose to do what feels comfortable and seems natural. Despite how it looks from our social training, do you think it is  natural to drink the milk of an entirely different species? Do you know of any other species that drinks milk past childhood, let alone milk designed for a completely different animal? Cow’s milk is made for a baby cow, not an adult human.

Whether we acknowledge our power and influence over the world as individuals or as a Human Race, there is no denying our place at the top of the food chain. Since the choice is ours to murder our fellow animals or allow them peaceful passage through our world to live as their inhuman nature dictates, what choice will we make to design a better future?

I choose Vegan. What’s your choice?

 

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Replace HR With Plumbers

Today’s Lesson: Choosing your team does not stop at choosing your team.

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Here are two ways people are hired:

1. Hire a worker–a professional sought for their expertise, value, and reputation.

“Welcome to Acme Corporation! We have screened a ton of applicants based on their skills, attitudes, and experiences, then narrowed them down to our top choices through a bunch of interviews, and then picked you because we think you are the best of the best! You have expertise in areas where we need help. You have experience successfully doing what we are hoping you will successfully do for us. You have a winning, ‘can-do!’ attitude we hope will fit, and enhance, our existing culture and team!

“Now, here are all the ways we are going to hamper you from doing what we hired you for. This is our rule book–don’t do any of this stuff or wear any of that stuff or share any stuff. These are our politics–be sure not to step on the wrong toes–we all work in fear here! These are our old, out-dated traditions. We hired you to help us move past them (because what we were doing before wasn’t working or else we wouldn’t need you). We are going to ask you for your input but we have no intention of actually challenging or changing any of our old ways–and don’t forget the politics-thing. Anyway, welcome aboard! We value our team and believe in doing the best work possible for our customers (as long as you do not try to shake things up).”

2. Hire a plumber–a professional sought for their expertise, value, and reputation.

“Dude, thank God you’re here! There is water everywhere. We tried turning the valve-thingy and nothing happened. We’ll pay whatever it takes. Just please fix it!”
Which hired professional do you think will generate faster, better results? Is your company hiring workers or plumbers?

 

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This Is 1950

Today’s Lesson: The world has never been better than it is now.

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In 1950, there were planes, but flying was for the very wealthy or for people who really needed to fly somewhere. Even when I was growing up in the seventies, flying was expensive and only for special occasions–you dressed up for a flight as if you were going to church.

Most people, even in the seventies, but especially in the fifties, were born, grew up, and died within a 30-mile radius. There wasn’t even Google Earth to virtually visit Paris.

Imagine that. Imagine if all the input you had about religion, morals, ethics, education, art, literature, and culture all came from no further than the town in which you were born. What would your tiny social bubble have you believe? Blacks are less than Whites? Marriage is only between a man and woman? The Russians are coming? The South is still fighting?

What flight did for the world is the same as what the car did for the nation. It opened boundaries and provided access to food, knowledge, and worldviews that transformed society. It allowed scientists to collaborate, politicians to regularly meet in-person, and engineers to stretch both their imaginations and their set of tools and teams.

The internet is doing the same but it is odd because it works in both directions, expanding and contracting at the same time. Thanks to the internet, you can explore the world on a 3-D map and communicate with businesses and people in foreign territories at your leisure. You can stay in touch with family and friends no matter where their journeys take them.

However, you can also shut the world out, filtering your social circle so you only receive news you want, interact with people who believe what you believe, and hear only music you have heard before. You can close the world out and stereotype and spread animosity, unfettered, with people in “your” tribe, losing contact with the rest of the world. You can stagnate, sustaining the dry husk of your potential on a diet of rotting ideas and long-dead ideals.

The nostalgia of the past may seem alluring but, by definition, it is also a whitewashing of history and denial of reality.

Yet, for perhaps the first and only time ever, you can choose to live in 2015 or in 1950.

You know what I am going to say here, right?

Choose wisely.

 

 

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Choose Your Poison

Today’s Lesson: You can beat addiction, but sometimes it’s better not to.

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I have more than 100 podcasts waiting for me to listen to them and more pile up every day. There are at least as many books I would like to read, and many audiobooks as well. There are more movies and television shows in my Netflix queue than I think I could watch if I retired from my job tonight and did nothing but Netflix until I turn 130 years old.

I am an information junkie. I love learning new things, seeing new art, creating new ideas. No matter how much I force into my little grapefruit-sized brain, I want more. Unfortunately, there is only one way to manage this addiction.

I have to choose what is important enough to spend my limited time on.

I have to choose what to allow into my grapefruit-sized brain. Since there is limited time (more so than the limited space), I have to decide if I want to fill it with violent games or space operas or self-help mumbo-jumbo. I have to decide who the people are that I think are important enough–have important enough things to say–that I should give up a bit of my life for them. Who are the authors, singers, animators, actors, friends, family, ideas, etc. worth letting into my head?

The worst part is, I even listen to my podcasts at one and a half times their normal speed so I can take in the information even faster.

I don’t even like chipmunks.

 

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You Are What You Seek

Today’s Lesson: You are like gravity. You attract the people, situations, feelings, and life surrounding you. If you see nothing but despair, inequality, and suffering everywhere you look, consider looking for better people, situations, feelings, and lives to surround yourself with. 

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Scrolling through social media posts is something I find myself limiting more and more. I like to see what friends and family are up to but I can only take it in small doses. The overwhelming majority of posts, in my opinion, are really just complaints (including mine, including this one!).

Some of us are on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Snapchat, Instagram, etc… to find and share everything we think is wrong with the world. Articles on people we never met who died, links to rants about politics, racism, sexism, posts challenging people who do not agree with our religion (or non-religion), pictures of the stupid people we saw or dumb things we did today, stories of abuse to people, pets, or the environment… the list is endless.

It is all like a cloud of poison, spreading and permeating gossip and negativity into the world. I get it. The world is not perfect and some people want to change it (most of us just want to complain about it, though, because actually changing it is hard and we are busy coming up with new complaints). Consider, however, how much of your life is spent seeking out what is wrong with everyone else’s lives.

Some people just seem miserable all the time. I feel for them. My life is not perfect by any means. I am always working to improve something, but generally, I do not seek or mostly ignore hate, bad parenting, tasteless humor, and anything that ends with -ism (racism, feminism, sexism, theism, environmentalism, etc.). Because I avoid these things and actively work to keep them out of my life, they are not part of my world (much).

I am not advocating living with rose-tinted lenses. I know there are real problems in the world, but unless we are individually actively and actually addressing them (which means doing more than sharing articles or sending what is essentially hate-mail to everyone, which means sending it to no one), I recommend taking the timeless advice grandmothers have given for generations: if you can’t say anything nice, then do not say anything at all.

It is okay to either not have an opinion or to keep one to yourself.

In the modern world, that may mean using a simple guideline to structure your world more positively. A good start for many is to simply un-friend or un-follow the people, organizations, or brands who are not making your life better. If they are not contributing to your life, then consider what they are contributing to.

You are what you seek. What world will you choose to live in today? 

 

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Should I Stay Up And Have Fun or Go to Bed Early?

Today’s Lesson: You have to pay if you want to play.

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Yesterday was Monday and we were invited to have drinks on the beach with some friends. Nicole had to get up early for work today so we had to consider the trade-off. (I made extra strong lattes this morning!)

We decided we could stay out until 10:30 which ended up being closer to midnight (on the beach, beautiful crescent moon, hanging with friends… how do you give that up before midnight?!?). It was a good time but as with any choice, every minute past 10:30 came at a price, to be paid this morning: waking up feeling sluggish, consuming extra caffeine and sugar, using more energy to focus, etc.

Whenever we choose to do something, we are also choosing not to do every other thing instead. When we choose to stay out late, we are also choosing not to have a relaxing evening at home and choosing not to have needed rest, and not to watch our favorite show, not to have spare time while preparing for bed, etc.

There is nothing wrong with the choice to stay out late once in a while but I often hear stories of people waking up regretting their choice because they did not realize it was their choice. They speak as if the night before happened to them instead of the other way around. We make our lives happen. Every choice is valid of its own accord but it is good to remind ourselves that for each choice we make, we are also choosing many other things by default.

Put another way: nothing in life comes free. We have to pay to play.

 

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Family First

The world is growing bigger and smaller simultaneously. Choose your life strategically.

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Moving across the country is daunting, to be sure, but there were several factors involved in choosing where we wanted to live. One of them was proximity to family.

Nicole and I narrowed down our list of places we wanted to pursue a life together to three main cities, and then eventually to one: Tampa, Florida. When we compared it to one of the other top two contenders (Austin and San Diego), I recognized two things fairly early:

1. There are no cheap flights to those cities and if everything went wrong, it would be very difficult to return to Michigan.

2. Though they both fit some aspects of our lifestyle better, one place they did not synchronize was with family. Most of our family are not vegan hipsters or music and technology lovers. Austin and San Diego are not at the top of their wish lists for places to visit repeatedly.

That meant we would have less access to the people who look out for us and less visits from our loved ones. Flights to Florida from Michigan are not always super cheap, but they are generally affordable and you can drive there in less than a day.

That helped make it easy to choose where our next adventure will begin.

Today’s Lesson: It’s okay to venture away from the nest… but be sure you know how to get back home.

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How To Be Happy

A friend, who has fought depression for a long time, asked me if I am really happy and how do I stay happy? 

 

Something to consider:

Happiness does not come from the desires you have met, the position you have attained, or the social graces others believe about you. There are people who follow every whim or desire but never seem happy. There are people who are in positions of power or authority, or have great wealth, but never seem happy. There are people who attend lots of social gatherings and seem to have lots of friends, but never feel happy.

Desires, Position, and Social Grace are not required for happiness. What is required is the willingness to be happy.

Happiness (or contentment, fulfillment, satisfaction, etc.) comes first from the choice to be willing to be happy. This is different from the choice to be happy. I have seen the phrase, “Choose Happiness” in many places but for some people, the basic choice is not happiness itself; it is simply being open to the idea that happiness exists and is attainable in a given moment.

I have found this to be most true in relationships. I have been in relationships where I have held to the past for too long, unwilling to let go of old hopes and desires or even old problems. The result was an inability to give my best to the relationship at hand. Suddenly, I would find issues from past relationships made their way into my current relationship. If not that, then I would simply not be able to be happy with the person I was with, even if she was a great person. She might have been everything I was looking for in a mate at the time, but still… I was not happy.

I did not know it at those times but it had nothing to do with the person I was with. I was simply not happy because I was not willing to be happy. Once I realized that, I made a choice. I chose to be willing to be happy. It was a conscious effort and I had to remind myself for months to keep being open to being happy. Eventually, I realized I was there. I was content. I was happy and had been for a while but I could not have told you where the turning point was. It was gradual, often deliberate, but it became easier until it became natural.

I am content now and have been for a long time. Beyond being willing to be happy, I have learned 3 other keys to happiness:

Gratitude. When I am not happy, it is usually because I am not grateful for what I have. I am stuck in a state of wanting something (usually something more, better, or different). If I pause and reflect on things I am grateful for (even simple things like the smell of autumn, or being able to see, or listening to my cat purr), then I will usually find something to smile about. Having a flashier car is not so big a desire when I realize many people would be happy to have a pair of warm socks and a meal today.

Humor. Life is crazy, right? Being able to roll with the ups and downs by appreciating the bizarre unpredictability of life and laughing with it makes the tough times easier to bear. Knowing I will eventually be able to look back and laugh when facing a difficult situation…sometimes that is enough to provide the strength to make it through. Laughing at myself is probably some of the best medicine I have taken. I have a lot of confidence and I can be arrogant sometimes but when I make an embarrassing mistake, rather than beat myself up I laugh with myself for not having the hubris to have seen the mistake coming in the first place. Laughing with myself also takes the tension off others who are not sure if they should laugh at a situation. Finally, being able to laugh (especially with myself) allows me to enjoy my company and appreciate both the good and rocky times of my life.

Self-Esteem. Without a high level of self-regard, both gratitude and humor become tools for self-loathing instead. Having a lot of self-esteem removes the cynicism that would otherwise befall laughing at oneself and it makes gratitude generous instead of suspicious. I think people with low self-esteem who demonstrate gratitude only share half of the sentences they are thinking. Someone with high self-esteem might say and think, “I am grateful to have a friend like you.” Someone with very low self-esteem might say, “I am grateful to have a friend like you,” but finish the thought in her mind, “…but what do you really want?”

 

Choose happiness, but first choose to be willing to be happy. Remember to have gratitude for your life, laugh with yourself during both the good and tough times, and hold yourself in high-regard by acknowledging your own greatness and the greatness of others. Perhaps most importantly, be deliberate about your happiness. As with anything, to be really good at it requires regular practice and a lot of patience. With happiness, though, half the fun is getting there!

 

 

 

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Commitment Anxiety?

I struggle with making time to exercise. Here is what I do to keep at it…

 

Some people love exercise. It puts them in a zone, makes them happy, or helps them alleviate stress. For me, exercise does not that. I don’t like it. For me, it is time-consuming, mindless, and boring. I would rather do dishes because at least I would feel like something was accomplished. I prefer immediate results over long-term results (and here, you could replace “exercise” with just about any goal). Nonetheless, I recognize both long-term and short-term results are important. I know I should exercise for the myriad benefits to health and wellness and because my body is a machine that needs proper care to function well, like any machine.

I find there are three secrets to making my long-term goals work for me.

 

  • Keep changing my approach. This keeps me from becoming bored and dropping it. For example, I might change the time of day I exercise (but I find I will almost never do it in the evening because I am usually mentally exhausted), or I will change the exercise itself. The last few weeks it has been push-ups and crunches. This week my morning exercise will be Sun Salutations.
  • Make it simple.I was waking up each morning and doing 30 push-ups and 20 crunches, basically 10 minutes of exercise. That’s it. If I commit to more, I find that I will procrastinate until it is too late. If I am feeling energetic and motivated and happen to wake up earlier than usual, I might go a little longer, but that does not happen very often. The way I see it, one push-up is better than none and 10 minutes is better than 0 minutes. I don’t beat myself up if I do not make it through the set either. Sometimes my energy or motivation is low. The important thing is I showed up and attempted.
  • I will not give up. Some days are better than others. Sometimes I am all over it; I have great command of my diet, plentiful energy, and all cylinders are firing. Other days, I am not into it. I might be feeling under the weather or just feeling depressed about my body. I am not going to commit 2 hours a day to working out because I have other goals to accomplish as well (and I do not like exercising that much), so I embrace that. My body is what I choose. If I have “extra padding”, it is because I choose to eat too much and exercise too little. That is okay (until it isn’t). I can choose to exercise more, too, when I am ready to sacrifice other time and energy to devote to it. I refuse to feel guilty or beat myself up for choices I consciously and willingly make. I accept the consequences (until I don’t, and then I choose to do better).

 

Today’s lesson, then, is this: don’t let yourself become bored with your routine. Keep your commitments simple (and over-deliver when you can). Make powerful choices and be aware when you choose, you also choose to accept the consequences of the action, and the non-action associated with your choice.

 

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