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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This Is 1950

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

*****

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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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. 

*****

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.

*****

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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An Easy Way To Have More Energy

Some days seem to drag while others zip by. You are the same person every day, so why don’t you have the same energy each day?

*****

Some nights you sleep well, some are a struggle. For the most part, you have your daily routines, eat pretty much the same types of food, and for the most part have the same amount of activity each day.

It all seems to average out but I have noticed people’s energy (meaning awareness, activity, and acuity) is all over the map. Some days we drag and feel sluggish, others we seem to come out swinging and hit home runs all day! Why isn’t our energy level average most days?

The easy answers, I know, are always external factors like sleep, caffeine, exercise, etc. Today, while I was driving, the sky was overcast and I did not care for the music playing in my car and I felt really bored and on the borderline of a headache. Then, one of my favorite songs came on just as the sun came out and before I knew it, I was singing and tapping my feet and I felt lively and alert.

During moments of the day, I had lots of energy–when I was engaged and enjoying myself, and during other moments all I wanted to do was nap.

I thought I did not sleep well last night or maybe I needed an extra caffeine or sugar boost today. Then I realized I was responding to external stimuli but the energy was coming from inside of me the whole time. I generated the energy I wanted when I wanted it. When I felt bored or depressed in a moment, I let that take over. All I had to do, though, was put on a good song, or smile and move and suddenly I felt better. I could have done that the whole time!

 

Today’s Lesson: You choose your energy level.

 

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Family First

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

*****

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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Why Did You Start Here?

Why did you take that job?

*****

There is a popular saying among leaders: “People do not quit their jobs. They quit their managers.” When I look back at the jobs I have left, most of the time that was true for me.

Today, I learned the adverse is also true. Before I decided to move out-of-state, I hired a new manager for my team. Between the time I extended the offer and her first day working for me, I made the decision to leave the company. I sat down with her today and explained the situation, assuring her she would be in good hands and laying out the details of her next few weeks. It was important to me, to make sure she felt supported and knew she has been set-up for success regardless of my departure.

After our conversation, she said, “I am really excited for you but I am also sad to see you go. We didn’t get to work together and one of the biggest reasons I decided to jump ship was because I wanted to come here and work for you.”

I was humbled and a bit awe-struck by the statement, though in retrospect, it seems obvious. She chose to work at this company based on conversations with me and the experiences I shared during our initial interview. She chose to work here because she trusts me, not necessarily because of what she read on our website.

When I thought about that, I realized that I also made many of my job choices because I liked, trusted, or recognized I could learn a lot from the person who interviewed me. In fact, the person representing the company was probably the biggest factor in my deciding to work for a company.

I was surprised to realize I was on the other side of that equation today.

 

Today’s Lesson: People do not quit their jobs. They quit their bosses. But also, people do not choose their jobs. They choose their leaders. 

 

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How To Make A Good Decision.

Many of us face tough decisions but have never been taught how to break one down. The Law of Identity might help.

 

Aristotle provided one of the most fundamental laws of both Physics and Philosophy. It is a statement consisting of only three letters that has transformed my life, empowered me as a leader, and made me a better man. It is known as the Law of Identity, and is one of the most profound statements ever written, yet it is deceptively simple:

A is A. 

In that tiny statement, Aristotle explains a fundamental principle of the universe, and oddly, a fundamental principle of decision-making. The Law of Identity means the universe does not exist in random order. A is A. A is never B. A white car remains the same color each time you look at it–the universe will not allow the car to be white and simultaneously black at the same time, in the same place, in the same way. A is always A.

Thanks to the Law of Identity, you wake up each morning as yourself. In a world where A can be something other than A, you might spontaneously turn into a tree, or your arm might be a duck, or you could wake up in the morning to find you are a giant cockroach… Without A is A, the world would be random and unpredictable in every way.

What A is A tells us about making decisions is equally profound. The Law of Identity bluntly says, “There are no contradictions.” Sometimes we come to a crossroads and have to make a difficult decision. The reason some decisions seem difficult is because we believe we have conflicting information. However, if we look deeper into the nature of both sides of the decision, we find one of our values or fundamental ideals is misaligned with the decision we are trying to make.

For example, I sometimes find myself having to decide if I want another cookie. I do want one, of course, but my rational brain reminds me of the dangers of over-eating (and sometimes I ignore it at my peril). I know having another cookie is a bad choice but I try to rationalize in any way I can to make it fit into my values. “I’ll just have one more bite,” I say, “That won’t make a difference” and then I devour the whole cookie, forgetting I said that. Or I might think, “Well, I’ll just work out harder tomorrow,” to justify the extra cookie–a promise I am aware I won’t keep.

The point is, I will justify the decision any way I can, rather than look at the fundamental premise behind it. At the basis of eating another cookie is a simple choice without contradiction: Life or Death? Choosing the unneeded cookie is a decision to choose its consequences–a step toward diabetes, regret, self-loathing about my body, etc. If I remember that A is A, then the decision is clear. Stopping now is a choice to live, to better my body, practice self-control, and be guilt-free. Of course, we are, most of us, really bad decision makers, so we go for the cookie.

A cookie might not matter so much, but about the choice to cheat on your spouse? We believe there is a contradiction–“I am not happy in my marriage, I deserve better, I am not receiving the attention or support I need, and I have been drinking so I can’t make a good decision now…” However, if we check our premises against the Law of Identity, the fundamental decision again becomes clear. Do you choose to have self-esteem and value your body by not giving it to a random stranger or do you choose to break the promise of fidelity you gave your partner, living a lie?

A is A.

We like to confuse ourselves by trying to ignore the fact that a decision to do something (say, spend $1,000 on a home theater system you will not remember owning in 20 years) is also a decision to not do something else (spend that $1,000 on a vacation you will remember the rest of your life). When you come to a difficult decision, take it down to the deepest, most fundamental question you can. Look at the nature of the decision and figure out your fundamental motivation for choosing–the nature of your choice. I can not say it  better than my favorite hero, Francisco D’Anconia, from my favorite book, Atlas Shrugged:

“Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think that you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.”

 

Today’s lesson: Choose wisely.

 

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Today’s Lesson: Don’t Borrow From Tomorrow [141022]

There is a saying in Nicole’s local yoga community, “Don’t borrow tomorrow’s problems.”

James Altucher, one of my favorite speakers, says to “avoid time traveling”–either to the past or the future.

When we remind ourselves of the painful lessons we have learned in the past, it is important to remember the lesson but forget the pain. All of the dumb things we did we can not change. All of the tragic things that happened to us can not be reversed. The past has passed. There is no point carrying it around with us like unwanted luggage.

We do not have to suffer with anything we have no power to affect.

The same is also true, then, of traveling to the future in our minds. Dreading something that has not happened yet is also pointless. You might not even live to see it, even if it is something that might happen only a few seconds from now. You might be about to give a speech and suddenly have a heart attack. How dumb would you feel about dreading the speech if you unexpectedly had to deal with cardiac arrest?

The point is, the past has been written and can not be changed. The future has yet to be written and can not be known. Therefore, the only time to live in is the present. You have absolute power over the moment you are in now. You can choose to read the next sentence. You can choose to change the world. You can choose to go to sleep and hope to wake up again.

But the only time you can choose is now. Right now.

Choose wisely.

 

 

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