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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What Are You Doing Today?

Maybe the most important thing we do in life is change.

If you are here and not growing, not learning, not transforming the world around you, then what will be left of you when you are gone? Fame, fortune, and history are all eventually washed from the shores of Time. There will be a day when those who seem to have surpassed history–Aristotle, Beethoven, Jesus, for example–when even those names are no longer familiar to anyone’s tongue.

If, in time, Time cleans the slate of all marks, all contribution… then the only time that matters for any of us is Now. The marks we leave on the world may be fleeting in the future but now they matter. Now.

The question you are left with, then, is: What are you doing today?

What are you doing today to matter in your own life?

What are you doing today to matter to somebody, even if that somebody is you?

What are you doing today to make your world a little better?

What are you doing today… that you will remember tomorrow… if you are lucky enough to see it?

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When To Ask For Help

Most people ask for help when they know they are in the middle of a problem they can not solve alone.

Employees wait until they know they will miss a deadline before reaching out to a supervisor. Couples wait until they are on the edge of separation before seeing a counselor. Drivers wait until they are lost before asking for directions.

Top professionals, however, ask for help BEFORE they encounter a problem, trying to anticipate problems likely to rise in their path.

Hopeful athletes find a coach long before they try out for the Olympics. The best actors find help by studying at Julliard before becoming renowned for their art. Great chess players spend years reading and learning likely outcomes for moves, anticipating plays brought on by opponents.

Whether your intention is to have a great date, be the next Kasparov, or just finish a project on time and on budget… don’t wait until you are in the problem to seek help.

Think like a pro and beat the problem to the problem. And then… no problem!

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Spelling Matters

At its core, a leader’s job is to convince people to willingly do stuff. (By contrast, prison guards are paid to convince people to do stuff against their will–which do you have at your company?)

To be successful at his or her job, a leader only has one legitimate tool: Communication. Everything else is gimmicks or props to help with that single tool.

Martin Luther King, Jr. never carried a gun or used a hammer. He moved the world with the power of his words and nothing more. Same with John F. Kennedy. Same with Gandhi. Same with Carl Sagan, Hedy Lamarr, Mother Theresa, and nearly every other leader you can think of.

Yet… so many leaders neglect the only tool they have. I see countless emails with spelling errors from people expecting to, hoping to, or actually charged with leading others.

Spelling matters. Grammar matters. The power of a leader is not in their title. Neither Gandhi nor Martin Luther King, Jr. were appointed “Manager of Peaceful Relations”. The only title most people knew Hedy Lamarr by was “actress” though she was one of the most brilliant inventors of her time. A leader’s power and influence comes not from a title but from what they speak and write.

You could argue a leader’s power and influence also comes from what they do (their actions) but I assert if a leader’s speaking and writing is in alignment, his actions will automatically align with those values. Show me a sloppy speaker who leads by action alone and I will show you a comic book hero, like Batman. A real-world true leader has one core tool–communication. Everything else stems from that. Her actions are only as good as how well she professes to use them (both to herself and others).

Of course, no one is perfect but if you are hoping to lead others using the one tool you have and you do not know the difference between “there”, “they’re”, and “their”, or “to”, “two”, and “too”, and  you are too lazy to learn, then you are openly displaying your incompetence at leading… and other people see it.

You may not think spelling names correctly is a big deal or a few typos in an email is acceptable because you are busy. Consider instead that every typo, misspelling, grammar faux pas, and run-on sentence is a signal to the person who caught it that you do not know what you are doing. Spelling matters. Grammar matters.

If you are leading, or want to lead effectively, take the time to proof-read your messages. Use spell-check. Look up words you are unsure of. Learn the nuance of language (or at least the basic construction of sentences). Practice being precise in your writing and speaking, which will lead to precision in thinking, and thus to precision in action.

Precision with spelling and grammar leads to precision everywhere. Sloppiness in your writing and speaking leads to sloppiness everywhere.

Alternatively, if you prefer your career path to ultimately end at the tip of a fast-food chain’s spatula, than dont worry about you’re speling and grammer and you could end up their! 

 

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Why Does It Matter?

“Why does it matter…?”

The better you become at asking this question to yourself, and answering it out loud before others speak up (if they will speak up), the closer you come to the essence of leadership.

Why does it matter? Because you care enough to answer the next, obvious question:

“How can I make it better?”

 

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Want To Be Promoted?

Regardless of the position or company I am working in, at least a few times a year, I am approached by team members who believe it is time for their hard work to be recognized in the form of a promotion and monetary increase. “You know, I feel I deserve a raise,” they tell me, “I have been putting in extra hours and working really hard.”

There are a few problems with this from my perspective. If you have had, or want to have, this conversation with your boss, please let me help you.

Let’s start with the rationale itself… “I feel I deserve a raise…”

Okay, and…? So do I. So does everyone else, in every job, every where. I am not sure why YOU specifically feeling you deserve something should prompt ME (or the company) to comply. “I feel I deserve” is not a compelling reason to grant a promotion.

“I put in extra hours and work really hard…” This used to matter. Gen X’ers struggle with the concept that “keeping quiet and working hard” is no longer a strategy for success. With so many technological tools and best practices at our disposal, I put little to no stock in working extra hours. If there is anyone else on your team having success and working fewer hours than you, then you have only told me you are inefficient. I appreciate your commitment but that is still not a compelling reason to promote you. In fact, it is a pretty good reason not to. If you are struggling in your current role (and, frankly, advertising it), then why would I expect you to magically perform better in a higher level, higher pressure role? If you are struggling with work/life balance now, how will piling on more difficult work increase your morale, well-being, or commitment to our mission?

As far as “working really hard”, I am not sure what the distinction between working hard and working really hard is, but my assumption is all of my team members work hard. That is the baseline for being on my team, not a reason to promote a team member.

Okay, so now you know what not to do if you want to make a compelling argument for a raise or promotion. Let’s look at what you can do to lock in your success.

The first thing is, get it out of your head that you need the promotion before you can earn the role. That is not how it works.

When I was promoted from a sales manager to a district manager at a company I used to work for, the position was mine to lose. In other words, the promotion was locked in before I applied for it. Here is how I did it… I asked my boss (the former district manager) how I could help her. At first, she gave me small tasks. Could I visit another store and help coach some team members there? That was a district manager responsibility but I took it on. I didn’t ask for a raise for doing it. I just did it, and did it to the best of my ability. Then, I was helping with hiring, helping pre-screen applicants. Soon, I was a partner to my boss, helping develop strategies for success and taking on more and more of her duties, while she worked on bigger, more important tasks.

When the opportunity for a promotion came up, there was barely a question if I was going to get it. I was already fulfilling most of the role!

THAT is the fastest, best way I know to secure a promotion. As a general rule, I believe you should be able to competently do your job, plus at least one half of the next job up. That is a lot. It requires you to be more efficient, delegate effectively, and stretch your boundaries. In my mind, the person who does that does not deserve a promotion. They earned it, and it is obvious they earned it.

The other approach (and it is best if you can combine both) is to show your work. I don’t care who feels like they should be handed more money and a bigger title. I care who is achieving results. Nobody in the company should be keeping better data on your results than you. Don’t tell me you have been working really hard. Prove it. Show me the data that demonstrates how much efficiency your team has gained as a result of your efforts. Let me know what team members have improved thanks to your coaching, and by how much, and in what ways they have improved. Have your statistics ready, with a catalog of your wins.

The fact is, your boss is probably moving too fast to focus on, let alone remember, all the little (or even huge) ways you have contributed to the team’s success. Keep your own scorecard and have it ready when you are going for a promotion.

When I went for that district manager position, not only did I have my statistics and record of wins ready to go, but also I had a 34-page training manual to help the other store managers become more effective. I had already garnered a reputation for being willing to share all my “top-secret” formulas for success with my peers. After reviewing the manual and talking about my successes, I will never forget what the hiring manager said to me. He looked up from the training manual, put his pen down, and said, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but… why are you even here?!? Clearly, you could be making more money and probably working a bigger position somewhere else. Why here?”

The answer was simple. Money is nice, but I will never have enough money so I can’t let money decide where I work. I can always do bigger things in the world, no matter what big things I am up to, so I can’t let ambition dictate my career path. What I wanted was the opportunity to take on new challenges, learn, grow, spread my ideas, do innovative things, and most of all, feel good about going to work every day.

Oh… I guess there is a short cut to being promoted, too. It turns out if you focus on the things I did (and didn’t), you will almost certainly be guaranteed a promotion anyway.

How hard you have worked and whether you deserve it won’t even cross your mind because you won’t have to justify it to yourself or anyone else.

Good luck.

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Don’t You Secretly Hate Having Customers?

Thanks to several flight delays, I spent 10 hours in an airport waiting for a 2-hour flight. Trying to reach Baltimore from Atlanta, I was delayed by a plane in Kansas City, that was delayed by weather. Obviously, airlines do not control weather, or delays caused by weather, but they DO control our experience of those delays.

Airports have essentially become homogenized strip malls selling low quality food and services at theme park prices. Worse, it seems no one in charge of customer experience at an airline or airport has ever visited a busy theme park.

Why is the airport experience so bad?

Airlines have been around longer than Disney Land, yet they seem to have learned nothing about lines, customer happiness, or engagement. There appears to be little to no incentive for airports to desire happy customers.

Imagine if Disney ran our airports. Waiting in long TSA lines would at least be entertaining. Prices would fluctuate based on demand. There might be better line management, with quick pass options. No doubt planes would fill faster and run more efficiently–perhaps even more safely.

After reaching my destination, I settled into my hotel room and logged onto their Wi-Fi, which was, itself, an effort in frustration. A few hours later, when I woke up, I had to log on again because the internet access expired.

Why do hotels reset their wi-fi every 24 hours? Are they afraid their transient guests will fly back from their homes to steal the hotel’s internet? On top of that, I could have paid for “upgraded” (meaning “faster than dial-up”) service. Why would you create a caste system for your guests?

The hotel internet and the airport line experience are both indicative of the same problem–businesses that have no connection to the people who consume their services.

The joke is, everybody knows how bad the airport experience is… except the airports and airlines! Everyone I know that has ever stayed at a hotel has complained about hotel internet. The only people who do not seem to know what a frustrating morass it is for their customers… is the hotels!

How many ways does your business undermine its success by being oblivious to the experience being had by your customers? How many pain points do you have between you and the people who want to buy (and enjoy buying) your products or services?

Where are you creating friction instead of smoothing the path for your clients to keep coming back for more?

Is it your return process? Is it the attitude of your front line employees (which means you might want to look at your hiring process)? Is it the jenky credit card reader that holds up your lines? Is it the long lines themselves, inviting clients to complain about your store to each other while waiting to give you their money?

Find the “invisible” pain points and shed light on them. If you can’t resolve them immediately, educate your customers on what you are doing to try.

If you are not working to create a better customer experience, you can rest assured your competition is.

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When Are You A Leader?

I casually refer to our company’s most talented employees–the ones with passion for moving the company forward–as the company’s “leaders”. This includes some people on the executive team, of course, and it also includes some front line team members. By contrast, it also excludes some team members who have authority or are in traditional management positions.

You do not have to be in a “leadership” position to be a “leader”. I have known a few key decision-makers I would not call leaders. The question, then, is when does somebody become a leader?

I write about leadership and I am passionate about leadership, but I have never formally considered myself a leader, even if others have. “Leader” is not on my business card.

I have been in leadership roles for the last 20 years so at what point is it safe to say, “Yes, I’m a leader!” The short answer is, “probably never.”

“Leader” is not a goal any more than “great” is a goal. When is someone great? There are great people, sure, but did Jesus ever say, “I’m great, now. I’m a leader!” How about Martin Luther King, Jr? Gandhi?

There is a saying in martial arts that Black Belt is not the goal of training. It is the beginning. When you achieve your Black Belt, you have finally reached the level of “student”. Though there are people who hold the title of “Master” in martial arts, I have yet to meet a 6th degree Black Belt or above who believes he has “mastered” martial arts.

When are you a leader? Whenever you decide you are. But once you do, you are probably no longer a leader.

 

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A Simple Way to Get More Done

If you want to be more productive, the key is simple. Simple is the key.

People are often surprised at how much I am able to accomplish and yet how responsive I am when something new needs to be completed. Here is my secret to being a top performer: I don’t multi-task.

The idea of multi-tasking has become so ubiquitous and abused it is practically the butt of its own joke. People who accomplish a lot do not do so by spinning from task to task, with imaginary octopus arms, inching each project forward a little at a time until everything is complete.

Top producers simplify their work. They edit ruthlessly the work that is unnecessary and they politely say “no” to work that does not move them toward their goals. Top producers instead work on a single task until it is done and then they move to the next task and work on that one until it is done, and then they move on to the next task and… you get it.

I watch so many leaders burn themselves out at the altar of, “I have to get it all done and it all has to get done by me”, rather than taking the approach of, “What is the goal and what is the most efficient way to reach it?” Smart leaders look for ways to move on to the most important stuff. “What can I let go of so I can focus on what is really important? Am I the only person that can do this? If so, why? Can somebody else do it, and get it done, even if it is not to my perfect standards?”

For me, I saw my productivity transform when I embraced minimalism as a lifestyle. Being a minimalist forces you to think about the smallest number of things that bring the greatest return on value. As a result, I began working to simplify every area of my life (and I am still working at it) and the results have made it clear to me that doing less is one of the best ways to get more done.

I think corporations, teams, and even personal relationships suffer from complexity when a dose of simplicity can change everything.

It makes sense. We stretch ourselves too thin.

We take on 12 assignments at a time, which means our mental resources, our attention, and our efforts are divided by 12. I try to never have more than 2 or 3 focal points at one time on my docket. More than that and I find myself slowing down the thing I am doing because I am thinking about all the things I need to do next.

How many half-finished projects are on your desk? How many projects have you contributed your labor to, only to watch them disappear into the ether because other “more important” projects came up? (Well, why weren’t you working on the most important project from the beginning?)

That is the easiest measure of time being wasted for the sake of wasting time. Or put another way, workers work to fill the time required to be in the office, rather than working to do important work. The reason for this is simple, by the way. Workers fill time because they know the reward for work done well is to be piled up with more (busy) work. If your people can accomplish a task in 4 hours but still have to fill an 8-hour work day rather than be set free to go home or do what they want, you better believe that 4-hour task will take 8 and a half hours.

The reward for good work should not be more (less interesting) work, but rather more time and freedom. Google figured this out years ago with their famous “20% rule“.

From a minimalist perspective, the world over-complicates productivity. Ironically, productivity is over-complicated in the name of efficiency! “I’m a great multi-tasker,” potential hires will tell me during an interview. That is a sure sign to me they are not good at being productive.

Nobody needs great multi-taskers. We need great simplifiers.

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I Quit

“I can’t quit smoking. I’ve been doing it my whole life.” I have heard this excuse more than once. You can quit.

I am in my forties and I quit things all the time. I would even say I am a professional quitter, and maybe you should be, too.

Quitters get a bad rap but knowing when to say no is a value. Over the last two decades, I have quit eating meat and dairy, I quit believing I need 10 hours of sleep every night, I quit living in Michigan, I quit owning a TV, I quit playing video games, I quit a bad job, I quit believing what I could not prove or deduce logically, I quit some friends, I quit swearing (I keep quitting swearing–it’s tougher than I thought), and I quit living in debt, among many other things.

In fact, I actively look for things to quit. The older I grow, the more I realize how precious my time is and how important it is to say “No” to some things. For me, quitting something that is no longer contributing to my life, health, or prosperity opens doors to let me start new adventures, learn new things, and to create space for more of the actually important things.

It is a simple equation: the more things I give up, the more freedom I gain.

My next mission is to quit being overweight. After I went vegan, I dropped 50 pounds in a year but have hovered between 20-30 pounds over my ideal weight ever since. Like most people, I live a VERY sedentary lifestyle, sitting at a computer or in front of a screen the majority of almost every day. That is what I have to quit. I am not sure how I am going to do it but I have already taken some steps… literally. About 10,000 of them, actually, on most days. That means I quit waking up at 7 and now wake up at 5:30 each morning, which also means I had to quit griping to myself about waking up at 5:30 and begin embracing it. So I did. Now I wake up at 5:15 most days, fifteen minutes before the alarm clock, and I step (figuratively and literally) into my day!

Anyway, you can quit almost anything. Don’t tell me you can’t. Or better yet, tell me you can’t. Tell me you can’t keep smoking, can’t keep being unhealthy, can’t keep staying up too late or going to bed so early, tell me you can’t keep working a job you don’t like, or you can’t keep losing time with your loved ones. Tell me you can’t do the things that are holding you back anymore.

It turns out saying no is sometimes more powerful than saying yes. After all, that’s quitter talk… and we need more of it.

 

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