Start First, Not Last

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

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

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

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

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

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

Start first, not last.

 

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How to Set Powerful Goals

Goals are falling out of style but they still have a place in helping teams align.

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I am in a weird place with goal-setting. I used to be a huge proponent for goals, but now I am experimenting with eliminating goals from my routine in exchange for principles and values to help guide decisions. Goals can sometimes lead to a never-ending rat race of chasing goals. Nonetheless, I still think setting goals is a useful tool, especially around work, and here is how to do it well.

There are two ways to climb a mountain. The first is to strap on a pair of boots, head toward the top, and hope for the best. The other is to have a map—a planned route and clear direction showing the best, fastest, most likely way to reach the summit.

Goals can be like maps—they help us see the way ahead and plan a path to success. And what happens when you reach the top of a mountain? You feel like a champion and see other mountain tops to climb!

There are five ways to make goals powerful and useful:

1. Goals must exist in reality. This means a goal must exist in both specific Time and specific Space. If you can not measure what you have done by the time you committed to doing it, then how will you know if you achieved it? A goal of meeting Brian at 8:00 for drinks, for example, meets the criteria of specific time–8:00. But where? By contrast, meeting Brian at Zod’s Cafe for coffee meets the specific space criteria–Zod’s Cafe. But when? The more you narrow it down, the better. “Brian, I will meet you outside the doors of Zod’s Cafe Wednesday morning, the 28th, at 8:15am.” Now you have a legitimate goal! On Wednesday morning of the 28th, at 8:15am, you are either waiting for Brian at the doors outside Zod’s or you are not. You hit the goal or you didn’t.

2. Avoid ambiguity. Words like “every” and “always” kill goals. As in, “I will ask every customer to try our widgets” or “I will always try to improve”. As soon as ambiguity enters your goal, it transforms the goal into a wish. Of course you are not going to ask every customer every time about widgets. A customer probably walked in while you were reading this and you forgot to ask. In other words, do not set a goal up for failure. Answer the question, “What will be different than it is now, by what amount between zero and infinity, and by when, exactly?” 

 

3. Remember, goals are not assigned orders. There should be no additional penalty for not reaching goals (the penalty is not reaching the goal). Many leaders drop the ball here by attempting to provide negative incentives for missing a goal. This is like telling a marathon runner who falls short of the finish line, not only did he lose the race but also you are going to shoot him in the foot. Chances are, he will not be eager to run the next marathon for you.

4. Goals should be a stretch but possible to achieve if everything goes the as planned. There was a time when leaders were being pushed to set unrealistic goals (“Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals” or “BHAGs”). The idea was that teams do not know what they are capable of unless or until they reach for something that seems unreasonable. There is some truth to this, of course. Until you are pushed, you do not know where your limits are. However, you do not start a daily jogging routine by entering the Boston Marathon. First, you have to learn to run to the stop sign at the end of your block and back. Make goals a stretch, but achievable, and then build on successes and work toward larger goals.

 

 

5. Goals should be inspiring. This is, admittedly, the toughest part for me. I am not great at creating clever, fun ideas, or games to inspire people (luckily, though, I am good at finding people who love using those creative muscles, and I ask them for help). A goal that inspires the CEO (“Let’s increase revenue 40% by June 15th of next year”) may not inspire the clerk in the mail room even if he or she is necessary to the goal (maybe they are responsible for collection notices being sent each month). The owner of one company I know found a clever way around this. He turned company goal-setting on its head. Rather than him coming up with the next company goals for everyone to chase, he asked every department to create 1-3 goals for the next quarter (and a tracking system to measure their progress) and then he reviewed all the department goals to create the overall company goals to tie them together!

 

 

Those are the most effective strategies I use, or have witnessed, to create goals but I am not convinced “goals” as we know them are going to survive in the transforming workforce. I have begun trading goals for values and principles that over-arch all decision-making but, at least for now, I still think goals have a valuable place in our lives. Goals are especially useful for helping bring a new team together or helping an individual start down a desired path.

If you use goals, at least now you know how to use them well.

 

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The Story of Bominicious

Today’s Lesson: Listening closely and not being afraid to ask questions is a responsibility on both sides of a conversation.

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This is a great story to make a point about effective teamwork, leadership, or just being courageous enough to speak up and ask questions.

I first heard this story on a television sitcom from the 80’s called, “Designing Women.” I tried to find a link to the video but was unable (if somebody knows it or finds it, please send me a message with the link). I do not remember exactly how the original version of the story went. I have adapted it over the years and it usually comes out sounding something like this:

 

In the early 1900’s, a widowed Southern Belle hired a handyman to fix odds and ends around her big colonial home. As she was not prone to chit-chatting with her hired help (she felt it was beneath her social status to fraternize with staff), she did not converse with the young man outside of pleasantries and having learned his odd name. The man said, “Call me Bominicious”.

Bominicious turned out to be, in fact, the best handyman she had ever seen, and he remained in her employ until the day she died, more than 40 years later. Over that time, of course, the Belle warmed up to Bominicious and by the time she was ready to meet her maker, they were the best of friends.

Sitting beside her deathbed, Bominicious held the Belle’s hand as they reminisced. Eventually, there was a friendly silence between them. After a minute, the Belle spoke up.

“Bominicious,” she said. “You have been such a great friend and employee all these years. You know, there is something I have always wondered but never stirred up the courage to ask. Maybe I am too proper, being an ol’ Southern Belle, but I did not want to impose on your private affairs.”

“Ma’am,” Bominicious said. “I know you’re my employer but you’re also my dearest, best friend. Ask whatever you like.”

“Okay, then,” she said. “Bominicious… why did your parents name you ‘Bominicious’?”

Bominicious was quiet for a moment, obviously trying to muster the right words. “Well…,” he said delicately, “That’s the thing. You remember the day we met all those years ago, when I applied to be your handyman?”

“Of course,” she said.

“Well, that day you asked me what my name was. I said my name is Tony but you can call me BY… MY… INITIALS.”

 

Never be afraid to ask a follow-up question or think you are too good to talk to the hired help!

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When Do You Call Off?

Because employees have such little control over their schedule, there seems to be an epidemic of people who never call off when they are sick. They save their “sick days” to add-on to vacations or use as mental-break days, etc.

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Maybe it is the vegan diet or the fact that I have no children or just plain good-eating and regular activity, but I do not feel sick often. When I get sick, it is usually because I have been exposed to someone else who should have called off but did not want to use their paid time off to rest and recuperate. Of course, this practically ensures the entire team becomes sick, production slows, moods deteriorate, and the work suffers.

I have to tip my hat to many progressive companies that either do not have a Paid Time Off policy (no one is counting the days or hours you spend in the office–they are only counting your deadlines missed or results achieved). I have seen some companies also toss sick days versus vacation days versus holidays out the window and instead offer a bucket of 27 days off to be taken at the employee’s discretion, no questions asked (as long as scheduling allows).

Either way, the way we deal with health and wellness at work is broken. Today, I am feeling ill and outside of this post, I have spent most of the day sleeping and I am looking forward to hopping back in bed.

I look forward to feeling rested and having most of my energy back tomorrow rather than dragging my illness out all week, putting in less than stellar performances.

 

Today’s Lesson: Sometimes it is fine to take a sick day. 

 

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Skills Versus Passion: One Makes Winners

I would take someone who is passionate about what they do over someone who is good at what they do any day.

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I run several professional sales teams. I would take any one of my teams and pit their knowledge and skills against any other team in our company with no fear they would fare quite well. They are very good at what they do.

 

Until they aren’t.

I saw the most remarkable and, at first, confounding, thing today. After endless preparation, practice, and set-up for a huge sale, I watched my team pretty much fall on our face. We came in last against amateur teams that have barely had time to develop. In fact, we actually taught the other teams how to create a successful sale. They followed our every move as instructed. So, what happened?

How does a seasoned, professional team (sales or otherwise) fall to underdog up-starts? The answer is clear to me. Passion. The amateurs brought passion to the table today. They were hungry. They had something to prove and they set on a mission to win, not because they wanted big numbers or were being pressured by their superiors but because they wanted to win. 

Sadly, I must admit I did not see that same gleam of ignited focus or desire in my team’s eyes today. I saw professionals who looked and operated professionally, but with tired gazes, maybe worn-out from all the pressure to succeed, and the work and energy put into preparing. Maybe they put so much of themselves into it that they forgot to leave a little energy left to devote to the most important part of success: understanding why you want it.

This is where a leader’s work starts, though. Now it is my turn to find that spark and nurse it back to a flame. If teams always had that drive, that passion to win, then they would never need leaders (and many managers would be out of a job).

 

Today’s Lesson:  You can do everything right and still fail. Skills, therefore, are important but not crucial. With or without them, if you have passion, you can win. The catch is, passion is not something learned from the employee manual. You can teach skills. You must ignite passion.

 

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Today’s Lesson: A Missed Kiss [141024]

I let her leave without kissing her goodbye so I could focus on catching up with work.

Nicole went to a yoga retreat and I let her slip out the door while I was on a conference call. When I arrived home, the place suddenly felt a lot emptier and lonelier and I realized I missed the opportunity to have a memory of that kiss.

My work is very important to me but I sometimes forget if the work goes away and I still have Nicole, life will still be good. However, if Nicole goes away and all I have is work, life will probably suck.

I feel like I re-learn this lesson (with all of my loved ones) a few times a year, so admittedly, I am still progressing on this one. The lesson, though, is to know the difference between what is an essential value in your life and what is just important.

Sometimes, your meeting can wait for a kiss.

 

 


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Today’s Lesson: Be Uncomfortable [141020]

 

The room was cold, and I could feel the goose bumps prickling up my arms. It was not unbearable but I knew I was going to be stuck there for at least a few more hours and I hate feeling cold.

As the weather turns toward winter in Michigan, I find myself needing long-sleeved undershirts again, but there is a few weeks between fall and winter where it is too warm for an undershirt and a sweater but too cold for a sweater alone.

I usually opt for the sweater alone. I actually prefer to be too warm rather than too cold but I try to seize small opportunities to embrace being uncomfortable.

Like most people, I avoid and sometimes even fear change. Still, I seize opportunities to be outside of my comfort zone–not too far, but just a little more each day. Being chilly for a few hours is low-hanging fruit (it is definitely not as challenging as, say, giving a speech in front of a hundred people) but the point is not about the extremes. It is simply to try being okay with being uncomfortable for a while.

For some people, that might be as easy as wearing your socks with the heel cup on top of your foot for a few hours. Or it can be as challenging as saying hello to a stranger while standing in line at the grocery store, or having dinner at a restaurant by yourself, or dancing in public. For some of us, all of those things are on the low-end of feeling uncomfortable. For some people, those things are more challenging than jumping out of a plane or scaling a mountain.

What can you do now to increase your ability to embrace change and be more comfortable with being uncomfortable?

 

 


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Today’s Lesson: Give Until It Hurts [141019]

Why should I contribute to the success of others if they end up getting ahead of me?

 

Many people share this mentality and hoard information or resources that can help move their friends, peers, or organization forward. They feel over-protective of their success and actively defend it by keeping their best ideas and practices to themselves.

I think a better way to live is to share your best work, ideas, and resources without worrying about what is in it for you. The funny thing is, there is still a lot in it for you. Consider:

 

  • Not being afraid of someone else taking your work or insight and having success allows your ideas to grow and flourish without you having to be the driving force behind them all the time. The time you have in a day, and in life, is limited. Sharing your ideas multiplies your effectiveness without robbing you of your time.
  • Sharing your best ideas frees you up to create more. Once your ideas are out of your head and in the world, you can let others move forward with them while you work on newer, bigger things.
  • People will use your ideas in ways you did not imagine. They might edit something or add their own ideas to create something surprising and even better than what you originally came up with.
  • Someone else might profit from your ideas or mentoring. They may earn a raise or promotion ahead of you or might execute some of your ideas better or faster than you were able to. That can be frustrating if your only goal is to make money or achieve political gain. The game for me, though, is to build influence and help as many other people move forward as possible.

 

I think we simply do not have enough of the right kinds of leaders in the world, so I want my message and lessons to spread as far and wide as they can, as peacefully and quickly as possible. That is why I do not charge for any content on my blog (maybe that will change one day but there are no current plans to start) and it is not invitation-only.

Anyone can share my work with anyone else in pretty much any format chosen (but I do appreciate being given credit for my work). That is also why I help my peers (and sometimes my competition) apply my best practices and ideas and take what they have learned from me to their friends and peers. I do not win by making more money or becoming famous. I win by starting change in the world.

The lesson today is simple: don’t hoard your best ideas. Share them and see how many lives you can improve. Besides, what else are you going to do while you are here?

 

 


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Today’s Lesson: Person See, Person Do [141013]

All of a sudden, I realized no one was doing anything!

 

The entire team was productive a few minutes ago and now the 6 of us were standing around, chatting, doing nothing while on the clock. I can understand being idle for a minute or chatting while doing busy work, but the entire business was at a stand-still and had been for at least a minute. Even the maintenance guy came down from his ladder to enroll us in another story.

How did this happen? I thought. We were rocking and rolling just a couple minutes ago. I replayed the last few minutes in my mind. I stopped first, to explain a process and that led to a quick story with one employee. Two other team members were eavesdropping and then turned to listen, stopping what they were doing. One was passing by and, I think, just wanted to know what the crowd was gathering for, and the remaining two did not want to be left out and, apparently, the maintenance guy–who is always up for a good story in front of a crowd–wanted to entertain us with one of his own. Naturally, that led to another team member starting a story.

Realizing the problem started with me, and not wanting to punish anyone for following my example, I knew exactly what to do. I picked up a box of merchandise and started stocking items while listening to the current tale by one of the team members.

Within seconds, the entire store was back to work cleaning, organizing, or calling customers. It was like magic. I did not have to say a word, no one felt punished, and everyone was still laughing as they worked.

 

Today’s lesson is, be aware of yourself as a leader, first, before noticing others. What you are doing now signals what they are going to do next.

 

 

 


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Today’s Lesson: The Cause of Half Your Suffering [141012]

My feet ache.

I feel tired and groggy.

I don’t have enough money to fix my car.

I hate looking at the scale each morning.

The house is a mess.

Work sucks.

My girlfriend is not talking to me.

 

We all have complaints. What we do not realize is they are usually only half-complaints. We like to focus on the effect but avoid the cause. I think that is because the source of our suffering is almost always the same: it’s us. At times, we all wait (or wish) for some superhero to swoop in and save the day and we forget that we are responsible for being the hero in our own lives.

If your life were a story (and by the way, it is–it is the story you tell other people every day)… would you wish to be the hero of the story of your life, or the villain, or the damsel-in-distress on the train tracks, helpless and crying for someone to rescue her? When we take responsibility for our lives and actions, we have access to knowledge and power to help us succeed. We see the other half of the complaint and accept the responsibility of our actions and our lives.

 

My feet achebecause I never stretch them or wear comfortable shoes.

I feel tired and groggybecause I stayed up too late and drank more than I should.

I don’t have enough money to fix my carbecause I spent it on clothes, put it on credit cards, and never save enough.

I hate looking at the scale each morningbecause exercising and eating right is harder than not exercising and taking control of my diet!

The house is a messbecause I put cleaning off until I absolutely have to do it.

Work sucksbecause I do not want to read books on how to be more effective, or I don’t want to ask for help, or I do not want to find value in my team, or finding a better fit somewhere else is too much… work.

My girlfriend is not talking to me because I am too stubborn to say I am sorry first.

 

 

If you are tied to the train tracks and hoping for someone to rescue you, are you going to wait for the train or start working on those knots?

 

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