Thinking is a Pretty Good Thing to Do

My first job out of college was working for an electronics company designing new to the world products. I was at my desk one day staring at a circuit board when my boss walked up and asked what I was doing. 

I said I was struggling with how I was going to move electrical current between two large capacitors without burning up the transistors in between. I added that I was thinking about the best way to go about it without adding unnecessary complexity to the circuit board.

His reply was instantaneous and abrupt. He told me “you’re not paid to think, you’re paid to work.” 

I guess he wasn’t all that familiar with how the design process worked. But thinking is actually a good thing to do no matter the situation. Most people know that. Most people also invest very little time in actually thinking. They claim to not have time. 

We live in a time where information is coming at us at all times from every source and direction imaginable. It never stops. We’re also told that successful people maximize every second for the sake of productivity. 

But we’re seldom told what the absolutely most successful people do. The most successful people set aside time almost every day to sit and think. Sit quietly and alone to just think. 

They know that life is cause and effect. They know that their decisions are their keys to success. So they make “think time” a priority. They think through all big decisions, they consider the consequences of the consequences of the consequences of their decisions. 

Highly successful people outthink the average person. It’s not necessarily because they are smarter it’s because to set aside time to truly think. They don’t care if some average person calls it daydreaming. They don’t care if someone calls them a slow thinker. They will not be deterred by people less successful than them. 

Maybe you need to think about thinking a little more because thinking is a pretty good thing to do. Block time on your calendar for thinking. Do it every single day. It’s okay if your mind wonders a bit, don’t limit what you allow yourself to think about. Some of your time will be very strategic thinking and some of your time will be “what if” and “why not” thinking. All thinking is better than no thinking. 

Think about that!

Are You an Ambassador? 

The short answer to that question is yes. Whether you know it or not. At a minimum you are the ambassador for your personal brand. Your words and actions create the impression you make on the people who you hang around with. You might know that but did you also know that sometimes those people talk about you with others you may have never even met? They are passing along their impressions of you. Then those people you have never met are forming an opinion of you…based on what the people you do know have said. 

What you should also know it that those “second hand” first impressions are as hard to change as first hand first impressions. So it’s a good idea to ask yourself from time to time how effective a Brand Ambassador you are for your personal brand. 

But you should also keep in mind that you likely represent a second brand. That is the brand of the company, firm, or organization that employs you. That’s true whether you’re self employed or work for a company that has thousands of employees. That’s true whether you hold an entry level position or you’re the head of the company. 

Think of it like this. You’re out after work one night with some friends having a few sodas. You’re wearing something with your company’s logo on it. Let’s say you’re not exactly on your best behavior, especially after your 5th or 6th beverage. People could get the impression that you’re some kind of jerk.

It’s a fair assumption for other people to make that you work for the company whose logo you’re wearing. Someone may even ask you to be sure. Even if your company employs thousands of people, you may be the only person from your company that person has even interacted with. You at that point represent the entire company and every one of it’s employees.

He now believes your company hires jerks. We all “know” that if a company hires one jerk then they likely hire more than one. It’s not too much of a stretch for many people to decide, even subconsciously, that the company you work for is made up of a bunch of jerks. 

And it’s entirely possible you will never know you sent that kind of message to people when you were just out having a good time. 

Maybe it’s possible that you don’t care what people think of the place you work. But the place you work is made up of everyone else who works there. It’s more than possible that you’re causing them to be thought of as jerks too…you know that whole “guilt by association” thing. 

So if you don’t what to be a good Brand Ambassador for your company you may want to consider being a good Brand Ambassador for your friends who work there.

On a side note, if you’re at a company event, especially in the presence of customers, and you think drinking even a little too much is a good idea then your drinking is most definitely clouding your judgment. You are absolutely killing your brand, whether anyone tells you that or not. It’s simply not acceptable these days. It shows poor judgment, a lack of discipline and a total lack of professionalism. 

I don’t want to be a party pooper but I’d hate to see all your hard work during the day be discounted by one too many drinks at night. 

How to Get What You Want

There is actually more than one way to get what you want. Some people steal it. Some people luck into it. Some people have it handed to them. But there are “problems” with all of those. You’ve likely heard the saying that crime doesn’t pay. Well sometimes it does pay, but it never pays for very long. People who get what they want by stealing it will eventually lose it, it’s only a question of time. 

Even the luckiest people in the world aren’t lucky all the time. So if you have what you want and got it by being lucky then you too are merely borrowing what you want. Sooner or later, the bill from Lady Luck will come calling. 

The people who have what they want handed to them most often don’t appreciate it enough to possess it for very long. They have no “skin in the game” so when they lose what they have they assume someone will replace it with something else they want. They are shocked when they discover it doesn’t work that way all the time. 

But there is a way to get what you want. It’s also the only way to be certain you’ll get to keep it. To get what you want and keep it, you have to deserve what you want. 

In other words, you have to earn it. 

People who earn what they want would tell you that the world is actually a pretty fair place. There is no dark force that works against anyone to prevent them from succeeding. Everyone faces challenges and roadblocks. People who earn what they want figure out a way to get past them. 

One big way they do that is by controlling what they can control so well that they minimize the things that they can’t control. 

They have complete control over their character. They understand that there are no circumstances that can prevent them from living with integrity. That understanding helps them build solid relationships with people who can help them overcome life’s challenges. Only you can decide whether or not you’ll live a life of good character. Will you act, think and feel in a way that demonstrates respect for others, displays honesty, is consistently responsible, caring and fair?

Those are all choices you get to make every day. People who earn what they want make great choices. 

They also have a great work ethic. They know better than to put in 50% of their possible effort and expect a 100% return. They simply outwork the people who steal, luck into or hope to get what they want. 

So be honest with yourself and evaluate what percentage of days are you giving less than a 100% effort. I don’t suppose anyone can give 100% all the time but people who earn what they want give 100% almost all the time. If you want to increase your chances to earn what you want then get started by increasing your level of effort. That is also a choice completely within your control. 

Here is one more thing that people who earn what they want do. They learn. Always. Every single day. I would equate much of whatever success I’ve had not to the fact that I’m smart, which is completely debatable, but to the fact that I’ve mostly avoided being stupid. Which is not debatable. 

It is far easier to avoid stupidity than it is to be smart. All you need to do is constantly be learning. You can do that by opening yourself up to learn from anyone. Even people you don’t particularly like. Even your competitors. There is no one on the world that doesn’t know something you don’t and when you learn that you can learn anything. 

Learning is also a choice that is also completely within your control. If you’re willing to learn no one can stop you. If you’re not willing to learn no one can help you. So learn.

What is it that you want? Are you willing to earn it? 

If you can answer that first question then you are ahead of many people. If you can answer that second question with a yes then you are ahead of most.

Overcoming the Frustration Challenge

It’s a fact that sometimes people are promoted into leadership positions when they have, shall we say, some shortcomings. At least some perceived shortcomings. 

How you react under those circumstances says a lot more about you than it says about the person in the leadership position. It is common for a person being “led” by someone they feel is unqualified to hold a leadership position to “resist” that person. 

Resisting the person means at best they become a disengaged employee. At worst they become actively disengaged. 

A disengaged employee is someone who does the bare minimum required to keep their job. They make the determination that doing more than the bare minimum isn’t going to be rewarded. So they put forth a “why bother” level of effort. 

An actively disengaged employee is actually putting forth more effort. The problem is that much of that effort is focusing on being a disruption to the the organization. And a disruption to their “leader” in particular. 

I have been very fortunate to nearly always work for leaders who actually led. Yes, some were more effective than others but I learned good stuff from all of them. They each, in their own way, made me better. 

But my first “leader” right out of college might have taught me the most. Unfortunately, I learned it years after he was no longer leading me. It didn’t take very long in my first job out of college to realize that my “leader” wasn’t the smartest guy in the room. In fact, to my absolute surprise I figured out quickly that he was illiterate. He could not read or write. 

Yet he was the boss of a team of people with Electrical Engineering degrees. I was 22 years old and I had no idea what to make of this situation. Most people I told found it hard to believe that someone at his level could be illiterate. But he was. 

I found it more than challenging to take any kind of direction from this guy. I assumed that his inability to read and write made him an idiot. Then I decided, for reasons I still don’t completely understand, to make his life a living hell. I must say I was pretty good at it. 

So good in fact that it didn’t take long to find myself sitting in a conference room with an HR Rep, my boss and his boss. They told us to “work it out” and get back to work. But the way I worked it out was to leave the company and head for greener pastures. 

Over the years I thought about that boss and what I had learned from that experience. The big thing I learned was that I was a terrible team member. I might have been the best engineer on the team but I was the worst team member. I disrupted everyone with my shenanigans which were all focused on proving how much smarter I was than the boss. 

One of the other big things I learned from that experience was that just because I failed to see the strengths of my boss it didn’t mean others couldn’t see them. He had worked his way up through the company and earned the respect of the owners. They were very loyal to him. He understood their goals and worked tirelessly to help them achieve each one. He was a good “people person,” even if I didn’t realize that until it was much too late. 

It would be years before I understood one of my roles in an organization was to make the people around me better. That included the people above me in the organization. It was never going to be my place to expose any weaknesses of the people above me. My role was to identify any gaps they may have and fill those gaps with my own experience and skills. And that was regardless of whether or not I received any credit for it. It was also my role whether or not they knew I was doing it. 

It would be several more years before I would realize that in the most successful organizations everyone has that same role. That role is to find and fill the gaps of the people around and above you. That role is also in addition to everything else in your job description, not instead of. The role is not to expose gaps for the sole purpose of complaining about them. 

If you’re currently working for a leader who frustrates you the first thing you need to realize is that being frustrated is a choice. You can choose to be frustrated or you can choose to be fascinated. I’d recommend you be fascinated and curious about how a seemingly unqualified person achieved a leadership position in the first place. By working to understand that person you may discover the strengths that earned them that position. 

It’s when you identify a person’s strengths that it becomes much more rewarding to fill their gaps. Filling the gaps of the people around you also makes you a much more valuable employee…and a great team member.

Do not allow anyone with shortcomings in your organization to frustrate you. You can’t control their actions or their weaknesses. So control what you can and that’s your attitude and the level of effort you’ll put forth to be the very best version of yourself. 

And one last thing…before you even think about criticizing someone else for their shortcomings you’d better be darn sure you don’t have any of your own.

Leadership Luck

The title of this post is really a misnomer. That’s because I don’t believe luck has anything to do with leadership. Someone may luck their way into a leadership position but they must earn the opportunity to truly lead. They especially earn the level of influence they have with the people they lead.

One of the most Authentic Leaders I’ve ever known would tell you a lucky seat assignment on a plane changed the course of his career. As a young employee of a company he happened to find himself seated across the isle from the one of the best Authentic Servant Leaders ever. He also happened to be running the company the young man worked for. 

But that’s where any luck ended. The young man would grow into an Authentic Servant Leader himself and one day succeed that Authentic Servant Leader he once sat across from. But not because he lucked into a particular seat assignment. 

He earned everything he got. Clearly he had some help along the way but he made the most of that help. He didn’t luck into positions where he could succeed, he worked himself into positions where he could succeed. 

He learned and then he learned some more. He made sacrifices and many if not most of those sacrifices benefited others more than himself. Making sacrifices for the good of the many is what puts the “Authentic” in Authentic Leadership. 

I’ve seen like a gazillion people who have occupied leadership positions. The vast majority of them are far from being an actual leader. I’ve also been blessed to know several Level Five Leaders. Not a one of them lucked their way into Authentic Leadership. 

If you’re not sure what a Level Five Leader is let me explain it this way. If a leader has had a lasting positive impact on your life then it’s highly likely they are a Level Five Leader. If you haven’t seen or talked to them in years yet you remember the lessons they showed you, it’s highly likely they are a Level Five Leader. If you’re showing those lessons to others today, then that leader who impacted you all those years ago was certainly a Level Five Leader.

If you’re in a leadership position don’t expect to luck your way into Authentic Leadership. You’ll have to work your way there. You’ll have to learn. Yes, you need to learn about the business or organization you’re in. But more important than that, you need to learn about people. People in general for sure but especially about the people you lead. 

You’ll have to make some tough calls on your way to Authentic Leadership. As you make those calls you’ll need to keep in mind that it’s the people you lead who make you a leader. It’s not your title or position. You’ll need to demonstrate your understanding of that fact even while making decisions that may have short-term negative consequences for the people you lead. 

You need to show you care about the people you lead. Even when they screw up. Even when you’re mad at them. Even when it would be easier to just go scorched earth on them. 

Authentic Leaders have tremendous influence on their people. They are aware of that fact every day. They model successful behavior for their people. They celebrate the success of their people, as much or more than they celebrate their own success. 

It’s a ton of work to become an Authentic Leader. But I’ve never known one who would say it wasn’t worth it. But here’s one thing they would never say, they would never say they were an Authentic Leader. Their humility just won’t allow it. 

So when you see one, be sure to say it for them. 

The Engine of Success

I used to do a lot of Goal Setting workshops for older kids with special needs. These were primarily high school age kids that for a variety of reasons were no longer able to go to school in the mainstream public education system. I was asked to do a Goal Setting session for one class and it went well enough that it turned into a long-term thing. 

While I was never paid for any of this work I was richly rewarded. From time to time I’ll still hear from one of these kids who aren’t kids anymore. They are adults now, often with kids of their own. It is the greatest compliment, and reward, that they still contact me for advice sometimes. 

But at first I was very frustrating for them. That’s because when I asked them about their goals their most frequent answer was “to be a success.” There are so many things wrong with that goal I hardly know where to begin.

First off it’s not even close to specific enough to be a real goal. I could put 100 people in a room and ask each of them for their definition of success. I might get 100 different answers. And not a one of them would be wrong. Success is and should be very personal.

If you’re going to claim that success is your goal then you’re first going to have to define exactly what success looks like to you. What it means. How it feels. How you will measure it. How you will know, with certainty, that you have reached it. And most of all, precisely what actions you are willing to undertake to achieve it. 

I’m okay with someone telling me that “success” is their ultimate goal but every daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, and longer range goal they have must get them closer to that success goal. That’s why it is so critical that the first step of the goal setting process involve defining exactly what success means to the goal setter. 

Goals are literally the engine of success. Like most engines, goals can be complicated. They have various parts that all need to work together in order to create the horsepower needed to reach the destination (success) in a timely manner. 

You cannot sit in a car with no engine (or battery these days) and just think about it taking you somewhere. You need a real engine. So it is with goals. You cannot merely think about setting some goals and expect to get somewhere. You need real goals. 

Goals in every area of your life. Goals that are written down. Goals that have a deadline to achieve them. Goals that are very specific. Goals that have a plan, a plan that states specifically what the goal setter will do every single day to ensure they get closer to one of the goals. If whatever you need to do today to get closer to one of your goals is not on your calendar then you’re not serious about it. If you didn’t do something yesterday to get closer to one of your goals then you may have been busy, even very busy, but I would suggest to you that you were NOT productive. 

Think about that. 

Many of you would tell me you’re too busy trying to get by to set and pursue goals. I would tell you that you’re too busy trying to get by because you don’t have true goals that motivate you, that drive you, towards greater success each day. 

Written goals quickly become priorities. When you have defined priorities in your life you discover that you have all the time you need to accomplish them. You’re no longer burning up time on the “stuff” that isn’t a priority in your life. 

Goals will harness the power that’s already within you to have whatever you want out of life. Without goals that power is wasted as you sit in neutral waiting for success to come to you. 

Don’t wait. Build your goal engine today. Yes, it will require lots of reflection and serious planning. But if you’re serious about success you’ll make those investments. If not, you’ll likely be waiting for success a long long time. 

Why?

I’m told that as a kid I was particularly annoying to people because I asked so many questions. Apparently my favorite question was why. That is still the case today. Not that I’m annoying (I hope) but that my favorite question remains why. 

Why should be your favorite question too. In almost every circumstance you should be asking why. 

Why do I do the things I do. Why is my boss asking me to do the things they ask me to do. Why am I asking the people I lead to do the things I’m asking them to do. Why does my company have our current policies and procedures in place. Why don’t people ask why more?

You know how little kids will sometimes ask an endless string of why questions? Well those kids are on to something. But those kids also have an advantage over grownups, the kids don’t need courage to ask why. As we get older it seems asking that question requires a lot more courage. The most successful people find the courage to be like kids.

You can tell me you’re a highly productive person but if you can’t tell my why you do the things you do, with a high level of specificity, then you don’t really know if you are actually as productive as you could be. 

If you’re a leader and you can’t explain, again with a high level of specificity, why you’re asking your people to do specific tasks and assignments then you should not be asking them to do them. 

And just so we are crystal clear on this point, “we have always done it this way” is NOT a high level of specificity. 

Too many “leaders” still think being asked “why” by one of their people is an affront to their authority. Authentic Leaders don’t need authority to lead, they use their influence instead. They willingly answer the “why” questions with as much detail as they can muster. 

The next time one of your people asks “why” tell them. Tell them why you’ve asked them in particular. Share with them why the task or assignment is important to the organization. Include how it helps you and how it can help your team member grow and develop. If you don’t have any of those answers then you REALLY need to ask yourself why you’re asking someone to perform that task. 

Most of all, understand it is not a weakness to answer your teams “why” questions. It is in fact the strength of an Authentic Leader. 

As an individual, if you’re not asking yourself a why question at least once a day you may be doing things that are burning up your valuable time without giving you any value in return. That is not a path to prosperity. That is also not a path to happiness. 

I’d rather be annoying and know why I’m doing what I’m doing instead of mindlessly doing what I’ve always done. Even if that means annoying myself sometimes. 

So be a kid again. Ask why until you know why you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s way better than just doing stuff to do it.