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. 

Human Speed Bumps 

Authentic Leadership can be complicated. It’s about people and every person you lead will have the own experiences, challenges and motivations. There is no “one size fits all” leadership approach. That’s what makes it so much harder (and rewarding) than managing. We manage things, stuff like budgets, buildings and equipment. None of those things are capable of adding emotions into the mix. Maybe one day a computer will tell you that you’ve hurt it’s feelings by yelling at it but that’s not a problem today. 

It most certainly can be a leadership issue when dealing with people. 

As complicated as Authentic Leadership can be, ineffective, unauthentic leadership is even more complicated. That’s because lesser leaders mess up leadership all the time. It’s easy to do but some lesser leaders seem to go out of their way to make it harder than it needs to be.

One of the biggest mistakes lesser leaders, poor leaders, leaders in name only, or whatever you want to call them make is they treat the people they are supposed to be leading like human speed bumps. 

They throw them under the bus at the first sign of trouble. 

These lesser leaders commonly use words like “fault” “blame” and “screw up.” They have their scapegoats all lined up before a mistake or failure happens. As they get older their index finger becomes crooked from so often pointing it at others. 

Authentic Leaders know that when a team member underperforms there are only two options. The first is that the team member is in the wrong role. The second is that they, the leader, did not give the team member the tools and training needed to be successful. Either way, it’s at least partially on the leader. 

Some of you will strongly disagree with that previous paragraph. You’ll say that you’re not responsible for growing your people. You’re not responsible for their poor attitudes. You’re not responsible for their lack of motivation. You’re not responsible that they can’t understand your directions. 

What you’re really saying when you’re saying those things is that you’re not responsible for anything. You’re saying that you are not an Authentic Leader. When you say those things often enough, people, especially the people you’re responsible for leading, will begin to believe it. 

Throwing your people under the bus is a massive failure of leadership. Not only will you have lost the commitment of the individual you’ve dumped on, the remainder of your team will just be waiting for their turn under the bus. 

You’ll have done that! You WILL be responsible for that, whether you’re willing to accept that responsibility or not. 

Authentic Leaders give most of the credit for success to the people they lead. They also accept a disproportionate amount of the responsibility for any shortcomings that may happen. They earn the commitment of their people by doing that. They minimize the chance of future shortcomings by doing that. They grow their people by modeling successful attitudes and actions. And they never, never, ever, use them as human speed bumps.

Personal Motivation

I wish every person in a position of leadership understood how important recognition is to their people. They don’t just want recognition, they need it. For many people recognition is the fuel for their engine of productivity. 

Most people are people pleasers and one of the people they most want to please is their boss. They want a few things in return for pleasing their boss and one of those things is “credit” or recognition for a job well done. If they don’t receive that credit many of them lose their motivation to continue giving their best effort. 

And that is a mistake. 

None of us should give someone else that kind of power over any part of our lives. 

The most consistently successful people do not look out for recognition and affirmation, they look within. Knowing that they have given their best effort motivates them. Their opinion of themselves is more important than someone else’s. 

We all want the recognition and support of the people we work for. But wanting it and needing it are two very different things. Recognizing your own effort is way more important, or should be, than the recognition of anyone else. 

Absolutely appreciate any and all recognition and support you receive from someone else. But don’t depend on it to keep you going. The only reason you need to continually give your best effort in everything you do is this: YOU deserve your best effort. You deserve to be the best that you can be in all areas of your life. 

That cannot depend on the actions or inactions of someone else. 

Don’t count on someone else motivating you to greatness. Always always give your best effort and whatever you do, you’ll do it great. Tonight before you go to sleep make sure to take a moment to thank yourself for the effort you put forth today. Remind yourself that no matter what was or wasn’t accomplished today that you did your best. 

And that’s all anyone, including yourself, can ask for. 

Some of you know that I’ve been trying out something relatively new over on Twitter. It’s a paid subscription level. That means I post some tweets that are for subscribers only. The tweets I post for subscribers are all video tweets. I post two each weekday, mostly on leadership but also sales and living a better life in general. I’m also way more available for questions from subscribers than I can be for the million plus regular Twitter followers. The investment to see these “subscriber tweets” is $4.99 a month, that’s about 17 cents a day. The videos continue to grow in popularity so clearly a lot of people think they are worthwhile. 

Not only can you invest in yourself with solid video coaching, you can also make a difference in the world too. All the income from my subscribers on Twitter go to help kids with Down Syndrome. 

Just click the purple “subscribe” button next to the regular follow button on my Twitter profile page IN THE TWITTER APP or on a web browser. http://twitter.com/leadtoday Give it a try if you’re so inclined, and if you are, be sure to let me know how I’m doing and what topics you’d like to see me address.

Looking Ahead

First off, Happy New Year. Thank you to everyone for investing a bit of your time each week to read this blog. There are a ton of blogs out there and every time someone reads one of my posts I take it as a compliment.

So, here we are in another New Year. Many of you will have made New Year’s resolutions by now. Some of you will have already fell short of making those resolutions happen. The vast majority of the rest of you will fall short of realizing your resolutions in the next couple of weeks.

That does not make you a failure or an unsuccessful person. It’s proof you’re human. I actually did hear of one person who figured out the whole resolution thing. They have made a resolution along with a definitive plan to accomplish it. Their resolution is to read more in 2023. In order to accomplish that they have turned on Closed Captioning on their television. 

I think that’s called “gaming the system.” Let’s face it, most of us just stink when it comes to executing on our resolutions. 

That’s why I don’t bother with resolutions. I’m no better at following through with them than anyone else. Instead I make commitments. Then I develop a solid executable plan to make certain I can honor that commitment. Then I tell the people closest to me, people who matter most to me, about the commitments and ask for their help in holding me accountable for that commitment. Often times I do more than tell them, I write out the commitments along with my plan to honor them. I print them out and give them to the people. I practically beg those people to hold me accountable.

I tell them, only kind of jokingly, they if I fail to keep that commitment they will be at least partial responsible for my falling short. I know my best chance for success comes from being accountable to someone. That’s true for you as well. We ALL do better with accountability in our lives. Again, that just proves we are human. 

So if you’re looking ahead for greater success and happiness in 2023 the first thing you have to do is be certain you’re looking ahead. Go into the New a year with a future perspective. Not a past perspective. Take your 2022 lessons into the future with you but leave the losses and disappointments behind. 

Invest some serious time reflecting on where you want to be when 2023 is past. Also consider what time, energy and resources you’re willing to invest to make that happen. Then make a commitment to take whatever action is required to make it real. 

Share that commitment with people who care enough about you to hold you accountable. Truly accountable. They need to be willing to bug the hell out of you and you need to be willing to allow them to. 

We can ALL use a little help now and again. Being held accountable to do what we said we would do is some of the most awesome help you’ll ever get. If you want anything “better” in life then step one is realizing that you’re ultimately the one who must make it so. So go forth and make it so!

Protecting Your Mental Health

I don’t recommend starting a blog post with a disclaimer. That said, here’s my disclaimer: this is one of those blog posts I’m going to write even though I’m not actually qualified to speak, or write, on the subject. 

It’s about protecting your mental health. Now, I’m not exactly a touchy sensitive kinda guy. When I’d see or hear of someone needing a mental health day or time away to “recharge” I used to scoff at the idea. 

My thoughts were that the person needed to toughen up. You know, put on their big boy or big girl pants and get back at it. I figured that people who couldn’t do that were somehow weaker than those who could. 

But I’m coming around to the idea that I’ve been wrong about all that. Imagine my surprise as it began to dawn on me that it was needing to put on big boy pants to look invincible that actually made me weaker. 

I still struggle with the whole idea of mental health days and needing “down time” once in a while. There’s a part of me that says there are some people simply milking the whole mental health focus to get out of work. I still marvel at the ease with which some people say “I won’t be working tomorrow, I need a mental health day.” 

As certain as I am that some people are abusing the privilege of protecting their mental health I’m equally convinced that protecting our mental health is vital to our overall quality of life. 

So…how do we actually go about protecting our mental health? Well personally I’ve began setting rather firm boundaries. The people who add stress to my life are no longer allowed to be a part of my life. And yes, this is causing a difference kind of stress but it’s a far more temporary stress. Some of those people are even family so I’m forced to be in their presence from time to time, but that’s different from letting them be an actual part of my life. When I listen to them talk or interact with other people it’s like I’m watching a reality television show. 

I can think to myself that they are kinda knuckleheads but they don’t have any impact on my life so who cares. I’m a work in progress on setting these boundaries but it has made a difference for me already. 

Make no mistake, there will be people who are downright mad about you setting boundaries. Those will likely be the people you most need to be setting boundaries with. The people who truly care about you will be excited about seeing you take control of your life. 

As you fight against the people who would destroy your boundaries you’ll realize how important boundaries really are. Your mental health will improve rather quickly. You’ll discover how your mental health is directly connected to your physical health. It’s not an overstatement to say that in many ways you’ll feel like a new person. 

Now a note to the guys reading this. As hard as it may be for you to accept, mental health is not a woman thing. It is a human thing. Protecting your mental health does not make you weak. It might even be one of the most manly damn things you can do. 

Again, I’m not at all qualified to write about this. I’m no doctor. I’m just a guy who is beginning to realize that my physical performance is affected by my mental performance. I’m also beginning to understand that just like I can control how I perform physically, I can also control how I perform mentally. 

So can you!

If It’s Worth Doing Then It’s Worth Doing Poorly

“Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well.” Those words were penned by Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield, in a letter to his son back in 1774.

The 4th Earl of Chesterfield knew was he was talking about. There is no purpose in doing anything worth doing unless you intend to do it well. 

At least eventually. 

Successful people are willing to do something poorly until they can do it well. Often very well. There was a kid who lived in North Carolina and loved basketball. He wanted to play for his high school team. He gave a mighty effort to make the team but he wasn’t good enough. The sophomore at Laney High School didn’t make the varsity team, instead he was sent to the Junior Varsity to develop more. 

He was told that his shooting was okay but his defense was mediocre. Plus, he wasn’t nearly tall enough at 15 years old to be guaranteed a spot on the team. He went home after hearing the news and cried alone in his bedroom.

Lots of people would have given up at that point. He could easily have been one of them. He could have decided to switch sports and give his second favorite sport, baseball, a try. But he persisted. He was willing to play basketball poorly until he could play it well. 

He worked and worked. Made bad shot after bad shot, until most of his shots weren’t that bad. He worked especially on his defense. He began to enjoy denying other people the opportunity to make a shot almost as much as he enjoyed making his own. Oh, and he grew a bunch too. 

But it was his willingness to play poorly (keep in mind “poorly” is a relative term) until he could play well (well is a relative term too) that made him into the player he turned out to be. He became a good enough player that he actually played for a bit in the National Basketball Association. He even contributed to his team winning some games. 

Less successful people often give up when they are right on the cusp of making most of their shots. They become demoralized with doing something poorly so they stop trying. They likely have a lot of “help” in becoming demoralized as the people around them continue to reinforce the notion they that aren’t very good. 

If you want great success then you must be willing to do something poorly until you improve enough to do it well. Few people succeed on their first attempt. 

But, here’s the caveat. You must be honest with yourself while attempting to move from a poor performance to a great performance. You must have some form of measurement in place to objectively evaluate whether or not you are making progress. Once you objectively make that determination you’ll know what to do. 

But whatever you do, don’t quit. Perhaps stop trying to make the basketball team and go out for the debate team. Trying something else is NOT quitting. It is redirecting your efforts to an area where your chances of success are greater. That’s called being strategic.

Oh by the way…that high school basketball player who couldn’t make the varsity…his name is Michael Jordan. You can Google him if you’re interested in knowing more about the guy many people consider the GOAT. 

Praise and Criticism

Truth be told I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t prefer to be praised rather than criticized. Receiving praise and recognition from anyone always makes us feel better. Even when we’re almost certain the person giving the praise is blowing smoke up our you know what, that fake praise still feels better than well needed criticism. 

Praise and recognition can be very useful for building our self-confidence and self-esteem. It reaffirms that we are on the right track and we should do more of whatever it was we’ve been doing. Plus, it just downright feels good. 

Some criticism is the so called “constructive” kind. Other criticism is meant to hurt and demean people. We can’t control the intent of other people’s criticism towards us but we have complete control over how we receive it. 

I personally try to accept all criticism as constructive criticism. I’ll listen to it and then think on it for a while. I’ll look at it from different angles, I’ll share it with a mentor to get their take on it. Then I decide what to do with it. I’ll either decide the criticism was indeed intended to harm me in some way and I’ll quickly discard it. Or, I’ll decide that even though it was perhaps intended to demotivate me, there was a kernel of truth in it and I’ll try to take whatever corrective action I can. 

When I determine the criticism was meant to be constructive I’ll thank the person.  I may even ask for their help in improving in whatever area they saw a weakness.

But here’s the thing about both praise and criticism. Never accept either one without attaching a personal expiration date to them. Neither of them are forever. Assuming that your actions of today will continue to make you successful in the future is very limited thinking. You need to continually ask yourself how you can get better. No matter how good you may have been yesterday, or how good you are today, if you’re not better tomorrow then you’re losing ground to someone who is. 

Accept the praise, enjoy it a while but don’t forget, if you’re still trying to live off of last week’s praise next week you’ll likely be getting kind of stinky to the people around you. Greatness doesn’t come from doing something well once, it comes from doing something very well, again and again.

Likewise, criticism needs a relatively short expiration date. Ponder it for a time, learn from it what you can. If there is a lesson for you in the criticism then accept it. Learn from it, act upon it and ask yourself how you can prevent yourself from slipping back into that poor performance. Then toss the criticism into the trash heap of ancient history. Never dwell on criticism.

Praise and criticism both have the place in the toolbox of leadership. Just as a leader must keep their praise and criticisms fresh, the people on the receiving end of those tools must realize that neither was intended to last forever.