Take Charge of Your Life

Almost everyone I talk to says they would like “things” to improve in 2022. When asked to be more specific many of the people say, “you know, just things in general.”

Well, generally speaking “things” don’t improve until somebody improves them. I guess that’s where the “somebody ought to do something” phrase comes from.

People want improvement and they want somebody else to give it to them.

That would be nice if it worked that way and I suppose every once in a while it does. But waiting for “somebody” to do “something” to make your life “better” is kinda like waiting to win the lottery when you haven’t even purchased a ticket.

If you want to be sure of improvement this year then you need to realize that if it’s going to happen then YOU need to take responsibility for making it happen. Don’t wait on anything or anyone. Don’t hope for something good to happen, make something good happen.

Make a plan for self-improvement and then implement the plan. It can be professional improvement or improvement in your personal life. Maybe both. Be aware that some improvement will require that you start doing something that you may not particularly like doing. Other improvement will require that you perhaps stop doing something you like.

Oftentimes what we stop doing has more positive impact on our lives than what we start doing.

There are many things in your life that you don’t control but if you really want a better life then you must control the things you can…and they are many too. The most successful people accept responsibility for their lives.

They accept responsibility for what they do and what they didn’t do that they should have.

Change will happen in the New Year, the question is, will change happen to you or because of you? Will you be in control of your life in 2022 or allow “somebody” else to determine your life’s trajectory?

It’s a simple choice but it’s a choice that only you can make.

Sure Things

It’s hard to know these days exactly what you can believe. You can find “facts” on the internet to support almost anything you want to be true. But as President Abraham Lincoln once said, “Don’t believe everything you read online.” 

But this post is in fact loaded with truths. No need to worry about checking Wikipedia for this post, these truths are sure things.

The first absolute truth is this…You are special! You matter, you make a difference in this world simply by being you. Never let the words or actions of another person cause you to doubt this indisputable truth. Your self-respect is priceless and always remember that no one can steal it from you unless you leave the door unlocked.

The second sure thing is that you can do more than you think you can. Henry Ford said “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” If you’re like most people one of your greatest obstacles to success is your own self-doubt. The most successful people didn’t think they could succeed, they knew they would succeed. Develop that mindset and you’re on your way to the success you deserve. 

One of the surest sure things is that your chances for success are much better when you have a coach or a mentor. The qualifications for a good mentor are many but the best mentors have a long view of life. That means that they know other people built bridges for them to cross. Their long view of life drives them to build bridges themselves, for people just like you. Find yourself a mentor and your bridge to the future will come into focus.

The surest sure thing is this: God believes in you even if you don’t believe in Him. The things you’ve done that you think are unforgivable can be forgiven by Him before you even do them. That means the path is clear for you to forgive yourself. God’s love for you is real. It is boundless and never ending. Remember that on the days you feel unloveable and every day of your life will be better because of it. 

The next sure thing is that it costs you nothing to be kind. The struggles you face are real and every person you meet has struggles in their life too. Being intentionally kind to others helps them deal with their struggles and makes your own seem more manageable too.

The final sure thing is that 2022 will only be a good as you allow it to be. The attitude you choose to carry with you each day will either make everything better or worse. And here’s some great news: your attitude is completely your choice. In his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning” Viktor Frankl described the last of the human freedoms as the ability to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance. Before you dismiss that as Pollyanna thinking you should know that Viktor Frankl lived a part of his life in the worst circumstances humans have ever found themselves in. Yet he never allowed anyone or anything to rob him of that precious choice. 

When you choose to have a positive attitude every single part of your life will be better. But you must make that conscious choice on a daily basis. The fastest way to building a better life is to build a better you. 

The better your attitude the better you will be! 

The Best Present You Can Give

‘Tis the season to ponder on the perfect gift. In fact many of us will overthink gift giving so much that on Christmas Eve we’re running around the local Walmart buying leftover stuff that we know darn well will be returned. Or worse, left to sit in the recipient’s junk drawer until the end of time. 

Some people will spend thousands on the perfect gift. Some people may not spend much but what they do spend represents a sizable portion of their income. Other people will make gifts to give which to me is extra special. It almost doesn’t matter what the gift is because what they have really given is a gift of their time and thoughtfulness. 

No matter if you can afford lavish gifts or you think you have to overspend your budget the best present you can give to those you care most about can’t be purchased. Even if you’re the craftiest person in your crafting club you can’t craft the present that will make the greatest impact on those you care about. 

The best present that you can give is the gift of your presence. Your full and undivided presence. 

Isn’t it amazing that the best present you can give doesn’t come from a store or a website. It doesn’t come from a crafting club either. It comes from a decision! A decision that says “I will give to you my complete attention because in this moment you are the most important person on the planet.”

Making that decision means that for a time Facebook does not exist. Neither does Instagram or Twitter. It means that there is no need to urgently reply to text messages. It means that anything other than the people you’re talking to is a distraction that devalues the best present of all. 

So ‘tis should be the season of paying attention to who is most important in your life. If you’re a human being then what’s most important in your life is other human beings. Technology has caused all of us to forget that from time to time. Let’s remember it this holiday season.

Shut out anything that causes you to lose focus on other people. Whether it’s your kids, your spouse, your siblings or your precious mom and dad, you know they are all more important than the most vital text message, post or video.

Behave that way and you’ll have given the people who matter to you the best present they will ever receive. 

Your Ticket In

In all likelihood you were promoted to your first leadership position because you were good at your job. That job most likely didn’t involve leadership responsibilities. 

The challenge for most new leaders is that what earned them a leadership position will almost certainly not help them lead. They may have managed their job exceptionally well. They may understand how the business works, they may even know how to generate revenue for their organization. 

But none of that has anything to do with leading. That’s managing. We manage stuff, we manage things, we may even attempt to manage time but we do not, we cannot, manage people. 

Every business or organization needs excellent management to survive. They need superior leadership to thrive. 

The first step to becoming a superior leader is to understand that the skill sets that make you a good manager will not make you a good leader. While a high IQ can make you an effective manager it requires a decent EQ to help you develop as a leader.

Leadership is about people and only people. If you don’t “get” people you won’t get leadership either. If you can’t demonstrate that you care for people then people won’t care to follow you. 

People cannot follow someone they do not trust. Authentic leaders work to earn the trust of the people they lead on a continuous basis. They know that to be trusted their words must match their actions. Authentic Leaders lead will truth and honesty even when it’s a little painful. 

New leaders who want to become experienced Authentic Leaders understand that they are responsible for their own development. They willingly accept whatever development opportunities come from their organizations but they don’t stop there. 

They invest their own time and often their own money to further develop themselves. They will attend classes, listen to podcasts and seek out coaches who can help them develop their leadership skills.

If you’re in a leadership position, particularly if you’re new to a leadership position, you should know that your management skills are merely your ticket into the leadership world. Being promoted into a leadership position does not make you a leader, it merely provides you with an opportunity to earn the right to lead. 

By the way, while holding a leadership position may make it a bit quicker to earn that right, you do not need a leadership position to lead. You just need to care for people and want to make a difference in their lives.

Authentic Leaders will tell you that leadership development never stops. The most effective leaders continue to learn and develop their own leadership skills. They know that “good enough” never is. 

If you’re new to leadership, or struggling in your current leadership role then the good news is that there is lots of help available to you. You only need to make the decision to develop yourself into the most effective leader possible. 

That’s part of leading yourself, which always comes before attempting to lead someone else. 

Taking Care of Business

Every business promises to take care of their customers. Many have departments they call Customer Care. The new “thing” in customer service is called CX which short for the Customer Experience. Companies are investing small fortunes with consultants. All to improve the experience for their customers. 

They do this in an attempt to take care of business. 

But for many of those companies, way way too many, they have put the cart before the horse. 

I fully support anything that improves the customer experience. I’m all in on anything that gives the customer a reason to continue doing business with a company. It’s just that every business is in the people business, no matter the product or service they sell. 

Companies can invest literally millions of dollars trying to improve their customer’s experience. They spend on systems, programs and technology. But if they refuse to invest one dollar on improving the working experience of their employees the customer will never be happy. 

I recall a whole bunch of years ago when the pilots union at one of the major airlines in the US went on strike. It was a pretty contentious strike right from the beginning. Both the company and the pilots union took out ads in the newspapers saying that the other side were basically morons. I still don’t understand the airline’s strategy of telling their customers that the people who were flying them across the country were morons. But that’s another story. 

Part way through the strike one of the pilots was on a local talk radio show discussing the strike. He said something that has stuck with me to this day. He said the crux of the problem at the airline was that they were trying to satisfy customers with dissatisfied employees. 

The employees, throughout the airline, were disgruntled and disengaged. They believed they were taken for granted and disrespected. They passed those feelings on to the customers. 

The “cart” that many companies put before the horse is investing in customer service programs before they invest in the people responsible for implementing the programs. They are trying to make satisfied customers when their employees could be dissatisfied. That is unlikely to work. 

Most companies today know that regardless of what they sell they are in the people business. What they don’t seem to realize is that the employees of the company are people too. While the popular thinking says “the customer comes first” the reality is that unless employees know they matter the customer doesn’t come at all. 

Companies that attempt to take care of business before they take care of their people are making a mistake, often a very costly one. 

The most successful and profitable companies know that it’s their people who create satisfied and loyal customers. Programs, technology and systems do not. What they can do is help the people in the organization better serve customers. But if the people who are employed by the company do not feel valued it’s unlikely they will add much value to the customer. 

That’s why companies that last invest as much in their people as they do their products and customers. 

Does your organization have the cart before the horse? If so a change of focus is in order. Focus on your people first so they will enthusiastically focus on your customers. 

Fear School

Early in my career selling training programs I made a call on one of the world’s largest manufacturing companies. I was selling a variety of training programs but the one I was focused on during this call was Leadership Training. 

I asked how the company was currently developing their leadership teams and they said they were in kind of a gap period. In fact it had been awhile since they offered any formal training to their leadership team. 

We talked about what they had done in the past and they told me that all new managers were required to attend what they called “Fear School.” It was management training designed to help the new manager understand how to put the fear of God into their people. They had used their Fear School program for literally decades. They were now struggling with turnover and recruiting issues so they thought perhaps another approach might be in order. 

You may think that putting fear into the minds of people is an ineffective way to get them to do things. You would be wrong. It is very effective…just not for very long. Putting fear into people makes them compliant. They do what they are told because they fear the consequences of not doing it. 

They do it but they seldom do it well. They seldom do more than the minimum required to avoid the consequences. Compliant employees are very expensive for a company because they are not engaged with the goals or vision of the organization. They take up space and add little value beyond what the fear-mongering boss can force out of them. 

Compliant employees use their job description as a shield to deflect requests to do anything that might appear to be extra work. 

It is unlikely that any company still offers “Fear School” to their new managers. Many new managers however operate as if they passed the class with flying colors. They settle for the compliance of their people rather than working to earn their commitment. 

Authentic Leaders work daily to earn the commitment of their people. While compliant people are working to get out of work, committed employees are working to constantly improve both their organizations and themselves. They add value anyway they can. 

Some people will tell you that there is no difference between managing people and leading people. They say it’s all semantics. Those people would be mistaken. They would also be the managers most likely to settle for compliance. 

If you want to determine if someone is trying to manage people or if they are an Authentic Leader it’s actually pretty easy. Just look at the people they are responsible for leading. If the people are committed they are being led. If they are sleep walking through their day they are being managed. 

Here’s the sad part of all that. Every employee wants to be engaged. Every person wants to make a difference. Every person wants to enjoy their work. Every person can be an engaged and contributing employee. Every person wants effective and Authentic Leadership. 

Not every person in a leadership position wants to help their people have those things. They are “lazy leaders” who settle for compliance when they could have so much more. 

That’s a shame on many levels but especially for the people who lack the leadership they need.

Will You Really Invest in Your People?

Most leaders are rather proud to say that their people are their greatest asset. Funny thing is the only way you would know that is by listening to them because for many of them you don’t see it in their actions. 

When you challenge them to back up what they say about their greatest asset they invariably point to the the money they spend to develop their people. By the way, there is so much wrong with the “we spend a ton” statement that I could write several posts about it but I’ll talk about one for now. 

The first thing wrong with that statement is that with the exception of a very few companies it’s not true. In the United States the majority of companies spend an average of ten times more on their IT Infrastructure than they do developing their people. 

They see spending on IT almost as a sunk cost so while they may shake their heads at the amount, it gets approved as if there is no choice. Spending on people is a prospective cost and is often cut to protect the all important the bottom line. 

Authentic Leaders, the ones who grow and develop future leaders for their organization, know that the best investment they can make in their people is an investment of time. They don’t “spend” money or time ON their people, they “invest” money and time WITH their people. 

You can spend money on “off the shelf” training for your people or you can invest your time and your experience to truly grow and develop your people. 

If you’re delegating the vital leadership responsibility of developing your people solely to your HR team or worse, simply leaving it up to the people you lead, then you may hold a leadership position but you are not leading. 

Take a second here to reflect on the past week. What did you do to help one of the people you lead grow and develop? Criticizing them for a mistake is not helpful so don’t count those. Where during the last week did you invest the time to take someone’s mistake and turn it into a learning opportunity? When did you coach or encourage a member of your team? 

I already know the answers to those questions for too many of you. I also know the excuses you’ll use to explain away your lack of Authentic Leadership. So don’t got there. 

Go instead to your mirror and look yourself in the eye. Now read this:

Because I refuse to invest even a minute of my time to develop the people I’m supposed to be leading they will always struggle. Because I attempt in vain to manage people who desperately need to be led I will always struggle. Because we collectively struggle our organization will struggle as well. Because I am a leader in name only those struggles will be continuous. They will not be the responsibility of the people I’m supposed to lead, they will be on me. 

You may forget some of that when your excuses blot out your responsibility as a leader so you may want to read that everyday. Or you might start actually leading by investing the time to develop what you so rightfully call your greatest asset.