Back to Basics

As the story goes, the legendary former coach of the Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi, would start every training camp the same way. He would hold up a football and announce with great gusto, “This is a football.” 

Keep in mind he was speaking to a room full of professional football players. I think I’m safe in assuming that they all had at least a passing familiarity (pun intended) with what a football looked like. 

But Coach Lombardi was making a point. His point was we are going to begin with the basics because it’s the basics that will make us champions. 

You may not be a professional football player but that point is as applicable to you as it was to those Green Bay Packers. 

Skipping the basics, or believing your skills are so advanced that the basics no longer apply to you is one sure way to fall short of your potential. 

As the year ahead comes into focus it’s a great time to review your own “basics.” What have you skipped, or simply forgotten, that used to bring you great results? Maybe you used to send thank you notes…remember those, the kind you wrote out by hand, put in an envelope and dropped in a blue box on the corner? That practice remains to this day a solid basic skill when building and nurturing relationships. Perhaps more than ever considering how rare thank you notes have become. 

Maybe you skip making yourself a prioritized task list each morning. Using a prioritized task list is key to strong time management. For most people it’s not that they don’t have enough time, it’s that they lack a clear sense of priorities. 

People who prioritize what they want and need to accomplish will in fact accomplish much more than the people who don’t. Even if you’ve never applied that basic skill to your life before, now would be a great time to start. 

There are so many “basics” to success that I could go on forever. But instead I’ll encourage you to invest some time to think back to some of your greatest successes. What were some of the basics that helped you achieve that success? Are you still using them? If not can you say with specificity why you’re not? Or have they somehow faded away with not much thought as to why?

Consider the basics you need to be consistently successful and then go back to them. This is a great example of when “going back” is the fastest path forward to future success. 

So, what are you going back to?

Advice to Your Younger Self

I was in a TEAMS meeting recently doing some planning for a much bigger meeting. We were discussing conversation starters when one of the people in the meeting suggested an interesting question to get ideas flowing. 

His question was: What is the one piece advice, if you knew then what you know now, you would have given yourself when you were just starting out? 

I was immediately fascinated with the question. I also knew my answer almost immediately. It is probably easier for me to answer that question, particularly this time of year. That’s because towards the end of each year as I plan for the year ahead I reflect back on prior years to determine what they can teach me. 

Most people want to improve. They know they need to learn in order to do it. What we forget however is that what we learn from others can’t ever teach us as effectively as what we learn from ourselves. 

So how would you answer that question for yourself? Take some time because it’s a serious question. But here’s an additional follow up question to consider…are you now following the advice that you would have given yourself years earlier? 

Depending on where you’re at in your career the advice may or may not be applicable but it is worth considering anyway. 

For those of you wondering about my answer to that question here it is.

I would tell my younger self to listen FAR MORE than I talk. I’d add that I should listen intently to those who are nearest to the end of their career. There are far less likely to be playing politics or trying to lead you astray. They know more because they have lived more. 

A  few words of caution here…wisdom usually shows up with age but not always. Sometimes age just shows up by itself. 

If you can learn from their mistakes instead of making the mistakes yourself you will save yourself a lot of time and expense. 

I’d finish the advice by reminding myself that I’ll never learn one darn thing from talking. I’ll only learn from listening. So listen, listen, and listen some more. 

Most of that advice remains 100% applicable today…too bad I didn’t listen when it was first shared with me by someone else. 🥴

The Promise of Tomorrow

Every year holds it’s own set of lessons. Those who study history know that the years teach us many things that a single day will never know.

I don’t think we’ll need much history however to understand some of the lessons from the year 2020. For too many families around the world one of those lessons is that tomorrow is promised to no one. No one can know if their own tomorrow will actually arrive. 

But we also know that if our tomorrow does arrive we have much more control over it than we often choose to take. Many people let their days unfold as if they have no say whatsoever in the events of that day. They let the day happen. 

The happiest and most successful people never let a day happen “to them.” They make the day happen “for them.” 

They may not be able to choose each of the “events” that come their way each day but they are able to choose exactly how they will respond to them. They choose very very frequently to respond with a positive attitude.

That positive attitude allows them to take something good from every experience. It allows them to learn from even their least favorite event of any given day. It allows them to constantly be looking forward to the promise of an even better tomorrow. 

You have the same choice. The only question is whether or not you’ll actually make it. 

I know people who make the choice of a positive attitude 100% of the time. They are happier than me. I am happier than people who make the choice of a positive attitude less frequently than me. 

I know people who choose to look for opportunities in every problem 100% of the time. They are more successful than me. I am more successful than people who look for opportunities in problems less than I do. 

It is very clear that happiness and success come from our choices and no choice we make is more important than the choice of a positive attitude. Choosing to look for opportunities inside problems is a close second. 

Yet I’m tempted to tell you it’s not possible 100% of the time cause it seems impossible to me. But I know people who prove me wrong. It’s not only a possibility for them, it is a reality. So I’m going to keep trying to make it my reality too. 

The promise of tomorrow doesn’t wait. You need to go get it. Your choice of a positive attitude is the fastest ride to those promises you’ll ever find. You willing to hop on board with me?

People, Expense or Investment?

There are two distinct mindsets in business today with regards to the people who make up an organization. One mindset, the one I’ll call a managerial mindset says that people are an expense. The other mindset, the one I’ll call a leadership mindset says that people are an investment. 

The difference between those two mindsets is huge!

Let’s say you’re currently occupying a leadership position and you have a team member who isn’t quite getting the job done. If you think to yourself you’re going to have to “spend time on” that person to get them up to speed then you likely have a managerial mindset.

On the other hand let’s say you see that same person. If you think to yourself I’m going to “invest time with” that person to help get them achieve their potential then you have a leadership mindset. 

Your mindset will affect every single interaction you have with your people. 

That’s because we almost instinctively manage expenses. The thought “spend time on” indicates you see people as an expense. Even if only subconsciously. Your people will pick up on that mindset and respond accordingly. They will act as an expense, someone merely hired to be a cog in the wheel. They will resist being the asset that they could be, even if only subconsciously. 

If you see your people as an expense then you will try to manage them. That will cause YOU enormous issues. Do you understand what that means? It means if you have personnel issues then your mindset towards your people is likely the biggest cause.  

When you have a leadership mindset your thoughts regarding people tend to be much more on the “invest time with” side. You realize people can’t be managed, they must be led. That mindset helps you to care about your people. You realize that your success as a leader is completely dependent upon the success of your people. 

Your people will pick up on that mindset and respond accordingly. They will see themselves as someone who brings value to the organization. They will understand that what they do matters and they will commit to do it to the best of their ability. They will give a 100% effort because they know you are committed to them and they will respond with a commitment of their own. 

There are no documented instances of organizations that saw their people as an expense succeeding long term. There are however well documented instances of companies that were in business a long time “adapting” their thinking to one of “people are an expense.” Their demise soon followed. 

By the way, if you’re wondering why a company would suddenly change to a “people are an expense” philosophy I have a one word explanation for you. Consultant! Actually that’s not fair, most consultants are firmly on the “people are an investment” side. It’s the big consulting firms who promote the “people are an expense” concept. They encourage companies to save money by cutting people expenses. They also encourage you to pay them a substantial percentage of that “savings.” 

If you’re in a leadership position then you should know that your first investment must be in your people. New people, young people, experienced people are all worthy investments. Those investments provide a near guaranteed ROI for your organization. 

If your plan to make money includes cutting expenses by cutting people then you should know that’s very short term thinking. You should also know that short term thinking never leads to long term success.

100 Days of Mask Wearing

If you’re looking for a political fight over whether people should be wearing masks during a pandemic you’ve come to the wrong place. The title of this post is pure clickbait cause I’m not writing about that kind of mask. 

I’m writing about the masks that many people wear everyday. Even people who would say “no one can make me wear a mask” frequently wear masks. 

It’s the masks they wear when pretending to be someone or something they are not. They wear them for a lot longer than 100 days too. They wear them for many reasons. Some don’t particularly like who they really are. Some want to impress people who they believe won’t accept them as they are. Some people seem to be afraid to let others know the person they actually are. The list of reasons could go on and on. 

I gave up on wearing the kind of mask that hides who I am a long time ago. I adopted the thinking of the great American philosopher Popeye. He was very comfortable with who he was and frequently said, “I am what I am and that’s all that I am.” 

Me too.

Some people don’t like who I am. That’s fantastic! I’ve not invested a single minute trying to fool people into liking me so at least they don’t like me for who I really am. Image making all that effort to wear a mask only to discover people don’t like the person you’re pretending to be. What a waste! I am what I am and that’s all that I am. If people like who and what I am then that’s fantastic too. 

Either way I’m not putting on a mask to try to get more people to like me. Wearing that kind of mask is a lot of work and it’s not particularly effective. People are gonna figure you out sooner or later anyway. You might as well make it easier by showing them the real you. 

I’m more than certain the people who are supposed to be in your life will be in your life. I’m also very sure that you’ll have a more enjoyable life living the life of the person you really are. It’s also likely that wearing a mask to hide the real you won’t make more people like you, it will just make different people like you. But if your mask falls off those people will quickly fall away.

If you need to wear a mask to get somebody to think better of you then you don’t need them thinking of you at all. You also shouldn’t care what they think in the first place.

Be you! Be the best you that you can possibly be. Be “all that you are” all of the time because it’s that authenticity that will ultimately make you a person to be admired. 

And you don’t need a mask for that!

The True Meaning of Mistakes

I must admit I don’t like making mistakes. I especially don’t like making stupid mistakes by overlooking obvious warning signs or mistakes that come from a lack of planning. But most of all I hate making the same mistake twice. 

I also must admit that I need to make mistakes. Mistakes are a part of success. Every success story I’ve ever been a part of needed mistakes to grow stronger and achieve ultimate success. I believe that overcoming mistakes on the path to success helps people maintain that success when additional challenges arise.

People who never make mistakes had better be comfortable with the status quo. They will seldom stumble upon innovative ideas or solutions. They prefer complaining to risking the possibility of a mistake while looking for something better. 

They think a mistake is the equivalent of failure. Mistakes are actually irrefutable proof that you’re chasing after something better. Mistakes are not a sign that you’ve done something wrong, they are in fact the evidence that you’re doing something right. 

Mistakes mean you’re either searching for or are already on the path to success.

I’m not recommending that anyone intentionally make mistakes. I’ve never found the need to be intentional when it comes to mistakes, they just show up on their own. They often show up at the worst possible times and when we least expect them. Well okay,  they don’t exactly show up on their own. I frequently “invite” them into my life by pretending “that” won’t happen to me or thinking I’m too smart to make the same mistake a billion other people have made. 

Never “double-up” on a mistake by denying it. When you’ve made a mistake admit it quickly and if you need help to fix it then ask. Admitting a mistake does not make you look weak. It demonstrates that you have the courage to acknowledge it. It shows you intend to overcome whatever roadblocks the mistake may have created. 

Stare down your mistakes by looking them in the eye. Before too long you may see them smiling back at you and you’ll realize how much help they have been.

When Leaders Don’t Listen

It’s great to work with a leader who knows a lot. It’s absolutely terrible to work for a leader who knows it all. 

I want you to pay particular to the wording of those two sentences. When a leader knows a lot they work WITH their people to create an environment of growth and success. When a leader knows it all they tend to be far more “boss” like than leader like. They don’t work with their people, they expect their people to work FOR them. 

Leaders who believe they already know it all don’t listen to their people. They don’t need to because the only reason anyone actually listens is to learn something. When you have nothing to learn you have no need to listen. 

It’s bad for anyone not to listen. The most successful people learn something new almost every single day. Much of what they learn they learn by listening. When people in leadership positions don’t listen the results can be disastrous. 

Leaders who don’t listen demoralize their people. Leaders who don’t listen have no way of knowing how to help their people stay motivated. Leaders who don’t listen have no way of showing their people that they care. Leaders who don’t listen will never earn the commitment of their people. 

Leaders who don’t listen have to rely on compliance instead of commitment. They will need to try and force productivity out of their people. They may eventually get some work out of them but the quality and quantity of that work will be less than idea.

Compliance will never take an organization and it’s people to the places where commitment can go. 

It is nearly impossible to become a great leader without being a great communicator. But leaders who don’t listen think communication is only about talking. So they talk and talk and talk. They tell people what to think, they tell them how to think it, and they tell them when to think it. 

Communication is also about listening. In fact, communication is mostly about listening. 

Leaders who do listen give themselves a chance to learn. They give themselves the opportunity to receive information from multiple sources and break it down into actionable tasks. 

Leaders who practice the art of listening receive feedback on their own performance as well as unbiased input about the performance of all members of their team. It allows them to create a truly inclusive organization based on performance not favoritism. 

Leaders who are willing to listen learn exactly how to show their people that they care about them. They know the strengths and weaknesses of their people and they find positions for them where they can succeed. 

Hearing is a gift from God but listening is a choice. Authentic Leaders make the choice to listen to their people, to their customers, to anyone who might help them lead even a little better. 

Have you made the choice to listen? If not it’s a simple choice, just look in the mirror and tell the person looking back that they have a lot to learn. Then start talking less and listening more because when it comes to listening one thing is certain…. if you’re talking then you’re most certainly NOT listening.