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. 

The Enemy Within a Me

People get frustrated with me when I tell them that it’s very likely the greatest obstacle to success they face is themselves. 

They tell me I don’t understand, but I do. They tell me I don’t know, but I do. They tell me I don’t know how tough it can be “out there,” but I do. 

I also know that in any situation where I’ve struggled to advance or accomplish a goal my greatest enemy was within me. That enemy slowed down my progress. My doubts about my own abilities prevented me from moving forward. Those doubts opened the door to my true enemy which was fear of failure. 

Despite the compliments I get about my speaking ability, the things I write and other stuff I do, I know this undeniable truth about myself…overall I’m a pretty average person. I don’t say that about myself in a bad way, in fact my “averageness” is one of my greatest strengths. It helps me relate to the people I’m trying to help. 

That’s why I can say with a high degree of confidence, I do understand, I do know. 

I also know my main enemy is within a me! 

I know the best way for me to block that enemy is to believe in myself. People who believe in themselves are pretty darn near impossible to stop. When YOU believe in yourself you are pretty much unstoppable.

Believing in yourself leaves no room for doubt. Without doubt to open the door fear has no way into your head. 

Any battle is halfway won when when your enemy within is kept away. Obstacles become opportunities when the enemy within you can’t mess with your head. 

So the next time doubt starts to creep into your thoughts you need to immediately ask yourself,  “is this an actual problem, or is this the enemy within a me just tearing down my confidence?”

If you’re average like me, and most of you are, (see, that’s how “average” works) you’ll know it’s the enemy within. You should also know you can defeat it by ignoring it. I know that if you believe in yourself you will be unstoppable. 

I know that about you cause I know that about me. I’ll never let the enemy within a me make me doubt my ability and neither you should you.

Frustrated Followers

I’ve been fortunate for the vast majority of my career to work for and with leaders who were Authentic Leaders. They cared for their people, they were smart and they knew what they were doing. 

Except maybe for one guy. He was my first boss out of college. He didn’t seem to have a very high EQ and his IQ was virtually nonexistent. (Or so it appeared to me) He was functionally illiterate, his communication skills were subpar to say the least. 

But he was my boss. My boss! I had a brand new Engineering Degree and had been anointed by non other than myself as one of the smartest people on the planet. It was an impossible situation…I was a genius and my boss was not. So I set about fixing that injustice.

I decided, at least subconsciously, to be a “difficult” employee. Difficult might be a bit of an understatement…I was determined to make his life a living hell. I mean how hard could it be for a genius such as myself to chase this knucklehead out of the company. My goal was to do whatever was necessary for this guy to no longer be my boss.

I’ll spare you the ugly details of what I determined “difficult” to be. But he and the company we worked for had incredible staying power. Despite my best efforts they kept trying to find a way for us to work together and it took me two long years to finally reach my goal. 

I quit!

Apparently his 20 plus years at a family run company meant something to the owners. They also valued the skills I bought with me. 

It would be several years after I quit before I’d realize what a terrible employee I was. It would be a few more years before I’d realize what a terrible person I was to that boss. 

I’d made the horrible mistake of not seeing the value in someone different than me. My failure to see the value in another human being caused ME great frustration. I took that out on both my boss and any coworkers who happened to agree with him. 

That the man had certain “gaps” was never in doubt. My mistake was in thinking it was my job to expose those gaps. In reality part of my job was actually to fill those gaps. 

He was not technically proficient, I was. It was my job to help him use his strengths by filling his technical gaps. I failed at that…miserably. 

When your leader isn’t all that you think they should be don’t allow yourself to be frustrated. Don’t focus on their weaknesses, focus on their strengths. I can guarantee you that somebody saw those strengths and that’s why they are in the position that are in. Help them use their strengths by filling whatever gaps you can. 

Whether it’s in your job description or not you should understand that one of your roles is to support the other people in your organization. Especially those above you on the organizational chart. The only exception to that “rule” is if that support would include doing something illegal or unethical.

When you’re feeling frustrated by someone above you in your organization, or even someone at your level, remember this truth: being frustrated prevents you from using YOUR strengths. Being frustrated hurts YOU more than anyone else. 

So don’t focus on the things that frustrate you, focus instead on the things you can control. One of those things is helping the people who frustrate you to not frustrate you. That’s a whole lot more productive than constantly complaining. 

Are You Too Concerned With Your Reputation?

I played hockey from about the time I could walk up until… well I’d play now if I could find the time and a sheet of ice. I played with a friend from Peewees right through high school. He was quite the character, whenever he would score a goal, even at 12 years old, he would yell bingo. So we called him Bingo.

We still call him Bingo today. Being a “character” tends to stay with you. So does actually having character. But only having character truly defines you. 

Lots of people, I’d say most people, are far more concerned with their reputation than they are their character. That’s a mistake. 

Here’s why.

Have you ever heard it said of someone “their reputation precedes them?” That’s often considered a compliment. Then when you meet them you’re surprised that they are not at all what you expected. It turned out their reputation was more mirage than fact. It’s not that their reputation was wrong, it was simply a representation of “what” people think they do, not “who” they are. 

Remember this, your reputation may precede you but your character is always attached to you. 

Your reputation can be more valuable than money, there’s no question about that. I suppose that’s why people focus so much on their reputation. What they don’t realize is that their reputation is built upon the foundation of their character. 

The words they speak and the actions they take come straight out of their character. Reputation is who people think you are, character is who you really are. You may be able to hide behind a good reputation for a while but your true character will eventually show itself.

People of good character have no need to hide any part of their life. They take care of their character and their reputation takes care of itself. Your character is reflective of the core values you hold. 

Character is within you. It is even more important than other factors like race, religion, age, and personality in determining how you react during life’s tougher circumstances. Your experiences in life may influence the character traits you have—but it is your character itself that determines how you act.

People can “know” your reputation without really knowing you. Character traits like integrity, courage, honesty, loyalty, and perseverance can only be seen by those who truly want to know you. 

Even people of good character can have a less than stellar reputation because other people’s opinions of you and their biases for you and against you can shape your reputation. That’s how reputations become a mirage, they are often made of opinions. Character is based upon actions.

So which are you more concerned with…your reputation or your character? Focus on the long term by focusing on your character. Your character will eventually build a solid reputation made from facts, not opinions. 

Look and Listen

One of the primary responsibilities of leadership is to coach the people you lead. We coach to reinforce positive behavior, we coach to motivate, and sometimes we must coach for corrective action. 

Most often that coaching is in the form of talking. We advise, we suggest, and hopefully not very often, we tell. 

So here’s two pieces of advice for the next time you find yourself in a coaching situation. 

First listen to what you’re saying. I’m serious about that…really listen. In fact, record the conversation and when you play it back listen to what YOU said. Listen to the tone of your voice. Were you speaking in positives and possibilities or were you speaking in negatives and consequences? 

Were you specific in why you’re coaching or did you leave the person you were coaching wondering what the conversation was really about. If you were coaching for corrective action were you very very specific in what needs to change and when? Were you crystal clear in how that change would be measured? Did you leave doubt about your expectations? Any doubt leaves a gray area. Coaching for corrective action requires that you “paint” your expectations in black and white as much as possible.

It’s important to know that when you allow gray areas while coaching for corrective action you give people a place to hide from responsibility. Shades of gray make for a mighty comfortable place to hide from change as well. 

More important than listening to yourself is looking at yourself. As a leader your people will do what you DO far faster than they will do what you SAY. If you’re coaching them towards a better attitude and your attitude sucks then all the words in the world aren’t going to change their attitude. 

As their leader YOU are their model for successful behavior. Whether you realize it or not, YOU are leading by example. If your words do not match your actions then your people will have to make a choice.

Do they do what you say or do they do what you do? They may not believe what they hear but they almost always will believe what they see. 

They will do what you do!

If you’re going to help your people trust what you say then your actions MUST match your words. If you force them to make a choice between “say” or “do” they will choose do and your chances of truly leading them will go the way of the dodo bird.

In both cases, listening to yourself and looking at yourself, you need to be completely honest. Authentic Leaders do not lie to themselves. Do not cut yourself an ounce of slack, if you think your tone was too negative then fix it. If you find that your actions are not a mirror image of your words then change your actions or change your words. 

They MUST match. 

Remember, you may hold a leadership position but your journey to Authentic Leadership never stops. You can and should continue to learn and grow, exactly like the people you lead.