Tuesday, December 20, 2011

How Do I Define Myself? Let Me Count the Ways...

How do you define yourself? With the pressures mounting in our economic meltdown, we struggle to figure out who we are. Who are you? Why do we get so confused thinking that our careers, bank accounts, houses, cars, and stock portfolios provide a view of who we are when none of that truly defines us? I’ve struggled with this tension for quite awhile. As much as I’d like to deny it, my focus has been on defining myself by my role in my career.

Earlier this year I had to make a choice between my wife’s well being and my role within my organization. I was in the “rock star” job where I had an overabundance of autonomy and could virtually make whatever decisions I wanted as I lead my business unit. I love leading and developing people, building teams, and growing business.

At the same time, the medical team caring for my wife, pushed for us to pack up and move to a place that would potentially promote her healing. This began a long process in which I felt like I was in the main event of Monday Night Raw pitted against my identity. I was afraid that if we moved and my role changed, I would lose myself.

In that struggle, I figured out that I had gotten confused and had forgotten who I really was. I had fallen for finding my identity in my role and vision for my career vs. the real things that mattered – my faith and my family. I wanted to be the only husband my wife ever had, and the only dad my boys ever have. At that moment of brutal honestly and self-awareness, my priorities changed and we began the process of moving.

We moved in August. I went backwards in my career but so many other parts of my life went forward. The most important is that my wife is recovering and my long lost love is coming back to me. My boys are experiencing life with a mom that they haven’t seen in almost three years. It’s awesome.

Let’s be clear. I’m not perfect and am still learning about my identity. What makes up who I am? I am learning that there is more to me than I thought. This is just the beginning: I am a child of God, a husband, a dad, a leader, and a salesperson.

I am a people developer, a teacher, a mentor, a writer, a communicator, a team builder, and a business grower. 

I am creative, I am fun, I am crazy, I am not satisfied with being average, I establish positive relationships, I care about others, I am a difference maker, I am not a quitter, and I focus on being a good example to my boys, and train them to be leaders worth following.

I live authentically with no regrets. I am so much more than I thought I was. I love Suzy Welch’s quote: I am not the person I once was, but am not yet the person I will become.

How do you define yourself?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Catching Up with April

A couple weeks ago, my friend Jason Stiger offered to fly me to Michigan and speak at an event for 65 high school students. It was called Ignition and for three days we wrestled with forgiveness, decision making, and choosing to do things that are tough.  It was a moving weekend with some amazing memories. While I was there, Jason and I had the opportunity to meet up with one of my old friends named April, who is now the general manager of a popular restaurant. She and I worked together at a different restaurant in college and had loads of fun together with our customers and co-workers. I want to share some parts of our conversation that night. Enjoy.

What did you learn from opening a new restaurant?

April moved to Texas a couple years ago and opened a new restaurant for her company. She and one other person hand unloaded a 53' truck or two consisting of parts of the restaurant in the sweltering Texas summer heat. They had to set much of the restaurant up themselves – including the kitchen. Next came interviewing and hiring staff. They met with hundreds of people in the matter of a couple days. I asked her how she and her partner were able to churn through so many people. She said, “I had a couple basic questions and that was it. If they answered them right and I had a good feeling, I hired them. If not, it was on to the next person.” April used her gut to decide whether or not someone would fit. But understand, it wasn’t a blind gut feeling, but more of a gut feeling based on years of experience knowing what makes restaurants and servers exceptional.

The restaurant opened and grew. So what did she learn? “Setting up a restaurant is HARD WORK. Nothing is given to you. It is up to you to make it your own. It helped me appreciate where I am now.” What a great lesson! Nothing worth doing is easy. Meaningful accomplishments require hard work and sacrifice. Do I sound like your dad yet? I digress….

How do you connect with your current staff?

After the Texas restaurant opened and grew, she moved back to Michigan to take over a restaurant already established. I noticed that her staff of college-aged students was attentive and friendly, which goes against what most of us are used to. I asked her what she thought of her current staff and she said, “They’re amazing and they work so hard. I needed to get the inside of our restaurant painted, so I was going to come in late a few nights and take care of it. When some of the staff found out, they all wanted to come and help me. They knew it wouldn’t be paid time, but they didn’t care. I am so blessed.” I told her that was ultimately a mark of her leadership and that she has obviously connected with her staff. I asked her how she does that and she commented, “They’re great people and they’re all so busy going to school and working here. I’m amazed at what they get done.” It didn’t take long to see that April had created an environment of fun as we continued to carry on. If I was a betting man, I’d say that April’s staff knows she cares about them and that each one isn’t just an employee, but someone she has the privilege of leading.

Years ago, without knowing it, April and I learned together the power of creating a fun, working environment that promoted connection. It provided meaning and purpose and helped us see beyond our own needs. As we looked back, we shared how fortunate we were to work with the group we did, and how much we learned. Of course the night wasn’t complete without some embarrassing stories accompanied by endless laughter. I think Jason was an entertained fly on the wall.

Jason, thank you for letting us take the time to connect with April, and for letting me serve you and your students.

April, thank you for so many memories, laughs, and lessons. You’re a rock star and I’m a better leader because of you.

If you’re ever in Western Michigan and looking for a place for lunch or dinner, check out Chile’s in Portage and ask for April. She and her staff would love to serve you.

Monday, November 28, 2011

More vs. Less

Recently, I was reading a discussion on one of my LinkedIn groups. The writer wanted to know how they could motivate their warehouse staff apart from basic compensation increases or decreases. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut when trying to sort out how to motivate others. Unfortunately we get fixated on the financial aspect of motivation and lose site of our own creativity along with the natural tendencies of our teams.

Our natural reaction is to threaten to take something away from our followers in order to “incent” them to work harder. Our tendency is to treat them like children. “If you don’t pick up your blocks, you can’t have a cookie!” No one wants to lose a part of their job that they find fun, significant, or energizing – and at the same time lose their cookie too! Sadly the art of taking things away does not get you far and creates frustration. It also doesn’t take much skill to take something away from someone. My kids were professionals before their first birthdays, and I bet you were too.

Why are we so afraid to give our people more? The common feeling is that it may make them complacent while costing us control. I don’t know about you, but I love more. My appetite is never satisfied. Succeeding and getting more at the same time helps me see that the sacrifice was worth it. If you threaten those you are entrusted to lead with “less”, then be prepared for negativity and resentment.

Instead, why not find something that your crew loves and figure out how you could give them more. People are likely to focus on more instead of less. My sons LOVE more, and I can guarantee your employees do too. How could they earn more money, responsibility, or something as simple as more casual days, office-paid lunches, etc?

The challenge as a leader is to tap into your team's appetite for more in a fun, creative way that not only rewards them with more, but also lets them know the difference their extra effort and heightened performance makes. Remember, it doesn’t require any effort to take, but takes creativity to give more.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Learning and Catching

I was talking to someone the other day about leadership and teamwork. His issue was that the leader he reports to understands teamwork, knows its importance, and communicates those things concisely to his team, but does it mechanically and without passion. My friend was having a hard time getting motivated and interested when he could see the leader was more focused on the tactics of teamwork instead of his passion for teamwork.

Have you ever been there? Some one has been “taught” something but they never really “caught” it? You know that if it had moved from their head to their heart the world would change for the better. What is true of this leader is also true of you and me. We can just as easily learn something but not have it translate to our core. How does this happen? How do you catch something vs. just learn something?

When I was 16, I had the privilege of being exposed to a well known leader/author and his key staff members over a long weekend. That weekend changed my life forever.  I had always felt that I had some sort of calling but didn’t know what it was. I learned the importance of leadership, and I caught the vision of developing leaders. That vision and passion has followed me throughout my life. No matter what I do or who I work for, I always look to see who I can influence and develop. I have no choice, it’s who I am, and it’s central to my calling, my purpose. You see, that weekend, when I was 16, I caught something and I’ve never been able to let it go.

When I am taught something new, it sits in my brain and I figure out what that thought or idea is made of – what makes it tick? I then choose how I can use it. Basically I get tactical, as if it was one of my movers in a game of chess. Chess is very unemotional as it’s all about strategy, positioning, and anticipating your opponent’s moves. When you learn something it becomes a tool in your toolbox and you use it in the appropriate situation to solve a problem or address an issue.

When I catch an idea, thought or principle, something completely different happens. I can’t stop thinking about it. The new thought, viewpoint, or truth dominates my mind and I don’t think about how or when I can use it. Instead I use it naturally because it has become part of who I am. You see there are certain things that, like a puzzle piece, fit perfectly and enhance who you are, and you are left wondering how you could have ever lived without them. It’s almost like they were meant for you. Ideas or thoughts that fit like a glove match up with your gifting, calling, and innermost purpose. They enhance who you are.

We are all deficient in areas that are not easy to fix. I wholeheartedly agree with Marcus Buckingham that you need to play to your strengths and delegate your weakness, but there are things, as leaders that we cannot delegate. In the example at the beginning, the leader has to embrace teamwork in a way that connects at the heart level with his crew. It cannot be mechanical or sterile.

So how do you catch things that don’t come naturally? That is one of the most common struggles among leaders. You will begin to catch more in your heart than what you learn in your head when the potential impact and focus on others outweighs the possible gain for you. Why did I catch the importance of developing leaders when I was 16?  It had nothing to do with ego, recognition, personal success, or money. I was overwhelmed with the difference I could make in others. I couldn’t stop thinking about the untapped potential in the people I would come in contact with throughout my life. It so infected me that my senior year in high school I spoke to the student body on how they could become a leader and influencer of others. I couldn’t stop thinking about the potential in my school and what might happen if just one person “caught” it and went on to change the world.

I can guarantee you that within your challenging areas you know someone who is a rock star. Become a student and investigate deeper. Instead of learning how they work, ask what happens in them when they talk about teamwork, motivation, pursuing excellence, or whatever your area of focus. How did these things reach their core? Maybe they have a different view point than you do that could help carve a few corners off that puzzle piece and fit better into who you are.  But you must remember that you cannot force yourself to catch something, especially if it is all about you.

Think about those areas where you have caught an idea, or belief. What happens inside of you? Work to understand the difference between what comes naturally and what is in need. If you’ve never caught something, you may want to do some further introspection to better understand yourself. There are some great tools you can use like taking a Myers-Briggs assessment, or a personality profile (Choleric, Melancholy, Sanguine, Phlegmatic). These tools will help you to better identify your natural tendencies in order to increase your “catching ratio”.

The bottom line is that your followers must connect with your heart’s direction for your team (vision) and your passion for how they interact and work together (teamwork). If those things don’t reside at the heart level keep pursuing them, and something you will either hear, read, or experience will click. Finally, understand that you will continue to both learn and catch. The challenge is to figure out how to effectively negotiate the balance between the two.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Paralysis by Analysis

We’re a society that likes to KNOW. If we lack knowledge, we click a few keys and find it. The unknown is treacherous. Why? Because we like to KNOW, duh! We have more data and information than any other time in human history, which leads and guides our decision making. Unfortunately this has made us more risk-averse and less willing to put it all on the line and take the big ones. We want to know how the story will end. Predicting the future has become the norm versus just going for it. A society that retreats from risk is scary. We have made it acceptable to stick to safe parameters and “predicable outcomes”, while leaving the real limits out in the cold.

It wasn’t always this way. Our forefathers were bad mamajama’s when it came to risk. They weren’t afraid to challenge norms and push boundaries. Sure, things could’ve turned out bad and the colonies could have lost thousands of lives while unintentionally fueling England’s stranglehold on the world, but the patriots were willing to risk everything for something better, something unheard of, and something impossible.

In the face of this monumental risk came history-making innovation. In order to succeed, they had to figure out how to do war American-style. Our leaders knew that if we lined up and fought the popular way of the times that we’d lose handily. They chose to use their resources to their advantage in order to improve their chances for success, and it worked.

Many times I look into the face of risk and begin calculating the odds of success in order to talk myself out of major life-changing moves. Why? My culture tells me that I have the information to predict what will happen. Guess what? That’s complete and utter hogwash. Data is available and it always will be, but an endless amount will never be able to accurately predict the future. We are humans and when our spirit is combined with the factors of life something happens that is so unpredictable that not even the best batch of information can do its results justice. Life happens.

Go read about Ernest Shackleton and his crew. They survived impossible odds in Antarctica almost 100 years ago. Their feat was so impossible that when the leader of the whaling station saw Shackleton walk to his door almost 2 years after leaving to be the first expedition to cross Antarctica all he could do was turn away and cry. Think about it – a grown man tough as nails turning and crying like a baby. That is powerful stuff, but it is what happens when we refuse to listen to all the data and go for it. We love stories where people overcome impossible odds, but when it comes to our own story we tend to follow the odds and trust the data. Something beautiful comes of real risk.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

When Hard Things Choose You

Life is full of tough decisions and hard times. I'm not talking about those which make you feel a tad bit uncomfortable. But more so the kind that tear your heart out and make you want to stay in bed the rest of your life. We typically deal with those a few times in our existence, and guess what? Most of the time they are centered on your personal life - not business. These issues suck the life out of you down to the core. I label it "When Hard Things Choose You".

Don't you wish this was like picking teams in elementary school? I would give my right arm to be chosen last. Unfortunately you can't escape it. It's interesting that while I write this, my iPod picked "Here Comes the Sun" by the Beatles. Weird....I digress.

I am living this right now. I HATE it, but I can't run away. Instead I need to stand and fight while keeping my wits about me.

The only hope I have is in the God who created me and is still crazy-in-love with me. He's read the book of my life already. I am so happy that He's the great comforter, and that I don't have to be alone. Coldplay's "Fix You" is now rocking...how does this happen ?

Whatever you may be going through has already been planned by our great God. Let's rest in Him together.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Being the Jerk

What do you do when people behave and/or perform in a way that's contradictory to your vision? Many people let it go or make excuses for it. Why? Leaders would rather cowardly laugh off dysfunction than address dysfunctional behavior. Why rock the boat? It's easier to let it go and focus on "things that matter”. My friend, when people on your team sabotage your vision, IT MATTERS.


Many times adults are just overgrown teens trying to sort out what they can get away with without facing any consequences. I had to give a written warning to a 4 ½ year veteran employee this week because he chose not to show up on time on a Saturday after previously addressing his behavior. When I delivered the warning his response was, “I didn’t know those were the hours.” Okay, how many of us said the same thing when we were 16 or 17? Amen, I see that hand, and that one too. There are hands going up all over this blog.

I got his attention. My vision is greater than any one person. Therefore if being 100% sold out to what my team could accomplish, while positively affecting the world around us, causes me to discipline those who deserve it, then I am the biggest jerk of all.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Shopping for Joyness

Last week my wife went grocery shopping. When she arrived, she noticed what looked like a homeless lady with a young child in a rickety stroller. The lady approached my wife and told her that she desperately needed food. Instead of just brushing her off or giving her a few dollars, she asked if she could walk with her in the store and buy her whatever she needed. The lady was shocked. Then, just as she said, she followed the lady around the store and shopped with her.

After they checked out, one of the managers noticed that there was no way she was going to fit all the food into her little stroller, so she offered her some of their nice cloth food sacks. The lady gratefully took them and then was on her way.

That night my wife told me of her adventure. I was proud of her as God has given her a special heart of compassion for those in need. I honestly wish I was more like her. I figure my focused busyness and selfishness holds me back more than it thrusts me forward into those types of situations. That’s not okay, and I need to change.

There was one very important detail that I left out in the story above. My wife wasn’t alone. Our 5 year-old son, Jackson was with her. He received a gift, which was arguably greater than the groceries the lady received. My wife modeled compassion for others right in front of him. He was able to see the lady, watch the shopping process, see her little one in the stroller, and watch his mom pay their bill.

That night while I was tucking Jackson and his 6 year older brother in for bed, I asked them both what their favorite part of their day was. Jackson’s answer was surprising. He shared that helping the needy lady and her child were the highlight of his day. I asked him how he felt inside when they were shopping together and he said, “Joyness.” I have a new vocabulary word. What is Joyness? I would argue it’s the feeling you get when you help someone in a big, intentional, and extreme way. Joyness isn’t about doing something 50% - it’s an “all in” attitude.

You and I need to look for ways to exhibit and pursue Joyness. Find opportunities today to model this to others and continue giving the gift of Joyness.