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Monthly Archives: March 2014

Maybe You Need a Bigger Pan

Ham    A little girl was watching her mother get a ham ready for baking. Before putting the ham in the roasting pan, her mother sliced an inch off each end of the ham. Then she placed the ham in the pan and slipped it into the oven.

“Mom,” the girl asked, “why do you cut a slice off each end of the ham before you put it in the pan?”

“Gee, honey, I’m not sure,” answered Mom. “When I was little your grandmother always trimmed the end off the ham, so I’ve done it that way ever since. I never stopped to think about it!”

Not satisfied, the girl decided to call her grandmother. “Nana,” she asked, “I was watching Mom get a ham ready for the oven, and before she did she cut a thick slice off each end. She said you always did that. Do you remember why?”

“Sweetheart,” Nana answered, “what a funny question! Actually I do remember doing that whenever I cooked a ham. But — isn’t that odd? — now that you mention it, I’m not sure why. When I was little my mother always trimmed a thick slice off each end of a ham before she baked it, and I did it that way when I started cooking. But I don’t know when your great-grandma started doing it that way. Maybe you could call and ask her — I know she’d love to hear from you.”

Great-grandma was getting old but still had a great memory, so the little girl called her on the phone. After exchanging pleasantries, she asked Great-grandma her question. Did she recall cutting a thick slice off each end of the ham before baking it?

“Oh, honey,” said the old lady with a twinkle in her voice. “Back when I was a young mother and your grandmother was about your age, our family hardly had any money. Our next door neighbor was a butcher, and every few weeks he would bring us a nice ham for the oven. But my roasting pan was too small and I couldn’t afford to buy a new one — so I always trimmed the ham so it would fit my pan!”

A silly habit gets passed down through four generations…because Great-grandma’s roasting pan was too small!

Have you ever stopped to consider why you and I do the things we do? Are there habits and attitudes we’ve picked up from others — former bosses, colleagues, mentors — little things that we do without thinking? How many of these things may have long since outlived their usefulness or validity? I’m sure I can think of several things like that, and I’ll bet you can, too. Now don’t get me wrong: many of our tried-and-true ways of doing things have withstood the test of time, and need to be retained — even fine-tuned. But “the way we’ve always done it” can’t be our default response whenever someone asks why we do what we do.

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.
Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/alberteins121993.html#D6fdB6J3A1uwejTF.99

We’ve all heard variations on the famous Albert Einstein quote that goes like this: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” We need fresh insights, not merely the same old familiar habits and thought patterns. So here’s a thought for you and me: next time we pick up the knife to trim the ham, maybe we can decide to stop and consider a better way. Get some new ideas! Get some new insight! Get some new opinions!

Or at least get a bigger pan.

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Posted by on March 30, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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When Do You Decide to Stop Being the Boss?

The Office    You’re the boss, but you’re unhappy. You’re the Sales Manager, the Operations Manager, the Senior Team Leader, but you really don’t like it very much, and you’re beginning to wonder if you made a terrible mistake wanting to be a manager in the first place.

So…when is it okay to decide you want out? When is it okay to decide to stop being the boss?

Let’s consider a few thoughts about this — but first, a disclaimer. I am NOT giving you advice here! A decision to step down from a management position is a highly individual one, not to be taken lightly. Seek plenty of honest input from people whose counsel you trust, and make sure you’ve handled the decision well before you take what many would consider a leap backward. Don’t act impulsively. (And before you read on, sign this release form. Just kidding.)

I bring this question up because I have twice made the decision to step out of a management job and to stay with the same organization in a “front line” role with no supervisory responsibilities. In hindsight both decisions were good ones, and were I faced with the same choice today I would likely do the same thing. The first time I stepped down voluntarily was early in my radio career when I was Sales Manager; the second time came more than two decades later when I was VP of Donor Relations. Here are a few common denominators that affected each decision. Do any of these apply to you in your present managerial situation?

  • In both instances I was working for a boss I found very hard to please, largely due to my inexperience
  • Both those bosses felt they knew more about my job (radio sales and fundraising) than I did, and they may have been right
  • In both instances I felt like I was in over my head and had doubts (groundless, but real) about my future job security
  • In both of these situations my dissatisfaction had gone on for months — and seemed to be getting worse
  • In both cases I had begun to doubt my professional abilities, and that self-doubt was compounding the stress in my life
  • In both situations I had complete support from my trusting and discerning wife who saw how the stress was affecting me
  • In each of these situations, before I made a move, I had met with my boss on multiple occasions and talked openly through my decision process so the choice to step down from management did not seem impulsive or irresponsible
  • In each case I planned as well as I could for my own transition within the organization, and also helped plan how my managerial duties would be covered by reorganizing the team.

How did it turn out? The first time, I moved from Sales Manager into a sales position and things went fairly well. The second time I moved from the VP position into a fundraising job and things went okay but I ended up taking a job outside the organization six months later. The downside both times was that I did take a hit in salary and benefits — ouch — and my ego took a hit as well, to be candid, even though leaving management was my decision. So it goes. But each time I was happier and will probably live longer as a result. And I did end up managing again (after the first self-demotion anyway) and was much better at it the second time around.

If you’re a leader and happy in that role, stick to it with enthusiasm. If you’re new to leadership and you’re not sure how happy you are, hang in there — you need time to learn and to grow. But if you’ve been managing for a while and you’re increasingly unhappy and unsure of yourself, it just might not be the worst thing in the world, after you’ve taken all the variables into account, to decide to do the counterintuitive thing and step down voluntarily, moving into a non-managerial role. Just a thought, for what it’s worth.

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Confrontation or Clarification?

Clarification mug       Hey, business leaders and supervisors, here’s a suggestion borne out by personal experience. If you habitually shy away from confrontation, try clarification!

Ever notice how some workplace leaders and managers seem to afraid of confrontation? I know there were many times when I was. Back in my supervisory past I’m afraid I sometimes tended to shy away from confronting personnel problems, especially conflict between co-workers. I would make excuses, look the other way, or tell myself it wasn’t all that bad. For me, creative avoidance sometimes became a sort of hobby when it came to confrontation!

Maybe this is the way you tend to handle conflict and confrontation.But avoiding workplace confrontation is dangerous! The longer some of these issues persist, the more corrosive and even destructive they can become, especially when your whole team is waiting for you, the boss, to do something about the situation. Best selling business author Patrick Lencioni in his wonderful book Five Dysfunctions of a Team identifies the failure to deal properly with conflict as one of the 5 Big Reasons why some organizations are habitually ineffective.

Why do bosses avoid confrontation? Same reason most people do: we’re conditioned to steer clear of circumstances that are likely to generate unpleasantness. When you as the person in charge wade into a confrontational situation you are almost certain to cause sparks to fly. And here’s the big problem for us pleaser types: we want everybody to be happy and play nice, but confrontation virtually guarantees that somebody is going to get his or her nose out of joint. So when the choice comes down to fighting or flying, we too often choose flight.

So next time you’re faced with the need to confront a situation in the workplace, try this: change your language. Instead of dwelling on the need for confrontation, focus your energies and your intellect on the more important and much more positive need for clarification. It will change the way you think and probably change the language you use. In fact, if my experience is any guide, it will change the entire process.

This is important because the distinction between these two concepts is much more than merely semantic. The definition of “confrontation” includes the clashing of forces or ideas. No matter how you nuance it, “confrontation” implies a battle. But confrontation for its own sake was never the goal, right? The real goal is “clarification” a word whose definition includes eliminating confusion and making things understandable. Isn’t that a big part of the leader’s job description — to clarify the causes of problems as a step toward solving them? Confrontation almost  always sounds negative. Clarification almost always sounds positive. I’d love to be known as the boss who brings clarity and understanding to workplace relationships!

One caution: even when you focus on clarification instead of confrontation, at the end of the day somebody will probably still end up irritated, angry or disappointed. That’s inevitable. But wouldn’t it be nice if that somebody weren’t always you?

 

 

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Three Clues I Was in the Wrong Job

wrong-career        As I have mentioned before, I had a very brief and VERY unspectacular sales stint years ago working for an unnamed office products company. To this day I wonder why I took that job in the first place, and when I realize how little enthusiasm and energy I brought to my employer I feel a twinge of guilt.  (Sorry, Greg. Sorry, Phil.) On the positive side, I did learn a lot, but I knew almost from the very start that the job was a bad fit for me, and I for it.

I’m not trying to give career advice here (I suspect I’m the wrong guy for that…) but during the time I worked for this company there were at least three persistent clues that kept telling me I was in the wrong job. I may not have heeded the warnings at the time but in hindsight I know that these three alarm bells were sounding loud and clear! The Three Clues were…

Clue #1: I didn’t like telling people what I did for a living. It wasn’t that I was ashamed of it — the company was fine and all that. But I knew that people would start probing about how I liked the job or how well I was doing, and I really didn’t want the conversation to go there. It made me uncomfortable to reveal how unhappy I was and how ill-suited I felt for the position. (By contrast, when I’m enthused about my work — like I am now — it’s hard to get me to shut up about it!)

Clue #2: I found myself wasting inordinate amounts of time. Part of my territory included Pioneer Square in downtown Seattle (cold calling in the Smith Tower with those old fashioned elevators was an experience never to be forgotten). There was a deli in one of the old buildings where I sat many a morning at a table next to the old brick wall, sipping English breakfast tea with honey and half and half, letting valuable time slip by, daydreaming about other things I could be doing for a living. No excuses — I see now that I was simply practicing an unhealthy level of creative avoidance.

Clue #3: I didn’t really care about the profession. In the training they taught us to do product demonstrations and to ask lots of questions, which was a valuable skill, one that I mastered during the role play sessions (don’t you just love those?). But in the real world I quickly realized that, even though I could go through the motions and all, I really didn’t care two cents about what the client was telling me! That’s a bad sign: you’re supposed to be listening for valuable information upon which to build your sales presentation, but instead I would ask the question and then mentally tune out the reply. Not professional, and not very respectful of the client’s time, either.

No doubt there were other warning signs, too, but you get the picture. The more I avoided talking about my work, neglected basic habits of productive time management, and zoned during sales calls, the more obvious the conclusion: this job was not right for me. Fortunately through a referral I was able to change career fields shortly thereafter, embarking on the thrilling adventure of selling radio advertising which kept me occupied for most of the ensuing 28 years.

So how about you? If you feel you’re in the wrong job, some honest self-assessment may be in order. It may be time for a change! But if you can’t make a change, what else can you do to make things better? Several ideas come to mind…but I suppose that’s a question better left for another time.

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative

Negative People Need Drama     Ran across this quote and couldn’t resist sharing it!

We all know what it’s like being around people who are habitually negative. There’s a corrosive quality to their attitudes, a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy that seems to say, “No matter how bad things get, they will probably get worse!” Sadly, that kind of toxic thinking is contagious, affecting the negative person’s friends, family, even an entire office full of people.

What’s more, as this little quote says, negative people tend to love drama. They wallow in conspiracy theories. They savor the direst of predictions. No positive motive goes unexamined. No good deed goes unpunished. Suspicion is the order of the day, along with a habitually thin skin. It’s exhausting!

So in light of all this, what are we positive thinkers to do?

Here’s the obvious answer: the best way (maybe the only way!) to overcome another person’s negativity is to find all the ways you can to stay positive. Practice the old “attitude of gratitude.” Strengthen your faith muscles through prayer and praise. Rehearse all the reasons you can find to be glad. Start hanging around people who will lift you up, not bring you down. If your circle of friends is the problem, pick new friends. Negative thinking can indeed become habitual — but then again, so can positive thinking.

Easier said than done? Perhaps…but I know what the power of negative thinking can do when left unchecked and unchallenged. So choke off the drama machine! Fight back with love and a smile! It may drive your negative friends nuts — but it will be worth it.

 

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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“One Thing” — the Power of Focus

Jack Palance One Thing      Everybody knows the famous line from City Slickers. During the cattle drive, cowboy Jack Palance (the unforgettable Curly) offers to tell uptight radio advertising salesman Billy Crystal about the secret of life. It’s simple, Curly states, holding up his index finger.  “One thing,” Curly says. “Just one thing.” Crystal’s character Mitch asks Curly to explain what the “one thing” is. “That’s what you gotta figure out,” replies Curly cryptically.

Speculation has abounded ever since as to exactly what old Curly really meant. (Spoiler alert: in the movie he dies not long after sharing this deep insight. “The man ate bacon every day,” said fellow tenderfoot Phil. “You can’t do that!”) But Curly’s quote came to mind the other day when I was thinking about how good leaders are able to maintain their focus in spite of a relentless rash of distractions. I’m sure you’ve experienced what I’m talking about. You and your team embark on a major project. Things get going with energy and enthusiasm. But soon other projects, other priorities, other agendas begin to pop up like moles in the old Whack-a-Mole game. The team gets distracted. Or worse, the leader gets distracted! He or she begins to take the old eye off the ball. And when the leader begins to lose focus, inevitably momentum grinds to a halt, progress evaporates, and frustration becomes the mood of the day.

When it comes to effective leadership I like to consider the example of one of my favorite Old Testament characters, Nehemiah. His book, especially the first 7 chapters, represents a terrific, highly practical manual on effective leadership. Nehemiah had been sent from Susa, 800 miles away, to the ruined city of Jerusalem, intent on rebuilding the wall that had been torn down decades before when the city was sacked. Without the wall the city could barely function, but with the wall intact Jerusalem could once again become a viable commercial and spiritual hub — so getting the wall completed was a huge priority. And as we read when we come to Nehemiah chapter 6, the big project was almost finished! The wall was practically done!

Doesn’t it seem like things can unravel the fastest as you get closer to the finish line? That’s when a handful of powerful opponents, made up of people who preferred the status quo (sound like anyone you know in your office?), really began to ramp up their opposition, trying to stop the work on the wall. They first tried to distract Nehemiah with pleasant invitations masking sinister motives. When that didn’t work they resorted to rumor, innuendo and false accusation. Finally they even threatened bodily harm as a way to deter this highly focused leader and those working for him. But Nehemiah refused to take the bait and become distracted. He said, in essence, “Sorry, guys, no chance — I have a job to do and a wall to finish, and my team and I are not going to be deterred.” And they got it done, an accomplishment that finally silenced the critics.

For Nehemiah the “one thing” was finishing the wall around Jerusalem. For me, I’ve come to realize that it’s reaching the financial goal for the alternative high school I raise money for. What’s your “one thing”? It could be personal or professional, a team effort or something you’ll accomplish solo. Whatever it is, I’m learning a valuable lesson from Nehemiah — and from Curly! Don’t get distracted. Figure out the one thing. Remember the power of focus!

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Clueless…and Proud to Admit It!

Confused  I don’t know whatever happened to Leslie, but if she’s still out there I have a message for her: “Thank you.” Leslie was the first real media buyer I ever called on, back in the early days of radio (I think it was during the Carter Administration). I remember sitting in her office on Capitol Hill asking about an upcoming buy and hoping I would get the chance to present my radio station for her consideration.

Finally she said, “Fine. Here’s what I want in the proposal.” I think what she asked for was your basic reach and frequency and gross rating point and cost per point and exclusive cume proposal. But to me, having been a radio rep for about twenty minutes, it sounded like she was asking me for the formula for nuclear fission. As she rattled off all the data points she wanted, I dutifully nodded like I knew what I was doing and wrote everything down, or tried to.

After a few moments, Leslie stopped and stared at me.  “You don’t have a clue what I’m talking about, do you?”

I swallowed hard. “Um…nope,” I answered. Fortunately she was a patient sort — she probably appreciated my honesty — and she proceeded to give me a basic primer on a few of the tidbits of information she needed, and why they were important. She also made sure I got the terms written down properly so I could look them up on my own. Instead of leaving with my tail between my legs, I left feeling much more confident.

Did I get on the buy? I don’t remember, to be honest, but I do remember that Leslie did me a huge favor: she didn’t make me feel stupid. She could have fussed and fumed and complained that the station had sent her a useless rookie, and thrown me out of her office just to show how irritated (and important) she was. But she took the time instead to educate a new sales rep, give me valuable information, and help me learn the business. I have always appreciated that!

A lot of proposals have flowed over the dam since then, to mix a metaphor, and I’m an older and somewhat wiser man today. And I have learned a valuable lesson: nothing is more disarming than the truth. If I am faced with a situation in which I don’t understand what someone is telling me, I have learned that it’s infinitely better to admit it upfront, with confidence and even with humor. Invariably when I speak up I find that I’m not the only one for whom some of the important details are less than clear. Do I understand what the client wants? Am I clear on what the boss needs in the report? Is it obvious what the donor expects? Do I fully comprehend the next steps and relevant deadlines? If I don’t know, I would rather ask now than wait and be wrong. I can much more easily take the hit to my ego by admitting confusion early on — because I’ve learned the hard way that it’s way better than the pain that comes later from refusing to admit I was clueless at the outset.

So thanks, Leslie! You probably don’t remember but you did me a big favor. As a result, my occasional motto has been “Clueless — and proud to admit it!”

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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