Lessons in Humility…From Dan Rather

Me...and Dan Rather signing books behind me!

Me…and Dan Rather signing books behind me!

This week I attended the HR Florida conference in Orlando.  I applied for and was granted a breakout session where I spoke about performance management.  These conferences are a great chance to network and fertile ground for getting clients.

Since this is one of the largest SHRM chapters in the country, I felt very honored to get a session.  They even asked if I wanted some of my books to be sold in the SHRM bookstore AND if I’d like to do a book signing after my 10:15 AM talk.  Of course I agreed.

I started feeling pretty important.

I could tell my colleagues I was going to speak to one of the largest SHRM chapters.  And have a book signing.

Things went well!  I had my book on display.  They even put up a big schedule and I was right up top, just underneath the keynote speaker who was non-other than Dan Rather, the legendary journalist.

Dan Rather did the keynote.  I was busy setting up my room as my session started immediately after his. By 10:00, my room was packed.  People were even turned away.  I was feeling more and more important.  When my session ended, I raced up to the book signing table and sure enough there was already a line of people waiting for a signed copy…of Dan Rather’s book.  I worked my way around the crowd and sat just a few feet from Dan Rather.

Nobody asked for my signature.  Nobody bought my book.  My perceived celebrity was upstaged by the real deal.  I stayed for about 10 minutes, had Vince, the book store manager shoot my photo, and slinked away from the table.

Now I’m not bitter or angry about it.  I was at the conference to meet people, build a network, and grow my business.  All three of those happened.  It was a very worthwhile trip and I know those who took my breakout left with valuable information that will help them.  Some will reach out to me for help.  It’s a win-win-win.

But then there’s my deflated ego.

And here’s the lesson:  No matter how big you think you are or how big people tell you that you are, there will always be someone bigger and better than you.  You can allow that to paralyze you or you can use it to motivate you.  I choose the latter.  I’ll write twice as often, market twice as hard, and talk to twice as many people now.  I’ll answer twice as many Calls for Speakers for conferences and work to reach out to twice as many groups.  I could complain and blame Dan Rather for stealing my thunder, but the bottom line is that Dan Rather has no clue who I am and so blaming him wouldn’t really fix anything.

What will you do with your setbacks and disappointments?  Your choice is to blame and back down or buckle down and power full speed ahead.  I hope you’ll join me and choose the latter.

I’m sure Dan Rather would encourage you to do the same!

Is It Still Worth Doing?

Tradition concept with vintage letterpressLately my wife and daughter have been binge-watching Greys Anatomy.  Since it occupies both televisions in the house, I’ve been subjected to it as well.  As I see it, the plot revolves around a bunch of doctors, interns, and residents that see patients, get in conflicts constantly, and rendezvous regularly with each other in the on-call room.

Another observation I’ve made though is around the amount of hours the residents are required to work.  On a recent episode, the hospital decided to adhere to the rules of 80 hours per week leading to some of the old-timers complaining that the longer hours made them better doctors.  As a potential patient, that worries me.  I want my doctor to be rested if they’re making life and death decisions about me and my family.

When I was in the Navy, there were a whole lot of traditions, requirements, and customs that made little or no sense to me.  They were blanket policies that really fit better in a shipboard environment (like onboard fire watches, seabag inspections, and safety standdowns) but they were forced fleetwide, which includes shore stations.  This meant I needed to stencil my name and SSN on all of my clothing, including my underwear (yes, a 34-year-old man writing his name on his underwear).  It just didn’t make any sense.

What procedures, customs, and requirements are you using now that are arcane, outdated, and done simply for the sake of doing?  Could your policies be chasing away your customers and preventing talented employees from staying with you?  Are you doing things simply because they’ve always been done that way?

This week, take some time to view your standard operating procedures, policies, rules, and requirements.  Don’t let tradition and past regulations prevent you from future success.

Do You Cause Anxiety Attacks?

AnxietyAnxiety is a funny thing.  It’s not actually a fear in and of itself, it’s a fear of possible bad things.  There’s even a lame and overused motivational speaker example of F.E.A.R. (False Evidence Appearing Real) which really speaks to this idea of anxiety.  All of us have experienced anxiety at one time or another.  Some folks even have a condition that requires medication to deal with this.

But did you know that YOU can be the cause of someone’s anxiety?

As a frequent business traveler, I always feel my stress level increasing before heading to the airport for a flight.  It’s not because I’m afraid to fly.  It’s because I’m afraid of travel glitches.  See, I’ve spent many a night sleeping on an airport floor, made a 14 hour drive because of a flight cancellation, had to cancel or delay a client gig because of an air traffic controller furlough during sequestration, sat on a tarmac for hours, had a rental car with a flat tire, had a hotel give away my room because a flight delay got me in late, and more than a few time had to run like O.J. (there’s an example only geezers like me can relate to) through the airport to make a tight connection.  I’ve had some really bad experiences.  That’s why I stress out.

The reality though is that 90% of my trips go off without a hitch.  Just like the one I’m flying home on right now.  Yet all day I was stressing out hoping this afternoon flight would be on time since I have an important presentation tomorrow and can’t miss it.

A few travel disappointments give me regular travel anxiety.

There’s more than enough people to point the blame on.  Airlines, weather, etc.  I have the anxiety issue, but there are causes and blame to assign to others.  Really the blame comes because of broken trust.  I trust airlines, rental car companies, and hotels to perform.  When trust breaks, anxiety grows.  That’s a reality.

Are you the cause of somebody’s anxiety?

Years ago, I worked for an organization where one of our team members routinely called in sick on the Tuesday after a three-day weekend.  She’d call early and leave a voicemail in her “sick” voice.  I’d usually be in early and would catch the calls.  Soon it became an expectation.  Before long, we wouldn’t have any meetings or schedule anything that involved her on a Tuesday after a three-day weekend because we were too afraid she would let us down.  That sense of anxiety hindered productivity.

The late NFL coach Dennis Green went off on a rant after a comeback loss to the Chicago Bears exclaiming over and over that “the Bears are who we thought they are.”  It’s comical and you can view it on YouTube but you can’t help but feel his frustration.

What about you?  Would someone say, in a negative way, that “you are who we thought you are?”  Does your performance result in anxiety?  If so, take some time this week to turn it around.  People will tolerate anxiety so long as they have to.  I travel for a living so I own my anxiety.  Would someone be patient enough to own yours?

Four Steps to Take When Making a REALLY Important Decision

DecisionsFlying is extremely safe.  It’s the rare occasion we have an air disaster.  What’s more common, particularly if you’re a frequent business traveler like I am, is a computer SNAFU that completely paralyzes an airline.  This was the case on a recent trip I was taking on Southwest Airlines from Albany, NY back home to Nashville.  Please understand this post is not a dig at Southwest.  I am and always will be their biggest fan.  I actually took this flight for business up in Montreal.  Yes, I fly to Canada on Southwest.  Albany is the closest airport.  Then I drive.  They handled this like absolute pros!

I read about the big glitch the evening before but figured it was all sorted out.  When I got to Albany for my 5:25 flight to BWI with connection down to BNA, I saw it, along with another early flight to Midway in Chicago was cancelled.  The gate area was already packed with mostly vacationing families so I pulled out my phone and called Southwest.  The rep told me they normally couldn’t switch me on the phone but this was a big deal and she would do what she could.  She kept apologizing profusely (unlike United would in a situation like this – they usually make me feel like the cancellation is MY fault!) and managed to get me on a 10:30 AM flight to BWI with a connection at 4:20 PM to BNA via a quick stop in Cleveland.  I would arrive at BNA at 6:40 PM.  She set it up and my boarding pass showed up on my Southwest app.  I thanked her and then headed off to look for a comfortable place to sit for 5 hours.

But something didn’t feel quite right.  Passengers (again, mostly travelling novices) were getting frustrated. I heard a loud scream and shriek from a young mom with a toddler who was having a meltdown of Biblical proportions.  The mom, not the toddler.  Then I saw a group of Southwest flight attendants all talking.  I held my phone up to my ear pretending to be on a call and walked close to eavesdrop.  They were having trouble connecting to their dispatcher (from what I could tell) and none of them knew what was going on.  SNAFU was turning into TARFU (Things Are REALLY F’d UP).  I had a decision to make.  Things were probably going into FUBAR (F’d Up Beyond All Recognition) and I didn’t want any part of it.

I needed to get home that night.  If things didn’t get on track and my flight from Albany to BWI cancelled again, I may not get a later one out and miss my connection in BWI.  Also, I had watched the weather reports the night before and there were some afternoon storms in the Midwest.  This is normal in the hot afternoons.  That could delay or cancel the flight going through Cleveland.  I didn’t want to spend the night in the airport (I’m usually too cheap to get hotels and spent more than a few nights on an airport floor) so I opted to re-rent my rental car from National and drive home.  Travel time was 14 hours and 20 minutes.  I headed to the rental car terminal, plugged in my phone for the GPS and headed home.

As it happened I made it to the Nashville airport at 8:15 PM.  My flight arrived well before that at 6:40 PM.  My decision to drive turned out to be the wrong one.  I thought back on my process.  Maybe this will help you.  I had 14 hours to think about it.  It’s now called OSGO™.

O – Objective Data

When I knew there was a problem in Albany, I looked at what I knew:

  • The flight was cancelled.
  • Cancellations have a ripple effect.
  • Summer flights are booked to capacity so it’s hard to rebook if you get cancelled.
  • There would be storms in Cleveland.
  • At the time, Southwest employees appeared to still be in the dark.

S – Subjective Data

I then reflected on what I assumed:

  • I fly about 3 weeks a month on Southwest about 99% of the time.  They are reliable but usually booked to capacity.
  • I had already experienced computer glitches twice before, once on United and once on Southwest.  It’s a mess.
  • I saw the meltdowns at the smaller Albany airport.  I didn’t want to see the probable mob at the much larger BWI where people would be getting cancelled out of flights to Aruba or Puerto Rico.  There would probably be no place to sit and no open outlets to charge my phone or laptop.

G – Gut Feeling

  • Something didn’t feel right.
  • Based on previous experience, I just didn’t trust that my new, complicated itinerary would work.

So I decided to drive. And it was the wrong decision.  So I then agreed to…

O – Own It

I followed the progress of the flight on the Southwest app at every stop on my drive.  I felt good when I saw the Albany flight was delayed by 45 minutes.   I was just a little bummed when I saw the flight left Cleveland on time.  I was angry when I saw it landed at BNA and I was still driving through Louisville.

But I owned my decision.  I used data and my gut reaction.  Given what I had, it was the best decision.

Not to mention I came up with a new decision model to teach in my workshops, a new blog post, 3 new ideas for management curriculum, and caught up with 3 old friends on the phone.  Overall, I’m ok with it.

So what about you?  When it’s a big decision how do you decide?  Next time, think about how to OSGO™ your decision in order to prevent FUBAR.

Why Impact Always Trumps Intent

Mistake in math on chalkboardOn a recent business trip to the region I grew up in, Southern California, I spent an afternoon driving around my old house, my grandparent’s old house, and some of my schools.  It made me think about my experience in 7th grade math class at Red Hill Lutheran School back in 1977.

Our teacher, Mr. Newman created a system for teaching math that enabled him to spend focused time with students who were at different stages of math ability.  He put us into three groups.  Then he would call each group up to the chalk board and worked with them individually.  Group 1 had all of the math geniuses.  They always went up first.  Their group finished the fastest.  The he called up Group 2.  Group 2 had those who were moderate in their knowledge.  Their group took a little longer.  Finally, he called up my group, Group 3.  The Math Dummies.  We took up the majority of his time.

Mr. Newman’s intent was noble.  Break up the group so learning was customized.  He might have been way ahead of his time in innovation.  All I remember is the stigma of being in Group 3.  The impact was demoralizing.

Intent and impact are never intended to be different.  We all do things with a closely related result in mind.  We might even frame it with the Golden Rule in mind (“do unto others as you would have done unto you”) but unfortunately, if we don’t take time to empathize with those impacted, the impact can hurt.  I’m sure Mr. Newman never intended to make Group 3 feel inadequate.  He probably thought he was doing what was best for us by removing us from the quick learners.  If he had put himself in our shoes though, that of 7th graders that absolutely HATE being singled out for anything, he might have thought better of his Group idea.

This week, as you make plans and decisions, take some time to think through all possible impacts from what you want to do.  Your intent may be pure, but impact is highly subjective.  Just think it through a bit longer ok?

Are You Still as Good as You Say You Are?

Remnants of our disappointing meal at In-N-Out

Remnants of our disappointing meal at In-N-Out

A recent business trip to Southern California with my daughter gave me an opportunity to show her some of the highlights of my childhood since I was born there and lived there until I joined the Navy.  We drove by my old house, high school, and finally to some of the places I most enjoyed eating.

The first was Mi Casa, a Mexican restaurant in Newport Beach.  I used to love going there on Friday nights with my girlfriend.  The place was packed, the atmosphere fun, and the food amazing.

But when Allie and I ate there, the first thing I noticed was how tired and dated the place seemed to be.  The menu was exactly the same (I had a #7 with a Chicken Enchilada – same as usual) but the food was just bland.  I almost felt like Gordon Ramsey on an episode of Kitchen Nightmares.  We left and I vowed never to return.

Then Allie wanted to go to In-N-Out Burger, a Southern California staple.  Years after I left California, I’d always tell people they HAD to go to In-N-Out.  There was just no better burger.

But when Allie and I went there, the burgers were just greasy, too onion-y, and the famous fries dried out and bland (I hear Gordon Ramsey again…but he pronounces it “blond”).  Maybe we just got too accustomed to the amazing burgers at Five Guys.  Or maybe In-N-Out was never that good, it was just the IDEA that they were good.

That’s a good lesson for all of us.  No matter how good we all get at what we do, we’re only as good as our last great accomplishment.  At some point our competition will beat us or we’ll just slowly fade away, like the old memories of Mi Casa and In-N-Out Burger.  While we rest on our laurels, Five Guys and Moe’s Southwest Grill will be on our heels, working to put us out of business.

This week, think about how you’ll stay hungry.


Come to think of it, I’m hungry for some Five Guys!

Dominant Doesn’t Mean Definite

big-wheelsI recently made a business trip to Southern California which gave me the opportunity to reconnect with my younger brother.  We had a great time remembering our years growing up together, even some of the many arguments and fights we got in.

One of my favorite memories was The Big Wheel Race of 1975.  Both of us had a Big Wheel, a plastic three-wheeled modified tricycle that resembled a small chopper.  It had an adjustable seat which I barely was able to squeeze into.  As I got a bit taller, I simply removed the seat and road it like a chariot, pushing it forward as if riding a skateboard.

One day I challenged my brother to a Big Wheel race.  I knew I would win since I was older, bigger, and could push my Big Wheel faster than he could pedal it.  My dad, tired of our constant bickering, agreed to be the judge and official starter.  We lined up on the street in front of our house, ready to race.  I taunted my brother, bragging on how bad I was going to beat him.

Then Dad changed the rules.  He told me that the only fair way to race would be for me to pedal my Big Wheel.  I protested but he insisted.  I squeezed onto the seat and waited for the signal, still confident I’d win.

Unfortunately, because I was too heavy, all of my weight caused the large front wheel of the Big Wheel to lose traction.  My brother quickly passed me and I finished the race a good 30 feet behind him.  I was embarrassed and my dad made a big deal of pointing out how much I bragged before the race about my dominance.  My perceived dominance was certainly not definite.

Overconfidence is something we all have at times.  After all, our hard work at mastering a trade or skill should give us a sense of confidence.  The danger is when we rely on our past performance so much that we lose sight of how those same skills might have eroded.  Our previous dominance of that skill, task, or ability gives us overconfidence that makes us very vulnerable.

We all love watching an underdog get a win.  What we don’t think of is that an underdog wins when overconfidence blinds the more dominant opponent into underpreparing.  I learned my lesson on overconfidence in 1975 and it’s never far from my mind.

This week, take some time to evaluate your perceived dominance.  Are you doing everything you can to keep yourself at that level?  If not, this might be the time to re-evaluate and re-load.  We’re all only as good as our last performance.

How to Spot a Professional

self-motivatedIf we have a problem or dilemma, we often search for solution.  Our hope of course is to find a professional, someone who solves our sort of problem for a living, and is an expert in it.  Ideally, we all are professionals in something.  If so, it’s our responsibility to grow in our profession to become even more, well, professional!

But how do you find a professional?  We ask for referrals, look online,  and look for examples of expertise.  That’s our responsibility.  But professionals have a responsibility too – looking the part of the professional.

On our recent summer vacation aboard a Carnival cruise ship, my then 17-year-old daughter became a bit enamored with one of the entertainers, a young acoustic guitar player.  He did solo shows around the ship singing covers of popular songs.  On the second Day-At-Sea, I spotted a young man walking out to a lounge chair with a guitar.  He opened up the case and started picking a song.  I poked my daughter who was asleep on the lounge chair and told her that her “friend” was poolside.  She looked up and then shook her head.

“That’s not him dad.”

“How do you know?” I replied.

“He’s reading sheet music.”

In her mind, a professional doesn’t need sheet music, at least in front of others.  This was just some hack with a guitar.

She has a point though.  If you act and dress like a professional, there’s a good chance people might believe you actually are.

Me with the Duck Dynasty look.  My "unprofessional" days.  At least my daughter still wanted her picture taken with me!

Me with the Duck Dynasty look. My “unprofessional” days. At least my daughter still wanted her picture taken with me!

It made me think a lot about how I carry myself.  As a professional consultant, it’s important I at least look like a professional.  When we moved to Middle Tennessee, I attempted to blend in a bit better so I grew out my greying beard and wore camo and boots.  When I began to look more like an evil Santa Claus than a consultant, my wife and daughter pointed it out.  I shaved, bought some nice shoes, and had my baggy dress shirts tailored.  Hopefully I look more like the professional I profess to be.

What about you?  Regardless of age or position, all of us need to have an image to go along with what we profess to be expert in.  Identify what that is and adjust accordingly and you should be well on your way to being seen as that consummate professional!

See It From the Other Side

business woman looking through a hand frameI don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’ve become a very divided and belligerent society.  I travel nearly every week and see it in airports, parking lots, highways, and grocery stores.  People fight for what they want with little concern for others.  It worries me at times, and drags me in other times.

A few years ago, my daughter asked for my help as she prepared for a series of debates in her Government class.  The topics were all societal “hot potatoes” including gun control, term limits, and raising the minimum wage.  Her teacher assigned the Pro and Con positions randomly – students weren’t allowed to choose.  The challenge for her was that each position she was assigned was contrary to what she believed.

We spent some time talking through each issue objectively – no opinions, just what the observer’s eye would see.  We then talked about both positions, again just working with what we knew or could find.  Finally, we identified the points she would need to make in order to counter them.  Interestingly enough, while her own personal position didn’t change, she at least knew a lot more about the other side.  Rather than just dismiss their position, she could at least present a more reasoned rebuttal.

Most of us don’t take the time to do this rigorous work.  We stake out a position or opinion, sometimes based on nothing more than it was how we were raised to believe.  We then surround ourselves with others who believe that way in order to bolster the validity of our beliefs.  Finally, we cement it in place with “objective” data we get from either of the two news propaganda machines of FOX and MSNBC.  It’s us against the world in a zero sum game.  With all the energy and emotion running high, it leads to a viewpoint that we are right and the world is our adversary.

Stephen Covey coined a principle years ago that went something like this:  “Seek first to understand and then be understood.” Maybe our fear is that if we let the other side go first and actually listen, we’ll be accused of changing our beliefs. I don’t agree.  If your beliefs are personal values, you won’t change them for anyone.  By listening first, you might just get the other person to listen to you.  They’re not going to change their value but maybe they (and you) come away a little better educated and with a friendlier relationship.

All of us need to build relationships with others to get things done.  Phenomena like organizational politics, power, and influence are a way of doing business.  You can choose to fight it out toe-to-toe but it’s an easy way to lose and even a win can be a loss.  This week, think about what you can do to crack open your mind just a bit more.  I’m a work in progress on this and will do my best to do the same.

Are You a “One-Hit” Wonder?

NORWEY - 2013: shows Detail from The Scream by Edvard Munch (189What do the following all have in common?

  1. Edvard Munch
  2. Frankie Goes to Hollywood
  3. James “Buster” Douglas

Got it?

They were all “one-hit” wonders.

  • Edvard Munch was the artist that painted the now iconic The Scream, an expressionist depiction of shock based on the ghostly faces of Peruvian mummies that were on display in his hometown.  Sadly, this was Munch’s only success.  Most people don’t even attribute it to him, but instead Photoshop captions on it such as “What?  Congress agrees on something?” and post it to their Facebook wall.
  • Relax, maybe an anthem of the hedonistic 1980’s was first performed in the seldom-remembered Brian DePalma film Body Double.  It quickly became an 80’s standard, played in clubs and parties everywhere.  In a decade that produced more than its share of “one-hit” wonders, this one might be the signature piece.  Frankie Goes to Hollywood never produced another hit after it.
  • James “Buster” Douglas was known in boxing circles as a “tomato can,” a crude term that describes boxers who are merely opponents used by up-and-coming fighters as a way to pad up a winning record.  On February 11, 1990, Buster Douglas did the unthinkable and knocked out a seemingly invincible Mike Tyson in Japan.  The success was short-lived however.  A severely overweight and undertrained Douglas was dispatched in three rounds by Evander Holyfield just eight months later.

All of us desire fame and fortune in one form or another.  The big question is what happens when we get it?  The three examples above show a rags-to-riches-to-rags sequence that all of us would rather avoid.  The question isn’t how we become successful (although that’s important and probably the reason you read my blogs), but what happens when you finally achieve it?

I don’t profess to be totally successful, but I have managed to accomplish many of the professional goals I set out to achieve.  Here is what I’m learning that is helping me keep up the momentum.  Maybe it will help you too.

Document your journey to success.  Most of us are tempted to throw out failures.  I recommend documenting them and holding onto them.  You’ll never know what works and what doesn’t if you can’t refer to a record of what you’ve already tried.  My first book From Cave to Cubicle sold few copies.  I realized after I published it that it had no clear purpose, targeted no specific audience, and was simply too long and too academic.  I still have one copy of that book though and have the cover matted and framed to serve as a reminder of how NOT to write a book.

Remember who helped get you there.  Barak Obama offended a legion of entrepreneurs several years ago with his statement “You didn’t build that.”  Personally, I think his point was taken out of context.  Nobody achieves success alone.  At a minimum, you probably at least have some family and friend support.  At most, maybe someone who invests in your financially or intellectually.  It’s important to recognize those people and what they did to help you succeed.

Remember to reach out and help others.  Your journey has two destinations.  Become successful and the reach back down and help others become successful too.  Everything I’ve learned that allowed me to accomplish goals was taught to me by others who were willing to share.  You need to do that too.  Zig Ziglar, the legendary motivational speaker had a key phrase he used throughout his lifetime:  “You can get everything in life that you want when you help others get everything that they want.”

None of us want to be a “has-been” or a “never-was” or a “one-hit-wonder”.  Take some time this week to evaluate where you’ve been, where you are, and where you want to be.