“Thank God for Rain”

Rain drops on windowThe other day I was driving to Nashville cursing the rain that was coming down.  My old truck doesn’t have a wiper delay and the rain was just heavy enough to require me to manually hit the switch about every 10 seconds.  As I rounded a corner, a large panel truck drove past me.  On the front of his truck was a sign that said “Thank God for Rain.”  I called him a moron under my breath until I saw that he installed and repaired rain gutters.  Then the sign made sense.

Every time we watch Shark Tank and see the innovative ideas people come up with, we probably wished we were that creative.  But if you think about it, most great ideas come when we look at our annoyances and figure out a way to fix them.  Think about it:

  • Somebody cursed the rain until they figured out that rain gutters fail during heavy rain and realized gutter repair could make some money for them.
  • Someone probably got sick and tired of stepping in dog crap so they came up with the idea of dog waste pickup as a service and ended up franchising it.
  • A creative person got tired of sitting in traffic and put the notion of driverless cars into production.  Some reports say that by 2025 most cars on the road will be self-driving.  This guy will be rich.

There are two ways to look at inconveniences.  Either we get frustrated and complain or we get creative and come up with a way to leverage and profit from them.  If you’re an entrepreneur, you already do this, but if you work for someone else, you can take this mindset into your workplace and add value by look at new ways to benefit from solving problems and eliminating wasted time.  You may not come up with a billion dollar idea but you’ll let your boss know that you’re an employee worth keeping.

This week, take a look around and find that opportunity to turn inconvenience into opportunity.

What will you be thankful for that you used to curse?

Are You Prepared for Success?

Front View of Dalmatian Dog Running on PathEvery time I make the 45 minute drive from home to Clarksville, I take Little Barton’s Creek Road.  This seven-mile two-lane road cuts the drive town down significantly.  Like any country road, it passes farms, old abandoned houses, rusted out cars, barns, and a large tobacco curing complex.  About halfway down the road, there is a house where a large white dog stands watch.  Without fail, every time I drive past, he chases my truck at least 50 feet or so before giving up and going back onto his porch.

I always wonder what he would do if he caught me.   I wonder if he’s ever asked himself that question?

Most people I know want a life better than the one they have now.  They dream about a new career, wealth, better relationships, and more happiness.  Some go as far as setting up goals to get those things.  A few actually achieve them.  Most start well and then give up.  It’s as if they’re that white dog who chases my truck.  I suspect down deep inside they don’t know what they would do if they achieved those dreams.  Could it be they’re afraid of success?  Are you afraid of success?  If not, you should be.  Here’s why:

  1. Success will eliminate the ability to blame others.  If you’re not successful, you can always pin it on someone else, the system, your economic situation, your skin color, or your upbringing.  If you have success, then you know the formula which involves hard work.  Once you have success, others can point the finger at you and say that you’re lucky.  You will never again get sympathy.
  2. Success means that others will want your time and attention.  People who are serious about being successful know that successful people have the answers they seek.  If you’re successful, people are going to want to “pick your brain,” want your advice and guidance, and will hold you in esteem.  That’s a lot of responsibility and pressure.
  3. Success means that you will need to have continual success or else you’ll be seen as a “one-hit wonder” much like many 1980s music groups.  You can never again be mediocre or others will deem you a failure.  It’s more painful to fall from success than it is from levels of expected failure.  Your success journey will never end.

My dad told me once that it’s better to expect the worst and you won’t be disappointed. In other words, don’t bother chasing that Toyota pickup truck.  You won’t be able to catch it and if you do you won’t know what to do with it.   I think that’s what motivated me to push hard to find success.

I wrote those three points above sarcastically.  I believe success is a noble goal and we should all strive for it.  I want you to strive for it.  I’ve told people that I chase big accomplishments regardless of what others tell me.  I figure if I’m the dog, I’ll figure out what to do with that truck once I get my teeth on the back bumper.  After all, something told me it was worth chasing.

Will you join me?

 

Start Keeping Score

scoreboardIn a previous post, I talked about the power of “looking at the scoreboard” as a way to stay encouraged in the face of frustration, failure, and adversity.  If you buy into that strategy, then I have a suggestion.

Start keeping score!  Download the blank scoreboard HERE

Most people start out the year with a list of goals and resolutions and yet most will fail.  There are a host of reasons but one of the key causes is the failure to track progress.  People work best when they get constant feedback on how they’re doing.  I read some time ago about the reason for those electronic signs in school zones that say “Your Speed Is.”  Apparently it’s more effective to let people know what their actual speed is so they can self-manage it back under the limit.  Maybe all of us need to keep score on progress towards goals so we keep up our efforts.

That’s where the scoreboard comes in.  I put together a scoreboard template that you can customize for your goals this year.  On the far left column list out your objectives and then at the end of each month, just put a tick mark to keep score.  At the end of the year you’ll get a total but more importantly, if you keep it current, you’ll have a clear picture of where you’re at.  Here is a sample of mine for this year.

sample

 

 

 

 

 

If you measure it, there’s never a doubt whether you’re making progress.  If your blocks are blank, you know you need to get busy!

I’m working with this tool and I hope you’ll join me!

“Look at the Scoreboard!”

The "Dirtiest Player in the Academy League - 1981"

The “Dirtiest Player in the Academy League – 1981”

From 1980 – 1982, I was known as one of the dirtiest players on my high school football team, and probably in the Academy League as well. I’m not sure why I experienced rage every time I strapped on a helmet but as an offensive lineman, it certainly helped. It wasn’t enough to just protect my quarterback or open a hole for the running back, I wanted my opponent to suffer. My idol at the time was the NFL’s Dirtiest Player Conrad Dobler, who played for the New Orleans Saints. Dobler, also an offensive lineman had a reputation for all manner of dirty play, probably because he was naturally an intense guy and he played on a losing team. I could relate.

My senior year started ignominiously. I was thrown out of our first game after attempting to twist a guy’s head off like a bottle cap after our running back fumbled on the first play from scrimmage. From then we actually started winning games. After three or so in a row, we played The Buckley School, a prep school in Sherman Oaks, CA (where Michael Jackson’s daughter would attend some 30 years later). Buckley had beaten us the previous three years. We started well but soon fell behind. I was more concerned with physically tormenting the defensive tackle opposing me. After 3 quarters of play, we were behind but he was fading. Body shots to the solar plexus, leg whips on his knees, and the occasional elbow to the chin took their toll. As the game neared the end, I looked down at him and taunted him. He looked up and simply said, “look at the scoreboard.”

I never forgot that. We went on to lose most of the rest of our games. After high school I never played football again and that angry teenager is now an old bald man with two hip replacements and a bad back. But every now and then he makes an appearance in traffic jams or at security lines at the airport.

The lesson from the Buckley game is still true today though. Look at the scoreboard.

All of us have tough times in our careers, jobs, or businesses. Sometimes we are pummeled at every turn and get discouraged. The more we focus on that opponent in front of us, the less empowered we feel.

But have you looked at the scoreboard recently?

I felt beat up at the Florida SHRM conference when I was upstaged at my book signing by Dan Rather, but when I looked at the scoreboard, I realized I was winning the overall game in my business.

When I see a LinkedIn connection bragging that “I’m honored to be the keynote speaker today at the National Sock Drawer Arranging Conference,” I sometimes get jealous, but then I just look at the scoreboard.

When you get discouraged, are looking at the problem or the scoreboard?

Every day we need to focus on getting “points” such as a problem solved, a colleague helped, a customer served, or a client created. These little wins accumulate and build up our overall “score.” When you run your score up high enough, an obstacle seems less important when we simply look up and see the scoreboard.

This week, take some time to tally up your scores up to today. Post them someplace visually where you can seem them. Work to add to the score each day. It’s your job to run up the score.

And if you haven’t scored recently, make it a priority to put some points on the board

“I Never Thought It Would Happen to Me…”

depositphotos_3849942_m-2015Even though the economy seems to have healed after the Great Recession of 2008, it’s still a common occurrence when people reach out to me for advice after getting laid off.

There are two reasons why a person loses their job:

  1. The company goes out of business.
  2. The person stops adding value (or takes value away by performing poorly)

To prevent yourself from being unprepared for that possible bad day, I’d like to suggest the following steps to better plan for that day.

  1. Perform! You have full control over this one.  Each day, come to work with the mindset of doing your job the best that you can and when you’re done, look for something else to do.  Play until the whistle!
  1. Keep Your Eye on the Industry. Companies rarely fold without warning.  Spend some time each day reading the news and watching business reports.  If you see what your company produces is fading from popularity, start making plans to change industries or companies.
  1. Keep Your Skills Sharp. You may not like the new technology or don’t feel like learning it, but sooner or later that technology will become the standard.  If you aren’t willing to develop yourself and adapt, you may find yourself on the wrong end of a pink slip.
  1. Keep Your Resume Updated. Keep it current with the latest trends in resumes.  I often hear that a person is writing their first resume in 10 years, and that resume shows it!  Trends change in the HR world.  Be sure you’re changing your resume and approach too.
  1. Build and Nurture Your Network. It’s always better to work your contacts when you don’t need them so you’ll feel less obligated and guilty when you DO need them.  Start growing that network today!

If you follow these steps, you’ll never be blindsided with that pink slip.  Hopefully you’ll have seen it coming from a distance and proactively transitioned to a new role.  Take ownership of your career development and you won’t be the victim when a company seeks to reduce its headcount.

The Problem Is…

Angry and tired schoolgirl studyingLast week I attended a party with a group of people in the consulting field.  They all work in a very competitive industry and gaining new clients is a struggle.  As I worked the room, talking with many of them, I noticed a very common response when I asked them how business was going.

“It’s tough.  The problem is…”

And then they proceeded to tell me a list of reasons why they weren’t successful.  I noticed that none of them offered up steps they were taking to overcome the challenges.

Now I know this industry well and I also know the clients they seek.  They have valid complaints.  What they don’t seem to realize is that if you have a challenge and choose not to work at overcoming it, then the problem is…YOU!

I work with lots of different companies and usually my number one job is to help them solve problems.  I’ve learned that when you have a problem, the key to solving it involves defining the REAL problem (sometimes referred to as the root cause) and then looking at it systematically to solve it completely.  The tool I use is the Force Field Analysis.   If today YOU are wrestling with a problem, why not consider using it?  Here is what it looks like:

force_field_analysis2

 

 

 

 

 

Now use following steps:

  1. Figure out what success is and what happens when you get it.  Put this in the column labeled Driving Forces.  List out what life would be like if you achieved your goal, signed that client, or acquired that piece of business.  Be sure to list not only the tangibles (dollars and numbers) but also the feelings and emotions you’d get too.
  2. Identify what’s holding you back.  Put this in the column labeled Restraining Forces.  Write down everything that’s preventing you or holding you back from achieving success.  Put in actual and assumed constraints.
  3. Identify your top 3 restraining forces.  Rank order them from least to most.  You want to identify the biggest barrier.
  4. Break down your top 3 restraining forces into processes and identify areas where things break down.

Get busy fixing those areas!

Here’s an example:

I have a great product or service that would benefit people.  If they used it, they would:

Driving Forces

  • Be happy and successful
  • I would make lots of money
  • My influence would increase
  • I would get more clients
  • They would be happy and successful
  • I would be happy

Restraining Forces

  • The benefits of my product is hard to communicate
  • My target audience is hard to reach
  • My ideal client is hard to identify
  • My ideal clients have lots of choices

Key Restraining Force

  • My ideal clients have lots of choices

Solutions

  • Focus on how to differentiate why my product and service is different and better for them.

The alternative to all this is to lament the fact that business is slow right now.

And to tell everyone that “The problem is…”

Because unless you choose to identify the REAL problem and take deliberate, active steps to overcome it, then the REAL problem is YOU!

This week, take some time to reframe the problems you’re facing and take some steps to move from victim to winner.

How to Deliver a Winning Pitch

Interpreter ServicesYour syntax was convoluted.

It was November, 1980 and our new high school Bible III teacher, Dr. Bahnsen had just finished delivering a scathing analysis of the first essays we had written in his class, ending with the above critique.  What promised to be a fun Junior year at Newport Christian High School went quickly south as our former teacher, an affable guy named Mr. Smyth was fired and replaced by this taskmaster with a PhD in ethics from USC.  Bahnsen was brought in to up the ante in academic rigor and he delivered.  I had him for two classes and barely passed.

And yet I still had no idea what a syntax was nor what it meant to be convoluted.  Bahnsen had lots of knowledge but just couldn’t express it in a way that this 17-year-old could understand.  The message was lost in translation.

I recently watched an episode of Shark Tank where these two crazy smart scientists invented a really neat technology that they pitched to the investors.  The valuation of the company was at $40 million which extraordinarily high for the show.  The inventors tried unsuccessfully to communicate in their language (science) to the Sharks (who speak money) about why this product would change the world and would be worth the valuation (the language of regular people like me.)   They did not get an investment.  Even after multiple prompts from the Sharks, they couldn’t explain the product in any other language than science.

All of us have a mother tongue.  Mine is English.  We also have a conversational preference.  Some speak science.  Others data.  I speak story, simple story.  If we want to convince others of something, we need to use their language.  Since much of our success in business depends on others “buying in,” it’s important to follow some important steps to getting our point across.

  1. Figure out what you want to communicate.  This is key.  What are you pitching?  Is it a new idea, product, service, or concept?  Is it tangible or theoretical?  Is it brand new or a variation of the old?
  2. Figure out who you need to communicate the idea to.  Who is the decision-maker?  Who are they influenced by?
  3. Figure out what you want from that audience.  Support?  Buy-in?  Money?  Resources?
  4. Figure out the language of that audience.  Do they speak science or emotion?  Money or relationship?  Pragmatism or enthusiasm?
  5. Develop your pitch to encompass all the above information using the medium they prefer.

In a perfect world, everyone would speak and understand as we do.  They don’t.  Dr. Bahnsen probably realized this as our graduating class commenced in 1982 nearly half the size it was at the beginning of our Junior year, with none of us, as far as I could tell, any better at resolving ethical dilemmas or biblical truth than we were before he taught us.  The entrepreneurs on that episode of Shark Tank are probably working extra hard now to really quantify their idea in greater scientific detail to convince other investors.  It’s not going to work.  Unless they find some really rich, PhD-carrying investors.

Our ability to speak the language of others is the only way we can influence.  This week, take some time to re-think who you need to influence and look at better ways to communicate.  It’s the only way you’ll get your important points across, even if you do manage to unconvolute your syntax…

How to Achieve Your Dreams

Smart goal setting colorful letters on grungy blackboardI recently watched a special on NATGEO on the life of Arnold Schwarzenegger.  In case you didn’t know, he went from an immigrant who could barely speak English to a bodybuilding champion, actor, and governor, all in the span of about three decades.  People who know him well note that each year, he sets 5 goals for himself, then goes about achieving them.

Arnold’s story is impressive and inspiring.  It also shows that the one-two punch of goal setting and persistence can work for all of us.  As we go into the home stretch of this year, maybe it’s time we start setting up this pattern for ourselves.

Goals

I think we all know the importance of setting goals.  A goal gives us a target and the motivation to hit it.  There are several ways to do this, but one of the most common is the SMART format:

S:  Specific

  • I’m going to grow my business this year

M: Measurable

  • I will sign 5 new clients per month
  • I will speak at 4 conferences this year
  • I will deliver 2 lunch and learns per month

A: Aligned?

  • Yes (part of my strategic plan)

R: Realistic?

  • Yes (if I get off my lazy ass)

T: Time-bound?

  • Yes.  Progress will be tracked each month

By using a methodology like SMART, you take a nebulas idea and develop a path for action.

Persistence

Here is where it becomes difficult.  Persistence is your ability to follow through on these goals.  It’s not as easy as it sounds.  In the case of growing a business, it means dealing with cold calls, speaking in public, rejection, marketing expenses, and general discomfort.  The good news is, if you’re persistent, your inability to accept “no” for an answer will get you the breakthroughs that others won’t be willing to work for.

Arnold Schwarzenegger succeeded not because he had a great physique and a whole lot of luck but because he refused to quit.  He didn’t allow the opinions of others and naysayers influence his choices. Because he did it, so can we.   All of us have equal opportunity for success next year because we can set goals and be persistent.

What will you achieve next year?

Bitter, Thankful, or Grateful?

It’s that time of year where families sit around the Thanksgiving dinner table and tell each other what they’re thankful for.

Being thankful is a good thing.  Being grateful is a great thing!  Being bitter, well, that’s a terrible thing.  What’s the difference?  Here’s my thoughts.

In 1983, I joined the Navy in order to attend dental laboratory technology school.  I had a certificate from a civilian school but needed experience to get a job.  The Navy recruiter promised me dental lab school, but first I had to attend dental assisting school.  Dental assisting was awful.  I was ok though since I knew I had lab school to look forward to and then a short career in the Navy, away from patient care.   Except that the convening dates for the lab school didn’t match my assisting school graduation.  I was instead sentenced to 5 years as a chairside dental assistant at an overseas command.  I was bitter.

I was more bitter when I reenlisted to at least get back to the U.S. and was again assigned chairside.  That ultimately meant 8 years chairside when most dental techs did 18 months. I reenlisted yet again and pushed myself to get BS and MA degrees in order to apply for the Medical Service Corps Inservice Procurement Program.  I was turned down 3 years in a row.  Some of those who were selected barely had a BS degree.  I was bitter.  I was bitter that I served under a succession of emotionally unintelligent bosses.  I was bitter that my Navy career was the complete opposite of what I expected.

So I took my bitter self out of the Navy at the 15 year mark.

And I was thankful.  So thankful that on my last afternoon in the Navy I tossed my uniforms in the dumpster in full view of the staff of Naval Dental Center Northwest, scraped my DoD base access sticker off my windshield with an ice scraper, and gave everyone a two handed, one-finger salute before screeching out of the parking lot.

I was thankful that I was free.  Thankful that I could dress like I wanted and say what I wanted and could freely disagree with anyone I wanted.  Life was good.  Or so it seemed.

Until I realized that being thankful was just the feeling of not being bitter anymore.  It wasn’t really all that satisfying.  And while I wasn’t bitter in name, in spirit I still was.

Then I realized that to be truly happy, I needed to reset my goals.  I focused my attention on what I could do, not on what I didn’t get.  I built my business and it grew.  My bitter, that turned to thankful, was now grateful.  Grateful for what I had, not for what I had not.  And ironically, once I made that shift, I was able to return back to my military roots and serve, really serve by teaching transition classes, coach and mentor transitioning sailors, soldiers, airmen and marines, and shift into a semblance of gratefulness for my Navy career.

Yes, this is a long story and it’s not one you hear from military veterans.  But it’s a good lesson on what to focus on.  So, this Thanksgiving, learn to separate the terms:

Bitter:  I’m pissed at the world and all the terrible things that have been done to me (victim).  “Everyone is out to get me.”  “I’m always on the outside looking in.”  “If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all”

Thankful:  I’m glad I’m not miserable anymore. “Be thankful you have a job” or “be thankful you have Brussel sprouts to eat…after all, there are starving kids in Africa who would love to have those right now.”  (still kind of a victim…sort of)

Grateful:  “My career is everything I’ve always wanted.”  “My relationships are SOOOO fulfilling.”  “My pet goldfish gives me great joy!”

Grateful comes from seeking what you really want.  Thankful comes from not having what you hated.  Bitter just acknowledges misery.  All three are choices.  This year, sort these out for yourselves and choose wisely. I’ve done enough of the first two.  I’ll be going for grateful.  I hope you’ll join me.

Happy GratesGiving!

How to Figure Out What You Want to Be When You Grow Up

career-map“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

It’s the easiest question to answer before the age of 12.  After that it starts getting difficult.  High schoolers are pressured to answer it before picking a college.  College grads often wrestle with it after graduating.  Adults at midlife are plagued by it.  Old people become reflective about it.

As I’m preparing to deliver a career planning workshop at my daughter’s high school, I know that many of those graduating seniors are dealing with this.  Their parents are pushing them to decide and frankly many of them haven’t a clue.

If you know my story, you know that I couldn’t answer that question until October 11, 1996. Life before that was a series of false starts and dead ends.  It was endless weeks of dreading Monday and living for Friday and vacation days.   On that day however, life changed.  That was the day I nearly took a swing at my boss while in the Navy.  That moment brought a sense of clarity that has guided me ever since.  I had to wait until age 33 to get the answer. If you’re younger than that, let me save you some time.  If you’re older than that, there’s still time.  Here is the formula:

Figure Out Your Life Mission, Purpose, or Passion.  For me, I realized it after wisely opting to let my moronic boss keep his front teeth (and keeping me out of jail).  I knew at that point my mission in life was to develop the next great generation of managers.

Find the Career that Supports Your life Mission, Purpose, or Passion.  In my case, I knew I’d have to finish up my graduate degree in Organizational Leadership (a degree I selected simply because it had no math in it).  Then, to be able to influence on a grand scale, I’d have to start my own consulting company.  To do that, I’d first have to start by getting out of the Navy and get a job.

Find the Job, in the Career that Supports Your Life Mission, Purpose, or Passion.  This meant starting out working as an internal consultant and trainer in a couple of HR departments.  I spent nearly 4 years doing this before starting my business.

That’s the formula that I used and it works.  Having a sense of clarity makes life’s often arduous journey very rewarding.  It’s what I want for you.

How do you begin?

Figure out the goal.  If you have a passion for ending world hunger, that’s great.  Now let’s figure out the path.

Find the Career.  You can either raise money to buy food (meaning that you need a career that will net you lots of cash a la Bill Gates and Microsoft) or figure out a way to mass produce food (meaning a career in food science, agriculture, etc.)

Find the Job that Supports the Career.  This might mean interning at a large company, taking a lower position in a company, finding a mentor that’s a tech mogul, or simply enrolling in the right college program.

The three steps are pretty simple but they require great focus and dogged determination.  There is no easy path to a truly grand vision.  I’ve been at it pretty hard now for nearly 20 years and while I am creating lots of great managers, I’ve barely made a dent.  I’m not giving up however.  Neither should you!