18 (actually 23) Minutes

Recently while talking to a friend about work/life balance and trying to make small changes in our lives, we talked about writing.  I asked how the writing was going and this friend described the traditional process.

“In the past, I would typically write every few months or so, and attempt to write a novel in a weekend.”

“How did that work out?”

“It was crap.”

As we talked, I thought about how most of my life mirrors this process.  Life is busy. There are things I would like to do, they build up, and then I try to do it all in a weekend.

The result: crap.

My friend described a new process.  Write each day for 5 minutes.  Don’t try to write a novel.  Just write.  If you skip a day, the next day is not 10 minutes, each day the clock resets: just 5 minutes.  This small decision each day is not overwhelming, but begins to create a regular outlet.  A pattern.  A new way of living.

I began to think about how simple yet effective this approach can be, especially when trying to manage our busy lives.  Do you need to spend more time with someone, spend time quietly reflecting, or [insert your particular thing here]?  Why not start with 5 minutes a day.

Recently I got an update.

“I am up to 18 minutes a day.  Some days I skip, but now I look forward to writing.”

“How is the writing going?

“Still mostly crap, but sometimes there is some good stuff in there.”

The result: only mostly crap, with some good stuff.  Now that is progress!  When we talked the other week, the 18 minutes has grown to 23 minutes.  You could start today, take your 5 minutes and do something you have been meaning to do.  Tomorrow try it again, and the next day, and the next day.  You may just find some good stuff in there.

P.S.  It was this friend and this process that got me to stop dreaming about it and actually write this blog.  Thanks.

The Lost Generation?

I recently had the privilege of hearing Rebecca Ryan speak at a conference.  She started her talk with this video and it gave me hope, and I had to share it.  You can check out her work at her website.

http://www.nextgenerationconsulting.com

Rebecca if you ever read this, Thank You for making such an impact in our lives, and our communities.

Missed Opportunities…Missed Expectations

A few months ago, I was meeting with my team.  This is a team of very dedicated and amazing individuals who somehow are able to keep up with me, and my drive for results.

On this occasion, the meeting was long and there was a lot to cover.  They were tired, partly because of the meeting and the rest was the result of my continual pushing them to be better, achieve more, and produce results.  At the end of the meeting, I said,

“I know I have been driving you hard, and you have risen to the occasion.  I know you are tired, and have spent a lot of time on the road, so…”

What do you think they expected to hear next?

A.  Thank you for the dedication…

B.  Take a day off…

C.  Make sure you are spending some time with your families, your life…

D.  All of the above

Any of these would have worked, but that is not what came out of my mouth.

“So, make sure you don’t drive so fast when you come in the parking lot, it doesn’t look good and we got some complaints.”

First of all, whoever came up with the notion of sharing good news and bad news at the same time was crazy.  When you share a positive remark followed by anything negative, what do people remember?

But more than mixing good news with bad, I missed it.  As I talked to them afterwards, I realized that when they heard that first part, they thought I was sincerely acknowledging their sacrifice, their hard work, and their dedication.  It created an expectation from them, and an opportunity for me, and I couldn’t see it.

What expectations are blindly hovering around you?  Where is the opportunity to do something about it today? 

You can recover from mistakes like this, but it takes time.

Even now, whenever I start to compliment the team, they jokingly say…“do you want us to slow down again?”

Work Life Balance?

[This will be one of many posts on Work Life Balance]

My youngest daughter (someday she may read this stuff and laugh) had an assignment a few years back in kindergarten to write about one of her parents.  She picked me.  The form that the teacher provided had certain questions to answer:

1.  My Dad’s name is:  Carl Weber (Weird when your kids say or use your whole name.)

2.  How old is your Dad?  89 (I was 39 at the time, so at least she got the 9 right, and I looked pretty good for a 89-year-old.)

3.  How much does your Dad weigh?  200 lbs  (Before I comment on her accuracy, what teacher wants to know this?  She was pretty much within a pound at the time…rats.)

4.  My Dad likes to:  Check his email

There it was…in black and white, or actually crayon.  Dad likes to check his email.  I could make excuses.  I could blame a demanding job, a busy life, and my attempts to provide a better life for her, but my actions spoke louder than any words.

I stepped back to reflect on how often I was checking the phone or sitting at the computer in a state of distraction trying to get more work accomplished.  Balancing work and life is more than just working while at home, or checking email on your phone while in the presence of your family.  Shortly after this project, during a conversation in the dining room (while I was on the computer) she said words that still haunt me:

“Daddy, I want you to listen with your face!”

Where are you out of balance?  Who or what needs your attention, your focus, your face?  I am beginning to walk out this journey of balancing work and life, but it is not easy.  Creating boundaries has helped, but more on that later.  Is it working?  Only time will tell.

Recently she had another project to write about me again.  This time the result was different.  Here is what she wrote…

1.  My Dad doesn’t like it when:   He Does Not Win!

The Perpetual Myth

A while ago, while facilitating a team I witnessed an amazing event.  The team was having a discussion about improving their operation and leading well, but that was not the amazing part.

During the discussion, every (and I mean every) time one team member brought up an area for improvement the leader immediately spoke up about how well the organization did in that area.  At first I thought it was a fluke, but after it continued to happen, I couldn’t help myself, and the words just came out.

“So, is this session going to be about continuing the MYTH of who this organization used to be, or are we going talk about making it better?”

At first I regretted the outburst, especially since the leader slowly got up and walked out of the room.  (By the way that was the first time that had ever happened, and I wondered if I was about to be fired.)  After an awkward silence, the group cautiously pressed forward and identified areas that needed improvement and after about an hour the leader returned and addressed the group.

This leader told a story about the state of the organization years ago, and how this leader took on a visionary-promoting role that helped transform the last decade.  Now the amazing part…the leader then admitted that the prior role had created a blind spot especially since the leader was so invested in the progress they made.  Identifying the MYTH, helped this leader see more clearly and understand that the team was not tearing anything down, but was trying to take the organization even higher.

So, where are you perpetuating a MYTH…about who you are, or who your organization is? Talking about it and carrying it out are worlds apart.  Ask the tough questions, and more importantly think about your reaction when people bring up what you or your organization could be doing better.  Do you default to the MYTH, or do you find the opportunity to improve?

Who is Telling Your Story?

During a recent conversation I asked a leader what was the biggest challenge facing the organization.  After a few moments, the reply went something like this…(the particular organization works multiple shifts).

“The newer employees have a negative view of who I am as a leader.  Whenever I try to improve or change the organization, there is a surprising level of resistance, especially from the newer employees.”

After a series of questions, I learned that besides conducting a final interview, this leader could not tell me the last time he personally interacted with any new employees in the last two years.  On top of that, the shift work is based on seniority, so most new employees work on the night shift.

This leader is busy and works long hours every day; every day – during the day.  So, to state the obvious this leader is relying on co-workers and supervisors on the least desirable shift to set the tone of who this leader is.  Relying on others to tell your “leadership story” and provide the context of where the organization is heading and why a particular change is needed is simply not a recipe for success.

When faced with the reality of the reliance on others to tell this leader’s “story” the solution became clear.

“So, what you are saying is that I need to be present and available to interact with those employees…you mean on a regular basis?”

“Only if you want to make a difference.”

Do you want to make a difference?  Or, are you relying on others to provide the narration of your leadership story?  Do employees hear from you?  We are not talking about memos and emails!  When was the last time you regularly interacted with employees so they know and understand who you are and why they should place their trust in you, and give their hard work to the organization.

Sometimes you will need to ask someone to remind or hold you accountable to put this into practice.  That reminds me, I have to call this leader and ask if they were on the night shift during the past month.  Wish me luck.

Leading and Communicating

What do leading and communicating have in common?  

“You can’t do one without the other?”  Maybe.

“Both are important?”  Yes, but keep guessing.

“Hmmm…I give up.”  Okay, Okay I won’t keep you guessing.

From what I have observed, the thing they have in common is also the thing that makes both harder than you may have imagined, and it is this:

Both leading and communicating are unique in that if you do not actively work at them, you lose ground.

Think about that for a moment.  If we assume that we are good at leading our organizations or even our families but do not actively take action, what happens?  If we assume that where we left off the last time we communicated with a peer, boss or co-worker, is exactly where the next conversation begins, we may be in for a surprise.

Resting or pausing in our communication or leadership does not hold our place, like a bookmark.  You have to work hard just to maintain where you are, and push even harder to make progress.

Let’s take communication as an example.  On a Tuesday afternoon you talk to an employee about a report that needs to be done right away because your boss just asked you about it, and you are in meetings on Wednesday, are with clients on Thursday, and happen to take Friday off.  You are back in the office on Monday, and strike up a conversation with that same employee.  Are you in the same place as you were on Tuesday?   

No.  What if that employee had to adjust their workload and stay late to get “your” report done for your boss.  You do not communicate for a few days, and had a long weekend. What is the current state of your relationship?  Have you lost ground?  By not recognizing this fact, you may walk in on Monday (well rested from your long weekend) and tackle the week.  That distance created between you and that employee will begin to widen if you do not take active steps to both communicate and lead well.

Most leaders I have worked with miss the distance that time creates in both leadership and communication and assume that everything is where they last left off.  Being able to recognize and address the distance will separate you from others.  Have you created distance? Have you assumed non-action kept your place?  What can you do today, this morning, or before you leave work today to actively be a leader or communicate well? Write it down, and DO IT!

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