This week we celebrate Thanksgiving. Yes, I’m writing from my home in Texas and yes Thanksgiving, at least the one I’m talking about is American.
In preparing this piece, I looked back at my annual Thanksgiving messages. I was struck by what I thought was simple prose at the time, but turned out to be more prophecy. (On my blog page, use the search box above and type Thanksgiving to see what I mean).
In the past I have written about social conditions, political conditions, the need for leadership, and of course family.
Somehow the events of 2020 make everything pale in comparison.
The Top 10 for 2020
If you will allow me, here is my Top 10 list of things to be thankful for in 2020.
10. We still live in a free country where opinions are able to be expressed despite growing tension about doing so. I fear we’re losing that ability to come together to discuss and honor opposing opinions. So I pray we change that soon.
9. We have a diverse economy that can sustain pandemics. It may take a hit, but we don’t sink the ship.
8. I have friends and colleagues to remind me to be humble.
7. I still have the ability to learn; learn to be a better coach, a better teacher, and a better person.
6. I have clients who seem to appreciate what we do together. I never take that for granted.
5. I have you to read and follow this blog and my podcasts. Your feedback keeps me on my edge and hungry to do more.
4. I have a valuable network of mentors who help me grow. You know who you are. You challenge me and keep me strong.
3. I have some very special friends who are loyal, supportive, caring, and honest. That’s the most important part, honesty.
2. I have a beautiful family; my wife Susan, my kids, and grands. You all keep me on my toes. I love you tremendously.
1. I thank my Lord and Savior for His unconditional love.
Some may take offense. I don’t intend to be offensive. I’m sharing my list. You can share yours in the comments below.
The Leader’s Obligation
As I think about this list, the big question that emerges for me is this “How will I show up?” For all the things people do for me and with me, will it matter?
You see I believe I need to show up better each day. I need to do that for myself. But more importantly I need to do it for those who are counting on it.
If I roll out of bed and decide to ‘mail it in’ one day, who gets hurt? They do. The people who are counting on something from me.
That is what leadership is about. If you lead people, they are expecting something. You better show up and deliver.
If you’re not ready or willing to do that, you need to step away from your leadership role. If you’re just there for the payday, step away. If you only want the recognition, step away.
Step away and let someone who wants to serve others take the role. The people deserve that. We need those kinds of leaders, everywhere.
Will you show up? And be that kind of leader? I hope so. My pledge is to be there. Will you be alongside?
The other day I was running errands and stopped at my bank. I went inside, did my business, and went back to my car. As I sat there checking emails, I was surprised by my passenger door opening with a young lady standing there.
She looked up at me, shrieked, and said “Oh my God!”
I looked at her then noticed that across the parking lot behind her was a vehicle exactly like mine with her husband sitting in it startled with a surprise too.
She apologized and gently closed my car door, exiting to her vehicle.
I shouted at her husband, asking him if he wanted to keep her. He said “Yes, I do.”
I said “Well, she’s all yours. Have a nice day!”
As we both drove away, I was thinking about FOCUS.
Clearly that young lady was very focused on something. So focused that she ignored the distance between her car and mine, simply letting the “impression” of a similar car influence her choice for opening the door.
I too was very focused on emails form my phone and ignored her approaching my car until it was too late and she had swung open the door.
It made for a good laugh, but could have been far worse.
As leaders, we can get so laser-focused on an idea we lose sight of other opportunities or we ignore facts and circumstances that could impact our outcome.
When was the last time you got focused like that?
I have the odd opportunity to work with leaders on both ends of the business spectrum. I coach executives in some of the largest companies on the globe, like ExxonMobil and UPS. I also coach entrepreneurs and sole proprietors who are busy building new companies.
Yet the similarities I see are common to both. Running an organization requires thoughtful, dedicated leadership. Good management is not enough. You have to demonstrate real leadership. (I’ve written about the differences between management and leadership HERE).
Leaders can get blinded by ideas that create an intense focus on going one way or another. Once choices are made, nothing will persuade them to change direction. That can have a disasterous effect.
It’s one thing to be committed to a decision. Sure, the team wants you, their leader, to be certain on which way you want to go.
However, putting your head down once the decision is made can be problematic.
It’s a Tricky Balancing Act
I realize it can be tricky to be decisive yet open to other input. I do believe there are ways you can still make solid decisions and stay sensitive to things happening around you.
Here are some of the best ways I’ve seen work.
First, keep your team engaged. Just because you made the decision doesn’t mean your team should be shut off from reporting changes. For some reason I’m thinking about the submarine Captain and his crew. You’ve likely seen the war movies, you know what I mean. The Captain shouts an order but the crew is reporting back information they see on their monitors.
Next, have a reporting mechanism that works. In Six Sigma process improvement, there is a model known as DMAIC. It is an acronym for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control.
DMAIC is the core of continuous imporvement of your process. By following these steps, you gain insights that you might not otherwise pay attentiion to.
Lastly, maintain communication with your team. Engage them for their valuable input. Even once the “ship” is underway, you have to allow course corrections to maintain a successful voyage. (Watch Greyhound with Tom Hanks to know what I mean here).
The Leader’s Challenge
The next time you make a big decision, don’t forget about keeping your eyes open for situation and circumstance around you changing. Don’t let your focus be so blinding that external factors get missed of overlooked.
Now I have a ‘record’. LinkedIn booked me in their user-jail for about two weeks. What it meant was, I could not send any connection requests to anyone unless I knew their personal email.
Now mind you I am not a spammer. I’ve been a faithful user on LinkedIn since 2005. Yes, I have over 17,000 connections, but that was built over 15 years of regular faithful and, I might add, compliant activity.
I’m careful with what I do there. I respect and honor the “code.” No junk posts, political or otherwise. All business. Yet for some reason, the algorithms kicked in and flagged my account. It took me three tries at appealing the decision. Here’s the storyline in summary.
I got flagged and shut down about 10 days ago. I was aware others have had this happen, so was alert to the steps needed to fix the problem. They say it is just temporary. LinkedIn will let you back in if you just fall on your sword.
First, I checked my pending invitations. The number was zero. I flush that queue every week, keeping nothing pending more than 7 days. Next, I stopped inviting anyone. Also, I turned off all my connected devices.
Mind you I am using the paid subscription to Sales Navigator, a platform that by definition is for sales prospecting. And it’s not cheap. You don’t prospect just those folks you know.
Finally I wrote my letter of contrition, begging forgiveness and reinstatement.
BANG! “No” they said. I was “an egregious violator and this sentence was for life.”
Wow, color me starting to get angry. How could they? After all I’ve done for them! Please allow me to elaborate.
The Back Story
In 2008, when I started Jobs Ministry Southwest, I was the first organization in the Greater Houston area to create a class for LinkedIn. I had met with the regional sales rep of LinkedIn. We collaborated and my effort was sanctioned.
I developed a presentation that when first launched had over 400 attendees at a 2 hour workshop. All of these folks were in career transition and needed help finding jobs. I was advocating they get busy on LinkedIn. My seminal effort was titled “12.5 Ways to Get Ahead Using LinkedIn”.
Later, it spawned a live, hands-on workshop series I led that was hosted by Belhaven University in their computer labs. Hundreds attended. The series caught the national attention of a tech writer at Fortune magazine. That was 2010.
I and my series appeared as part of a cover story on Fortune featuring the meteoric growth of LinkedIn. My organization made Linkedin a cornerstone teaching of ways to land a new job. Over a 5 year period, we coached over 4,500 professionals.
Today, I still evangelize the use of LinkedIn. I am an officer of Silver Fox Advisors, a regional association of business professionals whose main focus is helping small businesses grow. Working there, I coach the use of LinkedIn for my fellow members as well as many of the small business owners we serve.
I inlcuded all of this history in my third and final appeal to get released from jail.
Apparently, the gods found favor and sent me notice of the restriction being released. But there was a stern warning that any future violation would result in permanent restriction without the possibility of release or parole. God love Microsoft.
If you want to stay on the straight and narrow path with LinkedIn, here are my tips (from an actual ‘Linkedin felon’ no less).
First, keep your invitation count low and reasonable. I’d say no more than 5-10 per day. NEVER reach out to a level 3 contact. Stay within your level 2 circle of connections so you can point to the actual name you have in common. Use that name as a reference. Thus you create a warm contact.
Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, LinkedIn still technically counts this a violation. If the person to whom you sent the invite hits the “do not know” button, you’re screwed. It takes a special, extra click of the mouse for someone to flag your invitation with “do not know” rather than merely rejecting it, but apparently, people are getting more hostile about doing just that.
Next, watch the build-up of stale unanswered invitation requests. You can delete old ones that have not been answered. Here’s how to fix that.
Per the letter I received from LinkedIn: Invite people from the “Add (member’s name) to your network” link OR click the “Connect” button on their profile. From there you can add a personal note to explain how you know them and why you’d like to connect. The personal note option isn’t available when you import your address book or add email addresses from the “Add Connections” feature.
Oh and be sure you are displaying a photo on your profile. People may not recognize your name, but they may remember a face. If you’ve uploaded your photo, be sure your settings allow it to display across all situations and platforms.
That’s it, plain and simple right? Don’t believe it. The mysterious algorithms have their ways. BWAH_HA_HA_HAAAAA Be watchful.
Starting and running a small business can be a blessing and a curse. The dream can become a nightmare. Yet there can be great rewards too.
There are so many things that can get in the way of running and owning a successful business. You hear people talk about “cash is king” or growing the sales pipeline, closing more deals, making payroll, and creating satisfied customers.
While these are all very significant issues for a business owner there is one thing that is even bigger than all of these put together. Do you have any idea what it may be?
Wait for it…..
Your ego. Yep. Good old fashioned pride.
Let me get straight to the point.
Small Business Owner’s Fear
Letting your pride or ego get in the way can be the exit ramp to disaster. On one hand, entrepreneurs must be fearless. They have to start with a whole lot of courage. For that, I applaud you.
Think about it. You hear stories of people quitting their day job to start a business. That takes guts and sheer willpower.
However, that same dogged determination can become the owner’s death sentence too.
The Paradox of Success
Many years ago I wrote a piece I call the “Paradox of Success.” I got this idea after watching dozens of my banking clients go through similar situations. It goes like this.
For those of you who have actually ventured out to start your own company, you understand the intense effort and tremendous satisfaction you achieve by watching the company grow.
Those first few profit dollars start to roll in. Real profit, free and clear. No debt, no more obligations to pay off, pure, real profit. For all the planning, sweat equity, real equity investment, and down-right hard work, you eventually arrive at the threshold of the very thing you set out to accomplish…. SUCCESS!
Ah, but beware. The very thing you strive so hard to achieve, that is your company’s success, can start the downward spiral to eventual destruction. Perhaps even the infamous “implosion” of the company. That is the phenomenon called the Paradox of Success. In other words, success brings failure. How can that be? Let’s explore the full timeline.
First the Beginnings
As was described, the founder sets out to open his or her own business. Perhaps it is a sole proprietor, maybe “Mom and Pop”. It can even be a couple of good friends who decide to start something together. The actual legal structure does not particularly matter at this point.
The focus is on getting going and having that first order come through the door. Days and weeks go by. The founder(s) perform all the daily chores….everything! Sales, marketing, bookkeeping, systems, purchasing, supplies, advertising, contracts, payables, receivables, answering phones, sweeping floors, cleaning the bathrooms…everything!
Next, business starts to grow. The word is out. Your business has something people want and need. Your service ideas are working very well. Customers like what you have. Word of mouth even starts to grow. You are getting business from sources you had not really thought about at the start.
Finally, the business becomes more than you and your partner can handle. You decide to hire your first employees. This becomes turning point number one. New employees do not bring the same levels of dedication, commitment, and energy you had when you started the business. Your ideas are not their ideas. You must start to train and coach to be sure the new guys on the bus are fully on board.
Moving Further Toward Success
The service levels you created and nurtured must be sustained. The principles on which you founded the business must be reinforced. There needs to be a feedback process and a monitoring mechanism to be sure your values and principles are being followed.
Almost daily you feel the tug of contention for your time. The time spent to make the direct business contacts you enjoyed making at the start must now be juggled with the effort to resolve internal issues. Perhaps you add a few more hours to the week. Certain tensions become more frequent.
With employees present, interpersonal matters start to creep in. Sally doesn’t like Susie. Bob and Ted argue over sports teams and their preference in cars they drive. None of this is contributing the business. The founders become referees. Hostilities can even boil over when customers are present. A lack of leadership or even a momentary lapse of leadership can become significant. Who can handle these things?
Phase Two Begins – Leadership
Then, mid-managers are hired or appointed. Surely the owners can rely upon other seasoned professionals to handle the staff issues and keep the ship sailing. Now a new layer is created.
For all the potential good that can be accomplished here, there comes a trade-off. Again, the founders’ values have to be enforced, promoted, espoused, heralded, and cheered about.
Can the mid-manages carry the same flag? All the while the growth in volume creates a strain on the original infrastructure. Are the same tools and equipment that were used to open the business still effective? Have systems started to suffer? This can include everything from the high end network servers to the staplers.
And more importantly, who is truly watching over these areas. Have the partners brought the right skills on their own to address all the issues? Accountability for all aspects of business growth becomes more meaningful. If cash and checks are being handled, controls must be implemented. Growth across state lines adds to the compliance and regulatory burden. Specialists have to be added to the mix like legal counsel, accountants, IT professionals, etc.
The False Security
The very essentials that can help grow and expand the business become challenges to the owners. Volumes and profits continue to rise. A false sense of security here can be deadly. A failure to admit the changes that are happening underneath and any inability to properly respond to those changes can, at any point hereafter, start the spin downward.
Really this stage represents the first major turning point for the founders. The biggest and most honest question that can be asked is “Am I capable of keeping this going or do I need senior management help?”
All too often ego may enter in and prevent the good hard look at the man (or woman) in the mirror. True Leaders with a solid track record behind them have been the first to ask this question and work with the right answer. And they do it with almost perfect timing.
Yet for the owner suffering a big ego, the right questions never get asked. The talk with the person in the mirror sounds more like this…
“Wow, things seem to be ramping up. You really did it.”
“Yes, I did.”
“It feels different now, but that’s nothing to worry about.”
“Just keep it going. We’ll be fine.”
Then one day the wheels fall off. The big accounts start to go elsewhere. Your pricing gets squeezed and you have no answer. The market shifts out from under you and you missed the warning signs.
Or worse yet, your team abandons you because they hate working with you. The few customers you have left eventually leave because the service is terrible.
It happens in all kinds of business. Every day. The tipping point is where the owner’s ego gets bigger than even the greatest of success.
A Cautionary Tale for Small Business?
Maybe so. But it doesn’t have to be. You can get help. You should get help. Is today the day? Business advisors or coaches can help you make sense of the new levels of growth and prosperity. They can help you see you way to even higher levels of success.
But you have to make the call. Don’t let ego stop you.
If you are thinking about making a change at work, at home or for yourself, don’t take the scenic route.
We’ve all done it. You went on a trip. Somewhere along the way you see signs for the scenic route. So you take a detour.
You begin traveling down smaller, winding roads. You see fewer cars, trucks and congestion. While the views are truly magnificent, you run into road blocks.
Maybe the blockage is road repair where the lane is closed and you have to wait for oncoming traffic to drive by while you wait your turn to go.
Or where I live, in Texas, side roads will always have slow moving farm equipment; tractors or trailers hauling something. They move at 20 miles an hour if I’m lucky.
What could have been a beautiful drive in the country turns into frustration and delay.
Looking for a Change
I met a new coaching prospect this past week. She owned a nice sized business that had been operating 12 years. She was well past the start-up phase.
What she told me about was her frustration with the way her people operated. She felt she couldn’t rely on anything without close supervision. She wanted a change without firing everyone and starting over.
After learning a good deal about her situation, I explained my team coaching model to her. That is what she had called for in the first place.
When she finally asked how long would this take, I shared the time frame; six months. It would be a direct and intentional process of implementing new standards, methods, accountability, and measurements.
Six months may seem long, but for her it would be the super-highway version of the change she’d need to turn her business around. After all, it would have required engaging all of her employees, changing their behaviors and expectations.
Compared to the 12 years she had been building the simmering mess she had, my recommendation was super-sonic.
Despite my best effort to explain how this process can help and has helped many other small businesses like hers, she decided she needed something else. She could not name what that was, but, in her mind, my approach would not fit.
She sent herself on the scenic route.
Change of any kind can be hard. We hear that. We believe that. And it is if you take the scenic road.
Identifying the change that should be made can be easy. “I need to lose 20 pounds.”
But making it happen takes all kinds of detours, redirects, pauses, stops and starts. It is the scenic route.
Taking the scenic route creates distractions. Some may be welcomed distractions to take our mind off of how hard the change seems to be.
But if you keep allowing the detours, pauses and distractions, you arrive at some point down the road with no change at all.
Getting It Done
I’ve had the privilege to work with larger, more global companies where implementing change can be very hard. “It’s hard to turn a battleship” they say.
Yet for leaders who get laser focused on the change they want and the ‘case for change’, they make every subsequent move very intentionally.
Here is a list of the practices great leaders follow to avoid the scenic routes and get things done.
First, create a crystal clear vision of what is to come. Be able to explain the “future state” in clear detail.
Next, rally the team. Your team may have been operating well with former standards and processes, but change may require them to step out of that comfort. As their leader, you must reinforce the case for change and help them rise to the change.
Then, monitor your progress, keeping in mind all change has an “S” curve element to it. The S curve of change describes leaving the status quo, dipping into a bit of chaos, then slowly rising above and beyond to former state to achieve new things.
Parts of your staff may be falling behind further than others as the “S” unfolds. Keep an eye on that. Coach and mentor individuals to help them make the change.
Also, you will need to make adjustments. In the team change model “Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing”, the ‘norming’ part is about settling into the change. But it takes adjustment to be sure the right pieces are fitting into place.
Lastly, and this is one far too many managers forget, celebrate the WIN. When the change is up and running, have a victory dance. Celebrate with the team. Acknowledge the contributions.
Use these steps wisely to effect change when you need it. You’ll be glad you stayed off the scenic route.
PS – I love taking the scenic routes when I have absolutely nowhere to be and plenty of time to get there. I’ve seen some amazing sights.
If your desire is to be a better manager at work, at home, or in the community, you may want to develop some actual leadership skills.
However, if you are already following certain leadership principles, there is always room for lifting the lid to expand your reach and influence.
After many years working with clients of all kinds, I see one recurring theme, time and again. The biggest difference between managers and leaders who are pretenders versus contenders is a small six-inch piece of real estate; the distance between your ears.
Yes, I am talking about the space inside your head. The things you allow to happen in your thought life will drive the rate of success. You can be a pretender or you can be a contender. The difference is isolated in this really small space.
In the following diagram, you can see the natural progression of thought, action, reaction and behavior that is derived from our beliefs, expectations, and experiences. It’s all centered in the mind.
Beliefs are your values, judgments, interpretations, assumptions, and attitudes. When you wake up each day, you have a whole set of these beliefs waiting ready in your head. The sum total of all these makes up your outlook for the day, often before you even begin. The collection of these beliefs set the stage for the way each day might unfold.
If a string of circumstance has tainted your set of beliefs, you will look at new opportunity through a jaded lens. On the other hand, if you have achieved a certain success, you may be more inclined to view new opportunity with a more optimistic mindset.
Your beliefs drive your behaviors. Your “style” openness (or not), your habits, skills, practices, and actions stem from the beliefs you carry.
If you prefer mustard over mayonnaise, you are expressing an eating behavior based on some belief you established a long time ago. And so it goes with many of your daily choices, clothes, cars, hobbies, reading, entertainment, music, etc.
Even the people you may choose to call friends will be governed by your beliefs turned into behavior. The kind of tribe you may join at work or in the community will be influenced by your behaviors.
If you align with a certain religious belief system, that will dictate the house of worship you choose to attend. Political affiliations, other social settings, and even workplace choices will be heavily swayed by the relationships you think you want to make; all having root in your mind’s eye.
Finally, the results will reflect the collection of beliefs, behaviors, and relationships. The direct circles of activity you choose will have a specific set of outcomes. These results (outcomes, impact, improvements, and “performance”) will all serve to reinforce your belief system.
When the results align with your original beliefs you say “see, I told you so.” You feel you knew it all along.
On the other hand, if an outcome somehow runs counter to what you expected (as many things will do), you may be inclined to fall deeper into your beliefs saying things like “I will never do THAT again”, or “I wish I had followed my gut.”
The successful leader will learn how to control that delicate real estate between the ears. Negative thoughts will be replaced by ones that provide a more meaningful value. The cycle of belief, behavior, relationship, and result will become a momentum-generating machine for positive action and success.
Whenever limiting thoughts creep in or pop up, the prudent, experienced leader will properly address the thought and prevent it from taking root to undermine the rest of the experience.
Whenever in doubt, the seasoned, learning leader will seek advice from trusted counselors and coaches or mentors and friends, to better evaluate the thought. If the thought has merit, then it can be addressed with a balanced, healthy view, never interrupting forward progress.
When you handle the root belief system, you set the stage for a more positive outcome. More importantly, you set the process by which you can grow, profit, and prosper in all areas of your life.
I’ve coached hundreds of business people helping them develop more effective leadership skills. Whether you own the business or you’re climbing the ladder in a larger corporate setting, you can benefit from finding a close, confidential advisor to help you develop the extra skills that make a difference. Use the contact forms here to reach out. Let me introduce you to my proven programs for leadership growth.
It’s the Leader’s responsibility to make the big decisions. Yet there are times when leaders freeze. They can’t make the call. They can’t pull the trigger. What holds them back?
In my early career I was a banker. We had a saying. “There are old bankers and there are bold bankers, But there are no old bold bankers.”
Bankers were supposed to be the pillars of strength in the community. Seldom was the banker looked upon as the guy on the leading edge. Being bold and daring was typically something no one did.
The issue at the center of the matter is risk. Take the risk or not take the risk, that is the question.
The same holds true for decision making in general. Every choice has its consequences. We teach that to our kids. You make a choice and something is going to happen; good or bad.
In business, the choices might make or break the company. Should we expand? Could we relocate? Should we sell or merge? Add staff or cut back? Hold firm or change?
The list goes on.
But what holds us back?
Here are the main reasons decision can be so darn hard.
Fear of failure or being an outlier – not everyone is a natural risk taker. The self-talk going on inside our brains keep us from being bold. The messages may even go all the way back to childhood, when you were told ‘you’re too slow, not smart enough, not good enough.’
Maybe you were brought up being told ‘you should never bring attention to yourself’.
Making the big decision may do just that; bring a lot of attention.
Fear of reputational risk, internally and externally – Businesses of all sizes have something called ‘reputational risk’. You work hard to build brand identity or at least you should be working on that. Having a solid brand identity is your reputation as a company. Taking a departure from that identity can hurt your reputation.
Think about 2010 and British Petroleum’s Texas Gulf rig fire Horizon. It brought severe reputational risk and brand damage to BP.
Lack of resources (human and capital) – This is possibly the biggest reason decisions get stalled. Whether fact or fiction, the sense that resources are lacking causes many delays and misses when it comes to key decisions.
Fixed way of thinking (mental schemas) – Companies with a tradition or legacy get lulled into one way of thinking. As an example, having a large fixed asset base does not guarantee you will make money by simply ‘not screwing it up.”
Competitive decisions must be made daily to keep your winning edge. As the times change, so must your ways of thinking and guiding the organization.
Defining “Bold” – The meaning may vary according to the individual. When a leader senses it is time for a ‘bold’ decision, the level of boldness may be limited to just his or her mindset.
Sharing the idea with your team may reveal the idea is not so bold after all. It’s just a necessary choice about next steps.
Groupthink can lead to complacency – This too is a big derailer for great decisions. If you are a leader committed to team empowerment, you want the whole team to weigh in. That is a noble idea most of the time. But habitual development of a group-think mindset can lead to a false sense of security.
The Leader is still on the hook for the final decision.
Lastly, being bold would not be received well by the organization (or the Board). You might possibly even get penalized for stepping out there. This is a simple reality about leadership. You ARE on point. You were put there to make decisions.
Not all of your choices will be applauded. That is your risk of being the leader.
I challenge my executive coaching clients to periodically re-calibrate by reviewing their decision making patterns. The question is whether the recent decisions have been consistent with the picture of the leader they want to be, not the leader they’ve been before.
Staying true to the leader you want to be should drive your decision-making process. You can still incorporate all of the team dynamics you want, but the final choice rests squarely on your shoulders.
That’s why they pay you the big bucks! (OK, that’s funny for many of us.)
Lately, I’ve been reminded of a saying I once used to guide my kids. The phrase was ‘come home before dark’.
When I was younger, we’d play outside seemingly forever. When we asked to go outside, our parents always said: “Come home before dark.”
That was a literal meaning. Once it was dark, if we weren’t home we were in big trouble.
As I grew into adulthood and began having children of my own, an old preacher taught me something new about this phrase.
The words home and dark have adeeper meaning to explore.
Coming home is about returning to safety. It’s a center of being. As a kid, it was the place I lived. There was love and warmth at home.
I could reconnect with who I was at home. The world around me could be throwing flaming arrows, but the home was a fortress.
Home was where values were formed. At home we could have honest, loving talks about the things that I worried about.
When something gets dark, there is trouble brewing. Bad things happen in the darkness.
You hear people talk about others and say ‘they just went dark.” Lights out, no response.
I wanted my kids to know that they could always come home before dark. My wife and I would be waiting to take them in, give them security, and talk through whatever we needed to talk about.
One night our doorbell rang about 2:00 a.m. We stumbled out of bed to find our middle son (family of 5 kids). He was in his early 20’s, already graduated and living in town with a roommate.
We could tell he had been drinking, but his first words were “You said come home before dark.”
We said “Sure, glad you did. What’s going on?”
He proceeded to tell us about a party that was going on in his apartment. Suffice it to say it had gotten out of control. The roommate was a college friend. They had invited other college buddies to join.
Plenty of drinking followed. Behaviors got wilder and wilder.
My son said he had tried to calm things down. He had left his fraternity lifestyle behind the day he walked across stage to get his diploma. Clearly, these others had not.
He sensed the night was not going to end well. Even with his own influence of alcohol, he remembered the words ‘come home before dark.’ And that he did.
As it turned out, later that night, neighbors in the apartments called police. Some arrests were made, but my son was home safe, out of the darkness.
Why do I share this story with you in a blog about leadership? It’s because I believe leaders guide people home before dark.
A leader establishes a home base; somewhere people want to be. Yes, they may venture out on their own to explore new opportunities, new tasks, new direction. But when they sense the darkness, home is where they should turn.
Is your team environment a safe home to shield your employees from their darkness?
Have you communicated to them your desire that they consider your place a home?
I realize some will read this and say “You have no idea what my home life was like. It was darkness all its own.” To those I say, I am sorry to hear that. Why don’t you create a new home? Surely you will have people around you who need that safety and shelter.
I’m not going to lie when I say this article was prompted by the world we’re in right now, the corona virus scare. It is scary.
We need leaders who will stand firm in their conviction for choosing the next right step toward creating calm, creating safety, and helping others through the storm.
Will you be that leader, right where you are?
Help others come home before dark.
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In baseball, there is something known as the 3-2 count (three-two). It means three balls and two strikes. It means the person who is up to bat has only the next pitch to get something done.
Three strikes and you’re out. If the pitcher misses the strike zone and the batter waits to swing, it will be called a “ball” and the batter gets to walk to first base.
While all pitches in baseball count for something, there is nothing like the three-two moment to feel the pressure rise.
The same is true in business. Managers and leaders have to make decisions all the time, but only some of those are real “3-2 decisions”.
What do you do when you realize the situation is a 3-2 moment? Some managers freeze. They ask for more data. Or they try to stall in some other way.
Other leaders are quick and confident to jump in and make the call.
What makes it so much different?
According to John Maxwell, the 3-2 count results in something he calls “PGE results.”
Pain, gain, and experience. The outcome of the decision you make in a 2-3 moment results in PGE.
Pain – the results might be painful. The results can be painful to you, your team, the company, and even the community you serve.
During Hurricane Harvey in the Texas Gulf Coast area, a tough 3-2 decision had to be made by the Corps of Engineers. Two large dams northwest of the greater Houston area were about to burst from being overfilled by 52″ of rainwater.
A 3-2 decision was made to intentionally release water from the flood gates, pouring into thousands of homes downstream. Billions of dollars of damage happened.
Yet, had they NOT opened the gates, the entire structures could have burst, flooding out most of the entire Houston area, some 6 million inhabitants.
It was a very painful result for some, but it saved so many others.
Gain – the results will be rewarding. Good decisions can result in a miraculous gain. Once I was flying some friends in a small single-engine airplane, a Piper Arrow.
The weather had changed from good to bad as we approached our destination. Plus the winds had picked up and shifted to crosswind conditions.
Crosswinds are the worst kind of wind to land a plane. It means the wind is blowing across the runway, causing a force that pushes the plane sideways while you are trying to follow a straight line to land.
I took in all of the information I needed from the tower about landing that day. I set up my final approach and begin a severe crab angle to land. Crabbing involves turning the plane at as much as a 45-degree angle to the straight line of the runway.
With the angle, you fight the crosswind until the last possible moment when the plane has to be turned into alignment with the center stripe of the runway. I won’t go into all the details, but we experienced a textbook crosswind landing that day.
My pilot training had prepared me to do that landing in a definite 3-2 situation. My passengers appreciated the fact we got home safely without incident despite the bad weather that day.
Experience – Working through a 3-2 decision gives you added experience. Experience alone is not a good teacher. Informed experience, studied and analyzed gives you better instruction.
Whatever the outcome, the experience from making a 3-2 decision needs to be evaluated and reviewed. What you learn, once properly vetted, can be applied to future decisions.
In the baseball story, if the batter strikes out on 3-2, he will review the video replay of that at-bat. Anything he can find about his stance, his swing or his posture, will help to improve the odds of making the next 3-2 situation have a better outcome.
Managers and leaders have to stay sharp for 3-2 conditions. As I write this, I’m hearing leaders expressing concerns for their people, businesses and families. Rightfully so. There is so much uncertainty.
This is one giant 3-2 situation. Use your informed experience to muster the training and resolve you need to make good decisions for your team, your family, and your community.
It would be surprising if anyone on the planet with access to any form of communication (old or new) didn’t know about the coronavirus. We have news of it popping up every few seconds as messages unfold about closures, cancellations, and other alerts regarding the spread.
I respect the need to be cautious, proactive and vigilant. Many of the gatherings and events I was scheduled to attend have been suspended, postponed or canceled outright. There have even been moments where I was part of the decision to cancel something. I get it.
However, I am not convinced I’ve seen perfect examples of leadership demonstrated in every announcement or bulletin. I’ve seen supposed leaders take a podium and simply spread fear and concern.
In the face of a global pandemic, as it is now called, leaders in both public and private sectors need to stay calm. Calm is a tricky proposition for a leader.
On one hand, you should have your own personal concerns about what is going on. If you are high enough in an organization, you might be leading a major project team. Having a totally external force like COVID-19 interrupt your plans is frustrating at best. Again, I don’t want to sound irresponsible or insensitive but hang with me a bit.
When a leader begins to gain momentum, the last thing you want to have happen is for something to break the cycle. Especially something that comes from outside your organization.
We Need Calm
Calm needs to be the focus. Here are four key principles to think about during a crisis.
C is for Clarity. Simplify your messages. Speak clearly and intentionally, thoughtfully. Immediately respond to those who seem unclear after you communicated.
People will need clear communication about your new expectations under new and perhaps stressful situations.
A is for Action. You still need to act. If your decision has not been formed, say so. But don’t wait too long. This virus situation is a fast-moving event. Be ready to respond as information changes.
L is for Leadership. Perhaps it should be obvious, but some may get busy and not be intentional about their leadership wheelhouse.
Dig deep in your leadership tool kit to make ready the best tools you have to guide, direct, inspire, and influence during troubling times. People need us now.
M is for mean it. Be sincere. Don’t rely on cliche and platitude. Stay connected with your people. I mean emotionally connected. Up-level your empathetic listening. Hear people out.
Be relevant and relatable so that people maintain (or increase) their trust in your leadership.
Forget About It
We also need to forget some things. A client from long ago posted these wonderful reminders. He’s a very accomplished CEO and leader in the mortgage finance industry. His name is Bill Dallas. Here are his thoughts.
1. Forget About Yourself; Focus on Others. You will become a source of confidence (and calm) for everyone else.
2. Forget About Your Commodity; Focus on Your Relationships. Every time you strengthen a relationship, the viability of you are selling will increase.
3. Forget About the Sale; Focus on Creating Value. Most people don’t like being sold at the best of times.
4. Forget About Your Losses; Focus on Your Opportunities.
5. Forget About Your Difficulties; Focus on Your Progress.
6. Forget About the “Future”; Focus on Today.
7. Forget About Who You Were; Focus on Who You Can Be.
8. Forget About Events; Focus on Your Responses.
9. Forget About What’s Missing; Focus on What’s Available.
10. Forget About Your Complaints; Focus on Your Gratitude.
The Leadership Premium
In times of crisis and concern, leadership value rises to a premium. You, as a leader, must be the one to help others survive. Encourage those around you.
No need to argue the merits of a decision someone else has made. Yet if your people are beginning to act in extremes, encourage them to reconsider. Lead toward calm.