Finding Purpose: Know Your Swim Lane

life purpose

Competitive swimmers must stay in a prescribed lane during the race. It’s actually a violation to get out of your lane.

life purpose

Business professionals occasionally have a hard time defining their lane and staying in it. This often happens when an individual is asked to step into a supervisory or management role. Several things might occur:

  • They embrace the promotion and adequately shift gears (change lanes) to work on becoming a good manager.
  • They take the role, but stay in their old lane, trying to still be a contributing worker when the real need is for team supervision.

I was talking with a new contact who was relaying his job history. He shared the fact that at one point he had been promoted into management. That chapter of his career did not end well. He reverted to sole contributor mode and became a very successful professional, outside of any supervisory duties. He said he loved being his own boss again (although he has a real boss). The fact was, he hated being a manager. It was not his “thing”.

The root of this phenomenon has to do with passion and purpose. Finding your lane and staying in it is about seizing an understanding of your purpose.

We’re all wired differently. The strengths we have help to define our purpose. When you accurately identify your strengths, and follow the pursuit for using those strengths, things get easier. Your purpose emerges and you can see a better definition of your own, personal swim lane for life.

When we attempt to operate with our weaknesses, life seems hard. Conflict is everywhere. Our energy levels are low. We get tired and frustrated far too often. Our purpose seems muddled and unclear.

Reverting to our strengths gives us energy. You seldom get tired of operating inside your set of strengths.

Using my new friend’s example, being a supervisor was not his strength. He hated it because he just didn’t want to deal with the people and their perceived problems all day. He felt far more comfortable, no energized, doing his own work, growing his book of clients, and making a difference for his company as a sole contributor.

Finding your swim lane means finding your purpose.

[shareable cite=”Doug Thorpe” text=”As you live life on purpose, you make better, more meaningful contributions.”]As you live life on purpose, you make better, more meaningful contributions to your work, your family, and your community.[/shareable]

[reminder]If you need help finding your swim lane, write me here.[/reminder]

Managing Performance: Inspect What You Expect

you manage your world

Here’s a little story to start today’s discussion.

A man was the first to arrive at work one morning.

The phone rang and he answered. When the caller asked for some specific information, the man explained that it was before normal business hours but that he would help if he could.

“What’s your job there?” the caller asked.

The man replied, “I’m the company president.”

There was a pause. Then the caller said, “I’ll call back later. I need to talk to someone who knows something about what’s going on.”

Could anyone say this about your department or business? What do you do to stay in touch with what is going on?


Once upon a time, the CEO of a very highly regarded and supposedly profitable international energy trading company was found to not really know what was going on in the C-suite right next to him. The absence of information dumbfounded much of the business world at the time. (Can you say ‘Enron’?)

Yet the discussion that followed proved that yes, there was a tremendous amount if information that was neither ever shared with nor understood by the head guy.

Personally, I found that troubling. Can the CEO of a large company know everything going on in the trenches? Of course not. But should they know enough about the direction the ship is sailing? Absolutely!

The lower down the corporate ladder you live, the more detail about your team you should understand.

I was once the department head of a group that had about 250+ employees. One day while walking the floor checking on things (management by walking around), a relatively new employee stopped me to ask a question. He posed a fairly detailed question about the analysis of a transaction he was working on. I walked him through the process and the calculation.

He seemed amazed. I asked him why the look on his face? He said I didn’t expect the “big dog” to know how to do this. I replied “How do you think I got to be the Big Dog?”

Sadly, the perception throughout much of today’s workforce is that the boss doesn’t know squat about the work being performed. Perhaps that is an evolutionary thing. But I digress.

While I cannot deny having experienced my own share of upper management who had no clue about what was going on below them, the boss who did “get it” was always a Rock Star.

Growing with the Organization

Your reputation as a leader can hinge on whether or not you maintain awareness for details running below your position in the company.

As you rise to new challenges, get promoted, and advance through your career, keep the appropriate attention to detail. When your span of control starts to exceed your capacity to manage all the little things, that is when proper delegation of authority is required.

You can delegate all you want. The key though is giving that delegation to people who have demonstrated the ability to handle the responsibility. This is where your own ability to nurture and coach your own team comes into play.

Start Small.

Identify one person on the team whom you you believe you can trust with the authority; authority given by you. As was once said “trust but verify”. At first you need to check on the things that are being delegated.Soon, assuming all goes well, you can reduce the times you verify. Maintain your own sense of reporting and accountability.

As you delegate more, create a reporting mechanism to be sure the things you want to see accomplished are happening the way you expect.

Another old saying is “you must inspect what you expect.” Don’t be afraid to check on the things you assigned to others.

A System to Help

One very functional system is the “Big 5”. This was designed by Roger Ferguson, GPHR. In Big 5, employees prepare regular recurring monthly status reports of the top five things they were assigned. The reports roll up to managers. Big 5 has even been used at several Fortune 500 companies to replace annual employee assessment tools.

I highlight that Big 5 is not a long, drawn out status report. It is accomplished with short bullet points, taking perhaps no more than a one half page email to communicate.

Supervisors and managers can use the monthly reporting cycle to review tactical performance and accomplishments with each employee. There is no waiting for the big annual review process. Feedback is swift. Remediation of less than expected performance can be handled promptly. The manager and the employee can calibrate their expectations and results.

With Big 5 there is very little deviation from the course you agreed to follow. Targets are set monthly and adjusted as work load and circumstances dictate. It is a tremendously effective way to gauge output and manage efficiently.

Lastly, when it comes to annual salary administration for merit awards, you take a look at the prior 12 reports for each employee. You’ll have 120 data points from which to make your decisions about the merit increases. It provides all the documentation you would ever need to defend a salary action. This system has been tested and proved compliant with salary disputes.

If you want to know more about Big 5, click the button below.

[button href=”http://eepurl.com/cgqEnT” primary=”true” centered=”true” newwindow=”true”]Tell Me More About BIG 5[/button]

Here’s a video interview I recently conducted with Roger.

BIO: Roger Ferguson is the Founder and Lead Consultant at iSi Human Resources Consulting, LLC, based in Houston, Texas.  His passion is improving corporate performance management systems and his book, “Finally! Performance Assessment That Works,” introduces Big Five Performance Management, a common sense alternative to the traditional approach.  The book is now available on Amazon and Kindle.


Overcoming Life’s Obstacles

When you hear about “overcoming obstacles”, the phrase means different things depending upon your own life experiences. The obvious meaning may be about a physical limitation, an injury, or financial hurdles.

There are basically four different types of obstacles that can be put in our way. As leaders, we must decide both personally and corporately how we are going to overcome or avoid those obstacles. Proper recognition may be most difficult. While some obstacles are instant and become immediately obvious, others are more subtle.

Here is why.


Key events in our life can create big obstacles. These include an accident of some sort, a war wound, a financial crisis, or any other aspect of life that pivots in an instant. Things change immediately and sometimes forever.

Here’s an interview I hosted with Kristin Beale, a young Virginian woman who was injured in a jet ski accident in 2005. Her life has changed drastically, yet she has endured the recovery process as well as redirecting her purpose for living. She now is writing a book “Greater Things”. Her story is a beautiful testimony to finding balance for work, life, and faith when confronted with a big obstacle.


There are people in our life who create obstacles. Relationships may fail. When they do, the other person becomes a potential hurdle to moving forward with life choices and goals. Right now, you might have someone in your life who is presenting a huge challenge for you. Constant bickering or disruption of calm serenity can be overwhelming forces.

Making an effort to resolve this kind of obstacle is seldom easy, but must be done to allow yourself to move forward.

Another key aspect of the people side of understanding obstacles, is that you might be someone else’s obstacle. Ouch! Can it be? Perhaps yes.

You need to be ever-mindful of the possibility that you are, in fact, someone else’s stumbling block. If you sense that at all, you need to make amends and work through a more favorable positioning of that relationship.

This is especially true of managers who have direct reports. Are you making someone’s life miserable by your own actions? Take the occasional look in the mirror.



Yes, things can be obstacles. I am not talking about walls, hills, or other physical boundaries (although those too can be tough to navigate). I am speaking about obsession with certain things that can consume our world and change our direction. Anyone who has a sport, hobby, or holding (cars, boats, real estate, etc.) that controls a majority of time and attention has allowed an obstacle in their life.

Moments dedicated to these things rob you of valuable moments that could be invested elsewhere in building relationships and growing a lifestyle.

Failure to be present in the moment can happen when your mind’s attention or your heart’s affection is pulled away by things.


Lastly, but certainly not least, is the notion that ideas can become obstacles. Following a new found creed or mantra based on some unique idea can possibly become another kind of obstacle.

I caution there is a delicate balance here. Why? Because learning is the acceptance of new ideas and information. While learning is usually a good thing, taking teaching to an extreme can potentially become a hurdle you may have to overcome.

In particular, if you embrace an idea and become especially dogmatic about its implementation in your life and those around you, you just might become that person who is now an obstacle for others (see above).

Balancing fresh ideas with proper integration into life change can be tough. Done properly, there can be growth rather than obstacles.


Obstacles can come from one or all of these areas in our life. Being mindful of the potential for running into an obstacle is the first line of defense. Up, over, around, or through are the usual ways we think of conquering obstacles. I like elimination whenever possible. Finding ways to eliminate the obstacle rather than merely getting around it, is a better long term solution.

[reminder]What kind of obstacles have you seen in your world lately?[/reminder]


3 Simple Ideas for Better Relationships

A good friend in the banking sector uses a simple mantra for doing business. When he meets a potential lead, he actually shuns the business at first. He tells the person, “I don’t want to do business with you right now.”

Shocker huh? What would your leads do if you told them that?

But he follows with, “No, I don’t want to do business with you until we have established a know, like and trust connection. All three have to happen for our business to be successful and mutually rewarding.”


Look at these three simple pieces:

  • Know
  • Like
  • Trust

“All things being equal people will do business with, and refer business to, those people they know, like, and trust.” ~ The Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann

Think about your most valued relationships. Didn’t you do all three before the connection became meaningful?

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Leadership Lift: One View Isn’t Enough

you manage your world

Decision making is a central requirement for being a leader. You get bombarded with choices to make; some are small, some are big, some are even epic. The consequences of your decisions can create destiny.



According to Thomas Saaty at the University of Pittsburgh:

“We are all fundamentally decision makers. Everything we do consciously or unconsciously is the result of some decision. The information we gather is to help us understand occurrences, in order to develop good judgments to make decisions about these occurrences. Not all information is useful for improving our understanding and judgments. If we only make decisions intuitively, we are inclined to believe that all kinds of information are useful and the larger the quantity, the better. But that is not true. There are numerous examples, which show that too much information is as bad as little information.”

What is your decision process? Are you participative; having others weigh in? Are you dictatorial? Or do you vary the process depending on the gravity of the situation?

If you Google the term “decision making” you likely will find a common sequence repeated over and over again. Experts on the subject differ in their ways to describe the process, but these key components are present in most explanations. It goes like this:

1. Identify the problem or opportunity

2. Gather information

3. Analyze the situation

4. Develop options

5. Evaluate alternatives

6. Select a preferred alternative

7. Act on the decision

Steps 2 thru 5 have the greatest opportunity to involve multiple inputs and factors.

Building consensus looks something like this.


One View Isn’t Enough for Good Decision Making

Seldom is one view enough. Usually decisions involve a series of facts and circumstances that have to be reviewed. The various elements need to be stacked against each other, weighed and measured to come up with the decision.

Great executives have staff members around them; trusted advisors who weigh in as needed to present alternating views.

Whatever you do in life, surround yourself with smart people who’ll argue with you. John Wooden
Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/surround_yourself.html
Whatever you do in life, surround yourself with smart people who’ll argue with you. John Wooden
Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/surround_yourself.html

31289931 - business meetingRonald Reagan was quoted as saying:

Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don’t interfere as long as the policy you’ve decided upon is being carried out.

Military generals make the final decision about strategy and execution of plans, but many, many others are involved in the planning.

Small businesses and work team managers can operate with the same principle. If you are the leader, you never have to be alone. Get input. Have trusted advisors; friends or colleagues who you know will provide honest, objective input.

The Only True Leadership Is Values-Based Leadership

From time to time I find articles that are just too good to try to paraphrase or boil down. This is one such article.

Reprinted by permission from Harry M. Jansen Kraemer Jr.

My students told me time and again, “You should write a book!” Finally one of them handed me a transcript of my lectures that he had done and suggested I use it as a start.

As a clinical professor of management and strategy at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, I’ve been privileged to engage in many thoughtful discussions with my students about values-based leadership, and I saw that a book could take this crucial topic to a bigger and broader audience. And so I wrote From Values to Action: The Four Principles of Values-Based Leadership.

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Leaders: What Do You Do With Your Bridges?


If you live anywhere near waterways or hilly terrain, you are no stranger to bridges. These amazing structures can be beautiful as well as extremely functional.

44485365_sBridges allow us easy passage from point A to point B without traveling miles out of our way. They can be a picture of safe movement. Often the view from the bridge is spectacular.

In business and in life, our relationships require some bridging. Isn’t it true that you stand somewhat alone facing the world. To make connections with those around you, a bridge must be built.

Once the bridge is built, does it stand the test of time? Can you maintain the strength and durability of your bridge with someone else?

Here are considerations about the bridges in your life.

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I Hate Millennials

you manage your world

I don’t hate the people classed as Millennials. I love them! I hate the term ‘millennial’.


I’m not a fan of any of the social science effort to group us into generational boxes. Honestly, as a manger, I don’t even like the red-blue-green-yellow school of personality behavior teaching. Over the years I have been shown Karl Jung’s 4 personalities displayed in many different ways; DISC, RYBG, INTJ, whatever….

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