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Coloring Outside the Lines

Now I’m going to sound like I’m contradicting myself from my last post. In that post, I wrote about boundary lines and how important they are for raising children and for employer/employee interactions in the workplace (not to mention on the road during a snow storm). Now I’m writing about “coloring outside the lines.” That phrase is usually associated with creativity and ingenuity. People who color outside the lines are those who break the rules of conventionality, who challenge the norms, and who create new things.

Outside the Lines

We often admire those “outside-the-liners.” Maybe it’s because they display a certain childlike freedom that makes us nostalgic for when we had that. As Pablo Picasso said,

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

Children are not afraid to try things because they are not paralyzed by the fear of failure. Children aren’t frozen by perfectionism. Children haven’t been shamed by comparison. These things happen to them (us) when they (we) get older and, sadly, when they (we) go to school. We admire, and, if we’ll admit it, long to be the kind of people described in this lyric from an older song called “Unwritten,”

“I break tradition
Sometimes my tries are outside the lines.
We’ve been conditioned to not make mistakes
But I can’t live that way.”

Natasha Bedingfield

We are also encouraged by authors like Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman who wrote, First Break All The Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. And it’s interesting that the single most watched TED talk of all time is called “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” by Sir Ken Robinson. Then there was Steve Jobs who encouraged us in this video that “Everything in life was made up by people no smarter than you and you can change it,”

Creativity is fun and ingenuity changes our lives. These are wonderful things and I want to display more of them in my life. What concerns me is those of us who think we aren’t creative or can’t come up with new ideas because of barriers we see to what we want to accomplish. We falsely think creativity comes from the absence of restrictions.

The Lines Are Our Friends

My Dad is a retired pastor and an artist. He writes a devotional blog based on different pieces of his art. Check it out and you’ll see that he often describes his art by the size of canvas (restriction), or the medium he’s used to draw or paint (restriction). The colors he uses (restrictions) all come from only three primary colors (restriction) combined in different ways. So, there is a sense in which his creativity is stimulated by the restrictions that exist or that he chooses.

One of our sons is a musician. He writes songs, he sings them, he plays the guitar and the keyboard, and he records them. The interesting thing about his songs, in fact, the interesting thing about every song that has ever been written is that they all have only 12 notes. All musical expression is limited to the 12 notes of the chromatic scale. What a limitation! How can anyone create anything significant with only 12 bits? You get the idea.

The bottom line of one study that looked at 1.7 million corporate award winners was that people who create new value on the job are most often inspired by their constraints. Those constraints may take the form of policies they must follow, procedures they must practice, rules that must be obeyed, or customer demands. The difference between award winning value-adders and everyone else is that they see the constraints as pieces of a puzzle to be figured out, not as road blocks to progress.

Whatever challenge you’re facing right now, don’t look at the 12 notes, or the 3 colors, or the size of your canvas and say “I can’t!” Look at the puzzle and say, “How can I?”

Where Are The Boundary Lines?

Several years ago my wife and I loaded into our mini-van with some other members of her family and drove from where we lived at the time in Normal, IL (it’s a real place!) to Lincoln, Nebraska because our local college basketball team was playing in the first round of the NCAA tournament. We had a great time on the drive over and then watching a couple games.

When we started home later the same night a blizzard hit. We drove most of the way home in white-out conditions. That’s what you call white-knuckle driving. We had to be home for some reason by a certain time the next day so we kept going. In those conditions you can see better with just the parking lights on because they don’t reflect so much light back at you off the blowing snow. Your best friends are the lines on the road, if you can see them. That solid white line on the right tells you where the edge of the road is and the dashed line on the left let’s you know you’re in your lane. When you can’t find the boundary lines, your stress level really goes up.

A Little Off Topic

Last night my wife and I went to Costco for gas and then pulled into the parking lot. I was going to run in for a couple things and get the hot-dog-and-a-coke-for-$1.50 deal for our dinner on the way out. Right after we parked we heard someone screaming. It was a high pitched scream like a child so we quickly looked around worried that some child may be hurt. Then we saw what was happening. A toddler apparently didn’t want to get out of the shopping cart and into the car. He was screaming at and hitting his mom with nearby grandma looking on trying to calm him down.

My wife, who is something of an expert on raising children, was horrified. She’s the one who made the connection between driving when you can’t see the boundary lines and the stress children feel when the boundary lines of behavior aren’t clear. There is security in knowing where the lines are. Under normal conditions the lines aren’t restrictive, they’re safe. “Can you imagine,” she said, “what would happen if everyone just drove wherever they wanted?!” When conditions turn stressful, the lines are a blessing!

To take the analogy a little further, you can’t paint the lines during the snowstorm. They have to be put in place when the weather is good. Teaching children where the boundaries are when everyone is calm and happy is the way to prevent outbursts like what we saw last night. Early, consistent, loving reinforcement is the key. When one of our five children was tired or cranky and tested the boundaries (and they did!), one quick look from Mom was usually all it took to remind them where the lines were. They felt secure in knowing that.

Expand the Truth

The same is true in work relationships between employers and employees. Whether the boundaries are about attendance, workplace behavior, or safety, for example, establish them early and reinforce them consistently. We’re happier and more productive when we feel secure in knowing what’s expected of us.

When we were white-knuckling it back home from Nebraska in that blizzard, you could feel the tension ease when we could see the lines on the road. Then we only had to worry about tail lights suddenly appearing in front of us. But, at least we knew we were safely on the road.

Trust But/And/Or Verify?

During the time leading up to the signing of the INF Treaty in December of 1987, President Ronald Reagan learned a Russian proverb, Doveryai, no proveryai meaning, “Trust but Verify.” He learned it because he knew the Russians liked referring to proverbs and he said it at every nuclear disarmament meeting with the Soviet leader. When he said it again on December 8, 1987 at the signing ceremony, Gorbachev said, “You repeat that at every meeting.” Reagan answered, “I like it.” Mr. Gorbachev had a quote of his own. He quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson, who had been popular in the USSR when Gorbachev was in college, saying “The reward of a thing well done is to have done it.”

Which is it? Trust or Verify?

You can’t do both. Think about the definitions of each word and you’ll see they are mutually exclusive. “Trust” means “to believe in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.” On the other hand, “Verify” means “to prove or ascertain the truth or correctness of, as by examination, research, or comparison.” When you trust someone you act on your faith in their reliability, truthfulness, ability or strength. When you verify, your action is to check on the reliability, truthfulness, ability or strength of that person. Trust builds relationships, verification assures outcomes. That’s the heart of the matter. Verifying can be interpreted as “Micro-managing” and can destroy trust.

There are some times and some industries where the outcomes are too critical not to verify. Some of those industries include Healthcare, Aviation, Utilities, etc. You can see how verification in these industries would be essential. In settings where verification is just part of the work, it doesn’t have a negative effect on relationships. On the other hand, most of us don’t work in those types of industries.

What Difference Does Trust Make?

“If every business learned to create a profound sense of trust through everything they do, not only would their bottom line improve but it would create a culture that attracts great talent and opportunities. Consciously creating trust is good for business, good for people and good for the world.” Masami Sato, Founder, B1G1

That quote comes from an online endorsement for a book titled Trust is the New Currency, by Sheila Holt and Fredrick Sandvall. According to the title of Stepen M.R. Covey’s book trust matters, The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything. Then there’s Nan Russell’s book, Trust, Inc. How to Create a Business Culture that will Ignite Passion, Engagement, and Innovation.

One of John Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership is “The Law of Solid Ground.” It says that leadership is built on the foundation of trust. In fact, he says, trust is necessary in all good relationships.

Trust is very important. We trust airlines and surgeons because they verify. We trust our bosses because they trust us. One of the ways trust is built is by giving it. When you are the boss and the outcomes are not life threatening, try giving trust to your people.  You will find they usually become even more trustworthy.

Live Your Legend

The other day I was coming out of a client facility. One of the Department Directors was coming in at the same time. I said, “Good Morning.” He said, “It’s Monday.” I said, “Best day of the week (I really like Mondays because you have the whole week ahead of you to get things done). His reply was, “One day closer to the weekend.” The weekend had just ended the day before! He may have been having a particularly bad day, but, more likely, he’s one of those people who doesn’t love what he does.

Sir Ken Robinson, in a video on Passion, says, “Many people spend their entire lives doing things they don’t really care for. They endure their lives and wait for the weekend with no real sense of fulfillment, with a general sense of tolerance for it, or not. If you want evidence of that just look at the annual receipts of the pharmaceutical companies and the brewing companies.” John Maxwell made the same point this way, “Most people don’t lead their life, they accept their life.”

You Come With a Kit

Another thing that caught my attention in Robinson’s video was the idea that life comes with a kit. “Most people,” he said, “have no idea what they’re capable of, no real sense of their talents or abilities. Therefore, they conclude that they have none.” Robinson’s conclusion has always been the opposite. “We are all born with deep talents and abilities. If you’re a human being,” says Robinson, “it comes with a kit.” The most distinctive part of being human is imagination. You have abilities and creativity that is uniquely yours.

There is another climate crisis, not of natural resources, but of human resources. “To be born at all is a miracle. So what are you going to do with this life now that you have it?” asks The Dalai Lama. Are you going to waste it? Are you going to do something interesting, something that matters to you, or not?

Know Your Why

Whether your watching a video by Simon Sinek, Robinson’s video, comedian Michael Jr.’s video, or reading John Maxwell’s book, Intentional Living, the conclusion is the same. We need to know our “Why.” What is our purpose in life?In his book, John Maxwell suggests asking the following three questions to help answer your question, “Why?”

  1. What do you cry about? – what are the things that disturb you or touch you so deeply that they bring you to tears?
  2. What do you sing about? – what are the things that bring you the greatest joy?
  3. What do you dream about? – what do you imagine? What are your “if onlys?”

He says that answering those questions and finding your sweet spot–that place where your passion and what you’re really good at come together–are key to a life of significance.

Unwritten

The first year we were at the International School in China, the senior class asked me to give their commencement address. I spoke about the power of stories, how they connect us, instruct us, move us, and shape us. Then I talked about their story and how it was mostly still unwritten. I even played the song, “Unwritten” by Natasha Bedingfield during the ceremony. The challenge was to actively write their story, to lead their lives, not just accept them.

Those where high school seniors. Admittedly, they were much younger than us and had more of their lives ahead of them. But, until the words “The End” appear on the page, no one’s story is finished. The best stories, in fact, have unexpected plot turns. What do the readers of your life story have in store for them? Make it legendary!

When Winning Can Be Losing

It’s been said that public speaking is the number one fear among Americans. It outranks death (#5) and loneliness (#7) by quite a bit. I saw evidence of that recently when I was at a conference in Orlando where everyone at the conference was required to give a 5 minute speech. There were over 3,000 people at that conference. We only had to give the speech to the eight people at our table but you would have thought it was to the whole conference when you heard people talk about how nervous they were before the speech session.

One of the conference instructors got up in front of the whole group and, knowing how nervous people were, gave some good advice about the speech. “Get over yourself,” he said. He pointed out that we were nervous about what people were going to think of us, whether we would do a good job, whether we might make a mistake or run short or too long. He went on to say that we should focus on what value our words would bring to the others at the table. If that were the focus of our speech (or the purpose of our life), it re-frames everything. My speech ran 20 seconds short, by the way.

Get Over Yourself

That advice brings to mind a couple of quotes. John Holmes said, “It is well to remember that the entire universe, with one trifling exception, is composed of others.” Wow! Think on that for a minute. That quote puts this one by Eleanor Roosevelt into a new perspective. “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.”

It’s fair to say that with 7.7 billion people on the planet, it’s no all about me. Let me narrow it down. With 7 people in my family, it’s not all about me. If that’s true (which it is), then we could also say that with X number of people in my organization or Y number of people in my department or on my team, it’s not all about me. Yet, so often with think and behave as though we believe it is all about us. Think about this. What’s the first thing we do when we look at a group picture we’re in? We look for ourselves and say, “That’s a great shot”, if we look good no matter if Uncle Harry has his eyes closed. Right?

I ran across the John Holmes quote in a book by John Maxwell called Intentional Living. The book is about living a life of significance on purpose. Significance, as Maxwell defines it, comes in adding value to others. In a recent post about “selfies” I wrote about how being selfish or self-centered can ruin your team. Success alone can be hollow. Significance never is.

A Pyrrhic Victory

A Pyrrhic victory is one where the cost of winning the battle could lose you the war and it’s the main reason I wanted to write this post. Over the years I’ve run across the wreckage of many who have won battles only to lose in the end. Most often what’s lost is relationships. What was won? Usually an argument, someone had to be right and prove it at literally any cost.

The common theme I hear when I talk to people who have lost because they won is regret. Usually what they lost turns out to have been more valuable to them than what they won.  By the time they’ve realized it, it’s too late. I’m writing to encourage all of us to “get over ourselves” and focus on what we can do to build others up. That’s the real win.

How to Successfully Navigate the Chaos of Change

This week I’m posting an article I ran across awhile ago. This article, by Steven M. Smith, effectively applies a family therapist’s change model to the business environment. I’ve reprinted it below for your convenience.

Improvement is always possible. This conviction is the heart of the transformation system developed by family therapist Virginia Satir. Her system helps people improve their lives by transforming the way they see and express themselves.

An element of the Satir System is a five-stage change model (see the picture) that describes the effects each stage has on feelings, thinking, performance, and physiology. Using the principles embodied in this model, you can improve how you process change and how you help others process change.

Stage 1: Late Status Quo

The group is at a familiar place. The performance pattern is consistent. Stable relationships give members a sense of belonging and identity. Members know what to expect, how to react, and how to behave.

Implicit and explicit rules underlie behavior. Members attach survival value to the rules, even if they are harmful. For instance, the chief of an engineering group has an explicit rule — all projects must be completed on schedule. When the flu halts the work of several engineers, the chief requires the group to compensate by working ten hours a day, seven days a week. After experiencing too many crises at both work and home, the engineers begin to bicker and the project falls apart.

For this group, the chief’s explicit rule about deadlines is their Late Status Quo. They don’t necessarily enjoy the amount of work they had to do, but they know and understand what is expected of them. The team feels the pressure from the chief’s rule about deadlines and compensates accordingly. The pressure works for small problems. With a major problem, like the flu, the group cannot cope with the chief’s expectations and a pattern of dysfunctional behavior starts.

Poor communication is a symptom of a dysfunctional group. Members use blaming, placating, and other incongruent communication styles to cope with feelings like anger and guilt. Stress may lead to physical symptoms such as headaches and gastrointestinal pain that create an unexplainable increase in absenteeism.

Caught in a web of dysfunctional concepts, the members whose opinions count the most are unaware of the imbalance between the group and its environment. New information and concepts from outside the group can open members up to the possibility of improvement.

Stage 2: Resistance

The group confronts a foreign element that requires a response. Often imported by a small minority seeking change, this element brings the members whose opinions count the most face to face with a crucial issue.
A foreign element threatens the stability of familiar power structures. Most members resist by denying its validity, avoiding the issue, or blaming someone for causing the problem. These blocking tactics are accompanied by unconscious physical responses, such as shallow breathing and closed posture.

Resistance clogs awareness and conceals the desires highlighted by the foreign element. For example, a powerful minority within the marketing department of a tool manufacturer engages a consultant to do a market survey. She finds a disturbing trend: A growing number of clients believe that a competitor is producing superior quality products at a lower price. Middle and upper management vehemently deny the findings and dispute the validity of the survey methods. But after a series of frank discussions with key clients, upper management accepts the findings. They develop a vision for propelling the company into a position as the industry leader in product quality and support.

Members in this stage need help opening up, becoming aware, and overcoming the reaction to deny, avoid or blame.

Stage 3: Chaos

The group enters the unknown. Relationships shatter: Old expectations may no longer be valid; old reactions may cease to be effective; and old behaviors may not be possible.

The loss of belonging and identity triggers anxiousness and vulnerability. On occasion, these feelings may set off nervous disorders such as shaking, dizziness, tics, and rashes. Members may behave uncharacteristically as they revert to childhood survival rules. For instance, a manufacturing company cancels the development of a major new product, reduces the number of employees, and reorganizes. Many of the surviving employees lose their ability to concentrate for much of the day. Desperately seeking new relationships that offer hope, the employees search for different jobs. Both manufacturing yield and product quality takes a nosedive.

Managers of groups experiencing chaos should plan for group performance to plummet during this stage. Until the members accept the foreign element, members form only halfhearted relationships with each other. Chaos is the period of erratic performance that mirrors the search for a beneficial relationship to the foreign element.

All members in this stage need help focusing on their feelings, acknowledging their fear, and using their support systems. Management needs special help avoiding any attempt to short circuit this stage with magical solutions. The chaos stage is vital to the transformation process.

Stage 4: Integration

The members discover a transforming idea that shows how the foreign element can benefit them. The group becomes excited. New relationships emerge that offer the opportunity for identity and belonging. With practice, performance improves rapidly.

For instance, an experienced accounting group must convert to a new computer system. The group resists the new system fearing it will turn them into novices. But the members eventually discover that skill with this widely used system increases their value in the marketplace. Believing that the change may lead to salary increases or better jobs, the members begin a vigorous conversion to the new system.

Awareness of new possibilities enables authorship of new rules that build functional reactions, expectations, and behaviors. Members may feel euphoric and invincible, as the transforming idea may be so powerful that it becomes a panacea.

Members in this stage need more support than might be first thought. They can become frustrated when things fail to work perfectly the first time. Although members feel good, they are also afraid that any transformation might mysteriously evaporate disconnecting them from their new relationships and plunging them back into chaos. The members need reassurance and help finding new methods for coping with difficulties.

Stage 5: New Status Quo

If the change is well conceived and assimilated, the group and its environment are in better accord and performance stabilizes at a higher level than in the Late Status Quo.

A healthy group is calm and alert. Members are centered with more erect posture and deeper breathing. They feel free to observe and communicate what is really happening. A sense of accomplishment and possibility permeates the atmosphere.

In this stage, the members continue to need to feel safe so they can practice. Everyone, manager and members, needs to encourage each other to continue exploring the imbalances between the group and its environment so that there is less resistance to change.

I’ve observed groups, after many change cycles, become learning organizations?they learn how to cope with change. The members of these organizations are not threatened or anxious about the types of situations that they used to experience as foreign element. Instead, these situations excite and motivate them.

For example, the customer services group of a computer manufacturer learns to adapt their repair policies and techniques to any new product. Supporting a new computer system used to scare the group but not anymore. Management communicates and reinforces the vision of seamless new product support. Some members influence the design of support features for the new products. Other members plan and teach training courses. All members provide feedback to improve the process.

Postscript: Coping With Change

Virginia Satir’s Change Model describes the change patterns she saw during therapy with families. In my experience, the patterns she describes occur with any group of people when confronted by change.

I use this model to select how to help a group make a successful transformation from an Old Status Quo to a New Status Quo. Table 1 summarizes my suggestions on how to help during each stage of the change model:

Stage Description How to Help
1 Late Status Quo Encourage people to seek improvement information and concepts from outside the group.
2 Resistance Help people to open up, become aware, and overcome the reaction to deny, avoid or blame.

 

3 Chaos Help build a safe environment that enables people to focus on their feelings, acknowledge their fear, and use their support systems. Help management avoid any attempt to short circuit this stage with magical solutions.
4 Integration Offer reassurance and help finding new methods for coping with difficulties.
5 New Status Quo Help people feel safe so they can practice.
Table 1. Actions for each stage that will help a group change more quickly and effectively.
The actions in Table 1 will help people cope. Actions that inhibit coping retards an organization’s ability to make core changes. These organization are resisting the fundamental foreign element of change. But organizations that create a safe environment where people are encouraged to cope increase their capacity for change and are much more able to respond effectively to whatever challenges are thrown their way.

 

How to Turn Bad Experiences Into a Win

Our second oldest son used to love playing with LEGOs. He had a big bin of them that he would dig in for hours gathering just the right pieces for his newest creation. Every once in awhile a stray LEGO would get left behind when he was done and had put the bin away. You know where this is going! If I walked by in the dark or if the color of that piece happened to blend in with the carpet and I stepped on it in bare feet … Ouch! That is one kind of painful experience.

There are other kinds of painful experiences. Some create emotional pain that doesn’t go away as fast as the stepped-on-a-LEGO pain. Nobody likes pain, nobody wants pain, nobody looks forward to painful experiences. But they happen. As the late family therapist and author, Virginia Satir said, “Life is not the way it’s supposed to be. It’s the way it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference.”

Another quote that really resonated with a group of colleagues recently comes from Dennis Wholey. He said, “Expecting the world to treat your fairly just because you’re a good person is a little like expecting the bull not to charge you because you’re a vegetarian.”

No Pain No Gain?

We’ve all heard the expression, “no pain, no gain.” It’s usually associated with physical exercise. The idea is that when you stretch (see my last post), and then exercise your muscles, your muscles feel sore afterward. That soreness is an indicator that you have worked your muscles sufficiently to strengthen them. “No soreness, no gain” doesn’t have the same ring to it as “no pain, no gain.”

If you injure yourself during an activity, that also hurts. But the no-pain-no-gain model doesn’t apply then. That kind of pain sets you back. Injury pain is more like the emotionally painful experiences I mentioned above. But, let’s talk about how to turn that kind of pain into gain.

John Maxwell talks about “The Law of Pain” in his book The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth. That law says, “Good management of Bad experiences leads to Great growth.” Even the pain of injury can be turned to gain if we keep a few things in mind. the first thing is that turning pain into gain takes action. It won’t just happen because you had the bad experience. John McDonnell said, “Every problem introduces a person to himself.” When the painful experience or the problem comes, I need to be willing to look in the mirror and ask, “How did I contribute to this?” We usually can’t change the circumstances of the problem and we certainly can’t change the other people involved. But, we can change ourselves.

How To Turn Pain to Gain

Try taking these practical steps and see if you can’t change that pain into gain:

  1. Define the problem – without a clear understanding of the actual problem, I’ll never be able to solve it. Remember, for this exercise, the problem I’m defining is not other people or the circumstances, it’s what’s going on inside me?
  2. Understand your emotion – call it by name. Am I angry, scared, frustrated, hopeless? Calling the emotion by name helps you gain mastery of it.
  3. Articulate the lesson – what, specifically, have I learned? Is it that I shouldn’t say this to that person? Is it that I should do this in that situation? What is the lesson?
  4. Identify a desired change – OK, so, what do I want to be different next time? What words should I use or what actions should I take or avoid?
  5. Brainstorm numerous pathways – I shouldn’t give in to the belief that I can’t get there from here. In fact, there are many routes between point A and point B.  I should think of at least 5 things I can do to bring about the desired change.
  6. Receive other’s input – ask around. Others are often willing to share their perspective on my actions if I ask.
  7. Implement a course of action – planning a trip is great, but if I don’t actually make the journey all I have is a marked up map. I need to start moving in the direction of my growth plan.

Bad experiences don’t have to be just bad experiences. They can become a win when they are catalysts to growth. It all depends on how we manage them.

A Lesson About Growth From a Rubber Band

How many uses can you think of for a rubber band? Holding your newspaper together (which is the first common use of rubber bands outside of factories), holding long hair out of your face, shooting your friend from across the room, a reminder around your wrist, a tool for “snapping” yourself when you want to break a bad habit, bundling pencils together, ranchers know how they can be used on their young male livestock, you get the idea. There are almost as many uses for a rubber band as there are rubber bands.

Now, what is one thing every use of a rubber band has in common? The rubber band has to be stretched for it to perform any of it’s useful functions. That’s why John Maxwell calls one of his 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, “The Law of the Rubber Band.” It says, “Growth Stops When You Lose the Tension Between Where You Are and Where You Could Be.” Not only does growth stop when you lose this tension, but, In the words of Abraham Maslow, “If you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, then you will probably be unhappy the rest of your life.”

The problem with stretching is that it’s uncomfortable. If fact, if you haven’t stretched in awhile, it can be downright painful whether we’re talking about muscles or personal growth.

Sometimes You Stretch Yourself

One of the first things athletes do before any kind of exercise is stretch. Many companies have their employees stretch before the work day. Of course, they do this to warm up and loosen muscles to prevent injury and allow for strengthening. In personal growth it means we set goals that are just beyond what seems possible. We set “stretch goals.”

We’ve all heard of S.M.A.R.T. goals, right? What does the “A” in smart stand for? Achievable. Does that sound like a stretch goal? Mark Murphy, CEO of Leadership IQ proposes a different kind of goal in a white paper called, “Are SMART Goals Dumb?” He proposes H.A.R.D. goals. In his model the “D” stands for Difficult. It means, “I will have to learn new skills and leave my comfort zone to achieve my goal.” Now we’re talking about stretching. Rabbi Nehman asks, “If you won’t be better tomorrow than today, then what do you need tomorrow for?”

When was the last time you set a goal that required you to learn something new and leave your comfort zone? How else will you become all that you’re capable of being? You don’t want to end up on the wrong end of Maslow’s quote, right?

Sometimes You Get Stretched

Do you remember the toy called “Stretch Armstrong?” He was the super-hero you could stretch to 4 times his size. Mr. Armstrong, however, never stretched himself. He got stretched. Life can be like that. We can get thrust into situations that force us to stretch.

Three days after the Presidential election in 2008, seven people from the company I was working for at the time got laid off. I was one of them. If you remember the economic situation at the time, it was pretty tough. People weren’t hiring. One thing led to another and in a few months my wife, 3 of our children, and I were living in China and I was in a role I never would have imagined. That role led to me being acting director of an international school the next year. I had never lived overseas before. I had never worked in education before. I got stretched.

Albert Einstein said, “The mind that opens to a new idea never returns to its original size.” He’s right. Living in China was not on our radar screen at all prior to us moving there. But, the growth we experienced, personally and professionally, during those two years is something we wouldn’t change for anything.

Becoming all you can be requires growth. Growth requires change. Change is uncomfortable for most people. I recommend being intentional about it. Believe it or not, it’s more comfortable than getting stretched. Start small. Set a goal to try something you’ve never done before by the end of the month. Once you’ve tried it, reflect on the experience. Did you enjoy it? What did you learn? Another quote from John Maxwell is, “Experience isn’t the best teacher, evaluated experience is.” Unless I reflect on and evaluate an experience, I won’t learn from it and grow.

How Your Selfie Could Ruin Your Team

I’m driving home from a fun shopping trip with my wife and two youngest children the other day, when my daughter leans up from the back seat. “Here Mom, Let’s take a selfie.” The next thing I hear is, “Aw, c’mon, Mom!” Apparently “Mom” has made a silly face in the picture, again (this was the 3rd try). To which “Mom” replied, “I don’t want you posting any of those. I don’t like my picture taken. For my generation selfies weren’t a thing and many of us are uncomfortable with them.” She knows the silly face is just as postable as the smiling face (maybe more so) but she also knows our daughter will respect her wishes.

I’m in a meeting with some leaders who are talking about building rapport and collaboration across teams on a particular project. One of the leaders asks about ways to build rapport. I suggest, “Ask for help.” Some of them in the room look at me like I have three eyes. This team is older and more experienced than the team with which they’re trying to collaborate. By some measures they’re out performing the other team. Why, they’re wondering, would we ask THEM for help?

Why Would you?

The answer, in a word, is Humility. Now, as John Maxwell points out,

When people talk about leadership, they don’t use the word “humility” very often. More likely, they describe a leader as strong or focused or ambitious. They would probably say the leader is confident or assertive. “Humble” may not ever come up, and if it does, it might not be used as a compliment.

But, what is humility? The online dictionary defines it as, “a modest or low view of one’s own importance.” C.S. Lewis says, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” Another explanation of humility says, “humility is not putting yourself down, it’s lifting others up.”

Someone has said, “Contrast is the mother of clarity.” So, what’s the opposite of Humility? Arrogance? Self-Centeredness? Sure, especially when you look up arrogant, “having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities.”

Who would you rather work with? Someone who is comfortable enough with themselves that they don’t need to draw attention to their accomplishments but is willing and working to lift you up, or someone who says, “Enough about me, let’s talk about you. What do you think about me?” You know the type. The answer is obvious.

Tying it Together

In the meeting with leaders I flipped the last question. I was asking that team, “Are you the kind of leaders the other team would want to work with?” By demonstrating genuine humility you build rapport and invite collaboration. Arrogance repels both.

I began this post talking about a selfie. I don’t really get the whole selfie thing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked past a car full of people ignoring each other because they’re each taking one selfie after another (and looking at them and smiling). But, it’s not about selfies per se. I’m using the selfie as a metaphor for the kind of leadership that can destroy a team.

What’s the Value?

Value is an interesting word. It can mean,  “a person’s (or organization’s) principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life.” That’s what it typically means when we talk about “Core Values.” But, It can also mean,  “the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something.” What I find interesting is how those two meanings relate to each other. The first meaning, one’s principles, standards of behavior, etc affects the second meaning, the importance, worth, or usefulness especially of and organization.
 

Some of My Values

 When I started working with an organization awhile ago, I shared some of my core values with the leadership team early on. I once heard someone say that “contrast is the mother of clarity” so I also like to share what I think are the opposite of the values to help explain what I mean. They are:
 
Integrity – “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles, moral uprightness.” Also, it means, “the state of being whole and un-divided (as in the structural integrity of a building). The opposite of Integrity is dishonesty, division, fragility.
Hunger – When my 19 year old 6 foot 3 inch tall athlete son is hungry he is motivated. He will not stop until he gets something to eat. He also becomes very creative when h’s hungry. I value the burning desire to learn, grow, achieve, and generally get better at things. The opposite of Hunger is satisfied. When you’re satisfied, you become complacent.
Love – Putting others before oneself like a  good family (having each other’s back). Elements include: Patience (showing self-control), Kindness (giving attention, appreciation and encouragement), Humility (authentic, without pretense of arrogance), Respectfulness (treating others as important people), Forgiveness (giving up resentment when wronged), and Commitment (sticking to your choices). The opposite of Love is Self-Centeredness and Apathy.
There are other things I value, but this was a good list to focus on for the group.
I recently attended the John Maxwell Team International Maxwell Certification Event which is a 4-day leadership and coaching training certification. Part of the training was what they call the “JMT DNA.” It’s a list of 10 core values for their organization. I like the use of the term DNA to talk about core values because they truly do form the character and characteristics of the organization.

What Are Your Values?

Have you taken the time to measure what you value; what your values are? It would be a worthwhile exercise. Like DNA, the values we hold shape us and our organizations. The manifestation of those values will go a long way toward determining the value of the contributions you make to the lives of those around you as well as the value your organization brings to the market.
I’d love to hear about your values.