Personal Growth and Character

Do you know the difference between a tornado and a zamboni? The difference is in what they leave behind. A zamboni comes out on the torn up ice after a period of hard skated hockey and glides over the surface leaving behind a glistening smooth surface. A Tornado, on the other hand, smashes into the most peaceful, idyllic towns and leaves behind destruction and death.

People can be like zambonis or like tornadoes. I’m sure you’ve met both kinds. I know I have. What makes things challenging at work is when one person has both characteristics. For example, they may be a zamboni in their people skills, very friendly, always willing to help, but a disaster when it comes to the work they produce. On the flip side of that is the person who is amazing at what they produce but leave dead bodies in their wake when it comes to people.

We’re talking about character and competence, who we are and what we can do. Someone once said that character and competence are like the two wings of an airplane. You need them both if you want to fly. I believe that. I would rather work with someone who is pretty good at what they do (especially since it’s easier to teach skills than character), and of really good character than someone who is really good at what they do and a disaster when it comes to character.

What Difference Does Character Make?

“Character growth determines the height of your personal growth.” John C. Maxwell.

When I interview people for leadership positions, I don’t ask them a lot of questions about skills. I may ask one or two to make sure they know what they say they know (actually, that’s a character issue, too), but mostly I focus on questions about character. “Could you tell me about a time when you were asked to do something you didn’t know how to do?” or, “Could you tell me about at time when you saw a co-worker struggling in their job?” I can teach you the skills you need to do the job.

Character matters because character makes you solid on the inside. Like a hollow chocolate Easter bunny, a person with no character will eventually implode. But strong character makes you resilient while allowing you to grow.

Some lists of desirable character traits have been developed like the “Pillars of Character” from the “Character Counts” educational program for public schools:

Trustworthiness
Respect
Responsibility
Fairness
Caring
Citizenship
Some add Empathy as well

Paul Tough’s book How Children Succeed identifies these traits as more important than IQ for success:

Grit
Curiosity
Self-control
Social Intelligence
Zest
Optimism
Gratitude

Who wouldn’t want to work with someone who possessed these qualities?

Can Character Change?

I believe it can! The bottom line requirement for a change in character is for a person do deal with their personal B.S. (Belief system). In other words you change the way you think about yourself and the world around you. How?

One way this happens is through a life-changing encounter with someone or something, something so traumatic or amazing happens in your life that it alters your world-view completely. A murdering, self-righteous, religious terrorist named Saul of Tarsus had such an encounter with Jesus Christ. He became the Apostle Paul after that encounter.

Another way that character can change is by intentionally putting yourself through a series of exercises that begin to develop a new mental muscle memory. Those in the religious world might call these exercises spiritual disciplines. Others may call them Habit Formation. The first one to work on is your belief about whether or not you can change. Start by changing your self-talk. Instead of saying to yourself, “I’m just direct whether they like it or not,” which indicates an unchangeable state of being, try saying, “that comment seemed to land more like a punch than constructive advice.” That would allow you room to think about how to offer the same information differently so the person hearing it would be more inclined to receive it.

Competence and Character, the two wings of the personal growth airplane. You can become a zamboni in both.

How to Turn Poop Into a Positive

“Some days you’re the pigeon, some days you’re the statue.” Have you ever heard that saying? I loved it the first time I heard it and still do. Some days you feel like you’re on top of the world. Other days you feel like a depository of pigeon poop. Everyone feels that way because we all have good days and bad days. We all have really awesome experiences and really horrible experiences. The difference between people who grow and everyone else is in what they do with the bad experiences.

“No pain, no gain” is about when you experience pain because you’re working out. That’s on purpose. You intentionally do things that make your muscles sore because you want to get stronger. What about when you experience pain that’s not on purpose, when someone just poops on you? John C. Maxwell, in his book The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth writes about “The Law of Pain.” That law says, “Good Management of bad experiences leads to great growth.”

Here’s an Example

A friend of mine, despite being great at what he does, found himself out of a job not long ago. The COVID-19 pandemic so negatively impacted his industry that he lost his job. Instead of sitting around whining or feeling sorry for himself, my friend decided to let people know he was available to work by writing a social media post. The theme? “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” It was a beautifully written piece but I don’t know if it ever got posted. A recruiter was asked to look it over and provide feedback before my friend posted it. That feedback led to a new job with that recruiter’s company. How’s that for turning poop into a positive (or lemons into lemonade)?!

As Warren Lester said, “Success in life comes not from holding a good hand, but in playing a poor hand well.”

How Do You Turn Lemons to Lemonade?

First, understand these truths:

  1. Everyone has bad experiences
  2. Nobody likes bad experiences
  3. Few turn bad experiences into a positive.

So, how do you become one of the few? I wish I could tell you there are three or five steps to turning poop into a positive. It boils down to a choice. You can choose what to think about. For example, think about a blue sock. Now think about a bowl of lemons. See, you can make yourself think about what you choose.

You can also choose how you think about something. Take that bowl of lemons, for example; maybe you would have preferred a bowl of oranges. How will you think about that? Are you sad or angry that you got the wrong fruit? Maybe you don’t even like lemons. Or, do you see an opportunity? You could make lemonade, sell it at a lemonade stand and make new friends and enough money to buy oranges! You can choose how to think about good and bad experiences. Often the way we think about the experience helps determine how it turns out.

Another Perspective

I’m a person of faith. The Bible has some interesting things to say on this topic. For example:

“Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials because you know that tribulation works patience…” James 1:2-4

It also says,

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame.” Romans 5:3-5

This is not passivity or defeatism. This is someone who recognizes that bad things happen to everyone, and that good management of bad experiences leads to great growth.

How do you turn poop into a positive? Choose to. After all, poop makes great fertilizer!

What Difference Does Discipline Make?

I am a lousy golfer. When people ask me if I golf, I usually say I’m a “corporate golfer.” I have only golfed at company sponsored events with vendors or clients and a couple times with my brother-in-law. Right there is part of the reason I’m a poor golfer. I don’t golf consistently. I don’t practice my swing at the driving range or my short game on the putting green. Consistency is only part of the reason I’m a poor golfer, though. I don’t love the game enough to spend the vast amounts of time and money necessary for consistency.

Does Discipline Matter?

There are differing opinions about the role of consistency and discipline in personal growth. John C. Maxwell, in his book The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, writes about “The Law of Consistency” which says, “Motivation gets you going, Discipline keeps you growing.” You also have Malcolm Gladwell’s misunderstood popularization of the 10,000 hours theory in his book Outliers. He writes about “The 10,000 hour rule” which seems to imply that greatness comes from 10,000 hours of practice. And, of course, Aristotle’s famous quote, “We are what we consistently do. Excellence, is therefore not an act, but a habit.”

On the other hand, you have articles like “Why You Don’t Need More Discipline” which explains the perspective of the late world-renown strength coach, Charles Poliquin. He said “There is no such thing as discipline. There is only love…You are the result of what you love most.” He said, for example, “If you love pizza more than you love the thought of having the body you always wanted, then you might choose pizza and feel like you failed yourself by not being disciplined to go to the gym, but really all you did was choose pizza over the gym because you love pizza more.”

To add another layer is the idea quoted by the late Vince Lombardi who said, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect.” So there is more to greatness than just doing it over and over. You can do it over and over the wrong way and become permanently bad.

So What Does Discipline Have to Do With Personal Growth?

In their book, First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, the authors demonstrate that the best managers focus on strengths. Rather than trying to help themselves or their people improve in their areas of weakness, they focus on helping them get great at what they’re already good at. John Maxwell, in his “Law of Consistency,” points out that its critical to know why you want to improve. He says that “Why Power” is far more effective than “Will Power.” It’s about your passion, what you love.

Putting those together brings us back to something I’ve written about previously, your sweet spot. It’s that place where you talents (what your good at), your why (what you care about or love), and your dreams come together. I believe discipline is staying focused on your sweet spot and making the choices every day that will move you forward in realizing those dreams.

I’ll never be good at golf. I lack the talent, the why (sorry, I just don’t care that much about the game), and any dreams about being good at it. What sense would it make for me to discipline myself to improve in that area? Do you have anything in your life like golf? Your’re working on it but it’s not part of your sweet spot. Try re-focusing on your sweet spot and see what happens.

The Art of Pausing

We almost never watch live TV anymore. It’s liberating to watch if you want, what you want, when you want. Another liberating feature of modern TV is, whether your watching from a DVR or a streaming service, you can press “Pause” until the kids quiet down or while you take a snack (or potty) break or answer the phone. When sports come back, that’s one thing we’ll watch live, and you can even “pause” live TV like a game. Of course, one great thing about that is you can catch up by fast forwarding through the ads. I’ve even been known to fast forward between plays of a football game.

The “Pause” button obviously has many benefits when enjoying recorded or even live media. Less obvious, perhaps, but very important, are the benefits of pressing “Pause” to personal growth. Learning to pause allows growth to catch up with you. In other words, it’s in the pause that most growth happens. Leadership teacher, John Maxwell, has said, “Experience is not the best teacher, evaluated experience is the best teacher.” If experience alone made one better, then everyone who has been in the same job longer would be better than their “less experienced” colleagues. We know that’s not always the case. That’s because you need to evaluate and learn from your experience in order to grow, and you have to pause in order to evaluate.

The Power of the Pause

To “evaluate” means literally “to find the value.” Pausing provides the opportunity to reflect which means “to think deeply or carefully about.” If we take the time to think deeply and carefully about our experiences in order to find the value in them, that process is what turns experience into insight. Insight is the wisdom we gain from evaluating our experience and that wisdom is what guides us into a better future. That’s growth.

Pausing is essential to personal growth. But, when should I pause? I would recommend pausing at least at these times:

  1. The beginning of each day to go over the most important things in the day and your growth plan.
  2. At the end of each day to replay the crucial events of the day and evaluate them.
  3. At one point during the weekend to do the same for each week as you do daily
  4. Monthly as you change over your calendar, the exercise is the same for each frequency, you are just evaluating a larger arc of your experience
  5. An annual week or weekend to review and plan the whole year. My wife always chooses a word or short phrase for the coming year during the holidays. She lets us know that this is the year of …
  6. Finally, pause as immediately as you can after significant experiences.

Our society seems to get more and more frenetic by the year. Pausing can seem almost counter-intuitive. But, the more you do it, the more opportunity you give yourself to learn and grow.

Use your “I’s” When You Pause

Here are four approaches to your Pause time that may be helpful.

  1. Investigate – interrogate yourself and your experience to explore it’s value
  2. Incubate – I also call it percolating or marinating. The idea is to let thoughts and experiences grow to their full potential. You may want to lift the lid on that crockpot from time to time to see how their doing.
  3. Illuminate – here you actively place a value score on your experiences. Scoring them helps you seek out more of the higher value growth opportunities. Note: some of the highest value experiences can be painful ones which I do not recommend seeking out but value them highly.
  4. Illustrate – turn your evaluated experiences into lessons which you can share with others to help them grow. See #2 under “How to Re-set Your Value” from last week.

We have all had a life full of experiences. Some of those experiences have been good and some have been bad. Those of us who have grown and learned from our experiences are the ones who have taken the time to pause and reflect on them. Set an alarm on your phone for this evening that says, “Pause.” When it goes off, stop what you’re doing and take 5 minutes to reflect on one specific experience from today.

Celebrating 100!

This is the 100th post for Engager Dynamics! Whoo Whoo … celebrate good times, c’mon!” I love that song! Anyway, it’s the 100th post since I’ve been numbering them like I currently do. I write my posts in Evernote then copy and paste them into my website engagerdynamics.com with wordpress. WordPress automatically posts them to LinkedIn and I paste the link into my facebook profile manually since facebook stopped allowing automatic postings awhile ago. I recently created a facebook business page for Engager Dynamics and am working on improving that. I said “at least since I’ve been numbering them the way I do” because WordPress tells me I’ve actually posted 107 times. That’s because I posted a few extras in the middle of the week that I numbered with an “a” after the main post number.

What’s It All About?

I’ve been providing contracted services to clients in multiple industries for over 20 years. In some of those engagements we provided staff who were supervised by the client’s leadership team. It was particularly clear in those situations how strongly lack of engagement negatively impacted the business. I’ve observed that same negative impact within organizations I’ve worked for as well as within partner organizations. Those who really engage are rare and that bothers me. So, I decided to add value by sharing some important truths I’ve learned along the way and that’s what got me started with this blog.

I normally post every Monday morning before 6 AM on the west coast. In my second post, nearly two years ago, I defined what I mean by Engager Dynamics. In short, this blog is about the things we can do to connect or engage with people at work in ways that improve relationships and organizational outcomes. The posts fall into four main categories;

  1. Engager Dynamics (the core actions that lead to engagement)
  2. Leadership (topics a little more broadly about leadership)
  3. Habit Formation (how to make a habit of doing the good stuff)
  4.  Listening (a skill so critical it deserves its own category)

You can find the last 15 posts in each category listed on my “Posts by Category” page. Some of them overlap and there is another category on that page called “Words.” I call myself a word nerd, and this category captures posts where I share a specific word definition or two regardless of the main topic.

What’s Next?

Over the last few years I’ve developed a training that has been well received by several clients. The training focuses on the specific actions leaders can take to engage with their people. I’ve been refining the training lately and recently did an informal poll of readers to see which title would be more interesting. I had two choices 1. “Best.Boss.Ever. – How to Be the Best Boss Your People Will Ever Have” or 2. “The 12 Transformational Laws of Engagement.” Just over 70% preferred number 2.

The next question is delivery method. In addition to offering the training in person, I’d like to make it available more widely. I wonder how people might prefer to receive it. I could present it in an e-book, or as an audio file series, or as a series of videos. What do you think? If you were interested in a teaching on “The 12 Transformational Laws of Engagement,” how would you prefer to receive it? Thanks in advance for letting me know.

The Power of Reflection

A few years ago I was working with the CEO of a contract facilities services company on a presentation for a major client in Pittsburgh. On our way to the presentation, the CEO asked each member of the team, “How long have you been doing this kind of work?” He wanted to (and did) tell the client the number of combined years of industry experience our team represented. The client seemed impressed which pleased the CEO. I remember wondering then, “What does that really tell anyone?” Just because someone’s been doing something for a long time doesn’t mean they’re necessarily good at it. We seem to have the idea that “Experience is the best teacher.” I agree, however, with my friend and mentor John Maxwell who says, “Experience is not the best teacher. Evaluated experience is.” There’s a big difference and it’s in the power of reflection.

Review the Video

During many sporting events, coaches can ask for a review of a particular call. They believe the call was wrong so officials review the video. When a crime has been committed, police will look for any video from cellphones or security systems to see if there might be evidence available there.

Our minds are like video cameras. They capture everything. The clips are readily available to review especially shortly after the event was recorded. I recommend a regular review of our mental video. As soon after an interaction or event as possible, take some time to review the video to evaluate how it went. Pay close attention to your own activity. What words and tone did you use during the interaction/event? What did your body language convey to others?

Also, pay close attention to the responses of the others in the video whether they were direct participants or bystanders. Were they receptive or closed off? Did they interact or retreat? What other observations can you make from the video?

Reflect

Once you’ve made the above observations about your mental video, it’s time to evaluate the interaction/event, to reflect. If you look up “Reflection” you will find these definitions:

  1. Your response to experiences, opinions, events or new information.
  2. Your response to thoughts and feelings.
  3. A way of exploring your learning.
  4. An opportunity to gain self-knowledge.
  5. A way to achieve clarity and better understanding of what you are learning.

That list actually came under the definition of “Reflective Writing” which I strongly recommend as a way to clarify your thinking and memorialize your learning. I find it helpful to write out answers to the following three questions when I’m reflecting.

What went well? – What positive results came from that interaction? For example, Was a plan developed? Was movement forward toward a metric made? Did the interaction show positive teamwork?

What would I do differently? – Knowing what you’ve observed, how would you approach that same situation differently in the future. To prevent something called “Hindsight Bias” this is a good place to ask, “What could/should I have known prior to this event? What was/was not predictable, and how will I change my approach in the future?

What benefit did I (others) receive? – This goes beyond the benefits you may have listed under “What went well?” This is about what you learned and how you and others grew as a result of that interaction/event.

Expand the View

Beyond reflection on a single interaction or event, the real value in reflection comes from making it a habit. Spend some time either before bed or early in the morning to reflect on the past day. Part of your weekend could be well-spent evaluating the past week. John Maxwell spends the last two weeks of each year reflecting on the entire year.

We will only be better tomorrow if we learn and grow today. Experience is only the best teacher if we learn from it. Evaluated hindsight leads to clearer foresight. That’s the power of reflection.

A Faith Based Approach to Habit Formation

On Sunday I was able to share again with our friends at Grace Community Church. The title of this one was “How to Make Righteousness Your Habit.” We don’t hear that word, Righteousness, very often these days. But, it’s a good word and imagine how our society would be if it were more people’s habit.

There was no video this week, but they posted the audio which I’ve attached here.

 

I Blew It!

Have you ever gotten it wrong? Ever blown it? When was the last time you made a decision or acted in a way that turned out to be wrong? It didn’t bring about the desired outcome or it was actually counterproductive. Every one of us has, more than once. Now, when was the last time you acknowledged it? What did you do to acknowledge it? I had to acknowledge a failure last week which involved spelling out what the failure was and apologizing for a negative effect on a co-worker. That’s not fun.

Leaders Do Well to Admit When They Are Wrong

That heading is from a Dale Carnegie white paper called, “Recognizing Leadership Blind Spots.” Here’s an excerpt:

Everyone gets it wrong sometimes. That’s life, and making mistakes is part of it. How we handle situations in which we realize we’re wrong, though, says volumes about what kind of person we are. It takes high levels of honesty, integrity, and courage to admit when you’re wrong. Perhaps that’s why so few leaders do it. More than eight in ten respondents worldwide (81%) said that having a leader who will admit when he or she is wrong is important or very important to inspiring them to give their best efforts at work. Admitting when you are wrong demonstrates that the environment is safe for taking calculated risks, making mistakes and learning from them. And while good leaders will usually make the right calls, even the best will undoubtedly have opportunities to prove their reliability, trustworthiness and integrity by owning their mistakes.

I especially like the part about a safe environment for taking calculated risks, making mistakes and learning from them. John Maxwell says there are two kinds of people in regards to setbacks (mistakes):

  • Splatters; those who hit the bottom, fall apart and stay on the bottom;
  • Bouncers; those who hit rock bottom, pull themselves together, and bounce back up.

Mistakes are not usually fatal. In fact, mistakes are sometimes the best way to learn. Failing forward is how we learned to walk and communicate. We took a step, fell, got back up, took another step, fell, got back up, took two steps …

Different Kinds of Mistakes

Some kinds of mistakes bring a greater learning opportunity than other kinds. Some kinds of mistakes come from things we tried on purpose while others are more accidental. Mindworks.com calls these “Aha moment Mistakes”, “Sloppy Mistakes”, “Stretch Mistakes”, and “High Stakes Mistakes” according to the matrix below:

The lesson here is twofold. First, make sure your failures are not just the sloppy kind. Make sure you are failing because you are trying to find new and better ways to do things. Another quote from John Maxwell sums this up, “Fail early, fail often, but always fail forward.”

Second, again, own your mistakes. Analyze what went wrong. Talk about what went wrong with all the stakeholders. If someone was hurt in the process, be sure to apologize for those consequences. Also, and this is very important for creating an environment where your people want to learn and grow, forgive when others make mistakes. Because, we’ve all been there.

The Attitude of Gratitude

Yesterday I had the privilege of speaking to a group of new friends at Grace Community Church in Lathrop, CA. This is Thanksgiving week so I shared about Thanksgiving. It wasn’t about turkey and pilgrims, though. It was about the Attitude of Thanksgiving. Anyone who knows me at all, knows I’m a word nerd so here you go, the definition of Attitude is – “a settled way of thinking or feeling about someone or something, typically one that is reflected in a person’s behavior.” I called it the Attitude of Gratitude. We explored two questions about the Attitude of Gratitude, Why? and How?

Why Be Grateful?

There are more reasons to be grateful then there is space to write about, but I shared four in particular:

First, The attitude of gratitude is good for you. Studies have shown that consistent gratitude is good for your mental health and physical well-being. Grateful people are better looking! Think about the most ungrateful person you know. Picture their face. Now picture a consistently grateful person. Who looks better? Grateful people have more friends because gratitude is attractive of positive relationships. Grateful people get more stuff because it’s way more fun to give to a grateful person.

Second, the attitude of gratitude is aligned with reality. The more we align our thinking and living with reality (some call it truth), the better our lives will be. This reality is that everything you have is a gift. I know you’ve all worked hard and earned your way. But, think of this question, how hard did you work to start your heart in your mother’s womb? Or, think of this question, how hard did you work to make sure your parents met? With everything that had to happen, the fact that any of us is even here is a miracle. Our lives are a gift, gratitude is the appropriate response to a gift. Your mama taught you that.

Third, the attitude of gratitude is the antidote to entitlement. We are living in a culture of entitlement (word nerd alert): “the belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment.” Entitlement is like a poison that withers people and cultures. It hollows them out and makes them weak. Entitlement is the epitome of ingratitude. Developing gratitude is the antidote. For the sake of ourselves, our children and our culture, we need to become a grateful people.

Fourth, the attitude of gratitude is a mark of obedience. The apostle Paul writes in two places in the New Testament of the Bible: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be Thankful.” Colossians 3:15. And, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18. God’s commands always have a practical “why.” See the first three reasons for the attitude of gratitude for examples

How Can We Be Grateful?

I approached this question from three angles.

First, how can I have gratitude when bad stuff is happening to me? This is where the rubber meets the road for most of us. We all know about bad stuff happening in our lives. “Feel the burn” is a way of looking at the physical suffering of exercise as a positive thing. It means that our endurance is increasing. The physical suffering of exercise produces endurance that proves itself on the field or court when you perform. Seeing that progress of endurance and improved performance makes you feel good about the result like, “maybe there’s hope for me after all!” The same is true with character (check out Romans 5:1-5 in the New Testament, google it).

Second, how can I develop gratitude? Simply put, train your brain. Experts say we have 50K – 80K thoughts per day. Wow! fortunately our brains filter those thoughts so that we are often aware of only a fraction of them. The filter you have is either developed by your circumstances or you can adjust it yourself by what you think about. Your life gravitates in the direction of your most dominant thoughts like a flower grows toward the sun. We become what we think most about. You have the ability to choose what to think about. As the apostle Paul said, again, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” Try keeping a daily journal of what went well today and what you are thankful for. Study that journal on a weekly basis. That will help train your brain and adjust your filter.

Finally, how can I express gratitude? Use your words. Say “please” and “thank you” often. Use your gifts. When you use the gifts you’ve been given (physical or spiritual) it honors the giver. Finally, use your body. You had to be there yesterday to get the experience, but suffice it to say we practice expressing our gratitude to God for his goodness in the same way we express our excitement over our sports teams.

Have a very Happy Thanksgiving!