Everyone is Smarter than You… – Lesson #27 of 37

Everyone is Smarter than You… – An executive coach once gave me a little sign that said, “Who besides me can get this done?” His purpose in giving me the sign was two-fold. First, to remind me that delegation helps to develop the skills of staff and, second, to free my calendar for tasks that were more strategic in nature. You see, I had fallen into a “trap” of saying to myself, “Oh, this is easy, I’ll just knock it out.” Then, when I found it taking longer than I thought, I ended up delegating the task anyway, and then it was with an urgent deadline which wasn’t fair to those to whom I delegated.

Old habits die hard, and over time, I got better at delegation. Because many of the delegated tasks came back quicker and better than I could have imagined, I soon realized the edge others had on me. This led me to embrace the mantra – Everyone is smarter than you about something. And, it doesn’t just apply in the work setting. 

Every day we are bombarded with things about which we know little. That’s when it might behoove us to check in with others. Get inputs about how to deal with whatever you face. A medical condition might need a second opinion. A mechanical problem in your home may need the advice of an expert. An investment that sounds too good to be true, might be if you check in with others. Even news stories, and conspiracy theories deserve a double check. AND, be careful, don’t let biases lead you to seek only the answer you wish to hear. Everyone, and I mean everyone is smarter than you about something? Trust me – or check me on what I say. What do you say?


Write an ANGRY E-mail – Lesson #26 of 37

Write an ANGRY E-mail – I used to say that I wanted to be secure enough with my position in life to write a work e-mail that began: “You obviously had your head up you’re a$$ when…” Having hit send on a terse e-mail or ten (none of which were that brash), I’m here to tell you the result is not an uplifting salve for the instant emotion. While I won’t deny the existence of a short period of jubilation in one’s ability to be acerbically witty. Almost always, what was written comes back to “bite” you. And with that, there is a great lesson to learn.

Dr. Stephen Covey wrote about the “Emotional Bank Account.” Covey posits that being kind, courteous, keeping promises, being loyal to those not present, and making apologies when you do mess up, grows your emotional bank account held by others. Conversely, he suggests withdrawals are made through being rude, crude, blunt, breaking promises, being disloyal, or arrogant. 

A former boss kept a ledger of deposits and withdrawals. Though he was a good boss, he definitely kept score. No. He wasn’t looking for his staff to kiss his butt. He expected deposits as defined by Covey and frowned on withdrawals. Further, deposits and withdrawals weren’t of equal value. One co-worker put it like this, “it takes ten atta-boys to erase one aw shit.”  With that, you might as well be depositing instead of withdrawing.

Wait. The title of this blog suggests writing an angry e-mail. Yes, it does. You can still write that e-mail. Here’s how to do it. Open an e-mail message and address it to yourself (it is dangerous to address it to the party with whom you are aggrieved). Better yet, open an electronic document, or get out a piece of paper to handwrite your proposed message. 

Begin writing. In writing your message, go for it! Tell ‘em what you really think. Let it all out. Don’t hold back. If you really must, hit send, but make double sure it’s addressed to only YOU. Be careful. Having worked in the public sector for a long-time, even e-mails sent to myself were public information and discoverable. Then, delete it, carry the paper to the shredder and find a more rational way to deal with the situation without making any withdrawals from the emotional bank account. 

As Dr. Covey says, “Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood®” Perhaps you missed something or misinterpreted what you think you heard or read. What do you think?


#25 of 37 Things -- What's your story?

What’s your Story? Last week while speaking to my friends at the North Carolina Government Finance Officers Summer meeting in Wrightsville Beach, NC, I was reminded of this story. The reminder came to me because it was part of my speech! It originated about 20 years ago in St. Augustine, FL (the oldest city in the United States). While there on business, I went out to dinner with some colleagues. The name of the restaurant is insignificant, though it featured great seafood and a sauce made from datil peppers – hot peppers that are mostly grown in the area.

It’s not about the sauce though, it’s about our waiter. He was pleasingly friendly, talkative and affable. He knew how and when to engage our group and obviously loved his job. As dinner was winding down, I asked the waiter, “So, what’s your deal?”  He asked, “What do you mean, what’s my deal?” I asked, are you a student, or otherwise in transition from being a waiter to being a rocket scientist, brain surgeon, or something else to which I thought he might aspire. His response surprised me and simultaneously put me in my place while getting me to thinking…

Upon my reflection, the question, “What’s your deal?” was perhaps a bit rough and a little condescending. I have replaced that question with, “What is your story?” Everyone has a story and our datil pepper waiter sure had one. His response was: “Sir, I’m a waiter. That is what I do for a living. It’s a great job. I work here from about 4 o’clock in the afternoon until about ten o’clock. I do that five or six nights a week and the rest of my time is mine. I bike. I surf. I walk on the beach, read books, take naps and live a great life. It’s what I have chosen to do for a living. In addition, my job is portable, and can take it anywhere, while making a pretty darn good living.”

As the waiter took our payment to the cash register, the five of us at the table looked at each other in a bit of disbelief. You see, we thought we knew the meaning of life. We were hopping on airplanes and staying in hotels in search of the next “deal”. We were chasing that bonus, stock options, or promotion to Senior Vice-President, or Managing Director. We thought we knew what life was all about and it turns out, we clearly did not.

I’ve since lost recollection of the dinner attendees that night, but will never forget the “Datil Pepper Waiter”. He knew what the heck he was doing. Not long after meeting him, a good friend was diagnosed with glioblastoma (brain cancer). As I sat in his hospital room waiting for him to be transferred to a hospice center where he would live out the remainder of his life, we talked about that brass ring we are chasing. We both concluded it’s not the bonuses, titles, plane segments, or hotel points. It’s about living your story with friends, family and loved ones.  

Bonnie Ware, a hospice nurse from Australia wrote a book entitled: The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. I won’t reveal the five regrets, though (SPOILER ALERT), she does not cite working more or seeking titles amongst the top five regrets. Since I had the conversation with my dying friend, I changed my story to one that is much more agreeable to me and have in fact, changed it several times since to meet my needs. At the same time, we all need to provide for ourselves and others; so, don’t do something rash — be wise and thoughtful as you alter your life. I’m curious to know — what’s your story?  

#24 of 37 Lessons – Take Breaks

Take Breaks – I’m back after a long break – at least a long break from blogging. It boggles my mind that I haven’t dropped a blog since April 26th. Sorry about that, but not sorry about that either. I took a break and was busy on my break. What did I do? Started and completed a consulting project. Hosted family from far and wide (Texas, Hawaii and Massachusetts) for some great times at the lake. Hosted close friends for the Fourth of July. Traveled to Boston, Orlando and Linville, NC. Bought a new car. Sold a bunch of books. Spoke at two national conferences. Cooked up a storm, floated in the lake, took boat rides, went back to the gym and savored life.

Despite the break described above, my break from blogging isn’t really want I want to address today regarding taking breaks. What I’m getting at is something called The Pomodoro Technique. This technique is used to supercharge productivity. I’m using it to write this blog today. The technique was invented by Francesco Cirillo. He called it Pomodoro after the tomato-shaped timer he used to implement the technique.

It’s rather simple actually. Cirillo advocates performing nothing but the task at hand in segments of 25 minutes each. After 25 minutes, take a short break of 5 minutes or so. After the fourth segment, take a longer break of up to 30 minutes. In my five-minute breaks, I get up, get a drink of water, make a cup of coffee, go to the restroom, or pet the dog at my feet. Then, it is right back at it until the task is done. After my fourth segment, I might go for a short walk, stretch, return a phone call, or simply zone-out. It’s as easy as that. Putting focus on the job at hand without distraction causes the task to vanish in a hurry.

And…remember, as they say, “Eat the ugly frog first.” That’s the toughest task on your plate. When it’s gone, your day gets better as you go. How about some tomato sauce with your frog? While this blog wasn’t my ugly frog, I finished it with eight minutes to go on my timer! 

#23 of 37 Lessons – Don’t Nickel and Dime Your Employees

Don’t Nickel and Dime Your Employees – Having worked in both the private and public sectors, I have first-hand knowledge that neither sector is immune from frustrating employees with financial rules that frustrate or over-scrutinize trusted employees. Two cases that give me pause:

·      A CEO’s Happiest Day should be the day an appropriately incentivized employee earns more than the CEO. When that happens, the sales person is kicking butt and that is a good thing! Though I have some issues with incentivized sales, it is the bane of existence for many of the most successful companies. Therefore, I’ll go along with the practice with the caveat that the sales person, or his company not sell customers things they don’t need and buyers remain aware of what they are buying and from whom

By appropriately incentivized, I mean an incentive compensation plan that is carefully designed to reward employees for bringing in meaningful business revenues. There must be no questions about how incentives are calculated, administered, or awarded. The plan should be transparent with no opportunity to manipulate numbers subjectively by either party. 

Designing an incentive pay plan is not easy and should involve open and honest communications between management and the sales team. The plan must be easily understood and agreed to by both sides – employee and company.

Problems arise when a combination of unclear rules, unreasonable expectations, and greed kick-in. Employees must be trusted to not manipulate the plan to their benefit and the same goes for the company. After a “great” year, the company shouldn’t change the plan drastically because their employees did “too good” and made too much money – that only leads to strong demotivation. Likewise, the plan should not be used as a weapon to target poor performers by setting unrealistic goals. This needs to be a two-way street that is a win-win situation. Failure to accomplish any of these tenets will only lead to disgruntled and unhappy employees.

·     Simplify, simplify, simplify the expense reporting process. Ask almost any employee about submitting expenses for reimbursement and they will voluntarily tell you some great stories. 

I once had an employee’s expense report get severely scrutinized because he spent an extra night at a conference site. When he was first seeking my approval to go on the trip, he showed me that changing his departure date would reduce his airfare by an amount that would more than make up for the additional hotel and per diem costs. A whopping savings of $16.14, but a savings none-the-less. Without hesitation, I gave him the go-ahead.

Months later, internal auditors required us to spend what amounted to be more than $1,000 in staff time to justify the extra night. In addition to what I already told you, we pointed out that the employee chose to take a red-eye flight on the way home saving another justifiable $250+. On top of all this, he booked flights that were Super Economy fares where you almost need to pay for air to breathe. In the end, I still think the auditors felt that me and my employee should have both been severely disciplined for having such a lapse in judgment. 

Have you been nickel and dimed? I hope not, and if you’re in a position to do this to employees – DON’T DO IT!!

#22 of 37 Lessons – Make and Learn from Mistakes

Make and Learn from Mistakes – I’m sure it’s not just me, but I always say: “If you’re not making mistakes, you aren’t growing and you aren’t living.” God knows, I’ve made many mistakes and they have made me stronger and wiser. Perhaps we should even celebrate mistakes, because I am thankful for most of the mistakes I have made. I might not have been thankful at the time, but in retrospect, mistakes are good. We all need to make mistakes and let others do the same.

My consciousness of helpful blunders began when I was just a kid. My dad made a big mistake at work. He worked in a metallurgical destructive testing laboratory. They tested the performance of various high tech metals for use in aircraft parts and other critical applications. One day, a lab technician who worked with dad came to him and asked dad to order a pair of tongs to lift tensile strength samples from liquid nitrogen. My dad said, he would, placed the order and waited for their arrival.

Several weeks after placing the order, a truck driver showed up in dad’s office and asked where he should deliver the tongs. Dad said, “Just bring them to my office.” The truck driver laughed and went on to tell dad they were about ten feet long and weighed hundreds of pounds. By transposing a number or numbers on his requisition request, dad ordered a pair of tongs for use with a crane as opposed to a small hand-held pair.

I’m unclear whether the tongs were returnable or not. In the end though, all seems to have worked out, except for ribbing from his co-workers. Shortly after this incident, the management team presented dad with a life-sized cardboard replica of the mistaken tongs. I remember this well because dad brought the replica home and they were around the house for a long-time until they were KonMaried to the backyard where they were eventually destroyed by the elements and found their way to the trash heap.

I’ve made mistakes about a lot of things…relationships, jobs, cars, hiring, restaurants, how much garlic to put in mashed potatoes and much much more. In hindsight, even the worst mistakes made me stronger and I’m happy to have had the experience. If nothing else, they give me stories to tell and warnings to give others in a similar position. 

What mistakes have you made? What did you learn? Get out there. Make some mistakes and grow!  

#21 of 37 Lessons -- Be Flexible

Be Flexible – My original intention was to blast through these 37 lessons in 37 days. Had I held to that schedule, the last post in this series would have been completed on February, 7th and here it is April, 22nd! Though a few people may be checking in on my blog from time to time; as far as I can tell, I’m currently writing this blog pretty much for myself. 

After post #20, I got sidetracked by international women’s day and made two posts that were important to me. Then, I took an unintentional blogging hiatus. I just got busy with a few other things. Up until my last post on March 9th, we were finishing up a very cool, sometimes cold, and certainly wet winter. Then, Spring sprung here in North Carolina and the many things I pledged to do in retirement began calling my name. There was a lot of yardwork (still is), the boat needed attention, consulting opportunities arose, people wanted business proposals, my workshop was a mess, taxes had to be done, and the list goes on…

Instead of blogging, I did a bunch of other things and I chose not to beat myself up because I had not been blogging. I was being flexible with myself. My deadline(s) were self-imposed, as opposed to the tax deadline of the recent past. No one was waiting for the next in the series – I don’t think.

I gave myself flexibility and it feels good. Now, I’m back to blogging because I want to refer people to my blog in a presentation next week. I’m not going to promise daily blogging because I’m flexible. However, I will endeavor to complete the 37 things series in a somewhat timely manner. 

Give yourself (and others) a break and be flexible. Don’t break promises, or intentionally sabotage deadlines, but be flexible – it will give you some peace of mind. 

Women and Balance Part II

On International Women’s Day, a friend got me thinking about balance and women (see yesterday’s post). Because I wrote about balance yesterday, I decided to send International Women’s Day into overtime – a well-deserved bonus as there should be more than just one day for women!

Connecting International Women’s Day with balance immediately made me think about my grandmother – my dad’s mom, Anna Zak Pliszka Weinstock (aka Grandma, or Grandma Weinstock). Thanks to my uncle George (dad’s brother), I have some details. Grandma’s parents, Mary and Stanley immigrated separately from Poland to the United States in the late 1800’s. They met in New York and were married at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1898. On October 14, 1902 Grandma Weinstock was born. She was the first of seven children. 

It’s not clear how the family ended up in South Milwaukee, Wisconsin and it doesn’t really matter for this story. When she was 14 years-old, grandma left school to work in the Appleton Electric foundry. (Sixty years later, I would also work there to put myself through college). At 19 years-old, grandma married Walter Edward Pliszka and they had four children, one of whom died at age six. 

Shortly after getting married, my grandparents started Pliszka Variety Store which eventually became Pliszka Hardware. After 14 years of marriage, Walter died from pneumonia, leaving grandma a widow with three young children, the oldest of which was 10 years-old. The year was 1935 and the country was in the midst of the Great Depression.

Times were tough, but grandma somehow found her balance and kept the store going while she worked other jobs to make ends meet and keep her family together. For fourteen years, she supported her family on her own until she married grandpa Ray Weinstock in 1949. Together they kept the store going while Ray worked for the Milwaukee County Parks Department. 

When I was in seventh grade, I began working in grandma’s store on a regular basis and job shared with a cousin who was a year older than me. This helped free grandma up to be in her home which was connected to the store. There, she could be found cooking, cleaning, or doing the books. 

Working in her store was one of the most formative experiences of my life. I quickly learned the responsibility of being on time to work, how to be courteous to customers, how to count change back to customers, and how to wrap presents (well, sort of). I learned how to mix paint and cut glass to size. When something became too complicated, or a customer insisted, there was a buzzer connected to the house that we would use to summon adult help.  

For a seventh grader, working all day on a Saturday was grueling and it was my first taste of what it might be like to work full-time. It made me value free time and is perhaps the impetus for balance as my second most important value. Secondarily, there were the awesome lunches which grandma fixed. Be it a hot melty grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup, or fried bologna and onions, lunch was always a treat and somehow an incentive to help out at the store.

Sometimes I would accompany grandma to the wholesalers to buy stock for the store. It was my first foray into business. Sure, it was fun to see what things we would be stocking in the store, but most of all, the trip usually resulted in a luncheon stop at The Buttered Bun. There, the long-gone restaurant on Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Milwaukee served up the best cheeseburger, fries, and chocolate shakes money could buy. Believe me, it wasn’t just about the food, but it did teach me how to motivate others with food! 

Grandma was strong and kind. Once I had bullied a neighborhood kid and broke his baseball bat. The kid told my grandmother what I had done and of course, her store sold baseball bats too. She replaced his bat and afterward gave me a pretty stern talking to — thankfully she did not tell my parents. Grandma taught me a life lesson and I’m still a bit embarrassed about what I did. In fact, I still cringe a little thinking about her admonishment. I’m sorry I let her down. 

I’m a better person because of my grandmother. She finally retired at 73 years-old when they sold the store in 1975. She died on May 2, 1997 at 94 years-old. She was a strong woman with good balance. Rest in peace grandma.


Women and Balance

I interrupt my 37 things series for two very important posts. One of my friends (Amelia Beonde) posted the following on Facebook: “It’s international woman’s day - I want to know what you (all of you - men, women, moms, dads, sisters, brothers, aunts, and uncles, etc.) think about what it means to have balance and promote balance (for all) in work and life.”

After reading Amelia’s post, I couldn’t stop thinking about both, balance and women. After fun, balance happens to be my second most important core value. (Shameless plug:If you don’t know your core values, you can find yours in chapter 5 of my book.) Balance is an important aspect of living because it is what keeps us sane. In fact, one synonym for the word sane is well-balanced. 

Most of us are familiar with the proverb “All work and no play makes Jill a dull girl.” Okay, I changed it slightly for International Women’s Day! The origins of this proverb reach back to the writings of an Egyptian sage named, Ptahhoptep in 2400 B.C. More recently, it appeared in James Howell’s Proverbs written in 1659. 

So, this balance thing has been going on for a long time and my take on the proverb is that we can’t live harmoniously and purposely on a single track and therefore must seek balance in our lives. Regardless of gender, we all need balance. Let’s look at just three aspects of life that must be balanced – work, kids and personal well-being.

First, very few of us are independently wealthy and therefore we must work. When we work, we serve our proverbial master (boss, or clients, or both) and in this fast as lightning world, people want things yesterday and they want them mostly for free which puts us in a pressure cooker of work. Without work, we don’t survive, so work garners a very high priority.

I don’t have kids, but act like a kid and therefore think I know kids well. As an observer, I don’t know how parents balance just work and kids, let alone all the other things that must be balanced. Society sets a minimum standard for parents to meet just to stay out of jail. Fortunately, most parents go way beyond the minimum which further messes with the balance and leaves me scratching my head asking, HOW? 

Personal well-being is the need to feed and nurture our bodies and minds in order to keep our sanity so we can continue working and continue our way of life. Tending to ourselves is important to our survival and helps us balance. 

So how do we balance:

·     Try to avoid multi-tasking. Set your mind to the task at hand and do it.

·     Say no. Sometimes you just need to say no and not feel bad about doing so.

·     Prioritize. Get busy not being busy. Work to minimize activities that are “urgent and important” – delegate when you can. 

·     Spend as much quality time working on the things in your life which are “not urgent, and important” Things like loving your family, taking care of yourself, or planning strategically.

·     Minimize things that are “urgent and not important.” Just because a phone is ringing, doesn’t mean you have to answer it. Turn off the ringer, turn off e-mail notifications. Live life on your terms.

·     Lastly, eliminate, to the extent possible things that are “not urgent and not important.: Things like mindless social media, perfectionism, and procrastination. Who cares what the Kardashian’s are doing!

Find your balance and live your BEST life. Tomorrow, I will continue with a second post. A story about a woman – an amazing woman, my grandmother Anna Weinstock. See you tomorrow!


#20 of 37 Lessons -- Management By Walking Around

Management by Walking Around (MBWA) – in an earlier post, I wrote about the importance of learning, knowing, and using employees’ names. Perhaps the best way to use those names is through the practice of management by walking around. This practice might have roots going back to Abraham Lincoln when he would walk around and check in with his troops during the civil war. It was a way for him to get feedback on how things were going and how he could provide better tools and strategies for his troops.

So, if you care about your troops and want to help them do a better job; then, start walking around. Before you do though, think about these few tips to success:

  1. Be careful that employees won’t perceive your effort as forced or contrived. To the employee, it should be as if you just happened by and are taking an interest in them. 

  2. If you must schedule the time on your calendar, do so, but be careful that your intention isn’t telegraphed to your employees.  

  3. Ease into it with a few practice runs to perfect your technique.

  4. Treat employees evenly. Don’t only visit with employees you like. Spend time with those who might be troublesome, less likable, or have less in common with you. Only spending time with those you like will cause troubles for you and them.

  5. Get to know people on a personal basis. Look for personal mementos in their work area (e.g. a family picture, baseball pennant, movie poster…). Ask about those things and what they mean to the employee. 

  6. Ask how things are going and encourage candid, open and honest communications about how things are going.

  7. Be prepared to receive tough questions.

  8. When a tough question is received, it must be answered. The answer doesn’t need to be immediate. You can always say, “I’ll get back to you on that.”

  9. If you say you will get back to someone – do it! Get back to them with an honest answer.

  10. Have fun! Take your people a little treat every now and then and keep your ear to the ground for how things are going. Show some personality. Tell ‘em a work-appropriate joke. Take another (higher level) manager with you from time to time. Before you know it, they may come to you before they come to you and they’ll come with a problem and the solution.

When will you start walking?