Dan Pliszka
Author. Speaker. Consultant.


Random Thoughts and Musings

#15 of 37 Lessons -- If You Want to Learn Something, Teach it

If you want to learn something, teach it – for a few years, I taught Insurance and Risk Management at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. An interesting revelation came about as I began to prepare for my first lecture. The revelation was how theories don’t always stand on their own when put into practice. Rather, they are combined, short-cut, or corrupted to fit the reality of its implementation in practice. 

A good teacher is prepared to answer questions from the most basic to the most complex. Therefore, the teacher must know the subject inside and out. Sure, I knew the subject, I had been practicing it for twenty years. The trick was for me to segregate the various theories and break them down to the lowest common terms in order to get the lessons across to an audience that knew little about the subject. Thus, I had to study and relearn the individual theories that were the basis of what I practiced. 

As I regained mastery of the theory, I was able to communicate the principles in addition to providing anecdotal lessons of how the theory was applied or combined in reality. I’d like to think, my students walked away better prepared to practice the theories in real work-world situations. At the same time, the students helped me learned through the tough questions they asked.

 What do you want to learn? Think about learning it so well that you become a proficient teacher of the subject.



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#14 of 37 Lessons -- Learn People's Names

Learn people’s names– One of my most embarrassing “work moments” was the day I was in a meeting with a large team from another department accompanied by four of my team members. To start, the leader from the other department asked me to introduce my staff who were with me that day. I easily introduced three of them and drew a complete blank on the woman’s name who was sitting right next to me. I knew her name and for some unknown reason, that day, drew a complete and total blank. Finally, she spoke up, rescuing me and said her name to the group. 

 I was so embarrassed, not so much because I had some sort of senior moment and a fleeting lapse in memory. My embarrassment came because I had failed at one of my basic tenets of management – know and use people’s names. At the time, I had 28 employees reporting to me, so learning and using their names wasn’t a difficult task. 

Getting to know people’s names should be the first step of any good manager getting to know his/her employees as individuals. Getting to know your employees beyond just their name is vitally important to get the most out of them. When you know a little of their personal story, you can begin to understand when they can be pushed a little harder, or if they need to be cut a little slack. 

You’re not there to be their counselor, though you should have an idea of what pressures they may be enduring. Do they have a newborn at home? Is a family member ill? Are they going through a divorce? Any number of things will affect the performance of the individuals and if you know a little about them, you will gain their trust and earn their respect. It’s a two-way street.

Start down that two-way street by knowing and using their names. A good way to do this might be by asking, “What’s your name, who are you and what is your story?

Who are you, and what’s your story?


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#13 of 37 Lessons -- Someone will Die

Someone will die– not meaning to be macabre, it’s simple reality. Somewhere along the way, someone will die. This subject wasn’t on my original list of 37 lessons. However, it’s there now because of several circumstances.

Last week, J. D. Gibbs, son of the legendary NFL coach and NASCAR team owner, Joe Gibbs died and it got me to thinking. J. D. was only 49 years old – way too young. I can’t say I knew J. D., though we once talked on the phone about a potential promotional event for a club where we were both members. 

I also can’t say I really know Joe Gibbs, though we have spoken many times in person. For years, he and I frequented the same Starbucks. Over that time, we would greet each other with small pleasantries and from time to time we would talk racing. Once he gave me and my wife a copy of his book. He is a very admirable man. J. D’s passing made me think about how Joe is dealing with J. D.’s passing, though I’m convinced his faith in God will help him through.

This post isn’t about the Gibbs family, it’s about death. A few days after the news of J. D.’s death, I received word of another death. This one was much closer to home and it left me feeling some remorse. Locke Scripps, is a former neighbor, pianist, golf partner, wine enthusiast, friend and down-right great guy. We shared Wisconsin ties as we both spent a good bit of time there. When I moved from the same neighborhood as Locke, we lost touch.

Last year, Locke was diagnosed with leukemia and unfortunately, he did not survive. During the course of his treatment, I received updates from friends who encouraged me to reach out to him and my remorse comes because I never did and now it is too late. Locke died without me telling him what a great guy he was. 

This isn’t the first time this kind of thing happened and probably won’t be the last – unfortunately. What it is though, is a reminder to tell those who you care for how much you care for them. Don’t let too much time go by to reach out to friends and family.

Learn from my lesson and reach out. Who do you need to contact? Do it today!


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#12 of 37 Lessons -- Employees Always Come First

Employees always come first– time and again, we hear of business ventures focusing on their “core business.” Surely a high priority, though the first priority of any business should be their employees. Even in a sole proprietorship where there are is but one individual, there must be an element of self-love in order to thrive and survive.

 In 2017, when the Clemson University Fighting Tigers won the College Football Playoff National Championship (they did it again in 2019), their coach, Dabo Swinney told an on-field reporter that the team’s entire season was about love. He went on to say, he told his team, “tonight, we’re going to win this game because we love each other.” Clearly, they needed football skills to reach the pinnacle and they demonstrated those skills in the game. What Dabo added to the mix of skills is the element of love.

 Arguably, college football players aren’t employees, though there is little difference between those amateur football players and the team which keeps your business running. If you think about the best job you have ever had, did you do the job solely because you loved the extrinsic motivation of pay, benefits and perks? Probably not, you likely loved other aspects which made you feel valued. Those intrinsic motivators helped you feel as if you were somehow making a difference. 

 Similarly, Swinney’s team didn’t win just because they focused on the core business of scoring more points than the opposition. They added an element of love to take the players’ and coaches’ contribution to the game to the very highest level. That is what makes a winning team.

 If you’re an employee and not feeling the love, maybe it is time to speak up, or look around. If you are the employer, above all, show your employees the LOVE! Make them smile. Make them feel appreciated. Employees are the key to your core business success. 

 How do you, or how have you been shown the love?


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#11 of 37 Lessons - You Can Always Change Your Mind

You can always change your mind– If you’re a regular reader, I missed blogging the last two days despite my previous pledge to blog for 37 days straight. Well, I changed my mind. Weekends are still important to me. Therefore, I choose to not blog on weekends, unless I change my mind and decide to knock one out. We’ll see what happens.

This is just one example of changing my mind. There are hundreds of other examples. The important thing is to look at issues from all sides, with different lenses and informational sources. At one time in my past, I would have hesitated hiring someone full of tattoos and sporting bright blue hair. Now, I think, “what does it matter?” There are so many things that are none of our business. Therefore, we should just let it be and tolerate what is. 

The ability to change one’s mind is important because we live in a dynamic world that is always changing. As new and different information comes to light, we can and should re-think past decisions. For example, as a long-time manager of people in the service sector, it was important to me that workers maintain fairly strict “business hours.” Now, however, because of technological connectedness, many workers can do their work from almost anywhere at any time.

The above scenario is still playing itself out in offices around the world, with some managers holding tightly to specific hours of duty because they think people won’t work if the manager can’t see them. I have news for them, if they aren’t going to work, they won’t work at their desk, or from home. Peter Drucker said, “What gets measured, gets done.” So, measure the work outputs and quality. If employees are meeting an established standard, then hours of duty are insignificant. 

After changing my mind about office hours and flexibility, my mantra became, “get the job done.” I stopped worrying about time. If the work got done and done well, that is all that mattered. With some exceptions, there is no need to hold employees’ at work for arbitrary timeframes in the event they may be needed. Most are reachable 24/7 anyway, so why bother locking them in an office for specific periods?

What have you changed your mind about?


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#10 of 37 Lessons -- Give Away the Glory and Shoulder the Blame

Give away the glory and shoulder the blame – as a manager or leader it is your job to set standards that will ensure things under your guidance get done in an exemplary manner. Because of that, when success knocks on your door, you owe the success to your team for meeting your standards. Likewise, when the team experiences failure, it is because you didn’t set high enough standards.

When you humbly accept praise and attribute it to your team, you help others succeed. Even if you were the primary catalyst for success, deferring praise to your team will make them want to do an even better job in the future. Those that worked hard to achieve the accomplishment will know that and appreciate the nod. Those that didn’t work so hard might just step up to the plate a little more the next time. 

Don’t think for a minute that the team doesn’t know who pulled their weight in the success. Part of your job as a manager is to assess who pulled their weight and who didn’t and then coach individuals on how they can enhance the performance of the team. Two possible exceptions will be the narcissist or truly unmotivated on your team. They need to be managed separately and either rehabilitated, or managed out of the team.

By adopting high standards and holding your team responsible for those standards, everyone wins and you will experience much more success than failure. When employees are appreciated for success they will go farther to continue that success and that will result more team harmony, better served customers and fewer failures.

Will you choose to give away the glory and shoulder the blame? I hope so!


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#9 of 37 Lessons -- You Get What You Pay For

You get what you pay for– a good friend shared the following quote with me many years ago and it says it all!

“It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s unwise to pay too little.  When you pay too much you lose a little money – that is all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing you bought it to do.  The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot – it can’t be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it’s well to add something for the risk you run.  And if you do that, you will have enough to pay for something better.” 

John Ruskin, 1819 – 1900, British philosopher, author and critic

Will you continue to seek only the cheapest options?


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#8 of 37 Lessons -- Resist Bureaucracy Craftily

Resist bureaucracy craftily– Having worked for a number of large employers, including governmental ones, I’ve seen my share of bureaucracy. In my view, most bureaucratic rules are borne out of a lack of trust and is created to control. Further, those rules are dressed up and disguised as a means to establish consistent practices. Sure, consistent practices are essential; and still, regardless of the rules, a small percentage of individuals will still thwart them for personal or other gains. Then, more rules will be created to continue to keep the honest, honest.

 The purpose of this post is to give some useful tips in dealing with bureaucracy. First and foremost, keep your eyes open and ask yourself questions about why you need to do things a certain way. Sometimes, there is a good reason and other times, not. This will help you spot bureaucratic processes. When you spot potential issues, make mental note of the problem and see if it crops up again later. As you make your mental list, note which issues are the most time consuming, or bizarre. Then: 

  • Keep your eyes and ears open for the inputs or comments of others. Policies and procedures which are especially egregious from a bureaucratic standpoint will irritate others, not just you. 

  • If you have the responsibility and authority to fix what is wrong – don’t hesitate. Fix it! 

  • If it is a minor irritation and you don’t control it – just live with it.  

  • Pick and choose issues which annoy you the most and work with others to suggest change. Don’t just complain, suggest a solution.

  •  Most companies are always looking for the “cheaper, better, faster” routes; take your questions and concerns to your supervisor, or the person who may be able to influence how things are done. This may lead to process improvements and perhaps some recognition for your careful eye.

  • Meet the intent of the rules without fully complying with the rule.

  • Lastly, and be careful because this can be dangerous (you could get fired or worse) – within reason, consider bucking the system.

  • Before moving into a new office building, a former employer established an architectural standard for furniture, including a standard for the type and color of filing cabinets. The standard was intended to establish a uniform look throughout the building which makes sense. Then, upon moving in, they brought in all the old furniture and cabinets from our former location which immediately violated the standard. Shortly after, I needed an additional filing cabinet and was told it needed meet the established standard which would cost five times more than a standard cabinet.

Faced with a bit of a dilemma of spending money I didn’t have in the budget, or breaking a rule; I chose to break the rule. I also considered the consequences. Would they fire me for saving the company $500? I didn’t think they would, so I took a calculated risk. On the way back from lunch, I stopped at Staples, bought a cabinet and had it delivered. I then turned in the receipt for reimbursement – no one said a thing. Problem solved.

Obviously, you can’t just thumb your nose at all rules and regulations. What you must do is find ways to craftily work within the rules and advocate for change. How are you going to deal with bureaucracy?


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#7 of 37 Lessons -- If You Want it Bad, You Get it Bad

If you want it bad, you get it bad – one of my former bosses used to say this on a pretty regular basis. It was almost always because someone either procrastinated a complex task, or someone underestimated how long a project would take. In a similar vein, Benjamin Franklin said, “Haste makes waste” and carpenters say, “measure twice, cut once.” Urgency causes great inefficiency.

A former co-worker had an almost daily habit of putting off doing his daily work until very late in the afternoon. He’d come to work at about 9:00 a.m. and would spend a good part of his time on non-urgent and unimportant tasks. Then, around 4:00 p.m., he would begin the important and urgent items he should have been doing all along. This usually resulted in his working late into the night. The next day, he would complain how overworked he was and that he missed precious time with his family. 

Besides the stress he brought on himself, the resources (co-workers) that were vital to his work, often weren’t available when he needed their inputs. Then, he would have to set aside certain parts until the next day, or would have to call the resource(s) at home, sometimes very late at night. His habits did not enamor him to family, friends and coworkers. In fact, many of them began to ignore his late-night calls for help and resented his procrastination. Over-time, the missed deadlines and ones that screeched in under the wire became a concern of his superiors and his reputation held him back from further success.

Regardless how you say it, taking an appropriate amount of time to complete a task Is important and can help manage stress, increase quality, save money and increase safety. When you need something badly, think first about how haste makes waste and how you might allocate time for completion. Consider resetting your time parameters, asking for help or delegating tasks. Do you want it good, or do you want it bad? The choice is up to you!



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#6 of 37 Lessons -- Lose Your "buts"

Lose your buts – No, I’m not talking about that butt you resolved to lose in the new year, I’m talking about the word but. The word “but” is a simple conjunction that means, except for the fact. The word but, wipes out whatever you put in front of it. Think about these few statements:

I love you, but we never do anything fun anymore. 

You’re a great employee, but you are disconnected from your co-workers.

I loved the book, but found a few parts a little boring. 

That was delicious, but the portions were way too big. 

In each of those cases, the word “but” negated the first and perhaps most important part of the sentence. So, how do we fix this problem? The best way, is to use the word “and” instead of “but.” Let’s try the previous statements again with the word “and”.

I love you and think we should go out to celebrate the things we love to do together.

You’re a great employee and I would like us to work on integrating more with the team. 

I loved the book and wish I could have connected better with a few parts that I found tedious.

That was delicious and next time, we should consider splitting an entrée, or ordering fewer courses.

A word of warning: Be careful to not substitute the word “however” it can have the same effect as the word “but”. 

See you tomorrow. Now, get your buts out of here!!!


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