Life lessons learned on the court

I’m not sure that I was ever happier than when I was on the basketball court near my home, where I spent many hours of my early teenage years. I think back often to what happened, and I realize that much of what I learned applies to every single day I live.

Just as with learning a foreign language, what we glean in our adolescence seems to be firmly fixed in our minds, such that it becomes part of us. These lessons, then, are with me each day:

Better to give than to receive – As is the case on most courts, the winner stayed on while the loser had to sit and yield to whomever was waiting. Thus, there was every reason to do what was needed to win. If that meant you gave the ball to your best player, so be it. Ego would lead to defeat. In my case, I was always happy to pass the ball to Bill Thorne, he with the sweet baby hook that could not be defended. The business analog is obvious: Sacrifice your ego to make sure your business is successful.

Give everyone an opportunity – This is the complement to the previous rule: If you are ahead by a few points, give it to one of the weaker players on your team. It seems fair, it provides him or her with the opportunity to grow, and the results may surprise you.

What goes around comes around – The composition of teams was fluid. Any action you might take against an opponent could come back to haunt you because the opponent might become a teammate in short order. In our business lives, treating everyone with respect is the order of the day, for adversaries often become allies when you least expect it.

Give grace for small errors – If someone was a new player, we’d often look the other way on a traveling violation or a carry of the ball. There would be a time and place to educate that player on the finer points of the game, but criticizing publicly too often was a disincentive, and we really needed every player we could get. Our humanity allows us to make mistakes. Our humanity also allows us to give grace to others.

It’s all about the journey – Even though it’s been four decades since those days on the court, I bet I could give you 50 anecdotes from that time if asked. I’m pretty sure I could not name one final score. Sure, you are there to win (remember, if you don’t win, you have to sit out), but in the final analysis, you’ll remember you how people went about their business. Remember that it’s not just about making a living — it’s about making a life.

These lessons, without exaggeration, taught me more about life than any lecture. I think the joy of teamwork stays with me to this day because it was so integral to my teen years. The most important aspect of those days is this: the relationships formed on that concrete court almost 40 years ago are with me to this day, and will always be. They were formed with love and teamwork and a common goal — and that’s the most important lesson of all.

 

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The Story of My Epiphany

“We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us. ” Marcel Proust

This is the story of rebirth and redemption, how hope can be revived. It is more personal than I would like, but that is part of the telling.

Later this year, I will be celebrating an important 10th anniversary. It was on December 23, 2003 that I reached a turning point in my life. As our company campus was quiet in anticipation of the Christmas holiday, I asked a friend if she wanted to walk across the street to grab some lunch. I hadn’t anticipated we would talk of anything of much importance that day, but I was wrong. The topic of our families came up, one thing leading to another, and it turned out we had in common the fact that we each had a parent who was an alcoholic. (Actually, both my parents struggled with addictions.) She said she had found much wisdom and love in attending Al-Anon meetings. After listening, I told her I’d give it a try, though it would be a month or so before I made good on that promise. She also recommended to me a book, Recovery: A Guide for Adult Children of Alcoholics. In what had to be a providential arrangement, I stopped by Barnes and Noble on the way home and found they had one copy of the small book.

In reading that book over the next couple of days, it became a catalyst for my world to change. I realized that so many of the thoughts I had were not unique to me. I also found the book described many of my feelings and behaviors to the letter. Surely, I thought, anything this accurate has to be important.

I have to believe, though, the book itself was just the beginning, just the start of an avalanche of change. I had spent the previous few years lost in what seemed like a dark room. Though I still maintained a deep faith of sorts, life had ceased to be much fun. My most important role, that of a father to two teenagers, was rapidly coming to an end in many ways, as they were growing more independent.

During those holidays in 2003, as I grew in a spiritual and psychological awakening, I experienced an earthquake in my life. There were many manifestations, some downright humorous. For example, I had the most uncontrollable laughing fit ever during our extended family’s white elephant gift exchange. I’m quite certain they thought I was cracking up. I also developed a rapport with various workers at restaurants and stores, as I found a desire to talk with pretty much anyone who had the time.

There were many changes, large and small:

  • After twenty-five years at a particular church, I stopped attending and found another that nourished my soul. In fact, I had never been to a liturgical church before and somehow wandered in to an Epsicopal church. I was lost with the use of the prayer book, the kneeling, the standing, but it spoke to me, and the practices felt entirely comfortable.
  • I lost about forty pounds as I realized the folly of eating for emotional reasons. (I purposefully gained back about 20 lbs since I had become too thin.)
  • I began a practice of having some silence every day. Before, I wouldn’t let a minute go by without the radio or television. I learned that keeping myself company wasn’t so bad.
  • I discovered contemporary music, especially independent and alternative bands which have since become a staple of my iPod.
  • I took up reading classics, something I’d neglected, and also listening to classical music.
  • I renewed my boyhood love for auto racing.

It wasn’t all roses and sunshine during this time. In fact, this would not have been the same had I not experienced the full range of emotions. There were days when the tears outnumbered the laughs, and my wife had to put up with much uncertainty about her husband.

One other important book during this time, which I read a half-dozen times and marked-up considerably, was Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life by James Hollis. A quote which I’ve thought about often sums up what I found to be true during this time:

“The world is more magical, less predictable, more autonomous, less controllable, more varied, less simple, more infinite, less knowable, more wonderfully troubling than we could have imagined being able to tolerate when we were young.”

Here’s the best part about what happened to me: Right before this epiphany, I really wasn’t sure that life was worth living. I could not have committed suicide, but I had little enthusiasm for what lay ahead. Now, though, as you might have read in my last blog post, I have my goal set on 100 years old. Each day brings a challenge to meet, another friend to make, a race to run, a laugh to be had.

If you find yourself going through the motions, or living with a vague sense on ennui, don’t settle for a life less than you want. If you need an epiphany, believe it will come; it might be as near as your next lunch with a friend.

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The second half of your life

Sometime last year, I was on the rower at my gym, where I’m found quite often, going nowhere fast as I like to say. On the TV hanging from the ceiling was The Today Show, and Al Roker was wishing someone over 100 years old a happy birthday. Something clicked for me, and I realized:  I want to live to be 100.

The implications of this realization were liberating. I understood that I could contemplate any career I want, as I have a long time to retool. I could set exotic travel goals. I could learn skills, languages. I have high hopes of reading books to my grandchildren and even great-grandchildren.

Now whether I’ll actually make it to the centennial mark isn’t really the point. The real point is that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to coast. For me, here are some things I’ve vowed to keep in mind as part of my plan to flourish until age 100:

  • The best return-on-investment comes from relationships – Spend significant time every day in nurturing relationships with your peers and those who mean the most to you. You might be shy about asking someone to lunch. Indeed, you don’t even have to let on to what you are doing. Just take 10-20 minutes to listen to someone else, giving him or her an opportunity to say what’s on his or her mind. This will go a long way!
  • The only time that’s worse than your current age to begin pursuing a new hobby is your current age plus one day – What is it that separates you from those who can do the things you’d like to do? Time and effort. If you’ve made it to middle age, you’ve earned the right to spend a little time indulging something you’ve always wanted to do.
  • The world is a big place; get out and see it – Few things widen our horizons as much as travel. Last year, I took trips for the first time to Alaska and Las Vegas. I will never forget either of these and reflecting on these trips and reminiscing with my family about them makes us long for the adventures we’ll have this year.
  • Your scars, physical and emotional, are badges of honor – I can count about about eight scars on my body, from as long ago as five years old to one from last year. Each has a story. You have these too. They help make you unique and you should be proud.
  • Try to give back as much as you’ve been given – My childhood was not that of Beaver Cleaver. My parents were both addicts and I had many harrowing adventures. Yet my neighbors, coaches, and teachers all kept a watchful eye. For example, my neighbors across the street kept me one night when my father was in jail, and both my next-door neighbors showed me what a normal home life looked like. When I can feel like I’ve given back as much as I’ve received from others, I’ll be satisfied. Good thing I have almost a half-century to do it!

What is your plan? Are you playing out the clock, or are you planning for the second half? If the notion of fifty more years seems more like a sentence than a joyful promise, cast your mind back to when you were a child and the future was in front of you and yours to shape as you want. It still is.

 

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The lion inside you: Confidence

I had a professor in college who was fond of saying to various students, “I have confidence in you.”  Though he repeated it often, I never tired of hearing it, especially when it was directed my way.  At the end of the semester, we gave him a card which said on the outside, “I have confidence in…” and on the inside was a mirror and under it was the word “You!”

Though I have no psychological training, I have to believe the level of our self-confidence is greatly affected by what one hears when very young.  Having a parent say (either verbally or through action) “I have confidence in you” has to be a big help in growing up to be a confident person.

But I hope you’ll give me literary license to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln to say “Most people are about as self-confident as they make up their mind to be.”  We’ve all seen people who might not leap out to us as particularly attractive and yet they enjoy relationships with very nice looking mates.  Or I think about a friend who had absolutely dreadful G.R.E. scores but suceeded in graduate school because of hard work and a winning personality.

Self-confidence is largely a leap of faith: Can you pull off wearing an outfit that draws the attention of others? Take the leap! What will happen if you introduce yourself to the company director you’ve wanted to meet? Do it and find out. Should you volunteer to take on the huge migration project which strikes fear in the heart of everyone? What’s really to lose?

I can remember standing on the diving board as a kid, afraid to go off. When I think back to that morning, it’s difficult to believe I was scared of such an easy thing. Nevertheless, I made the the lifeguard wait for what seemed like forever for me to summon the courage.

Which brings me here: The opposite of self-confidence isn’t the lack of such. It’s fear.

I was talking with a friend about a colleague who tends to become seemingly overwrought and then focus her anxiety on others. While my friend was irritated with her, I found myself having sympathy; it seemed clear to me this behavior is a result of fear. If we remember fear is behind many unpleasant behaviors, we’ll be more empathetic and therefore better able to help the frightened (and problematic) person and, in turn, help ourselves.

Here, then, are some ways I fight off fear and build self-confidence when I need it:

  • Strike a pose – Research shows pretty clearly we can manipulate ourselves into feeling more confident by assuming a posture consistent with confidence. In fact, just two minutes of such power posing can make a difference!
  • Focus on becoming – Resist the temptation to say to yourself, “I’m just not _____” Instead, consider how you might change to be more like you want. Most excellent athletes can tell you of the results they got when they first tried something and how they improved by working at it.
  • Embrace the single best part of you – A friend once suggested we can usually find one aspect of ourselves that is as good or better than most. Let that part of yourself boost your self-confidence about the rest of you.
  • Mind the company you keep – This is perhaps a no-brainer, but don’t spend time with those who put you down and try to limit you.
  • Be realistic – In his bestselling book “Outliers”, Malcolm Gladwell mentioned the “10,000 hour rule”, in which it is stated that it takes 10,000 hours to master something. This should help you put things in perspective: You can become better at anything if you put in the time.

In addition to the above, I’m not above watching an inspirational speech to get me ready for a difficult task. For you, the task may be to quiesce your fear while taking a leap of faith. Don’t doubt yourself — I have confidence in you!

 

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Nothing to fear: Admitting your mistakes

“As long as the world is turning and spinning, we’re gonna be dizzy and we’re gonna make mistakes.”  Mel Brooks

I received a very unusual note last week, at least unusual in the business world.  The editor of a technical newsletter to which I subscribe, who is also a leader in this particular technical community, said in part the following:

I’ve failed, miserably, and I’m sorry. I’m writing a somewhat lengthy update now, but there are things I really need to get off my chest and shoulders….I’ve dropped the ball and it’s taken a toll on everything I do…I can’t blame anyone or anything beyond myself. I’ve ultimately been responsible for everything that’s happened, including our inability to make a functioning and profitable company. I’ve been responsible for diverting our attention on far too many diverse operations, diluting our efforts, and making everything less focused.

The writer went on to explain specifically what he felt he had done wrong. Upon reading this, I sent him a note telling him how much I admired his humility and courage.  I also told him to not be too hard on himself, and said that he would be much better off in the long run for taking this responsibility.

In a way, this reminded me of a situation I was in about 15 years ago.  A customer of the IT services I provided wrote to explain of a problem.  I acknowledged that this had indeed been an issue.  I told her I would get back to her when it was fixed, but I carelessly asked that she write back if I didn’t respond in a few days.  I received an appropriate note from her that left me chagrined.  ”If it is not your job to do what I have asked you to do, please excuse me and tell me whom to contact.  On the other hand, if I have asked you to do something that is your job, please do not ask me to be responsible for reminding you to do it. I should not be responsible for making sure you do not forget.”  Wow.  Even now, I am embarrassed to read how she correctly assessed the situation.

I am glad to say, though, that the incident had a good ending.  I wrote this customer back and said, “You are entirely correct to point out my error and I apologize. I hope to learn something every day and I thank you for helping me to learn this lesson today.”  To this she said, ”This is one of the most professional responses I have ever seen.  I hope that I have the dignity to respond in such a manner.  Thank you.”

You see, I know that something good can be salvaged when we are willing to make a heartfelt apology and admit our wrongs.  As Bill Gates said, ”Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”

Why is it so difficult for some to apologize when wrong? Like many things, I believe it comes down to fear. We manage to deceive ourselves into thinking that an admission of wrongdoing will lead others to take advantage of us, perhaps.  In my experience, I’ve found just the opposite.  When we are willing to properly point out our mistakes, it’s almost as if the other party wants to take up for us.

One of the key points in Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People is “If you make a mistake, admit it quickly and emphatically.”  Is there any greater sign of strength than admitting your error?  Our culture is littered with those who made things harder for themselves and others by holding out: Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, Marion Jones, Lance Armstrong, and so many more.

The next time you know you’ve been wrong, admit it quickly, fully, and emphatically.  Remember, an apology doesn’t count if it’s followed by an excuse.  I think you’ll find that in being your own harshest critic, others will come to your defense.

 

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What You Leave Behind

At a non-profit organization of which I’m a member, we are looking at a major capital campaign (or at least major for us), of more than seven figures, and I am on the committee to look into the feasibility of this. We investigated various consulting firms to help us, and selected three to interview. The three firms brought in a total of seven people. All the firms were well-qualified, and all of the professionals involved had impeccable credentials. When the interviews were over, the committee met to discuss and, without conferring ahead of time, we went around to see who we thought should be awarded the consulting job. Of the seven of us, six picked the same firm. As we each explained our reason, it boiled down to one particular woman who would be our primary contact. Each person spoke of how, in a fairly quiet but confident and earnest way, she had made us feel like we would be successful with her. I was struck by this: With all the money, experience, and credentials involved, it boiled down to someone who engendered trust and a personal connection. I think interpersonal aspects are a large factor in business and in life, though it’s not always so apparent and therefore underrated.

We live in a world where people become brands, where the objective for everything becomes to monetize it (I’m not sure that word existed 20 years ago), and where only that which can be quantified counts.  Or at least one would think based on media reports.

In truth, though, stories such as the one I’ve recounted above play out every day. Somewhere, someone will make a sale because she told the truth.  Someone else will stand up to say, “Yep, I really messed up.” And someone else will sacrifice a little ego in order to do that right thing.  Such people are not hard to find, but they may not always stand out.

What are the characteristics of those who can make a real connection and, in the process of doing so, go about their business in a way that gives it meaning?  Humility, honesty, thoughtfulness, and quiet confidence all come to mind.

At some point, each of us needs to decide in what arena we’re going to compete. Is it for power? Recognition? Money? None of these things are evil unto themselves.  They do, however, put us much closer to a cliff of selfishness than where we would want to be in the end.

Let me ask you this question:  What kind of eulogy would you want delivered at your funeral?  “This was a fellow who knew <insert skill here> better than anyone else and made sure you knew he knew.”  “You could always count on her to push her agenda forward.”  “He always wanted to be in charge, front and center.”

Instead, I think of what has been said about Eve Carson, former student body president at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who died in a senseless murder in 2008:

“If Eve were here and she didn’t know you, she would make an effort to know you. She would ask ‘What is your passion? What do you want to do with your life?’ And before you left, you would know each other”.   (Former Chancellor James Moeser)

“What matters most is who did you inspire? Where did you make your mark in this world? Eve made her mark, and it’s evident in every person you can talk to.” (Her friend Hogan Medlin)

“When Eve turned up 30 minutes late, or did something irritating, she would give you this look of appeal, her infectious smile in the lead, and you could not stay mad…Eve was concerned about you.”  (Her friend Aaron Charlop-Powers)

“When she left a group, Eve would always say, ‘See you,’  — not ‘See you later’ or ‘See you tomorrow’ — just ‘See you.’ But it was perfect, because what Eve did was see all of us and see the world and see the beauty, excitement and the potential to do great things.”  (Her friend Anita Lassiter)

I mention Eve because she was only 21 years old when her funeral took place. By that time, it had already been determined what would be said at her funeral, and what you see above conveys the tenor of how she is remembered.

It would be a mistake, of course, to try to be someone else. It would be a bigger mistake, though, not to be the person you want to be, the person you want to hear described by your family, friends, and colleagues when your brief time on Earth is over. What would you want people to remember about you?  And what will you do to make it so?

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The price of cynicism

“We cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose…Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.“
- Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

I was talking with a friend at the gym the other day when he volunteered, “Randy, my goal is to wake up one day and be a little less cynical than the day before.”  I appreciated his honesty as well as his self-awareness.  Cynicism permeates our culture, and at least my friend is aware of how his life is affected by this disposition.

Cynicism is defined as “An attitude of scornful or jaded negativity, especially a general distrust of the integrity or professed motives of others”.  I don’t know when the United States became so cynical.  I would assume that it must have come after World War II, because I don’t see how we could have met such a huge challenge without a sincere belief that what was being asked of us by our leaders was indeed what was needed to win.  I sometimes listen to old radio programs in which the commercials have an inspiring tone of “we’re all in this together and we can do it”.

In fact, there was a brief time after Sept.11, 2001, when I thought cynicism might have suffered a great blow. It seems during that time we were willing to linger just a little after asking, “How are you doing?”  We had a real interest in being our brother’s keeper, even if just in a small way for a short while.  Alas, after seeing the U.S. Congress sing together on the steps of the Capitol, it was long before they returned to the status quo.

But my purpose isn’t really to rail against society.  I would instead ask you to consider how this environment might affect you.  It’s fully understandable if you’ve become a little jaded.  I think, though, this can take a toll on a life.

Companies spend a great amount of money on leadership events where employees hear inspirational speeches on how a winning attitude can make a difference in the company’s success or how managers can spur direct reports to fulfill their potential.  I’ve often wondered what happens to this material?  Sometimes it seems the words disappear into some ether, never to become manifest in the words and actions of the target audience.

I think what is happening is a mind game where we sometimes seek safety from disappointment by assuming the worst of others.  The problem with this is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.  Selective perception comes into play and we see only what we’re expecting to see.  We dwell in a negative place to avoid feeling negative and, in the process, cut off our nose to spite the face.

Perhaps a belief behind such attitudes is a misunderstanding that those who expect others to treat them fairly are naive and will be taken advantage of.  In truth, limiting our field of imagination to a subset of possibilities actually has the potential to render us less effective.  If I had told you 15 years ago that there would be an online encyclopedia that could be edited by anyone and was generally regarded as accurate, you might not have believed it.

Abandoning cynicism doesn’t mean turning off your brain.  As former president Ronald Reagan said, you can “Trust but verify.” But I think it does mean giving the individual the benefit of a doubt.  Maybe you are suspicious of used car salesmen (or maybe not), but you can deal in a sincere way with any particular used car salesman.  After all, you aren’t going to buy the car because he or she says it is of sound quality — are you?  You will get the car checked out first.  But by not walking into the dealership with a suspicious attitude, you’re doing yourself the favor of enjoying the process, being fully in the moment.  You are giving yourself the opportunity to actually experience what is going on without the filter of some past unpleasantness.

Mark Twain said, “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”  Yes, we’ve been deceived.  We’ve had people let us down.  But if we’re not willing to give others the benefit of a doubt, to take people at face value, we risk losing much of the joy of life.

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Finding your balance

I was quite blessed to have Ms. Evans as my high school guidance counselor.  For whatever reason, she took an interest in me, looked after my welfare, and encouraged me to be my best. When I was close to graduation, she called me to her office and gave me a small award for which she nominated me.  As part of that, she gave me a book called “I Dare You!” by William Danforth.  (By the way, when I mentioned this book in a different context, a friend of mine sent me a photo of his copy, also received in high school, which was well-worn.)

One of the exercises in “I Dare You!” was to create what the author called “My Checker”.  This checker had four sides, representing a balanced life that includes the Mental, Physical, Social, and Religious.  I don’t know that that was my first introduction to a balanced approach to life, but it certainly stayed with me, and I still have my checker, which was written on the back on one of the cards I included in my high school graduation announcement.

 

 

 

 

 

There are certain ideas that seem so pervasive throughout history, religion, philosophy, and even popular culture that you have to believe they have merit.  One of those ideas is the notion of balance. Aristotle had his Golden Mean, which represented a balance between extremes.  The ancient book of Ecclesiastes tells us there’s a time for everything under heaven.  Plato said, “The music masters familiarizes children’s minds with rhythms and melodies, thus making them more civilized, more balanced, better adjusted in themselves, and more capable in whatever they say or do, for rhythm and harmony are essential to the whole.”  Emerson said, “People with great gifts are easy to find, but symmetrical and balanced ones never.”

More recently, John Wooden said, ”Next to love, balance is the most important thing.”  (I believe it might have been Miss Piggy who said, “A balanced diet is a cookie in each hand”, but I’m not sure.)

Whenever I am feeling out of sorts and ineffective, I step back and most of the time I’ll find that I am out of balance in one particular area.  Much of the time, I’ll find I have my identify tied up too much in my work, which is probably the most common source of problems in our society.  But there are times, too, when I’m leaning too far in another direction.

We can often measure our balance by our language.  When we find ourselves saying, “He always..” or “She never…”, we are probably not balanced in our thinking, because it’s seldom that those kind of declarations are valid.

I think one reason for the popularity of yoga and meditation these days is that it gives us a counter-balance to all the time we spend multi-tasking between the many screens that call for out attention. For that matter, resisting the siren-song of technology for even a few days can be a gift to ourselves and our loved ones.

How do you stay balanced?  Do you have some routines to make sure you are attending to all areas of your life?  If not, think about how that might be something you can do.  Don’t make me bring out my checker!

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It’s really not about you

There wasn’t a great deal of amusement at high school football practice.   August and September in North Carolina can have the heat of an oven and the humidity of a steam room.  Still, I sometimes found myself laughing at the rivalries that would spring up around the arbitrary division of the team during practice.  Guys who were great buddies at the beginning of the day’s work would become heated enemies when placed on different teams.  The insults and enthusiastic hitting that would take place in the context of an otherwise meaningless split made by the coaches were quite humorous.

I was explaining this to a friend at the time and she said something that stuck with me.  In telling her that I gave my best effort but didn’t really find myself with anger she said, “You take it seriously.  They take it personally.”

I have found it to be a challenge to resist taking things personally sometimes in the world of work.  It may happen when we find our favorite idea rejected, or we feel like we’re competing against instead of working as colleagues.  This is one of those areas that calls for us to be mature and emotionally disciplined.  To be able to look at a situation and know it’s not about me is a high-level skill indeed.

We sometimes find ourselves at enmity with a colleague, perhaps for known reasons, but maybe we aren’t even sure why the tension exists.  Often, though, we’ll come to the realization we are taking something personally that really isn’t personal.  When this happens, we might fall into a false dilemma of either capitulating (in which case we think we’ll look weak) or trying to compete for dominance.  In truth, there’s a third alternative:  Taking the high road.  It may seem by doing so you’ll lose the battle, and indeed you may, but you will ultimately win the war because the greatest war is inside you.  You have to live with yourself and know you are the kind of person that anyone would want as a colleague.

You may find yourself thinking, “How do I act around this person?”  And guess what?  You’ve just answered your own question.  You are to act and not to react.  If you want to win that war against yourself, here’s the game plan:

  • Every time you give your full, sincere attention to your colleague while he has the floor — you win.
  • Every time you sincerely congratulate her on an accomplishment — you win.
  • Every time you go out of your way to keep him  informed to his benefit — you win.
  • In short, every time you take the highest, most professional, most kind road — you win.

There are many other ways we can win friends and influence people at work, but it seems they are all predicated on making a conscious decision to stay on the high road, to resist the temptation to return the behavior you’re given.

One last note I’ve found regarding this.  We have many well-meaning friends and colleagues who will take our side in difficult times and will buy into the notion we’ve been wronged.  It’s important to remember while we may indeed have grounds for being angry it is probably not helpful to enlist allies.  There’s a feeling of intimacy that comes from having a mutual enemy.  In truth, we grow more from keeping our independent judgement.  Writer and singer Christine Kane puts it this way:

Colluding is the best way to perpetuate the pattern of taking things personally. It takes a deep and committed discipline to shift out of this pattern. That’s because much of what we call friendship in our culture is little more than disliking the same people and staying stuck in our own versions of the truth and requiring that our friends agree with us. Collusion is rounding up people who believe your own illusions. Stop it.”

How much better to encourage each other to shift our perspective, and even perhaps change the subject to something more useful when we’re being recruited to help someone in viewpoints that aren’t helpful!

Like many others, I write about what I know.  Unfortunately I know about this tendency from both sides. More than anything, I know you have important things to do…and this isn’t one of them.

 

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The one who gives the most wins

When I’m restless or pre-occupied at night, I sometimes listen to talks by Earl Nightingale, one of the oldest of old-school personal development coaches.  Long before Wayne Dyer, Tony Robbins, and the like, Nightingale was dispensing wisdom with a pleasant baritone voice.

Something I’ve heard him say many times always sticks with me:  If  we are unhappy with our  rewards, all in the world we have to do is increase our contribution.  To the degree we perform a valued service, so will we be rewarded.  (Or, as another ancient text puts it, “For whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.”)

Now this compensation may or may not be of a strictly monetary nature.  We can obviously see examples of entertainers and athletes who receive outrageous salaries compared to teachers or social workers.  But if we assume our work lives are not entirely measured by our pay, we can reap a large bounty of reward by giving our best to those whom we serve.

As one who serves others for a living (don’t we all in some way?), one of my goals is that I would never have a someone call me and begin the conversaton with “I know you’re really busy, but…” While I usually *am* busy, I want to cultivate the illusion that I always have time for that person, and then do my best to take care of his or her need.  Here’s how I see it:

What I give my customers:

My Communicator button is green for you.
I will be happy to talk to you in person.
I won’t hesitate to say “I’m sorry” if I’ve messed up.
If possible, I’ll say “Yes”.

What I receive:

You challenge me to be my best.
You give me the opportunity to do good work.
You’ll understand me saying “No” as long as you know I’m doing my best.
Because of you, I have a job.

This reciprocal contribution is not only good from a career standpoint, but I believe it is part of a rewarding life.  It just feels good when we are part of give-and-take relationship.  And when we do our best to out-give one another, I believe our company benefits.  Besides, don’t you enjoy a little competition between friends?

 

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