Archive for January, 2013

Have you ever spent much time with a small dog? Did you notice the air of self-confidence they exude? To them, external measures are meaningless, as Ed Gungor says in his book One Small Barking Dog. And this, I can say was unequivocally true, at least for one of my two small dogs.

Bean-dip came first. She actually belonged to the neighbors when I bought my first house. They left her alone in the yard, all the time, regardless of the weather, with no suitable shelter. She would find ways to escape the fence and run to my doorstep, where she would sit and whine until I heard her and let her in. And let me tell you, once she was in, she OWNED the place! And after a few “visits” the neighbors decided she didn’t need to come home anymore. She was brash and ferocious and assertive; afraid of nothing. I remember vividly the day she chased a full-sized garbage truck through the neighborhood barking up a storm as she ran…presumably saving the neighborhood from the foul-smelling, giant contraption. She was a Chihuahua-terrier mix, weighing a solid nine pounds on a good day. I don’t have a picture of her with me today, but if you want a visual, think “Taco Bell dog” from the late 1990’s!

Contrast her to Houdini, who I mistook for Bean-dip one rainy evening on my way home from work, silhouetted in the lights from on-coming traffic as he scurried across the road in front of the cars. I thought she had escaped the yard, only to discover this dog was male, an inch or so taller, and thinner than Bean-dip. Same short buff fur, and although according to the vet, he was a Basenji-Terrier mix, they looked like siblings. He was the quiet, gentle small dog, also confident in himself, but more interested in a cozy spot to nap than he was in taking on the world.

One lesson they reminded me of, frequently and in a variety of situations, was that small wasn’t less important or valuable than big, it was just different. But we live in a world that seems to compel us to continuously compare things, and sometimes one thing in that equation will be deemed of lesser value. Often it’s the smaller thing, isn’t it?
Just look at our cars and houses, our drive to accumulate more things, consider the so-called “value meals” in restaurants with ever-increasing portion sizes (of food that’s not necessarily good for us to begin with!)…but tell me, do these things equate to happiness, contentment, satisfaction, joy, and increased self-confidence?

I can speak for only myself, and my answer is “no.” Sure, I enjoy having nice things; I work hard, I buy quality, and I take good care of my things. But I have no misconception about what they are and what they represent. I need to be the right kind of person with a good heart and a giving spirit regardless of how I dress or what stuff I have and no amount of “stuff” is going to make me happy.

When I was working on my Master’s degree, there was a young man in my program. He was from Europe, very nice looking guy and smart. I soon learned he was also missing something significant. He was constantly buying things and when I say things, I don’t mean $10, inconsequential things (although he bought that kind of stuff in excess, as well), but I mean high-end expensive items – electronics, watches, clothing – and the labels and logos were very important to him; he bought whatever was considered the best at the time. One day, he was supposed to stop by to help with a house project. He pulled into the driveway in a brand new Jeep, one of the sportier models, fresh off the lot! He already had two other (not inexpensive) cars, and a motorcycle, if I remember correctly. He was bored, he said. Stopped by the car lot just for fun, and voila! He was now the proud new owner of this Jeep…that he couldn’t afford (his debt was staggering, and his compensation no match for what his monthly payments must have been)…and the next week, he was on a quest for the next thing, that next acquisition he was sure was going to make him happy.

As Ed Gungor says, on page 31 of One Small Barking Dog, “It’s what’s inside that counts most. And there’s another problem (with the big-dog lie): when externals matter too much, it makes you weird.”

Well put, Ed!

What do you think about the power of the small dog? And how does the “big dog lie” play out in your life?

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As we near the end of the week, let’s work on the communication plan you began to think about yesterday.

If you haven’t gotten that far, why not start with a plan for the next month?

Again, you’ll need to define the key messages — what do your people really need to hear, know and understand?

When do they need to know? Creating key messages tied to your key milestones will help you lay out your timeline.

What vehicles can you use to spread the word? Remember, anything printed or visual needs to be a secondary or even tertiary form of communication — reinforcing messages you’ve already shared in person. After all, if something is really important, shouldn’t your team/organization hear about it first from you? Then you can use memo’s, newsletters, posters, and other visual communication tools to reinforce what you have shared in person.

Define how you will reinforce the actions and behaviors you need your people to take and demonstrate.

Give some thought to the celebrations you will have (they don’t need to be super-spectacular spectacles!) as your team/organization reaches those critical, initial milestones.

Be sure to put all of these things on your calendar. As you know, if you haven’t made it a priority and blocked out the time to take care of it, all that other daily stuff will become your priority. It will be easy to get to the end of the month and realize you haven’t accomplished all you wanted to — so take the time to schedule your actions now.

Create your vision.

Articulate it simply.

Share your passion for it.

Demonstrate your own commitment to reaching it.

Reinforce the behaviors you see in others striving for it, as well.

Drive to completion.

Celebrate along the way.

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So, what did you learn yesterday about the communication methods you are using to share your vision?

Spend some time today to reflect on what you’ve learned, what it means, and what you now need to do to communicate your vision more consistently and effectively, so it sticks, with your team/organization.

Is it time to refine your vision statement more clearly and simply?

Have you clearly articulated the “Why” behind your vision? What’s the compelling reason for you to strive for it? What will happen to your team/organization if you don’t reach it?

If you haven’t heard this already, it might be helpful to know that the most popular radio station in the world is WII FM (or What’s In It For Me?). You need to be able to help your people make the personal connection between themselves as individuals–then the team, then the organization–to your vision. If you can do this effectively, you will be way ahead of the game. And the way to do this is to really get to know your people, what inspires them? What motivates them? What do they want to do, be, or have more of?

Do you need to put different benchmarks in place to measure your progress along the path to your vision? If so, what are they? And what are the key milestones you will need to reach along the way?

Once the measurements have been clearly defined, how will you celebrate when you reach them? And how will you reward your team members for their efforts?

Next, it’s time to thoughtfully map out your communication plan: Audience, Key Messages, Vehicles (primary and secondary), Timing, Owner, Outcome, Status, and Review. Successful leader-communicators consistently spend 80% of their time (with respect to communication) planning the communication and only 20% actually communicating. While it may seem counter-intuitive because it’s so easy to open our mouths and speak, truly effective communication does not just happen!

Your plan is nearly finished! Now, outline the key action steps needed to implement the plan, including who owns each action, what the expected deadlines are, and what the outcomes should be.

Now that you have an initial draft of your plan put together, who can you ask to review it? Find a trusted advisor or mentor and ask for their candid feedback before you take the plan to your team/organization.

It may sound like a lot of time-consuming effort, but I promise you the time you spend thoughtfully considering and planning your work will pay off in the end, with a more thorough, thoughtful, carefully crafted approach and it will show in the results.

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As we spend this week contemplating what tools and with what frequency we are communicating our vision, let’s spend today really digging into what we’ve been doing and how it’s working for us.

Take some time to ask yourself the following questions:

  • What methods have I been using to communicate my team’s/organization’s vision?
  • How effective have they been?
  • What measures do I have in place to determine effectiveness?
  • Do I need to consider other measures?
  • Have we been celebrating activity linked to our vision?
  • If so, how?
  • If not, why not?
  • How do I connect with the vision and demonstrate it in my actions?
  • Do I need to be doing something differently?

The answers to these, and other questions that will no doubt arise as you go through this exercise, will allow you to recognize if changes are needed in your strategies and actions, or confirm you are on the right path.

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My sister sent me a book for my birthday a couple of months ago. It’s called One Small Barking Dog, How to Live a Life That’s Hard to Ignore, by Ed Gungor. I didn’t ask her if she sent it because of the content – fitting right in with my passion and purpose – or if it was because of the small dog (I used to have two small dogs, one of whom believed herself to be bigger than anything and everything around her – both in heaven, now).

I’ve been reading through it over the past week, and there is a lot of wisdom in this little book, so I thought I would share some of the pearls with you over the course of a few blog posts.

The first gem that captured my attention is the idea of daring to be small. In today’s society, it seems the goal is for us to be bigger than life, the best at whatever, forces to be reckoned with, driving dramatic change. Gungor presents the idea that, perhaps, truly our purpose is to do the “small” things…to be the purveyor of small acts of kindness, changing the world one act or one person at a time. In fact, he goes on to explain that all too often, we do or say things that have profound impacts on people of which we may be completely unaware.

It’s heartening to me to think this is the right and good thing, after all. You see, I have told people, on more than one occasion that I knew I was meant to do big things, as I shouldn’t actually be here. Considering the circumstances I grew up in, I shouldn’t have been born (or at least the odds of my having been born healthy and “normal” were not in my favor). Many events in my childhood very easily could have been my last. And I’ve done things in my adult life that weren’t brilliant. Based on all these things, I have concluded someone is watching over me and there must be something very important I am here to do; the lesson is that maybe it’s not something big, maybe I’m destined to do small things!

Beginning on page 59, Gungor presents evidence on the improbability of our actually being conceived and born in the first place (255,500,000,000 billion to one – worse odds than the lottery!), not to mention all the odds our ancestors faced—generation after generation—which culminated in any of us being born (this logic is also spelled out in Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything). So, with this kind of logic in mind, it seems clear to me that each of us has a purpose – some important thing we are here to do…and yet, that important thing (or more likely things – plural) may be something small, seemingly unnoticeable by many, but which makes an enormous difference in someone else’s life.

It is heartening to think it’s the right and true thing that each day I have the opportunity to make a difference for someone else. It’s likely my efforts will never earn a front page story or make the Headline News on TV…but to know that in the lives of the people I encounter each day – regardless of my relationship to them – I have the opportunity to be a positive force.

And I’m oh so thankful for the people who have made huge differences in my life over the years, through what may have appeared to be small gestures of kindness or thoughtfulness. The ones who loved and supported me no matter how hugely I blundered. The ones who believed in me when I was unsure of myself. The ones who encouraged me to reach higher and farther than I at first thought I could. The ones who shared their time, attention, and yes, sometimes even money when I needed it. The ones who showed up with some resource I needed, right when I needed it. The ones who connected me with the others I’ve needed to know. The ones who, kindly, redirected me when I was clearly off-track. The ones who have left chocolates on my desk, just because, and made the effort to learn my preference (dark over milk!). The ones who trust me enough to allow me to coach them through the significant changes they are making in their lives.

With this reinforcement, and the knowledge it’s just the right thing to do, I will continue to do those things I believe will add value to others (so if you see me at a drive-thru window – pull in behind me – chances are very good I will pay for your order!) In closing, I encourage you to continue to do those “small” things to help, encourage, and support others. We really have no way of knowing how big the impact just might be.

One last thought…how different do you think the world would be if we took the time to acknowledge those “small” things others have done for us that made a difference?

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Welcome to week 3 of our Intentional Leadership journey!

Today, we will focus on the incredible volume of messages the average person is exposed to in a day — anywhere between 247 and 3,000 — depending on which source you pull the research from,  and those sites are focused only on commercial (advertising and marketing) messages; what might the number be when you factor in all the personal and directly-related business messages we deal with in a day? Hard to wade through, aren’t they?

This is one reason we must “trumpet the vision” as we are working to inspire and motivate our organization. It’s oh-so-critical to make your vision as crystal clear and simple as possible, and then to say it over and over and over, and celebrate it, and link it to action… many times a day, every single day.

It probably sounds boring and tiring, but it’s true. People need to hear things a minimum of 12 twelve times, through a variety of different mediums, before they truly begin to notice and attend to a message. Repetition is critical. This does not mean you need to say exactly the same words the same way every single time.

Indeed, what will be more effective is to weave your vision into messages at a variety of levels. Connect it to the major initiatives your organization is undertaking. Tie it into what lower level teams are working on. Draw the lines to how individuals are helping your organization move closer to the vision.

Don’t necessarily be subtle and don’t assume they will quickly see all the connections you see. Draw them the picture over and over and over. Make the connections for them.

Today’s exercise is to spend some time considering how your vision has historically been communicated and reinforced. What has worked the best?

If you’re not sure, spend some time talking with your people today and ask them what the vision is. If they can’t tell you simply, you have some work to do.

If that’s the case, take some time to articulate your vision and really consider if it’s simple enough to grasp quickly. Think about how you can make it more real for your team or organization; what picture do you need to draw for them so they get it?

Who can help you? Remember, you need not be the only vision ambassador; you know the people who get it — enlist their help in communicating and reinforcing your vision throughout the organization, in a variety of different ways.

Let me know how I can help you.

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My 20-year old niece posted this on her Facebook page Friday night:

You’re everything I want, but nothing that I need.

Pretty profound stuff for such a young woman. There’s nothing else in her post, so I have no idea if it came from a song, something she’s reading, something she heard from someone else, or just from her heart, but it got me thinking about what a vast difference there is between the two.

It’s easy enough to jot down a list of all the things I want…a new bed, vacation in Italy, a library in my house with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves filled with books and cozy chairs to snuggle into and read for hours, a cruise through the Inside Passage in Alaska, to see Chris Isaak in concert, again…and if I really want these things badly enough, they are all within my reach if I plan, prioritize, and save. But the point is, they are “wants,” truly not needs.

What I need is significantly different. I need nourishing food; adequate rest; regular exercise; to be surrounded by people who love, support, and nurture me; deep conversations with close friends; opportunities to learn and grow. Really pretty basic stuff, and yet so important.

Sure, it might be nice to have a closet full of new clothes and shoes, maybe a different car, a budget that would allow me to eat in restaurants every night of the week if I wanted or to go on vacation anywhere, anytime. But these things are just things; in the long run, they have no true and lasting value. They will not significantly add to the true quality of my life. They won’t make me a better or happier person. They won’t ensure my relationships are strong and healthy. They won’t make me different. They won’t make me better able to add value to others. They are, in fact, just more “stuff” to clutter up my life with. And for the past six months, or so, I have been actively working at cleaning out my drawers, closets, bookshelves, filing cabinets, and those never-ending boxes in the basement with a focus on getting rid of all this “stuff” that is cluttering up my home, my mind, and interfering with better energy and focus in my life.

The other consideration is that often we find ourselves wanting things we know are not healthy for us. For example, I love Peanut Butter and Chocolate ice cream from Baskin Robbins. But, I know for a fact that eating it daily is not a good idea! I’ve been in relationships with people I very much wanted in my life, but knew they were not healthy for me to be around.

As the girl said — everything I want and nothing I need.

I’m working on maintaining my focus on the needs, and can honestly tell you, I am feeling more balanced, healthier, more settled. Happy in my own skin, as the saying goes, and it’s a glorious thing.

What are the things you want, but know you don’t need?

What are the things in your life that are preventing you from becoming the very best version of you possible?

Is it time to give some serious consideration to this equation in your life, and maybe make some changes?

Let me know how I can help.

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And it’s Friday, again. Did you take the challenge last week of planning for your weekend?

How did it work out?

What are your plans for this weekend?

As we come to the end of this second week on our Intentional Leadership journey, it’s time, again, to think about how we will spend the weekend. If you are like many, you will heave a sigh of relief of having made it through another whirlwind, hectic week.

I’m here to encourage you — again — to think about your weekends differently and consider the value to be enjoyed by thoughtfully planning how you will spend the time. As you do that, consider how you want to feel on Monday and take the steps necessary over the weekend to set yourself up for success with that.

As I said last week, it’s not my natural tendency to plan for the weekend unless traveling, but I’m trying it out. So, here’s what’s on my list:

I will take my son to arts & crafts, then on to the crafts store to buy supplies so he can make homemade Valentine’s for his Kindergarten class (I’m no Martha Stewart — there’s an easy to follow pattern in the latest issue of Parents magazine). If the snow that’s predicted actually comes, I’m sure we will spend considerable time playing in it!

I will make cranberry pot roast for dinner — mmmm yummy! Again, good food, nice dinner time, and cooking is very relaxing for me!

I will read at least an hour of something fun and an hour of something on growth.

I will call my parents. I will respond to some personal emails.

I will spend at least two hours working through curriculum in the John Maxwell Online University and at least two hours on business accounting.

And I will spend some time preparing for Monday.

As we all know, Monday is going to arrive; it always does. Won’t it feel much better to be ready for it?

Then take some time to think about the big things you have planned in the coming weeks and review your planner to ensure you have the time set aside to prepare for and meet whatever those commitments are.

Thank you for accompanying me on this journey — we have now finished month one – week two, of our Intentional Leadership Journey. Remember, success comes from taking steps and doing work each and every day, consistently over time. You’ll see the benefits of your efforts if you are persistent and consistent.

Have a great weekend, and I’ll “see” you on Monday!

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It’s Thursday already — Wow! Time for a little reflection.

As you’ve taken some time this week to consider your organization’s history and vision, and to talk with and listen to your employees’ thoughts about the history, its significance, and how it relates to your vision, what did you learn?

Do you see any gaps or inconsistencies?

Did you hear something that left you questioning commitment levels to your organization’s vision?

What could you be doing to encourage higher levels of engagement and commitment among your employees?

How could you help them to see and understand the organization’s vision more clearly?

What do you think it would take for them to take greater ownership?

After you’ve spent some time on these questions and their answers, spend some time considering the vision you have for your team.

Have you articulated it clearly to them?

How committed to it do you think they are?

If you think there’s a gap in their commitment to your vision — either for your organization or your team — keep this in mind: They have to buy-in to you first, before they will buy-in to your vision.

Plainly speaking, have you established yourself as a true leader — are you:

  • Mature — knowing it’s not about you.
  • Intentional — your service to them is thoughtful, not an accident!
  • Consistent — you’ve demonstrated over time that people can count on you and know what to expect from you.

In short, you have demonstrated yourself to be a person of integrity. If you’ve done this, and your vision is intriguing to them, they are all the more likely to commit to helping you achieve it.

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Now that you’ve given some thought to the history and values of your organization, and what value they offer in terms of your vision, it’s important to know what your peers and employees know about your history and values. Not only what they know, but also how they interpret the history and values; as you are surely aware, “one size does not fit all” in terms of perception of things.

Before you can make progress towards your vision, you will need to assess the level of commitment your employees have to your organization. To do this, you may ask a few simple questions:

What historical facts do you know about the company?

How would you define our organization’s values?

What is our vision — what are we trying to achieve?

What is it about our vision that draws you to the organization?

What role do you play in achieving our vision?

How does the organization keep you connected to our vision and values?

The key here is to truly listen and make note of the things they tell you, especially if what they say is unexpected or counter to your beliefs and understandings.

I suspect some of the answers may surprise you. Pay close attention, though, as you may gain some invaluable insight into the collective mind of your employees that can help guide you in what you need to do next.

More tomorrow!

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