Bringing back the human element.

I have come across multiple posts recently on Facebook and in actual media outlets (Check out Adam Grant‘s take) decrying how the social media context has caused us to lose sight of what friendship. Too often in our over-saturated, noisy world we allow an electronically mediated message to get in the way of the actual human element of relationship – and I admit I am a huge offender.

I often refer to people as friends even when I admittedly haven’t talked to them for years, or rarely ever. I have lived in 4 different states in the last 11 years, including 9 different cities, and I am really bad about working on true unfiltered continued relationships (except with my wife and daughter). I am the guy who would rather email, text, message, or post something to you than pick up the phone and call you – if we are at a distance (I will say I would much rather grab coffee with you than those other things, but I think you get the point). To make matters worse, I for most of my adult life have worked in small organizations where my actual human interactions with people on a daily basis are quite limited. Yet at my core, I am a developer, coach, teammate, and community member. In the words immortalized in the show Lost in Space, “this does not compute.”

With an ever-shrinking world, ever-increasing access to information, and the constant buzz that surrounds the everyday life of individuals from infancy to geriatrics, how do we put the human element back into relationships? I don’t believe that it is anything but a result of our lack of human interaction that vitriol is expelled on the comment sections of so many articles, that we are becoming more and more divided everyday, and that injustice seems to be on an uptick.

So how do we create person-to-person, person-to-group, and person-to-community connection back to our society? I wish I had an easy answer, but I don’t. My only thought is that we have to start by being intentional and aware of this reality. We all have a need for belonging, from political parties to sports teams, gangs to religious organizations, clubs to conferences, we need others and we need to be connected. In 2015, I am would like to embark on a journey of reconnecting to the human element of our society – through shared community, phone calls, coffee talks, and video chats.

Will you join me in seeking to bring back the human element to our lives again?

If only I had more time

I find myself thinking that so often. Right now I serve as the Executive Director of SynerVision Leadership Foundation, I teach adjunct at Spring Hill College, and I am working with an amazing group of community leaders to bring innovation and entrepreneurship structure to my new hometown of Mobile, AL (not to mention other volunteer work that I do).IMG_20140508_073843

(Places like this do help the process. Taking time to reflect and enjoy your surroundings are helpful)

Still, it bothers me when I think about all of the other projects (including this website) that I just can’t seem to spend my emotional and mental capital in more places. The truth is, we all want to do more. The organization you work for wants to, the school that you attend desires to, and you wish you could – but the reality is, we all have to be strategic about what we choose to do, otherwise we will be spinning our wheels.

If you are like me, this is a really hard lesson, I mean REALLY! So rather than just whine about the problem, sit down and write out your list. Choose five things that you feel that you can really invest yourself in. No more than five. No cheating…and if you can’t come up with five – open your eyes to all the possibilities that are out there. Why five, because that it just makes sense – trust me, or don’t (I mean you only have five fingers on a hand…it was just meant to be – and no, don’t tell me you have two hands…I know that but really when you start to go to the second hand for anything do you really remember it, no…I didn’t think so!)

Go forth and invest yourself wisely!

Working Remotely…Why Its Important to Know, Before You Go!

For the past decade I have found myself working in quiet settings (for the most part), offices that were made up of no more than 5 people on the average day, but recently I embarked on a new (remote) work adventure. As a member of the new workforce, I showed no fear at the idea of working from a location far away (geographically) from the rest of my team. Lets be real working at a computer, talking on the phone, and using a webcam were all a very normal part of my life as someone who is a borderline Millennial (depending on the defined years). These 5 things I have learned in my experience are important for you as you think about making the step to a remote workplace.

1) Know Yourself.

If you have a challenge working unless you are “at work”, this might not be the setting for you. If you enjoy quiet as you work, allowing you to focus deeply, this might be the right setting for you. If you need to be in front of people often and have a lack of comfort with technology, this might not be the setting for you. And so on. 

The key is, to evaluate yourself and your specific needs, before you take the plunge!

2) Find Outlets.

You will need to set up (productive) interactions with people. Regardless of your intravert/extravert tendencies, we all need people to help spark the work that we do. Be strategic in setting up lunch meetings, phone calls, coffee house interactions, or other similar engagements that will allow you to stay engaged with people that help you move your sphere of work forward.

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3) Get Up. Go Outside. Stretch. Relax. 

While you may not see outside your office when you are in a traditional work setting, you at least are likely to get up and move around. Working remotely, it is easy to get into flow of work which is only interrupted by the crick in your back or neck that comes from having failed to move in hours. Get up, go see the outside, move around, and even relax. The truth is you are saving your organization time and money by not being in a typical office setting so use a little of that to maintain your health and sanity!

4) Be Disciplined.

Going down a rabbit hole is easy, regardless of your setting, but in a remote workspace (especially if you are working from home) this can be particularly dangerous. Make sure that you set up your schedule in increments (find something that works for you – maybe the Pomodoro technique) and be disciplined about not getting lost or straying too far from the core of your work. Give your brain down times, but be careful about getting lost on peripheral things that have little impact on your work.

5) Eat (in other places besides your desk).

Seriously, what is worse than eating food at your desk (ok, so there are more than a few things I could list). This is the one that to me becomes dangerous to your functioning. It is important for your brain and body to have different settings. Moving can help differentiate actions, it also allows the blood to flow and the brain to engage new images and stimulants. If nothing else, eating somewhere else (even another room in the same location) gives you a break from the routine and helps refresh you. 

Overall, the opportunity to work remotely increases flexibility for workers and organizations alike. Be mindful about these 5 areas (and others, share below) and you will set yourself up for success!

*It is important to note that working remotely, doesn’t specifically mean that you are working in your home office. There are a variety of workspace options present in the marketplace today that go beyond just being at home.. 

Where Are You On Your Leadership Journey?

It isn’t everyday that you come across an author who you feel gets it. In fact in the area of leadership, I find that i tend to disagree with more writers, than those with which I agree. Over the last few years, I have enjoyed Mark Miller. Mark and I have some differences in our paradigm of leadership and organizations, but I value his work on leadership, values, and development highly. He is certainly a strong voice for well-grounded leadership!

If you don’t know him already, here is a little bit of info about Mark and the 10th Anniversary edition of his book The Secret that is going to be released on September 2, 2014.

Mark Miller, Vice President of Organizational Effectiveness for Chick-fil-A, believes that leadership is not something that’s exclusive; within the grasp of an elite few, but beyond the reach of everyone else.  In the tenth anniversary edition of The Secret, Miller reminds readers of a seemingly contradictory concept: to lead is to serve. With more than 600,000 books in print, Mark has been surprised by the response and delighted to serve leaders through his writing.

Here is a post that Mark previously shared with his audience on Monday, November 4, 2013 at www.greatleadersserve.org. I think the metaphor Mark shares in this post is very useful for each of us to bear in mind on our own journey!

Enjoy!

TG

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Leadership as a journey is probably a tired metaphor. I’m as guilty as the next guy for wearing this out. I not only say it – I believe it! And as with any journey, there are stages or phases you and I consciously consider when planning a family vacation that we often overlook when we think about our leadership.

This is a topic I’ve not given much thought to recently. However, with some restructuring at the office, this responsibility falls squarely back to my team. Therefore, I’ve reengaged on this critical topic.

My thoughts are still in a very rough form, but since I’ve been encouraged to be transparent in the posts I write, I thought I’d share some “work in progress,” not polished ideas.

I think a leader’s journey has at least four phases:

Preparing for the trip = Emerging Leaders

Before you take a trip, most people I know pick a destination. Before the route is planned and hotels are booked, you decide where you want to go. Emerging leaders have a choice to make: do they want to lead? If so, they can begin the preparation in earnest. The best preparation involves both the heart and the hands.

Leaving the house = New Leaders

Who are the men and women in your organization who become leaders? For many the answer is, those from the emerging leader ranks who appear to be the most prepared or hold the most promise. These are the men and women you actually give a position of leadership. Once “in charge,” the real adventure begins.

Are we there yet? = Mid-Career Leaders

For many leaders in mid-career, there is often a sense of unfulfilled potential – a desire to do more and be more and contribute more. During this mid-career season, this desire either becomes productive or poison. Those who channel this desire for greater contribution and lead beyond their assignment are often rewarded with more responsibility. Those who whine and wait are done. The answer to, “Are we there yet?” is, you are always in a place to add more value – the best leaders seize it all along their career journey.

You’ve arrived! = Seasoned Leaders

This is probably not the best label for this stage in a leader’s career because the best leaders never arrive. However, they do reach a point where they realize their success is inextricably linked to those they lead. The successful seasoned leader has gotten self out of the way and is focused on helping others win. As a result, he or she wins too! They also know, their continued contribution is contingent on their growth.

So, what’s the point? I think there are several…

  • Increased influence is a choice – independent of where you are on the journey.
  • Expanded leadership opportunity is not contingent on your title or stage on the journey.
  • The fuel for advancement and increased contribution is growth, not time.
  • A focus on others will make the journey a lot more fun!

I know we’re all on the journey, my challenge and yours is to navigate the road ahead successfully and take as many people with us as possible!

What travel advice do you have for others on their leadership journey?

 -Mark

Be up front, even when it hurts!

One of the most important lessons I have learned in relationships and organizational life is that things that bother you, don’t stop – unless addressed. There is something innate in most of us that drives us to avoid confrontations (though I admit, there are a small percentage who seem to thrive off them). We don’t like the idea of addressing things because we fear what could happen, yet we willingly let the problems reside inside of our head, our emotions, and our bodies.

STOP!!!!!!! I know that it sounds easy, but that is what must be done in productive relationships and organizations. In both settings, it is important to create a safe space where we can be up front with one another in a caring and sensitive way, to state the frustrations, challenges, and/or needs that we have in moving forward.

The flip side to this is, we have to provide this space for others as well. There will be times that we unknowingly have offended, annoyed, overworked, or under-appreciated someone that is important to our daily life. When that happens, we need them to tell us…hurt as it will! This is how we grow!

We daily function with an image of both our self and our functioning that is developed from our internal viewpoint – meaning it lacks the depth and clarity of what we would see if we examined ourselves from a 360 degree perspective – but when we give others accepted space to be able to engage with us, the opportunity for real growth begins!

Today, make a plan for being upfront when your team, friends, or family do things that overwhelm, under-perform, or just plain grate at your nerves. Use “I” statements (e.g. “I feel overwhelmed when this happens”) as opposed to “you” statements (e.g. “You are overwhelming me when you do this…”) *We need to be certain that trust has been established in these relationships  prior to addressing issues.

Life is too short and too amazing for each of us to carry things in our baggage that could be remedied by addressing them gently with those that are important to us!

Why I Still Don’t Like Lebron, the Cavs, or the Heat (but I respect James more)

As a sport fan, I was growing tired of the #Indecision2014 tag that had been making the rounds throughout last week. My biggest hope for all of this hoopla is that it would not turn our as a repeat of the horrendous made-for-tv ploy of “The Decision.” That being said, while the whispers had been pointing towards it for a time, I was still moderately surprised by LeBron James decision to go back to his “hometown” Cleveland Cavaliers.

Let me take a moment to state this succinctly – I hail from SE Michigan and love all things about Detroit/UM sports, as an effect, I can’t stand the following: Ohio State, any Cleveland team, Michael Jordan, UNC, and LeBron. I grew up in an era where Detroit and UM sports were like the towns of the Detroit area – TOUGH!

Now, I have to admit having LeBron back in Cleveland just means I have less disdain that I have to spread around to NBA franchises, I mean I used to like the Heat back in their early days, but that was surely lost during the LeBron era.

A funny thing happened to all of my annoyance with LeBron the other day – The Letter was released. Gosh the lack of humility found in the “…not 5, not 6, but 7 championships” statement was notably absent and a much more mature LeBron was found.

I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010. My patience will get tested. I know that. I’m going into a situation with a young team and a new coach. I will be the old head. But I get a thrill out of bringing a group together and helping them reach a place they didn’t know they could go.

Sure, I can nitpick about how some of this was just overblown that the money helped bring him back to Cleveland, that the NBA rigged three lotteries in 4 years to make up for the Decision (and to set up the Return), but I will not let that be the focus. The truth is, while I could (mostly) care less about this choice, I very much respect the character and leadership that his letter shows. Young people make mistakes, being uber-wealthy and having whatever you want only exacerbates that, but growing up…that is what counts. 

Congrats LeBron. You have my respect…until the Pistons play you (kidding, sort of)!

Try. Fail. Try Again!

(Truth in blogging, the following was inspired by a recent failure. Yesterday along with my team at SynerVision Leadership Foundation, I attempted to integrate a new feature into our website as we prepare to launch. We figured out a lot, but it looked like a complete failure!)

If you have ever been part of the roll-out of any product or service, you certainly recognize the inherent failure of trying something new – it often flops. It might be better to classify that the first iteration of that new product or service flops. The product (whatever it may be) fails to actualize the image that you have held for it, its functioning is glitchy, and you have a hard time seeing people actually use it. With services it is often the unanswered question of how someone purchases it, redeems it, how do you market it, and make special deals on it.

If this is where we stopped, we would often have a whole list of failures that would make us want to give up. How many things are “perfect” on the first try? Quick answer – none of them (or as close to that as you can imagine)!

Why is it that we give up on the beauty of our dreams when failure happens? Is it the little voice sitting over us telling us “you’re not good enough for this to be a success”? Think about, Thomas Edison once said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up” and more famously (and more disputed – if he didn’t actually say it, he should have), “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

So stop it. Get over your feeling sorry. Get back out there and try again! ImageThe world is full of people who have failed countless more times than you and are now referred to in reverent tones for their success.  Reggie Jackson has the most strikeouts by any Major League Baseball hitter in history, but more importantly is known as Mr. October, a Hall of Famer, a man who hit over 500 home runs, made it to 14-All-Star games and won five World Series championships, along with two Silver Slugger Awards, the 1973 American League (AL) Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award, two World Series MVP Awards, and the 1977 Babe Ruth Award – yep, you can guess it, people don’t often talk about those strikeouts!

Go. Try. Fail. Come back, dust yourself off then try again! Not doing so is the only thing that would allow this learning to truly be failure!

Give Without Expecting to Get

ImageSo, I admit, I am biased. I am personally pre-disposed to the needs of the group, pre-disposed to helping others, pre-disposed to providing resources for those that are in my sphere. What is exciting is that research by Wharton professor Adam Grant, in his book Give and Take, shows that those that are truly concerned about giving before they get actually turn out to have more long-term success than those that are takers first (though takers do often seem to be ahead in the short term).

Beyond Grant’s research (which is fantastic), this idea has been creeping up in many other unrelated spheres. In his book Startup Communities, Brad Feld encourages those working in and around communities for startups to focus on giving first. In other books like Go-Giver similar principles are encouraged in a slightly different context.

The reality is setting in. People who give ultimately receive even more than those who take, but why? First, let me suggest that those that give actually receive, simply by giving to others (the Apostle Paul quotes Jesus as saying “it is more blessed to give than to receive” in a speech in Acts 20:35). Intrinsically we feel good when we give, serve, help, and care. Retail therapy has become a big part of our consumeristic culture, but it has nothing on giving therapy in the long run!

Second, the reality of givers are that they have a strong network of people. In the process of giving without expectations, you strengthen bonds by showing that you are in a relationship for the long haul, rather than seeking some quick repayment. There are often people who tell you that they are willing to help, want to do anything they can to assist, etc. but never actually follow through (great intentions, but just not the biggest priority for them). Then there are those who are givers, these people thrive off of sharing with others and seeing them succeed.

Today, take some time to evaluate your mode – are you a giver? In what areas do you find yourself more pre-disposed to give? How do you react to the idea that givers get further in life than takers? Has that been your reality?

If quick fixes worked, wouldn’t more things already be fixed?

Truth be told, they often make me laugh. Until they make me sad. Quick fixes have been the rage for generations. Think about it, if those get rich quick ideas actually worked wouldn’t more people be rich? If those weight loss programs actually helped people lose weight and keep it off, don’t you think more people would be slim and obesity wouldn’t be such an issue in our country?

It is attributed that Philip Stanhope, former Earl of Chesterfield, once said “anything worth doing, is worth doing well.” Yet, that bring so much of the quick fix, band-aid orientation of our present culture into question.

How many leaders are searching for 3 simple steps to huge turnarounds in their organizations? How many entrepreneurs are looking for the 5 things that will suddenly make them millionaires? How many church leaders have bought into the notion that these 7 things will suddenly transform your church into a mega-church? The answer is too many!

All too often we settle for easy when true success means extra work. We fail to ask the question behind the question. We aren’t willing to invest our time and energy in the things that really have impact and because of that we are constantly looking for the next silver bullet.

What goals do you want to accomplish this year? How are you working to meet those goals?

 

Owning your differences, while respecting others uniqueness

This post is part of a 4-post series on humility that began yesterday.

I am not sure when I really started to get it. I can think of moments along the way. When I was the only kid in my sixth grade class that voted for George H. W. Bush in the 1992 Presidential Election (though 1 other kid voted for Perot). When I sought work in politics just out of high school. Or even when a life in ministry was actually appealing as a 20-something. I was different, and I owned that.

The reality was, that while I was learning to appreciate my own differences, it wasn’t until my mid-20s that I really began to appreciate the uniqueness I found in others. No, not just my friends, schoolmates, and co-workers. I mean the person living in the homeless shelter, the family struggling to make ends meet while working multiple jobs and getting assistance from the government, or even those people whose lives had been broken by addiction. I had previously either overlooked or discarded these people.

Two of the core realities of the humility construct are a willingness to learn/teachability and a willingness to see the strengths of others. While I had grown in my willingness to examine myself accurately, I had not often given the same right to others. When you  step back and open yourself up to learning from others and appreciating who they are (regardless of the baggage we all carry), something amazing happens.

My life has grown so much from people who are different than I am. They share with me their stories and allow me into their world which looks and feels nothing like my existence. These are amazing and humbling moments in which you understand that the world is much greater than just your own perspective.

Through others giving me permission to learn their story, I find that even in most of vast disagreement we can do so providing dignity, honor, and respect for one another and how we have reached our conclusions, values, and actions.  I have owned my differences for years, but now I continue to learn how to respect the uniqueness of others.

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