Finding & Forging Safe, Profitable Relationships – Season 2020, Episode 36

We’re approaching Thanksgiving Day here in America. One week away.

Our personal growth is significantly impacted by other people. Within the past few weeks, I’ve conducted a few leadership workshops. I regularly illustrate our ability to help each other by telling stories of people – particularly older men – who influenced me. These were men I sought out, making investments to forge a relationship that otherwise wasn’t likely going to happen. In some cases, I took a chance. In other cases, it happened a bit more organically. But in every case, I behaved with high intentions, often being relentless because the relationship mattered that much to me.

Before I go dark for the rest of November – because many of you will be taking time off and others of you will be busy because business is hitting a higher gear – I want to talk with you about finding and forging relationships. The kind that can make a big difference in your life – professionally and personally.

Let’s have some fun – some learning fun.

Think of a person in your life who isn’t a family member. Somebody with whom you feel safe.

Here I’ll help you think of a specific person. This person is somebody you can talk to about just about anything. Maybe you can talk to them about everything – anything! Even better.

You don’t fret about confessing anything to them because you know they have your best interest at heart. You also know that whatever you tell them will never be used against you.

The person I want you to think of is that kind of person, but they’re also somebody who doesn’t jump to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. Mostly, they listen so they can better understand your situation.

Yes, they want to help you do what’s best, but they’re not anxious to live your life for you. They challenge you with ease because they want you to be your best. It’s about YOU. It’s not about them.

Have you got a name in mind yet?

Now, go back and think about how that relationship got going. Was it a chance meeting? Was it more intentional? How did it happen?

The man pictured to illustrate today’s episode is Ronny Wade. He passed away earlier this year at the age of 83. He had been a lifelong mentor of mine since I was a young adult. He was an educator, serving as an elementary school principal in Springfield, Missouri, but mostly, he was a gospel preacher. My parents were close to him, knowing him since he was just a 16-year-old kid from Ft. Worth, Texas. So he had known me since I was born. That only made it easier for me to find him, but I still had to forge the relationship.

The man earned my respect. I admired his knowledge and wisdom. I trusted him because he had proven himself trustworthy. By being the man he was, I made a conscious decision to make him chief among my mentors. No, I never approached him and officially bestowed that title on him. I just set about to make it happen because I knew he could serve me unlike anybody I knew – or anybody else I knew of.

I’m thankful I took the chance. And I’m thankful I did it when I was young. He was 20 years my senior. Things are quite different when your mentor is 83 and you’re 63. It’s not quite the same when you’re 20 and he’s 40. It’s a bit scarier. Feels riskier. I didn’t care. By the time I was 15 I knew I was going to grow closer to him. And I did.

Rarely do good things happen just because of pure chance. Usually, in my experience, there’s some degree of intentionality – some specific actions taken that improve the odds of a good outcome. So it was in my finding and forging a relationship with Ronny.

The man never wanted anything for me that wasn’t for my best. Spiritually, or otherwise. And he wasn’t offended if I didn’t see it quite as he did (which admittedly was rare because he had greater knowledge and wisdom than I did). I knew my limitations, which is largely why I sought him out when I was young.

You have to invest.

If you want to earn a return, it going to require an investment. The more you invest, the greater your return.

Over the years I learned that my relationship with Ronny was a surefire investment. Very quickly the return proved predictable and solid. So I invested more. I’m smart like that. 😀

Forty-plus years of weekly phone calls, countless in-person visits during many ups and downs for both of us – the relationship grew into a pretty terrific two-way interaction with each of us doing our best to serve each other. I wasn’t merely interested in taking from him. I wanted to make a positive difference in his life. He had much more to give than I did, but I never let that stop me from trying to dig as deeply as I could to return positive things to him.

I’m thankful for our years together. Mostly, I’m thankful I took the chance to forge the relationship by leaning on him with my trust and confidence.

Here are the things I’d like you to take away.

  1. Survey the people you most admire. Your reasons are your own. Don’t worry about what anybody else thinks.
  2. Find somebody – perhaps a group of somebodies – with whom you think or know you can feel safe.
  3. Equally important – to safety – find people you’re confident can help you because of their knowledge and wisdom to help you grow.
  4. Be confident in your ability to have them serve you with insights, experiences, and counsel.
  5. Be confident in their ability to provide those things.
  6. Be confident in your ability to provide something to them.
  7. Don’t fret about the trade-off being equal. Be willing to get more than you get (at least when you start).
  8. Don’t put pressure on yourself or them. Just start.
  9. Be humble and curious. Approach them and ask questions. Just talk. Mostly, listen.
  10. Let it flow. If you’re fortunate, like I was with Ronny, it’ll take off from there.
  11. If not, make sure you give it enough time.
  12. If you give it enough time and it still doesn’t feel quite like it’s going to happen, then keep looking.
  13. Rinse and repeat.

Take a chance. You might lose something priceless if you don’t.

If, like me, you’ve already done it, be thankful. Tell them.

Before Ronny died I went to spend some days with he and his wife. I had been telling him I wanted to come see him one final time. “Don’t wait too long,” I implored. Then one day, during a regular phone conversation he said, “Come on.” And I did.

We laughed. We ate meals together. We remembered the past. And we were able to tell each how much we meant to one another. Once more I was able tell you how much I loved him. And how thankful I was that we’d had so many good years together. We said good-bye.

It was just a few weeks later that I eulogized him – honored that he’d asked me some years prior. Horrible anxious and nervous, I muttered through.

Next week I’m sure like you I’ll be thinking of more things I’m thankful for. Today, and just about every day, I’m thankful I found and forged a relationship with a man who made such a positive difference in my life. I work hard – and want to work even harder – to be that man for others. You should, too.

If we’ll put in the work to be the type of person we most seek to help us, I suspect it’ll improve our odds of finding each other.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

Multiple Opinions: Using The Insight Of Others To Reach Our Ideal Outcome – Season 2020, Episode 35

Sometimes we do.

Sometimes we don’t.

He’s had some problems and he knows something isn’t right, but he’s scared to find out. Eventually, he goes to the doctor. Tests are run. Then he waits.

Anxious, fearful, but working hard to convince himself that it’s not going to be anything serious he’s contacted by the doctor’s office. The doctor would like him to come in for a consultation. Ut oh. This isn’t going to be good, he thinks.

Nervously he enters the waiting room, checks in, and begins to sweat even though it’s 45 degrees outside. He’s called back and the doctor informs him more tests are needed, but it doesn’t look like this is a problem with an easy remedy. The doctor delicately delivers the news, telling him that a number of other physicians are going to be involved as together they assess the test results. “I know you’re worried and I understand,” says the doctor, “but I want to assure you that we don’t handle these things in a vacuum. There will be a room full of very capable doctors who will go over the results with a fine-tooth comb and join forces to do everything we can to serve you.”

He sits there, paralyzed in his body while his mind races. Due to the current pandemic restrictions, he’s alone in this doctor’s office, both wearing masks. His wife is sitting in the parking lot in the car. The doctor had asked him if he wanted to call her and have her on the speakerphone, but he had declined. He didn’t want to endure whatever reaction she may have displayed. Not in front of the doctor.

“It’s very important,” says the doctor, “that a group of us join forces to consider what our next steps should be.” The doctor talks about the value of skilled, experienced opinions. The news isn’t good, but he leaves the doctor’s office believing more than ever in the power of others – not just the doctor, but the forces marshaled by the doctor.

I hope you never have to experience a visit like that with your doctor.

But…

If you do, don’t we want as many smart people in the room as we can get? And for good reason, what one might miss the others will surely catch. And what others might think can be challenged by someone with a novel or innovative solution. Outside insights can make all the difference in now just growing great, but in staying alive.

Today is Veteran’s Day in America – Wednesday, November 11, 2020. My dad turned 97 in September. He’s a World War II veteran. He’s healthy and doing well, living independently with my mother where they need no serious healthcare other than doctor visits. We’re blessed. He’s blessed.

The world he grew up in is very different today. He has seen the pace of the world pick up speed. He’s also seen the sheer volume of information, data, technology, and science accelerate to blinding speed. What may have once been humanly possible isn’t any longer. Namely, for anyone of us to keep it all straight. Or for anyone of us to know enough, do enough, or be enough to go it alone. We can try, but only at our own peril.

Life is so frantic today we need all the help we can get. Let’s talk about it.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

Grow Great with Randy Cantrell (Returning To My Roots To Fuel Greater Growth) – Season 2020, Episode 34

I won’t bury the lead.

I’m going back to the long-used podcast show title, Grow Great with Randy Cantrell because it’s always been and will always be about leadership. And true leadership starts with us, our determination to lead our lives in ways where we have the most positive impact on others.

It still involves leveraging the power of others because we know it’s the truth – who you surround yourself with matters!

I hope to be just one of the people who surround you, urging you on, giving you some things to ponder, sharing some insights and experiences, and providing you with a free (the podcast) resource in your quest to grow great.

The subject matter won’t change so much, but the focus is going to lean more heavily into leadership whose aim is to help create the most high-performing teams, groups, and organizations possible.

Why? 

Three big reasons prompted this return.

One, I’m intentionally pivoting my work more heavily into serving city government leaders. While it’s true, leadership is leadership, context matters.

Since I was about 15 I’ve been involved in business. Selling is where it all began. Business is all about selling. It’s about getting new customers, serving existing customers better and not going crazy in the process. I’ve spent my entire adult life in those pursuits.

Then about 6 years ago I got an opportunity. Pure serendipity. And good fortune. I was blessed to get a phone call one day from a friend who didn’t quite know what I did. It was an opportunity to do some executive coaching for a city. City government leadership, something I knew nothing about. Truth is, I didn’t even know anybody who operated in that space really. But I got the engagement and as they say, “The rest is history.”

I’ve continued to operate in that space while simultaneously serving CEOs and business owners.

There was something special – different – about serving leaders in city government. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it for a few years, but within the past 18 months or so it’s become more clear. The focus is people. Not that high-performing businesses aren’t about people, but they’re necessarily focused on people in a different way. The work is very different. And I’m very familiar – I’m an expert at business operations. I should be. I’ve spent almost 50 years practicing the craft. Maybe that had an impact on this whole thing – city government was something new. Different. There was no focus on getting new customers. Gone were the operational elements of marketing and sales – trying to generate revenues and enhance profits.

Instead, city government leaders were focused on being efficient and effective through organizational behaviors that would contribute to high-performing cultures. At least the cities and towns who engaged me were. These weren’t folks looking for remedies. They wanted to get better. They wanted to grow great – or grow greater!

It was refreshing. Rewarding.

Two, the past few years have taught me the importance of a high-performing culture in organizations. I’d always believed it, but I had firsthand encounters with cultures that were once higher performing, but things changed. It slipped. And I saw the devastating effect it had on people – both individually and collectively. So I got more intensely focused on figuring out how high-performing cultures can be built and maintained through continual growth.

Three, and this is the most important reason. I’m going to my roots.

Maybe it’s my age. Experience. Maturity. Or maybe it’s my lifetime of interest, passion and worldview.

A few episodes ago I did a show referencing The Human Side Of Enterprise by Douglas McGregor, published in the 1960s. When I was a teenager, working for various owners of stereo shops (yep, there were once stores where people purchased speakers, receivers, turntables and all that stuff that made playing records possible). More often than not I worked for tyrants. Men who had no clue about how to build organizations. Or how to treat employees. Daily, I’d lament, “There’s got to be a better way!” But I didn’t know. I certainly hoped so.

While I loved business – still do – I realized I loved something else more. High-performing organizations comprised of the most energized people possible. Those are my roots going back to my teen years. So I’m coming home.

Today, my worldview and philosophy are more steeped in knowledge and experience than when I first wondered, “There’s got to be a better way!” Now, I know there is. And this podcast is my contribution to that. I hope you find it helpful.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

Investing In Yourself, Training Yourself – Season 2020, Episode 33

I don’t know anybody who relishes getting up in the morning to attack the day in hopes of achieving a mediocre outcome. But that happens in the lives of too many people.

They lumber out of bed, prepare for the day with a quick stop by their favorite coffee joint in a mindless routine of preparing to simply endure another day. Pandemic notwithstanding, too many people behave as though they’re extras in The Walking Dead TV series.

We all have a philosophy – a way we approach our life. It includes how we see the world and our place in it. This isn’t some static view uninfluenced by age, experience, knowledge or our surroundings (including the people who surround us). It’s this constantly moving, shifting, organic thing, but it’s likely got some foundations that may not be quite as portable. Think of it as a room in your house – a fixed space – but within that room, there’s plenty of variations in how the future can be arranged.

Much of that foundation is based on our values, convictions, and beliefs. Not just about ourselves, but about others. And yes, perhaps about God. This also includes how we view success. It’s what matters to us. Largely comprised of what matters most to us!

Talk with 100 random people about these things and I’d wager you’d be hard-pressed to find more than a couple who could clearly articulate their life philosophy. Many of us are simply too busy, too stuck and too distracted to give it the thought and action it deserves.

Today, let’s try to change that, even if it’s just slightly. Maybe it’s time – or past time – for you to consider YOURSELF as a limited resource. What you choose to do with yourself is entirely up to you. Nobody else. You get to write your own story in spite of the fact that you may be deceived into thinking others are writing it for you. That only happens when you allow others to craft your story.

Step 1 – Don’t let them. 

Before you can begin to leverage your own power to invest in yourself and train yourself to become better – you must assume responsibility for your own life.

If you’re prone to think of yourself as a victim then may I suggest you invest in some books aimed at helping people overcome such delusions. Talk with somebody. Seek out a professional mental health expert. Do whatever you must do to correct the damaging notion that you’re where you are because somebody (or a group of somebodies) have done this to you. Find whatever resources you can – and don’t stop until you find them – that can help you understand that you’ve got much more power than you think. Until you reach that place, your life will won’t improve because you’re failing to take ownership of your own story.

I’m a notebook freak. I love great notebooks. I’ve got them all around me, almost all the time.

Since I was a child I enjoyed writing things down. Making notes. Capturing quotes. Jotting down words or phrases. Titles of books. Or songs. Just getting things out of my head onto paper is something special for me. I can’t fully explain it.

Through the years I’ve started new notebooks thousands of times. There’s nothing quite like unwrapping the cellophane wrapping of a brand new notebook, one unmarred by anybody. No writing on any page. It’s my new notebook. I can write what I please when I please. When I was a kid I’d write my name in the front. And maybe the date. Or I might write a heading on a page in anticipation of what might follow. The great thing about it…I could do it however it suited me at the time.

Sometimes I’ve begun notebooks thinking I’d use this particular notebook just for a specific purpose. Some theme perhaps. Or something else. But a few pages in I changed my mind. And the notebook became a hodgepodge of ideas and random things. But it’s okay ’cause it’s my notebook and I can do with it as I please.

But when it comes to something infinitely more valuable than a notebook – YOUR LIFE – am I to believe that you have more control over a notebook or some app on your phone to capture ideas, than you do your life?

I’m supposed to believe as a fact that your life is like giving somebody else your phone so they can use the Notebook app on YOUR PHONE for YOUR LIFE?

Yep, sounds ridiculous when I put it that way, huh? Well, that’s because it is ridiculous.

I don’t care if people have done you wrong. It’s happened to all of us. Some worse than others, but we all suffer. We’ve all been hurt. Time to build a bridge and get over it because this is OUR LIFE and time is wasting.

Step 2 – Self-education is just the beginning, but it’s not the end.

Self-education is impossible in people who refuse to accept personal responsibility for their own lives. That’s why this is number 2, not number 1. 😉

Self-education is mandatory for everybody who aspires to achieve their ideal outcome. It’s not the end of education, but it’s the beginning, middle, and end. Better yet, it’s ongoing, continual, and never-ending. And it’s not the only form of education in our lives, but without it we don’t embrace the other forms necessary to help us reach our ideal progression. We won’t get better if we neglect it.

Daily we have to take it for ourselves by putting in the work to learn. Self-education isn’t just about knowing, it’s about doing. It’s about closing the “knowing-doing” gap by doing more consistently what we already know while simultaneously learning new things that we’ve never known before. Then doing something with that new knowledge.

Puzzles. Word games. Video games. Chess.

These are just a few examples of activities that appeal to millions of people for one simple reason. Humans thrive on figuring things out. We can be energized by complexity.

Last week my wife and I binge-watched a Netflix series, The Queen’s Gambit. It’s a mini-series about a child chess prodigy. She loves playing chess, trying to figure out new strategies. The character thrives on learning more about how to play chess.

Her commitment to chess propels her to pursue playing the game at the highest level possible. Hours spent reading books, talking with more seasoned players, competing in tournaments, and visualizing game strategy all contributed to her self-education.

Gauge your determination to educate yourself in areas where you have an interest. Or areas where you know it might benefit your life.

Self-education has a cumulative impact on our lives – a powerful, positive impact!

Step 3 – Anticipate what you need to know.

“Everything is hard until it’s easy.”

It’s my favorite quote even though I don’t know who said it. Or where I first heard it. But it’s simple and profound.

We don’t know what we don’t know, but we must anticipate what we need to know. It’s a big part of investing in ourselves and training ourselves.

Think about the things you know today that you consider quite common, but just a few years ago you had no clue how to do it.

Like how to post videos to Facebook? 😀

I still remember 10 years ago when older business people staunchly declared they’d never get a “smartphone,” and now you can’t pry it from their hands. That flip phone just couldn’t cut it anymore and they pilot their iPhones like teenage girls.

Many people wait to be trained. Big mistake!

If it is to be, it’s up to me.

Don’t wait for somebody to show up to teach you, or train you. Take matters into your own hands.

Start with the things you’d like to learn or the things you know you need to learn. Expand from there.

Maybe formal education is required. Likely not, but it could be. I mean, you’re not going to learn how to do surgery or practice law without both formal education and training. By the way, education is acquiring the knowledge necessary. Training is putting that knowledge into action. Both are critical for our growth and improvement.

Think longer term. Look further up the road from your current position. Aim for where you want to go, then get busy figuring out what you need to learn in order to get there.

Step 4 – Lean on others for help. #ThePowerOfOthers

There are only a few ways we learn.

Trial and error. This is common. We just try things and fail, try more things, and still fail. It’s not called “trial and success” for a reason. Because mostly it’s trying things that don’t work as we struggle to figure out what does work.

Self-education alone. Perhaps it’s less common than trial and error. Likely because many people don’t have the patience to study something on their own. When we read books, listen to podcasts, watch videos, take online courses or other things where we’re trying to figure it out by studying it out for ourselves…then we’re neck-deep in self-education. Which is a good thing. The only bad thing is that little word, “alone.” If this is all we do, it may only be slightly more impactful than trial and error.

Let somebody – or get somebody – to teach us, to show us and to coach us. It’s the most effective of the three. And it’s especially positive when we incorporate all three at the same time. “I don’t need help,” says the person who clearly doesn’t know what he’s doing. But pride won’t let him accept help. And pride will stymie his progress. Not worth it.

Leverage people who can shorten the time required to learn something. Connect with people who can teach you by educating you, and by showing you, then coaching you how you can do it.

I regularly tell folks that over a dozen years when I began Bula Network the work was mostly “roll-your-sleeves-up-get-your-hands-dirty” consulting work. Overtime it quickly morphed into coaching. It almost always sparks the question, “What’s the difference between coaching and consulting?” To which I answer, consulting is “do it for them” and coaching is helping them learn how to do it for themselves. It’s that give a man a fish versus teach a man to fish deal.

Every coaching client I’ve ever had can (and will) tell you that the acceleration of growth made with help is vastly better than trying to go it alone. It’s true of anything people want to learn. Somebody out there has the ability to help us learn it. Our job is to ask, “Who?” Then seek them out.

Charles Handy is an Irish author and expert in organizational behavior and management. I’m a longtime fan of his books. One of them is entitled, The Age Of Unreason.

I’ll give Mr. Handy the last word today – words he wrote in that book, published in 1989.

“If changing is really learning, if effective organizations need more and more intelligent people, if careers are shorter and more changeable, above all, if more people need to be more self-sufficient for more of their lives, then education has to become the single most important investment that any person can make in their own destiny.”

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

The Human Side Of Enterprise, Douglas McGregor and The Quest For The Ideal Outcome – Season 2020, Episode 32

Douglas McGregor was a founding faculty member of MIT’s Sloan School of Management. In 1960 he published, “The Human Side Of Enterprise.” The book is most noted for introducing the world to Theory X and Y. Simply put, Theory X assumes workers are lazy and unambitious while Theory Y assumes workers are internally motivated, want to do good work, and will strive to improve.

I was happy to run across this book when I was still quite young. It was the mid-to-late 1970’s. By then the book was almost 2 decades old, but it reinforced what I had hoped was true. There was a better way to manage work and lead people.

I had learned that bosses were mostly tyrannical barking out orders and riding people hard in order to get the work done. I was well into my 20’s before I ever experienced a boss who offered any encouragement or practical coaching. Up to that point, every boss I had was a jerk. Self-centered. Uncaring. Greedy. Autocratic.

For years I had stuck to the notion that there must be a better way, but I had no proof. Until McGregor’s book showed me I might be right.

In all fairness, much of my speculation was born from my Christian faith. Kindness evidently had no place in business as I had experienced – especially between boss and employees. But I knew that was required if I was going to practice what I believed as a Christian. Yes, it was incredibly difficult to be kind to the boss and most of us did it only because we were afraid.

McGregor was the first person to apply behavioral science to business. It seems strange to us today to think that psychology and how people think and behave wasn’t really part of human management theory until Douglas McGregor focused on human behavior so intently.

He believed that as society grew more complex and technology expanded to provide more competitive advantages, that people would grow increasingly more critical to make groups successful. In 1960 he thought we were not even close to approaching maximizing the potential in human behavior. Sixty years later, and I could easily argue that not much has changed in many circles.

“Strictly speaking, the answer to the question managers so often ask of behavioral scientists — ‘How do you motivate people?’ — is, ‘You don’t.’ Man is by nature motivated.”

McGregor wrote that in an essay entitled, “The Manager, Human Nature, And Human Sciences.” He believed we needed to think about the problem differently if we had any hope to solve it. Namely, it meant treating people as individuals, knowing that each one has his own set of values and internal motivations. Organizations are living organisms comprised of people who want to learn, grow and improve. It was McGregor who pointed out how we’re all defined by how we think so he urged business to change our assumptions about people – Theory Y was a major shift from Theory X, even though McGregor felt both were two sides of the same coin.

If Mr. McGregor were alive today – he died in 1964 – he’d likely see a world more receptive of his ideas than ever before. He saw the future, an ideal future. And that’s my main point today. To encourage you to see the ideal outcome for your group, team or organization. Especially as it pertains to the people who are inside.

As you read McGregor – something I strongly encourage you to do – you’ll find it remarkable that these ideas were crafted by a man who lived when autocracy, hierarchy authority and viewing people as merely interchangeable parts were the norms. In some places they still are. Sadly.

He wrote this in The Human Side of Enterprise…

“Managerial practice appears to reflect at least a tacit belief that motivating people to work is a “mechanical” problem. There are certain similarities between this view of man at work and Newton’s Law of Motion. To a considerable degree, man has been perceived to be like a physical body at rest. It requires the application of external forces to set him in motion – to motivate him to work. Consequently, extrinsic rewards and punished are the obvious and appropriate “forces” to be utilized in controlling organized human effort.”

McGregor knew there was a better way. A simpler way. A more human way.

He felt managers should behave more like gardeners than tyrants. It was, he argued, their job to grow people because people are organic, living things – fully capable of growth, improvement, renewal, adaptation, and change. It’s not about fixing people, but it’s about helping people become better!

Much of what McGregor preached could be boiled down into the word “relationships.” We need each other. Learning to leverage the power of others in our life – and our ability to help others by letting them leverage our service in their lives – it makes an enormous difference in our lives. It’s our ideal path forward. It’s our ideal outcome.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

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