Two Important Questions Every Leader Must Ask & Answer (Season 2021, Episode 01)

During the early stages of morphing yourself into a high-performing culture, you can embrace a new level of creativity (aka innovation) when you commit to taking a harder look at what you’re doing. That means you individually and you collectively. Being too close to things is problematic because it robs us of the ability to see things as accurately as we might. Assumptions sort of automatically take over. We stop questioning what we’re doing because it’s become such a repetitive auto-pilot kind of thing. Enter the power of the pause.

Hit the pause button on the work. This doesn’t have to be the complete cessation of work, but it does require you to stop long enough to ask and answer two critical questions that can determine whether you’ll succeed in elevating performance.

For you and every other individual person in the organization: “Why am I doing this?”

For the collective: “Why are we doing this?”

For you and every other individual person in the organization: “Why am I doing it this way?”

For the collective: “Why are we doing it this way?”

The courage is unearthed not by asking the question, but by taking the time to answer it. So how courageous are you willing to be?

As you look at the first two questions, which are really the same question – just one is focused on the individual YOU and the other on the collective YOU begin by emphasizing the first word of the question, “Why?”

Concentrate your attention on trying to discover the value of what’s being done. And yes, I’m talking about everything that is done by you and others inside the organization. There must be a valid reason for everything that’s done. If not, then how foolish do you feel?

Is everything being done important? Does everything being done impact success? Know why it’s being done.

Then emphasize the pronoun of the questions, “I” or “We.”

As you examine the work being done focus on who is doing that work. Should it really be you? Should it really be the person currently tasked with doing it? Is somebody else better suited to do it? Who else could do it, perhaps better? What are the current costs associated with you or somebody else doing it versus having somebody different doing it?

Then emphasize the thing being done, “This.”

Now we’re down to the brass tacks of the thing being done – this! Is it the most important thing to do right now? What else might be important – or more so – and going undone because of it?

Now moving onto the second pair of questions whose aim is to dive into the how of it all, we’re provoked to ask more clarifying questions.

Is there a better way to do it? Is there a faster way? Is there a way that will result in higher success?

I talk quite a lot here and with clients about the importance of humility and curiosity leading to greater understanding. It’s because in our humility – our ability to wonder about what we don’t see or what we don’t yet know – our curiosity stirs us to ask questions so we can better understand.

There are days where I feel like a pestering 2-year-old because I’m asking question after question after question. Usually, that’s because of one of two things. Either the other person isn’t being very forthcoming or the topic is so fascinating to me I can wait to learn more. Sometimes it’s a combination of both. And sometimes it’s because my eagerness to understand is much higher than the other person’s eagerness to help me understand. 😉

But questions stimulate us. They foster deeper curiosity. These 2 questions aren’t sophisticated. They seem rather basic because they are. But high performing cultures aren’t nearly as sophisticated as we often think. In fact, sometimes – perhaps more often than not – we overthink it. We spend money diving into things that won’t have any lasting impact on our career, team or organization. We neglect to invest in some simple, but profound things that can make all the difference in the world.

Consultants often enter an organization with the intent to dazzle the client with volumes of reading material whose aim is to justify the high price tag of their service. But at the end of the day, it’s just a lot of words on a page. You don’t have to pay anybody anything to ask these questions. Not me. Not anybody else.

Hit the pause button sometime today and start asking these questions. Get everybody in your organization to ask them, too. Then stay paused long enough to do the hard part – LISTEN. Make note of the answers. Let me leave you today with two quotes.

“Being willing is not enough. We must do.” -Leonardo da Vinci

 

“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” – John Wooden

You must act on the answers. Else, it’s just an exercise in futility – taking up time in everybody’s life. The purpose of establishing and sustaining a high performance culture is efficiency and effectiveness. It’s the pursuit of greater success.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

Grow Yourself, Grow Others & Make A Difference – Season 2020, Episode 40

Van is a manager. Experienced. Being a boss is important to Van. He enjoys having people answer to him.

Beth is a manager. Inexperienced. She never thinks about being “the boss.” She’s busy helping her direct reports do better.

Based only on this information, which one do you think is making a difference – a POSITIVE difference?

Of course. We all in unison say, “BETH.” And we’d be correct.

If we can all so readily see this, do you wonder why Van can’t? We’re prone to think, “If only Van could see that it’s not about being the boss.” But I’ve already told you THAT is what he enjoys. That’s an understatement really because it’s what he most enjoys! Because that’s what matters most to him, that directs all his choices, decisions, action, and language.

We lead people.

We manage the work.

That’s my viewpoint. Not everybody agrees. Van doesn’t. He believes in managing people. As for the work, well, if it’s done well then Van is quick to take credit. If it doesn’t, he can distance himself from the result by blaming the people. He covers all the bases that way.

I grew up in my business leadership childhood admiring people like Jack Welch of GE, Andy Grove of Intel, Sam Walton of Walmart, Robert Townsend of Avis, and Fred Smith of FedEx. CEOs and founders who built great organizations were always topping my list. I’d study others like Harold Geneen who could achieve financial success through tyranny, but I’d always wonder, “How much more successful could they have been if they’d grown themselves, their people and worked hard to have a positive influence on others?”

My interest in high-performing culture began with the thought – the question – how much better can I be? How much better can I help others be? How much more can we get done together?

What might have been was always my biggest apprehension, fear, or regret.

From that was born my lifelong fascination with “the ideal outcome.” The book I’ll write one day will likely bear that title.

I’m especially fixated on anticipating and pursuing the ideal outcome because I know that’s where the joy and fun are. Because that’s also where productivity, efficiency and effectiveness are found.

Contrast that with the perspective Van, and many others, hold. Control. Constraints. Restrictions.

“Everything goes through me,” says Van to his team. It’s about authority, power, and all the other behaviors that insure people understand he’s the boss. Sadly, the reality for Van – the one he has no awareness of – is that the more control he exerts the less he truly has. But he sees what he most wants to see. Even though it isn’t working for him.

So let’s flip this thing and talk about how we can stop strangling people by growing ourselves as leaders, by growing others, and by making a difference for our organization through our positive impact on others.

Good leaders require good work. It’s a reasonable and correct expectation.

To accomplish that work, people have the right to be free to perform well. They also have the right to expect resources that afford them the opportunity to succeed in achieving good, if not GREAT work.

One of the biggest hurdles to good work is organizational constraint – all the speed bumps or roadblocks we put in their way because we think command and control are the paths forward. The reality is that when we free people to think, behave, and act in ways where they can achieve more, we free them up to be more creative and figure out how to do things better. In turn, that relieves management of the unnecessary burdens of command and control.

Happy Holidays From Inside The Yellow Studio!

A Conversation With The Organization Whisperer, David Childs, PhD – Season 2020, Episode 39

Serendipity happened.

I was traveling. Part business, part pleasure.

I walked into a place to get some information and came face to face with a man who had spent decades in Texas. The fact was, he lived in the DFW area for many years – the place I had driven from for this trip. He introduced himself. David Childs.

As we chatted it was apparent we had a number of things in common. He was mostly – but not altogether – retired. A few years earlier he and his wife had left the DFW area and come here, the place of their encore home. It was closer to her family in St. Louis.

Turns out David had extensive experience in building high-performing cultures inside teams and organizations. Upon learning about my work he said, “Wait here a second, I’ve got a book I’d like to give you.” Always on the prowl for a good book, I happily waited.

David handed me an over-sized paperback book titled, “The Organization Whisperer.” The author? David Childs, PhD.

“Look at you, Mr. Big Shot Smarty Pants,” I jokingly said. “I didn’t know it was YOUR book.”

We talked a bit about the book and what had prompted him to write it. Then I asked him to autograph it for me, thanked him and told him I’d like to keep in touch.

Which I did.

Find Dr. David Childs at his website, TheOrganizationWhisperer.com, or at Linkedin.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

Anticipate & Pursue The Ideal Outcome (Creating High-Performing Cultures) – Season 2020, Episode 38

The Peer Advantage by Bula Network is a new initiative that I’ve been working on this year. Like most things, I’ve gotten it wrong until I could figure out how to get it right. And I have a client to thank for helping me figure it out.

NOTE: If you want to dig through my previous content about the peer advantage, including a chapter by chapter summary of the book, THE POWER OF PEERS — go here.

I won’t bore you with the stories of my fascination with professional “paid-for” peer groups, which began about 4 or 5 years ago. Having never experienced it, I found it remarkable how small groups of people with one big thing in common – like business ownership, or being CEOs or CFOs – could elevate their performance so much faster and easier than going it alone. For many reasons I found it difficult – for me, impossible – to ignite that fascination in prospective clients. Being part of a professional peer advisory group (which in no way resembles the free mastermind group where the 5 factors of peer advantage aren’t readily present). My good friend Leo Bottary, author of THE POWER OF PEERS and most recently PEERNOVATION crafted the 5 factors (Leo and I produced the Peernovation podcast together:

Select the right peers – it involves more than surrounding yourself with the right people…you need to be surrounded by people well suited to share and understand your pursuits.

Create a safe environment – deep conversations about critical intellectual and emotional issues require an environment where it’s safe to share, be vulnerable (judgment-free), and where confidentiality is sacred. What happens in the meeting stays in the meeting.

Utilize a smart guide – leaders who learn to serve the groups they lead by acting as an equal part of the group triad.

Foster valuable interaction – a group culture that values safety and confidentiality. Where conversations happen by design, not by accident.

Be accountable – a place where group members don’t tell each other what to do, but where they tell each other what they plan to do. A place where individual members own their own solutions.

For the past dozen years or so my work has been 100% personalized, individual, and confidential. It’s been highly rewarding and effective for my clients.

I set about to add to my practice a professional peer advisory group. I set about to form one charter group of business owners dubbed The Peer Advantage by Bula Network. Quite quickly I was contacted by a few very successful business owners who were interested. I interviewed them, attempting to hit that first factor – select the right peers. I invited two of the applicants, prepared to launch as soon as I found two more suitable members. Then COVID19 made a grand entrance.

Serendipity happened.

A client asked me if I ever did any group coaching? “Um, no,” I said. But the wheels spun up to speed almost immediately.

Fast forward just a few weeks and it was clear to me that there was an ENORMOUS NEED that I could ideally fill. High-performing leaders or those who would love to become high-performing leaders could achieve higher performance together and with my help. But instead of putting the focus on the group, which is an extremely valuable component of high-performance – BUT it’s very hard for people who have never experienced it to see the value of it. And quite frankly, it scares some people.

Additionally, the time required for these groups can be a full-day a month, or a half-day each month – time very few leaders are willing to take out of their schedule. Nevermind that there’s high value in a leader making the investment in themselves and their organizations. It’s a hard sell. And I get it.

So I began to approach this as I have my entire career while operating companies. I dove into the deep end of the pool to figure out the “ideal outcome.” Fixated on efficiency and effectiveness has characterized my approach to building organizations and businesses. But in my personal fascination with peer groups, I lost my way a bit and realized I had veered off track from what had always been my focus – THE IDEAL OUTCOME.

Well, the ideal outcome for me personally and professionally must begin with the ideal outcome for my clients. I’m no different from any other business – our customers and clients must first be pleased. Else, everything is worthless. So it begins and ends with the value and benefit to the customers and clients. I made a cardinal mistake – I had mostly attempted to create this new offer of a peer advantage experience on my own. Now, I was sitting across a conference table – socially distanced from a client who was asking me why I had never considered group coaching. The client remarked, “Why aren’t more people taking advantage of this kind of coaching? I’ve been doing this 23 years and I’ve never experienced anything like this.”

Inside I mimicked Homer Simpson, “Doh!”

The specific ideal outcomes for my clients are as personal and individual as my clients. And it’s for them to decide. I don’t impose on clients because that’s never my role. Nor would it be for their best. But as a service provider, I have to anticipate what might be their ideal outcome and generally speaking, that’s not real hard. I simply had to think about it and start asking more questions.

Within a few months, I had it distilled. This week I’ve begun a very targeted offer based on all this.

The ideal outcome begins with high-performing teams, groups and organizations. At the end of the day, nothing else matters. That’s always been true of my work as a leadership coach. It’s not about feeling better (although that can happen). It’s about improved performance! Sustainable high performance.

The ideal outcome includes making the best use of time. High-performing leaders are pressed for time. Some of that is necessary, some of it is because of how they’re wired. To stay busy. Constantly in motion.

The ideal outcome includes being highly cost-effective. High-performing leaders don’t waste resources. Money is the chief resource (after time).

The ideal outcome includes privacy and confidentiality. High-performing leaders are like everybody else, often they’re reluctant to be vulnerable. It’s vastly easier in a private setting than in front of a small group of people.

The ideal outcome includes enough of a group component where on occasion the high-performing leader can interact with other high-performing leaders to discuss things that will help everybody in the group. The interaction sparks innovation and gets the juices really flowing.

So after a few months of investigation and planning, it was clear that I could offer high-performing leaders an offer that would achieve each of these ideal outcomes. The focus would be on becoming or elevating existing high performance. Throughout the team, group and organization. It would be a program that would not only help these leaders achieve it within their immediate teams or direct reports, but it would help them spread that high performance throughout their entire organization.

It would demand just 4-and-a-half hours of time invested each month. Three of those hours would be private and confidential with me. Time where these leaders could be vulnerable and open without any fear. Time where they could be challenged in a safe, confidential setting.

It would require just 90 minutes in a single group meeting where they might want to bring forward something that had been discussed in those private sessions. Perhaps something else. And because everybody in the group would be in the exact same position, doing the exact same kind of work – they could really leverage their collective insights, experiences, wisdom and knowledge to help each other.

And this wouldn’t cost thousands of dollars a month, but hundreds.

You could think of it in different terms. Based on a 5-day work week, it amounts to 13.5 minutes a day to invest in YOURSELF and YOUR ORGANIZATION. A small investment to achieve higher performance and create a sustainable culture inside your organization. All at a cost that any organization can afford.

My first charter groups are going to be leaders inside city government in the state of Texas. I’m intentionally focused on this narrow niche. I’m additionally going to focus on small to medium-sized business owners. Well, more accurately stated, “owners of small to medium-sized businesses.” I’m not looking for folks whose size is small to medium. I’m happy to help big ‘ol boys and gals, too! 😉

If you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired — and ready to anticipate and pursue the ideal outcome for your team, group or organization, then I’d be honored to hear more about it. Go here and let’s talk. It’s completely free and there is no obligation of any kind. Just go to https://bulanetwork.com/free

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

Giving Thanks, Greeting Winter & Making Plans – Season 2020, Episode 37

The air is clear but cool. It’s about 40 degrees.

I’m staring at some woods, watching chipmunks, squirrels and all kinds of birds flitter around.

Chilling out means exhaling. Inhaling, too. Slowly. Deliberately. But naturally. The kind of breathing that helps melt away whatever may be vexing a person’s emotions or thoughts.

And I’m thankful.

Thankful to be in this moment. Thankful for the people who surround me – mostly my wife of almost 43 years. But the list of things I’m thankful for seems to extend exponentially each year. It happens with age I suppose. This is just a sample of things for which I’m thankful – things that have made an enormous difference in my life:

  • Christian grandparents and parents – a legacy of faith and fidelity is the most priceless gift I’ve ever been given
  • A godly woman who accepted my proposal many years ago and remains one of the best women I’ve ever known
  • Family, including 5 grandchildren who are healthy and growing up surrounded by people trying to show them the way to their very best life
  • Old men who taught me so much and inspired me to be that old man for others

I’m blessed physically, materially, and financially. But those things don’t top my list. The truth is if they crack the top 10 they’re in the lower portion. We’re working folks. Financial independence has never been the goal. We’ve raised a family and been able to live more comfortably than the majority of the planet. I’m thankful for that, but not more than the people who have made such a dramatic contribution to helping me grow, improve and make the necessary corrections along the way.

When you dwell on gratitude, does it provoke you to think of things you desperately wish were different? Yeah, me, too.

Everybody experiences grief, sorrow, sadness and loss. Sometimes, as with the death of the old men in my life, I’m able to embrace the quote from Dr. Suess…

Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.

But sometimes the loss is different and I’m not ever able to smile. I can only cry. You’ve got some things in your life like that. Things that lay you low when you dwell on them.

As you grow older, sloping toward being old…you encounter peers who have heartbreaking stories. Stories of loss, regret, and sorrow. That’s why I encourage you to find a place – perhaps a physical place or maybe it’s just some ideal place you create in your mind – where you can inhale and exhale. A place where you get find a respite from that pain. The kind of pain you’re powerless to do anything about…except in finding a path forward for yourself. These stories I hear always involve somebody, usually a family member, who made (or is making) extraordinarily high priced choices. Such stories involve drug abuse, criminal behavior, imprisonment, loss of a good name and so many negative consequences that impact millions of families around the world. I listen to the stories people share about their pain – a pain they simply must manage – and I’m made to better understand the universal reality that sin, bad judgment, and selfishness have impacted all of us. All of us!

Grow Great is the URL and the name of the podcast. Sometimes people will ask, “How do you measure greatness?” I always respond the same way, “It depends.”

Mostly on what you’re talking about. When it comes to human life it’s not the same as a business process. I thrive on finding ways to be more effective and efficient. Take a look at the activities inside an organization and it’s easy to find ways to improve – ways to work better at growing great. Listen to the stories of bad human behavior and we mostly use the same terms to describe it. Wasted. A wasted life. Nothing is sadder.

How do you measure greatness in a human life? I can think of some ways worth thinking about, but I don’t claim to have precise wisdom about it. One way goes back to the things I’m thankful for – the folks who had such a profoundly positive impact on my life. People who made me better. Or tried to. People who refused to let me just go any old way I might want to. People who loved me enough to steer me in ways that would help me improve, mature, and grow. People unwilling to be cheerleaders as I leaned into selfish, willful behavior that could have destroyed me. People more willing to challenge me to consider the consequences so I could learn to make better choices. In my life, those were people (and still are people) who make measuring greatness easier!

I’m very thankful for the great people in my life. You don’t likely know their names unless you’ve heard me talk about them here. They’re not famous or noteworthy for having done great things as we usually measure greatness. But they made big differences in my life and in the lives of others, too.

As the chipmunks scurry from rock to rock it’s easy to tell that winter is coming. Within a few days, we’re forecasted to have our first freeze. It won’t be long now until the nights are very cold and the days require wool caps. The critters know winter is coming. They’re fattening up. Storing food away. Doing whatever they must to survive during the coming months. I’m supposing their thankful for whatever food they’re finding right now.

Some of them won’t survive. I wonder if the lack of preparation will cost some of them. So these animals who act out of instinct make stupid choices like we sometimes do? Are some of them careless? Do some of them neglect to think about the negative consequences of their choices? I don’t know, but I suspect so. Some will pay the price.

Others will suffer through no fault of their own. Age will catch up with some. Sickness will strike others. Some will become food for predators. Things happen.

As winter approaches I watch these animals go about their morning business. And I wonder what they’re thinking. What they may be thankful for. What their plans might be as they each hunker down in their own way for colder weather.

It’s put my life in perspective watching them work diligently today as they start a new day. Mostly, I suspect they’re doing today what they do every day – working to make life continue today. Likely not making any long-term plans. Maybe making no plans at all. Survival is the main thing, but watch squirrels chase each other, or birds or chipmunks do the same and you realize there’s some play involved too.

I’m trying to keep my socked feet warm this morning, but I don’t yet feel like putting on shoes. So I wrap a blanket around them and sit under an outdoor radiant heater that provides just enough relief warmth to make it tolerable wearing flannel. I’m thinking about these critters. Thinking of what I might learn from them. Mostly wishing I was as nimble and agile.

Last night it dipped below freezing for the first time since last winter. Some great things happen with the first freeze. Mosquitos disappear. That’s the priority in our part of the country. A big plus. But the skies are about as blue as they ever get. Clouds clear and there are many days when there’s not a single cloud in the sky. My father, who is now 97 and a World War II veteran, has said that during his days stationed in England during the war he’d tell the Brits about blue-sky days where not a single cloud could be seen. The Brits didn’t believe him. But it’s true. Especially when winter comes.

I’m making notes. Making plans. Not just for the new month ahead – December – but longer term. For the new year. And for the next couple of years. It feels like a good time to get more concrete in what I’d like to make happen. Or at least the things I’d like to influence more heavily to happen. Time will tell whether any of our plans will come to fruition. It’s up to us to give it our best shot.

My dad is clearly in the winter of his life, but he still has plans, dreams, and goals. One never knows the moment when life here will end, but based on the odds, I’m clearly in the fall of my own life with winter coming up fast. 😉 My plans aren’t quite like my father’s, but I suspect few of us have identical plans. Generically, we all plan for life to be better. For business to be stronger. For the financial windfalls to be larger. For our lifestyles to be improved. For our health to remain well, or better. We plan for things to be better!

What are your plans?

How specific are they?

Do you have planned strategies to help you get there?

Do you have processes, specific actions you’re going to take, to advance you toward your ideal outcome?

In the second half of 2020, I’ve become increasingly fixated on anticipation of the ideal outcome. For starters, if it’s worth doing – it’s worth doing well. It’s worth being world-class at it. Or at least trying to be. And if that’s the ideal outcome, how much more fun is it to chase that than to pursue mediocrity?

Then why don’t more of us do that? I have theories, but I’m not sure. I suspect too many of us don’t think it’s possible so we talk ourselves out of it before we even begin to think too seriously about it. Others of us may be too lazy, thinking it just requires more work than we’re willing to put into it. All I know is that winning is so much more fun than losing. Being superior is so much more fun than being average. For me, it’s worth the effort and sacrifice.

Planning for success – and superior performance – isn’t a guarantee that we’ll achieve it. But I can guarantee that if you don’t plan for it, and put in the work to achieve it – you won’t find it. That’s a sure bet!

I’m ending the year more optimistic than I’ve been in a long time. No, it’s got nothing to do with the White House. Or which party wields the most power in the Senate or Congress. It’s a choice. Pure and simple. A choice.

Few things are more powerful than a mind made up.

That includes a foolish mind determined to live as stupidly as one can. It includes a wise mind determined to be as profitable as possible, too. I have a hobby podcast called Leaning Toward Wisdom (one I started when my kids were in high school – many moons ago) because a lifelong goal has been to lean increasingly more away from my own foolishness and more toward wisdom. It’s a work in progress.

Well, early this year – before the pandemic arrived – I made up my mind to embrace optimism as much as I possibly could. Not some rose-colored glasses idealism, but true, genuine optimism that might drive me to behave in ways that best suited achieving something better.

I got very precise. Clear.

Precision provides a vision that’s very different than some generic viewpoint. If you dream of doing something and your vision is general – non-specific – it’s not likely going to serve you as well. But to get down to the nitty-gritty details of the thing – whatever it may be – fuels us. Neuroscience has proven that we have a capacity to insert ourselves into situations we’ve never experienced and just vivid imagination works to give our brains the same reactions as when we really experience those things. In other words, our minds don’t often know the difference between real and imagined. At least in some sense.

That’s a pretty powerful thing. To know we have the capacity to think about something, with clear, vivid detailed imagination and by doing so insert ourselves into a reality which just might fuel our actions and behaviors to help make that happen. It’s where the pursuit of the ideal outcome starts!

So get very clear and detailed about your desired outcomes. Make them measurable and concrete. Avoid vagueness. Avoid the generic. Be precise.

Now answer the question – how am I going to proceed? And yes, that includes asking, “Who can help me get there?” Again, precision pays. Make concrete next steps. What’s the first thing you’re going to do? Then what?

If you’re like me – and most all the rest of us mere mortals – you’ll likely find not every step works as we had hoped or planned. So we’ll adjust. Embrace it. It’s part of the process of learning, growing and improving. We figure things out as we go. What we thought we knew when we started, we quickly learn we had it wrong. No problem. Now, we have the chance to fix it and get it right so we can plan the next steps.

Life is that constant, never-ending quest of getting it right, or wrong – so we can keep figuring it out.

My plans for the rest of 2020 and for 2021 include a more intense focus on finding ways to achieve measurable improvement. It’s how I’ve spent my entire career – finding ways to get better – but for the past dozen years or so I’ve been concentrating on helping others figure it out. Back in the summer, I began working to craft a framework that would accelerate the learning so leaders could more systematically achieve high-performing cultures. You’ll start hearing more of that content here starting in January 2021.

Those are work/career/professional plans. Like you, they fuel personal plans. My wife and I have some exciting things that we’re working on personally. Her career and my career are important components to the process because it’s by way of our professional lives that we can hit our personal goals. Well, at least some of them.

As the cold creeps deeper into my socked feet, I realize it’s time to go inside and get fully dressed for the day. Watching nature, including all these critters, I’m more aware than ever how it all works together. Work. Play. Rest. Maybe life was different long ago. More compartmentalized. I’m not sure, but I know my work has never been very disconnected from the rest of my life. These squirrels, birds, and chipmunks aren’t one-dimensional. As humans, you and I are even less so because our lives are much more complex than these animals in the woods.

That’s another part of leadership that we too often discount – the impact of one area of our life on the other areas. We like to think we’re able to neatly put things in place and keep them from spilling over into other areas. The leaders enduring a messy divorce is not immune to having that messiness enter all areas of their life. Leaders suffering health challenges are sure to find themselves suffering other challenges provoked by that challenge. It can’t be helped. That whole “leave it at the door” notion is absurd. And it’s not human.

My commitment as we begin December 2020 – a December none of us ever saw coming given the pandemic – is to serve more people to find ways where challenges can be better managed and opportunities better seized. It’s an easy commitment for me to make because I know a secret.

Who you surround yourself with makes the difference!

I want you to surround yourself with people who make a positive difference. People capable and willing to help you overcome, endure, and persevere. Part of my plan for my own life is to continue the process of saying NO to some things so I can say YES to more profitable things – things that will make me better. Things that will help me grow.

That’s my wish for you, too. I hope I’m helping you.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

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!

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