Leadership

PplDoWhtPplSee

Let’s focus this week on ourselves, and in doing so make a positive impact on our teams and those around us.

John C. Maxwell's got it going on.

John C. Maxwell’s got it going on.

John C. Maxwell is crushing it. It’s all about SERVANT BASED LEADERSHIP.

Even more easily summed up:

Don't talk just do

We’re all Liars?

Seth Godin’s book, “All Marketers Are Liars” is available in audio format for free on Youtube.

It’s a great synthesis of a lot of his recent ideas from TED talks and various interviews. I’m in love with his message of authenticity, honesty, and story telling. These really are my favorite things and my sticking points constantly in our dealings with Team Members and Customers alike.

Do yourself a favor and give it a listen while you’re working today, or on your next decent car ride and then talk about the ideas with a co-worker or your significant other.

Enjoy!

Born on Third Base

privtriple

No doubt. A lot of people are born with caring families and comforts and plenty of valuable direction at an early age. Others, with far less.

So what?

People who go through life worrying that the guy or gal on third, that was born there and doesn’t know it, are the same people not concerned sufficiently with their own lead-off towards second. Successful people don’t worry about other people’s advantages – they focus on how to craft their own. They don’t worry about where they were born, they worry about where they want to live.

This seemingly benign statement is pregnant with negativity. If they don’t realize their “privilege” or they incorrectly think their station in life was earned, who are you to point it out or to care? Their place has no impact on your own success and to focus on it for more than an instant is to waste the gift. To waste the knowledge that you’re capable of having whatever you want in life, assuming you want it enough.

That last part is the most difficult to grasp. That you have to want it enough to do something different than what you did before, different from everyone else around you. The fact is most people DON’T want things that bad to stop doing what they’ve always done. A point of comfort is achieved and there isn’t enough magnetic push or pull to get people to do the work necessary to accomplish great success.

So, as we’re generally comfortable enough, and dissatisfied that this other person has a better: car/income/family life/office/reputation/etc… the story we’re tempted to tell ourselves is that they didn’t earn it. That it was purely luck, and they should come down a peg from all of their high horses and silver spoons. But what good does any of it do? Envy, jealousy, feelings of superiority – all evils for a reason. Not because of what they do to others, but for how they corrode us and rust over our own initiative.

Which comes first? Talent or Belief?

This is the first of a series of posts dedicated to those who helped shape a major portion of who I’ve become at this point in my life. Melissa Lobozzo, this one’s for you. 

Which comes first? Talent or Belief? 

chickenegg

In 2004 I became a Property Manager for Paradigm Properties, and my first Regional Manager was Melissa. Up to this point I’d been in the business for three years in a number of supporting roles, but this was my first ship and I had a lot to learn. As green as I was, Melissa saw talent in me and taught me one of the most important lessons I’d ever learn. 

With an upcoming company conference to be held in Savannah, the powers-that-be were looking for Leaders to conduct training sessions on areas important to company culture. Melissa nominated me to teach a segment on Team Building. At first, I was extremely honored, and then came the inevitable fear that I had no idea what the hell I was talking about. Fake it? No thanks. I’d had tight teams, but I was at a loss at that moment to sum up exactly how I’d done it. Was it accidental?

I went to her some weeks later and told her I had nothing. I’d read a ton of books on the matter in that short window, and tried to couple them with what I already knew but so far I hadn’t been able to put together a cogent theory on Team Building. Maybe I should pass and let someone else have a crack it. Maybe I didn’t have it, maybe it wouldn’t be any good. What could I tell 80 of my colleagues, most of whom were my senior, that would get them to do more than yawn?

She looked me square in the eyes and told me that I was talented, that I did this stuff every day and that she was confident I could come up with something that would provide a benefit. She knew me and had every faith I would do well. She believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. I still left scared, but a little less so, and with newfound determination that I didn’t want to let her down. She’d given me a good reputation to live up to – even if I hadn’t fully earned it yet. That’s a gift you have to earn after the fact, and the price for not doing so is steep. 

Leaving her office I knew what the essence of leadership was. It was the same stuff Michael Jordan was doing when he would tell Steve Kerr that he’d be the one to hit the game winning shot, not Jordan. Kerr would believe it, because he believed in him. She did this all the time that first year – providing the right amount of praise and positive reinforcement with an equally deserved amount of (well deserved) criticism. Trusting her wasn’t a question, she told me the truth all the time! 

I put together that presentation and it was incredibly well received. It focused on exactly that sort of stuff: Positivity! Energy! Bringing everyone together towards a common goal, and it was back stopped by the “Fish!” video about the Pike’s Place Fish Market in Seattle. You know, where they throw fish at each other and sing songs about all of their wonderful mongering. It was only a fifteen minute session, done six times over so it didn’t have to be Les Miserables, and everyone was appreciative for something other than dull recitation of bullet points. 

After that, I took all the lessons I learned from Melissa and tried to incorporate them into myself: Selflessness, determination, courage, being a servant-based leader who exists to make their people better, one who provides a shared goal and gets everyone involved in how to get there.

In the ten years hence these traits have proven invaluable beyond count, but the biggest was that one little thing. Did she really believe I wouldn’t screw it up? Did she really think I had the talent to do it? I think so, but the good reputation she gave me that day was the thing that made that presentation possible, and a whole host of other things I went on to do, possible as well. 

I know I was a tough student, and lord knows there were days when I’m sure Melissa wondered if I had the sense God gave an aardvark. Actually, that’s probably insulting to aardvarks, but it is a testament to her belief that she could get through and get me to believe the same things about myself that she had glimpsed. And for that, I’m eternally grateful. 

What Have You Broken Lately?

The 80’s have been enjoying a nice little nostalgia revival in popular culture lately, as all of us who were children at that time are now having children of our own. My favorite part of the whole shtick is seeing all the old things I used to disassemble back then (dust buster, RC cars, Atari system, Rubik’s cube, Toy Robots) all done with a smuggled screw driver lifted quietly from dad’s tool kit.

I broke ALL of this stuff, man! The vast majority of it worked at the time I stripped it down and I told my parents (when caught) that I was just seeing how it worked and I was going to put it all back together the way I found it. Good story, young Rob.

So what did I do with all of it? While ruining a lot of things, I also made some really cool stuff: A keyed switch box from an old security system I found in the trash became my means of keeping my little brother from using my RC car when I wasn’t around by wiring it to the main power source. The old Dust Buster turned into a sweet battery powered fan I took everywhere with me. More things than not, just wound up as junk pieces I would tinker with for hours on end.

All this brings me to the main point here, the one covered in Seth’s speech below – so much of what we are given to do as children is rehearsal for jobs of following instructions. No one wants us to innovate anything, or more importantly – to fail in the pursuit of innovation. It’s messy in the short run and we’re conditioned to be scared to death of that fear of short term failure. Maybe we think the single effort that turns out to be fruitless will infect the rest of our actions – winding us up as one big eternal loser – the starving artist, the hermit inventor, the failed dancer.

Because I really like what I do I’ve never stopped tearing apart my toys. Only thing is, now, instead of wires and electric motors it’s spreadsheets, policies, and marketing efforts. Don’t get me wrong – we don’t tear something down for the simple sake of destruction. We tear things down because a better way is possible and achievable and can only be built on the foundation of the old. We tear it down because what we have is ugly and outmoded and we have outgrown it – it no longer serves us, or other people.

I’m not going to lie, a little more than half of people I’ve worked with over the years have hated this. These could be corporate support people, or bosses, coworkers, vendors, etc… anyone who’s life was disrupted by my curiosity and instance when a better way was possible. “This is the way we’ve always done it” or “It’s fine! Just leave it alone! Who cares anyway?”

The other half though?

That’s what and who you do it for. Those that want a better way, a simpler, faster, higher quality way. A more elegant way. Not just the veneer of progress, but actual, honest-to-goodness ingenuity coming through with a higher quality process for… anything!

So break something this week. Crack open your corporate policy on how to handle customer concerns, or some internal process and see if you can’t actually make a better mousetrap. If the process doesn’t make you smile at it’s simplicity and beauty, it’s probably ready for a revision.

If it’s all work, it won’t work.

At this time a year ago, it was all I could do to hang on with both hands.

I’d just taken a new job running the largest student housing facility in the country and some months before that, I’d started my own company, MammothCan, LLC. The strain of either one individually would have been worthy of Atlas, but both together? Even my “dad arms” were struggling mightily under the weight.

atlas

 

I arrived at Knights Circle less than three months away from “TURN” where (for the uninitiated) we turn 60% or so of our rooms in the course of about two weeks. For Knights, that means about 1800 bedrooms. That’s not a typo – 1,800 rooms, over about 675 apartments. It’s the closest I’ve been to a real life D-Day moment and I suddenly pitied Eisenhower something fierce.

At least no live rounds were being fired, just the usual figurative ones.

On the other side, our fledgling company had contracts to do the painting for a pair of Orlando communities at the same time – something we’d never actually done yet. We planned, sketched, called, cajoled, innovated, and juggled dynamite, blindfolded, in an attempt to pull off both to great success. As I couldn’t be in two places at once, my enterprising wife stepped up to help the business while I waged war with the best on-site crew in student housing to make sure Knights was going to be golden. It damn near killed me.

As long hours and working nearly 30 days straight took their toll, the fatigue piled on. Exhaustion tested me in every possible way. My physical health slipped and my ever-present optimism got the jimmy-legs. At the barber shop one evening before move-in day, I was reasonably sure I was experiencing a heart attack. My vision blurred, left arm tensed up, and I doubled over ready to pass out.

Panic attack. It was just a panic attack. I’d never felt anything like it – drowning on dry land. What was that? And why hadn’t anyone else I’d known gone through something like it? Maybe they had, but these are the things we don’t talk about. Eisenhower never doubled-over. Patton would never hyperventilate. The hell?

I’m happy to say Knights had the most amazing turn I’ve seen up close. For only having three months prep time, the plan worked nearly to perfection. Hiccups aside, it was a rousing success. MammothCan didn’t fare so well. We lost half the business we’d secured and took huge losses and learned some valuable lessons. That too, I’ll claim as a success of a different kind.

This year, things are wildly different. Going into the second turn at Knights Circle, the team and I are beyond prepared. My turnover spreadsheet is a year older and has evolved over that time to provide us even more of a tactical advantage. The team is battle tested and old hat at the game. We’re so ready it’s almost disturbing.

I’m doing better too. After turn last year I vowed to start taking care of myself more: actual exercise, better diet, and more sleep. Fewer hours too. Last summer I was working 55-70 hour weeks in preparation for turn, plus my efforts on the business after hours. It was too much. My kids hardly saw me and my wife got pushed to the edges. Not because I didn’t love them dearly, but because I didn’t know another way. Because this is what had to be done. Because I had to do it. I was wrong.

I took yesterday off to enjoy a long 4th of July with the family and take them on a boat in Sarasota, my hometown. It was beautiful and fulfilling. After driving back to Orlando, my youngest asked me to make a “giant rocketship” with him out of blocks. I couldn’t wait.

We made this, and it totally rules.

We made this, and it totally rules.

This is what we made, in a true team effort. He was excited that it was taller than him and nearly “taller than daddy.” We took a picture for his mom while she was out running errands and he couldn’t have been prouder.

This year, I’m prouder. Our challenge at Knights is just as big as before, but we’re beating a stellar last year, which I wouldn’t have thought possible. I’m spending more time with the boys and weekly date nights in with my wife, which have been a revelation. We’re closer, we’re really communicating, and we’re all significantly better off. It’s not an accident.

You’re going to take on tough challenges and some much larger than others. Good! Don’t shy away from them by any means. Heroes are the ones that run towards danger when everyone else is running away. That doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice yourself in the process.

Prioritize, compartmentalize, delegate, defer what can be deferred without wrecking the ship. Bring the thing into port, but don’t retrofit it into a casket while you’re at it. You’re no good to anyone that way and only you can find that balance between beaten down, and dead as a disco.

Most importantly, if you’re feeling like no one’s been there before, they have. And you’re not alone. It’s ok to ask for help. It’s ok to explain what’s happening with you. It’s ok to leave on time every so often. Remember, if your life if is all work, it won’t work.

When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.

The most important part of that quote is knowing that the help the universe is sending you, are all of the wonderful people in your life.

A special thanks to all the wonderful, talented and wildly committed people I get to work with at Knights Circle, and to my amazing family for being there for me when I forgot to be there for myself.

Success is Simply Luck?

What is talent? Malcolm Gladwell, somewhat famously, has said he believes talent to be the innate love of some particular pursuit – more so than most other people. Listening to Penn Jillette’s new audio book “God, No!” he states that the real trick to doing magic is simply the willingness of the magician to spend an insane amount of time learning something that no one else would think would be so important. And simply for the sake of pulling off this “trick.” 

success has a thousand fathers

Most people don’t care that much, thus they don’t display the “talent” for magic that someone else does who has put in thousands upon thousands of hours.  Gladwell believes similarly, noting that Wayne Gretzky so loved hockey that he thought about it incessantly. In fact, he thought about it so much that he was the first to score a goal by picking up the puck with his stick and flipping it in from behind the net. That’s love. The same, of course, would be said of Michael Jordan who was famously cut from his High School basketball team but put in intense amounts of work to get back on, and to secure a scholarship to UNC. 

Gladwell also notes, through his best selling book “Outliers” that many famous successes were due to being in the right place at the right time, or even being born at the right time. No doubt that it is helpful to turn up in situations that are primed for success. By definition though, these success stories that he focuses his attention on, are true outliers in that they’re statistically abnormal. The vast multitude of successes and failures that occur each day are of the far more normal variety, not involving some extreme set of criteria. 

During the Summer of 2012, a speech by the President declared “If you got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” Setting off a discussion about success and its roots, the likes of which hadn’t occurred before in such a public way. Of course, conservative leaning people were up in arms, declaring that they had in fact “built that” and that success isn’t reducible to  simple luck. Likewise, failure isn’t the result of bad luck necessarily.

Clearly, liberally minded individuals tend to disagree with their conservative counterparts. Gladwell is dismissive of the greatest of successes as being too much a manifestation of luck, be it genetic, chronological, or cultural. There is something to be said for noting the obvious advantages the cases in Outliers enjoyed. However, I don’t think that’s the most effective way to think about success.

When we say to ourselves, success is the product of luck, we’ve let all motivation out the window. If we’re not responsible for our success, if there is no credit to be taken for having worked hard and succeeded – especially where others have failed, then what’s the point? For the collective good? Take a good look at Russia and tell me how that’s working out.

The United States makes up 22.5% of the Global economy despite our making up only 4% of the population. Oh, and we didn’t exist as a country more than 250 years ago. How old is Egypt? Europe? China? Rank of GDP by Country Ours has been an economic system of opportunity to do whatever you like and to create value for those around you. Starting a business and putting in the long hours is not an easy road to hoe, regardless of what kind of background and normative advantages you have. If success was entirely luck, how then to explain for the out-sized success of a 237 year old country vs the other 180 or so? The US has been that lucky for all this time?! Year in, year out?!

Obviously, the young science student who was born to well-off, educated parents, who provide her with the financial, emotional, and cultural support to attend a University in pursuit of a STEM degree has a little help in the pursuit of her success, but she still has to love it. Like Gretzky, Jordan, or Penn Jillette, she has to be willing to spend her time and energy on difficult studies. Is it a little easier for her than the son of a single parent who is working three jobs to help pay for text books? Certainly – but she still has to do the work. If you tell her that after she’s completed school, gotten a job as an engineer and finally secured herself some success at the age of 40, that she didn’t really earn it, what are you doing to the motivation to keep going? Is telling her that her success is not hers done so to benefit those that do not achieve? To help alleviate their bruised feelings as they wait for their good luck (or more likely, bad luck) to arrive?

I know people like that. They’ve never found success of any real sort, and generally struggle through life. Nothing much interested them enough to move beyond the comfort zone of sacking out in front of the couch. Reading seemed tedious and pointless. Besides, success and wealth just sort of happen to people, right? It’s not the same thing as people trying and failing – that’s worthy of the greatest of respect. Trying and failing is what has made our economic success so powerful – we take risks and we get back up off the floor and try again. No, the real shame is telling some portion of our population that they’re not responsible for their successes or failures, that things just… happen.  As much as I respect Mr. Gladwell, and hold his work in the highest regard, I can’t agree with his outlook in this instance.

What do you think? Is success largely the result of the conditions one comes up in? Or is success as much, or more dependent on individual effort and the strive to achieve?

"Knowing neither victory nor defeat"

“Knowing neither victory nor defeat”

What’s Your Joy?

Irreverence, Passion, Art, Poetry, Stories, Movies, Debate, LOVE, smelling my son’s hair when he hugs me goodbye in the morning, seeing my wife smile, closing a deal – a BIG deal. Leading. Seeing my team decimate anything in their way.

Facing Fear. Not conquering it so much – but just facing it. Holding my breath the whole time. Innovation. Making something incrementally better. A good tomato cream sauce. Pop Art. Jeanelle’s photos. Kaleel’s brisket rub. Hiser’s Jedi-mind stuff. Marshall’s heart. Tara’s ever-presence. Tracy’s Stories.

Shifting into fourth and really letting the engine have it. The surge of an RPM gauge as you pass some Tuesday Greg on his way to get his hair cut. Getting my hair cut. Drinking coffee like it comes in a red solo cup at a frat party because you know it’s powering exceptional stuff today.

I think this is mostly right - perhaps learning how to do a thing right is also Joy.

I think this is mostly right – perhaps learning how to do a thing right is also Joy.

Learning something new for the first time. Did you know that WD-40 stands for “Water displacement – 1940” because I do. Metrics. Pouring over towers of data and making it stand up and tell a story. Cutting through BS because “aint nobody got time for that” Memes (Thanks Richard Dawkins)

Having great friends that push you. Pushing yourself to be something better and achieving it. Being the type of person you want to see others be – even if it’s not all the time. Caring. The one pistachio that’s really easy to pop open. The parking space that opens at ikea as you make your first approach.

Good design. Thoughtfulness. Being present. Winning – but not at the expense of others. Knowing nothing else beats human effort. 80’s movies, namely “Red Dawn.” Tumblr. SNL. Making something out of nothing – or even better – something better out of something OK  Quotes. George C. Howell speaking as “Patton”

Making a sale. Looking at things sideways. Changing my mind in the face of superior information – and doing so without apology. Grammar. Teams. Exceptional oratory. A superior cut of meat, grilled to perfection. The feel of a crisp paper in the morning and the occasional cigar.

Belly laughs. The deep look of immediate recognition from an awkward puppy. A handful of darts, a blank slate, and a pitcher of beer with good friends. When my wife makes up words by combining two words and doesn’t even realize it – cutest thing in the world. A freshly starched shirt in the morning. A clean polo on the weekends. The unexpected summer breeze in late July. Making breakfast with my boys while they stand on chairs the moved into place.

I could do this all week…

Care to try your hand? What’s your joy? What do you believe in, virulently. What would you rest back and with a wide expressive spreading of hands say “Ohhhhhhh, this is amazing!”

Name it now, please.