Practical

don’t wish it were easier

It seems like every time we start to get caught up, something happens. If only we could get a good year or two, then we could get ahead.” I’ve heard statements like this from several leaders recently. Although I understand and empathize with the uncertainty and pain and fear they are wrestling with, I am left thinking, “so what?”

Worrying about all the outside factors causing me to lose will ultimately cause me to lose for several reasons:

1. “If onlys…” are a distraction. It’s a drain to put time, emotion, and energy into worrying about things I can’t control, or even influence. The economy, conflicts around the world, the government, the weather, changing social norms, shifting demographics, etc. are what they are. If I can change it, change it. If I can influence it, influence it. Otherwise, I can only accept it and move on OR focus on what I need to change about myself to better deal with the circumstances.

2. Regardless of where I am today, this is the only starting point I have. Things are not going to suddenly be different and the world doesn’t owe me anything. That said, I have easy access to clean water, food, shelter, medical care, and transportation. I can call up an aeon’s worth of information instantly and communicate globally on my computer. There is due process of law, minimal corruption, free education, guaranteed human rights and individual freedoms, and a democratic system that seems to work ok. People tell me how miserable the economy is, but someone is buying all those smart phones and tablet computers. Perfect? Not a bit. But I don’t have to look back too far in time or too far across a map to realize just how good I (and anyone reading this) have it. Life may get scary, uncertain, and overwhelming, but if I had to choose a place and time to be at today, I could do much, much worse.

3. If the world were easier for me it would also be easier for my competition so I wouldn’t be any further ahead. Sure, it’s easier to run downhill, but if we’re all running downhill, so what?. If you’ve ever been an endurance athlete, there is a state of mind where you take solace in knowing that if it’s difficult for you and you’re hurting, it’s at least as bad for your competition. Some even see the difficulty as a source of competitive advantage and look forward to the brutal courses and bad weather. They know that many of their competition will have mentally given up even before the start. So, as I look at my life, career, and business today, I can join in all the worry and complaining or I can accept that it’s difficult, appreciate the challenge, and smile every time I hear leaders from other companies complain because I know they are believing their own excuses and mentally handing the race to me. The worse they think they have it, the easier they make it for me.

4. I can complain about the challenges, situations, and general state of life OR I can figure out who I need to be and the skills I need to develop to get where I want to go GIVEN the challenges, situations, and general state of life.

I’m going to wrap up today with my favorite quote from Jim Rohn:

Don’t wish it were easier; wish you were better. Don’t wish for less problems; wish for more skills. Don’t wish for less challenges; wish for more wisdom. 

Your thoughts?

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two secrets for better public speaking in 5 minutes or less

[Ok, just had to use an infomercial style title this morning. Seemed like a fun way to kick off a Saturday]

Public speaking is a crucial career (and life) skill that requires practice and persistence before most people feel comfortable. And, no matter how good we get, there is no finish line – there is always room to develop our skill even further. It can be a tedious and painful process, but there is a way to short cut it a little.

Use your video camera (differently)

Videotaping yourself presenting – and actually watching the video – is the only way you can see how your audience is experiencing you. We all know that. But it can be lengthy, tedious process. Here are two “secret” ways to shortcutting the process and picking up on nuances you might otherwise miss.

Different way #1: It’s not what you say, it’s your body language

Shut the sound off. That’s right: watch your presentation without listening to it. Communication is 55% body language and with the volume down all your attention is on your presence. In just minutes (5 or less!) you can easily see how confident, energetic, enthusiastic, charming, engaging, etc. you are.

Different way #2: Did you really mean to move like that?

Watch it in fast forward. It’s amazing how much you can pick up about your presence and body language that you don’t notice at regular speed (but your audience is noticing subconsciously). Are you flapping your arms about, pacing like a lion in solitary confinement, or stuck in a repetitive gesture? You’ll see it right away (that’s right – 5 minutes or less!).

Don’t words matter?

Yes, sort of. Words are about 10% of the message received by your audience. It’s an important 10% that can either be supported or completely undermined and negated by your presence and body language. Shutting the sound off or watching on fast forward removes the distraction of your words and lets you really focus on how you are coming across.

assumptions made // reality unknown

Ugh. Saturday morning and the shiny screwhead caught my eye. The screw was buried deep in the shoulder of the tire. Fortunately, it was still holding air, but it would probably be a slow leak.

I pulled the wheel and took it in to the tire shop. They confirmed my fears – unrepairable; too close to the sidewall. They didn’t have the brand/size in stock so they’d have to order one and it would arrive Monday. Double ugh. Their price was reasonable, but it’s a performance tire and reasonable and cheap are two different things. Triple ugh.

Sunday morning and I’m out on a run. In a moment of oxygen depleted clarity I realize: I made some assumptions, but never verified them. The tire shop took me at my word that the tire needed to be replaced.  The tire was unrepairable, but only if it needed to be repaired. There is a screw in the tread, but I don’t know how far in it goes. The tire itself could be undamaged. The tire was holding air, which a punctured tire will sometimes do. So will an unpunctured tire.

I made some assumptions, but never verified reality.

How often does this show up at work?

We hear a credible sounding rumor and make decisions about it as though it were fact.

We ballpark some numbers until we can get better information but then forget to go back and adjust.

We treat our favorite solution to a problem as though it is the only solution, forgetting that there may be other (and better) ways of going about it.

We fear the worst, assume the worst, and react the worst… before anything has even happened.

We speculate something to someone, they pass it along to someone who a passes it along again until our original rumor is mentioned to us as fact. In our minds, our speculation was confirmed, when the reality was that someone just told us the rumor that we’d started.

Someone tells us how difficult or unreasonable a customer is so we go in with either a defeatist attitude or a chip on our shoulders.

An idea is shot down because, “We tried that before and it didn’t work.” (Yes, tried it halfheartedly by someone with less skill under completely different circumstances.)

We don’t take on something we’re really excited about because we have ourselves convinced that we’ll fail.

We’ll rarely have perfect information, so assumptions can be useful. Make the assumptions, but check the reality.

the not-so-secret secret to achieving more

I was recently chatting with another fellow at the gym and he was telling me about his daughter’s experience with cross-country track. “My daughter normally finishes 3rd or 4th from last in her cross-country practices. Yesterday, she finished 4th from the front. I asked her how she got so much better. She said she decided to run faster.”

Deep wisdom from a 12 year old.

That’s really the secret, isn’t it? Decide what we want, decide we’re going to get it, and then give more effort.

We generally operate far below our true, focused capacity. We tell ourselves we’re going all out, but often we’re going too fast on the wrong things and too far below our potential on the things that truly matter. We go hard but we often hold back from our absolute best, replacing too much scattered activity for too few focused results.

We can decide to better use the knowledge and skills we already have. Decide to fulfil that potential. And, once we reach the edge, our capacities will grow and expand. We can gain more knowledge, more skill, and make even better use of our abilities.

We can be better, but we have to decide to.

At least, that’s what I see in my own life. Your mileage may vary.

the one skill to develop

Want a leg up professionally? Need a career boost? Become a better public speaker.

I can hear the collective response: Ohhh, ugh, groan. Not public speaking. Yawn. That’s lame. Give me career advice I can use. Maybe more school or certifications. I hate public speaking.

And that’s a big reason why it’s such a powerful skill. So many people hate and fear public speaking that even a mediocre speaker really stands out.

Why public speaking?

It’s valuable in all fields and every position I can think of. Any position that involves speaking to another human benefits from better communication.

I have met leaders from numerous countries and cultures and cannot think of a single one who wasn’t an adequate public speaker. Speaking and communication skills are crucial to being an effective leader.

Your skills get noticed much more quickly. Who does leadership remember: the talented wallflower or the talented person who speaks up, interacts, and leads discussion?

It’s (relatively) easy to learn. You’ve already been speaking to people almost your entire life.

You can use it personally and professionally. In fact, if you are involved in community, school, or church groups, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to put your public speaking skills to use.

 

Suggestions?

This is a big topic and books can and have been written on it. That said, there are a couple of things that really helped me:

1. Your audience is pulling for you. Most of the people listening hate public speaking so they empathize strongly with you. They feel your pain and want you to succeed. Unless you are a professional speaker, they are very forgiving of mistakes.

2. They don’t know what they don’t know. This was the most freeing realization for me. The audience doesn’t have a script. They aren’t verifying that you are saying what you intended to say. They will never know if you make minor mistakes or leave something out. Relax.

3. Know the central point and always speak from there. There’s two sides to this. First, when preparing, always stay focused on the central point and strip away anything that doesn’t directly support it. Second, if you get off track, don’t worry about what you had intended to say, just speak from the central point and you’ll be ok.

4. Put some heart in it. No matter how dry the topic, you can find ways to connect to the audience’s humanness. People respond to their emotions, not logic. You are speaking for a reason – to offer insights, inspire, persuade, influence – otherwise you could just send an email.

5. The audience is always asking themselves, “Why do I care about this? What’s in it for me?” so you should always be answering that as you speak.

6. Introverts can have a great advantage as speakers. Never confuse being introverted with being shy because it’s not the same thing at all. And being talkative can be counterproductive when it comes to public speaking. Introverts seem to be good as staying on track, keeping it concise, and providing great insights and analysis.

7. Good speakers work hard at it. You never see all the preparation that went into even a short presentation. That speaker who looks relaxed and glib and gives a great presentation likely spent hours preparing and practicing and worrying and sweating. Very, very few can ad lib a good presentation. Those who can are almost always relying on years of experience. Rest assured, it is completely normal to need to invest a lot of time getting ready.

Like any skill, no one is great at public speaking right from the start. It takes time and practice and patience to improve. But, it is also well worth the effort because it’s a skill that sets you apart.

just show up

“80% of success is just showing up.” ~ Woody Allen

 

“Did you get out and run this morning?” The guy at the gym locker next to mine knew I often liked to get out and run through the neighborhood in the morning.

I told him I had. But admitted I’d been lazy and hadn’t run much this past month but was enjoying getting back in the groove.

“It happens.” He said. “I’ve been pretty uninspired the past couple of weeks, too. I just keep coming in. The hardest part is just getting here.”

Such a great perspective. I had gotten out of the habit and slacked off. He had some less than great workouts but showed up daily. Any guesses to who is better off? He’s maintaining while I’m rebuilding.

This morning’s conversation serves as a great reminder that work and life is going to be tough sometimes. We won’t be able to fine the new employees we want, we won’t know how to deal with the employees we have, passion and joy will be replaced by gutting out another day, we’ll forget our vision and inspiration and start watching the clock. It happens.

It’s so easy to back off, so easy to justify, and so valuable when we don’t. Keep coming in. Keep the habit going. The hardest part is just showing up.

48-second leadership lesson

“I can’t motivate people because I don’t control how much they make.” “People have to be self-motivated.” “The work ethic is dead.” “Kids these days…”

Managers often complain about being unable to motivate or get the best out of people. It’s not always easy, but let’s turn it around and think about it a different way.

Is there anything that you could do right now that would demoralized, demotivate, and disengage your employees?

Could you easily lead in a way that would cause them to not want to give their full effort?

If you really wanted to, could you communicate in a way that resulted in confusion, misunderstanding, and mixed messages?

The answer to all these questions is: absolutely YES!

Take a moment to think about all the easy, simple, and inexpensive things you could do to destroy performance. Got it? Good, now go do the opposite.

make it pretty, make it exceptional, make it extraordinary

“Hand me that drill again, I want to make this pretty.”

Yesterday, I got my first filling. The dentist had already drilled the cavity and was about to do the filling, but something had caught his eye. As he took the drill from his assistant, he said to me, “This is just for me, no one will ever see it.” Then he corrected the minor detail he’d seen.

At that moment, I knew he was my favorite dentist and I’d happily recommend him to others. He is a craftsman. Someone who cares enough to do the job right, even when he’s the only one who will know the difference.

Would I have known if he didn’t “make it pretty”? Nope. Isn’t good enough good enough? Why waste time on details that don’t matter? Hold on there, I never said the details don’t matter, only that I wouldn’t know the difference.

What if he hadn’t drilled more? What if he had said, “Yeah, I think that’s good enough. No one will ever see it.”

I read an article about Steve Jobs a few months back that talked about how he obsessed with making the inside of the computer as simple and elegant as the outside. When you worry about the things no one will ever see, is it any surprise that what they do see is exceptional?

Being the craftsman, approaching it from a mastery standard, making the unseen as elegant as the seen often takes little to no more time. And you never have to worry about having to go back in and do it again. You never have to worry if it’s “good enough”. In fact, it takes a lot more time and energy to do something to the bare minimum standard and have to keep reworking it to get it good enough than to just do it right from the very start.

This applies to all jobs. A couple years back I bought a new-ish car from a dealer and ended up in a knock-down-drag-out negotiation over whether or not the dealer would provide us with a second key. If they are willing to cut corners and kill the customer experience over a key, where else are they cutting corners that I can’t see?

There’s a great lesson here: they eventually gave in and gave us a key, but it took so much effort that I’m still bitter two years later and will never, ever, not even at gunpoint buy from them again. Like the dentist, it would have taken no more effort to do it right (less even) for the sake of doing it right than to do it poorly to see how much they can get away with. They could have made it a great experience and would have made more money off of goodwill, referrals, and the opportunity to sell me another car. But they chose not to. And it still cost them the key.

It really comes down to taking pride in your work, all of your work. People usually won’t notice when something is done above and beyond right, but they will notice when it isn’t. Would you notice that all the staples in a document packet were aligned the same? No, but you would notice if the documents had been stapled and re-stapled, if the ends of the staples snag your hands, or if the document had so many holes in the corner it looked like it had been mauled by an angry badger. Silly example, but very true.

What’s this look like at your job? How quickly do you return calls? How thorough and well written are your emails? How prepared are you for meetings? Do you treat your customers like you would want to be treated? Do you smile and say hello to everyone? Do you help out those who aren’t in a position to return the favor? Do you try to be exceptional or do you try to get by?

The people and companies that get this are the ones that really stand out. Those that don’t tend to be the ones wondering why they don’t get ahead.

Little things matter. Good enough isn’t.

yesterday, today, tomorrow

It’s a mistake to think that today’s actions created today’s results. There is a natural lag between action and outcome.

Where we are today is a result of yesterday’s decisions and actions. Yesterday’s actions are today’s results.

Where we will be tomorrow will be a result of today’s decisions and actions.  Today’s actions are tomorrow’s results.

What tomorrow are you creating? Where will today’s choices take you in five years? Where do you want to be?