Between expectations and reality—challenge and progress and discouragement and frustration

Plus - 12 best books I read last year – book 6 of 12

For years, I had unrealistic expectations regarding a close friend. I was continually frustrated and he was constantly discouraged because of the unrealistic gap between expectations and reality. It was my faulty judgment that was causing the strain and friction in our relationship. When, in my mind, I “lowered the bar” closer to reality, my frustration subsided and the relationship improved.

I have another close relationship in which I have erred in the opposite way: my expectations have been too low and the person has stalled in her growth and development. I need to raise the bar and encourage her to start climbing.

This is a complex topic. Psychologists, leaders, parents, and others have wrestled with this issue and the questions it begets, such as:

  1. What are the advantages and disadvantages of having high expectations of people?
  2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of having low expectations of people?
  3. How can expectations be set such that the disadvantages are minimized and the advantages maximized?
  4. When is it acceptable to have expectations of people and when is it none of my business?
  5. How does this expectations/reality syndrome apply to the organizations and businesses I relate to? (Are my expectations of my cell phone provider too high or too low? How about local restaurants? The schools my children attend?)

Think of a current relationship in which you are continually frustrated. Do you need to recalibrate your expectations? Identify one of your relationships in which increased expectations would be beneficial. What would be a good, first step?

Leaders, here are some additional thoughts about setting expectations in your organization.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

12 best books I read last year – book 6 of 12

Talent Is Overrated – What Really Separates World-class Performers from Everybody Else – Geoff Colvin, 2008. You’ll be surprised to learn how people like Mozart, Tiger Woods and Warren Buffet became exemplary, and how we “normal” people can also excel. Click here for more information from Amazon.

Sometimes, think like an anthropologist

Observe and study experiences as an anthropologist would observe and study a ritualistic dance of a tribe in the Amazon.

Anthropologists have an insatiable curiosity about life and possess the requisite skills to study and understand their subjects. They are non-judgmental and they don’t interfere with, or try to change, the subject they are studying. Their sole intent is to observe and learn.

For instance, Margaret Mead (one of America’s first and best anthropologist) is known for her studies of the non-literate peoples of Oceania, especially with regard to various aspects of psychology and culture—the cultural conditioning of sexual behavior, natural character, and culture change. She spent 30 years observing and studying young adolescent girls on the island of Samoa. She was not there to judge, interfere, or change.

Sometimes, it’s beneficial to think like an anthropologist.

For instance, I recently attended the annual Airports Going Green Conference. For three days environmentalists from around the world met to discuss environmental issues and opportunities that airports deal with. I had no responsibilities at the conference and the topic was far outside my bailiwick so I donned my anthropologist persona and for three days simply studied the people who attended and the issues that brought them together.

Thinking like an anthropologist affected my approach; I was a silent, detached observer. This perspective made me more aware of motivations, historical perspectives, roles people played, and possible future outcomes.

Adopting the mindset of an anthropologist heightens our desire to listen and to understand; it lessens our tendency to voice our opinion and perspective. It minimizes our proneness to criticize and reduces our penchant to try to change things. It may even make us more agreeable and easier to get along with, but that’s another topic for another post.

I titled this post “Sometimes, think like an anthropologist” because we needn’t think like one all the time. Most of the time we need to think critically and aggressively address issues.

But occasionally it is beneficial to change persona, take out your notebook and magnifying glass, and simply observe.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

“Yes, but on the other hand…” (the value of dialectic thinking)

Plus - 12 best books I read last year – book 5 of 12

In my high school debate class we were taught to develop a sound argument for and against each proposition. Prior to a debate we didn’t know which side of the proposition we would be asked to defend so we had to be prepared to support either side. It taught us good debating technique and a good life skill.

There are always two sides (or three, or four…) to every situation. We are usually predisposed to one particular view so it takes concerted effort to think of other perspectives. We usually don’t make that effort; it’s easier to embrace our default position and avoid the intellectual rigor that dialectic thinking requires.

A friend of mine whom I’ll call Chris (because that’s his name) told me that his favorite teacher in high school had a wonderful technique for developing dialectic thinking in his students. If a student made a declaratory statement the teacher would respond with the phrase, “Yes, but on the other hand…” But—here’s the nice twist—the teacher wouldn’t fill in the blank, he required the student to do so.

So, a discussion might sound like this:
Student: “I think it’s wrong for governments to control whether or not chlorine is added to our drinking water.”
Teacher: “Yes, but on the other hand, tell me why it’s a good idea for governments to control that issue.”

One of the keys to thinking well is not so much what you think but how you think, and an important aspect of how you think is to discipline yourself to pursue the multiple perspectives that surround all issues.

At a recent weekly family dinner (my favorite, reoccurring experience) we explored dialectic thinking by staging a debate. I proposed this proposition: We should only bathe once a week. [I had recently read a report in which a group of dermatologist recommended this practice.] Lauren and Jonathan were teamed together against Mary and me. We randomly assigned which team was for the proposition and which team was against it. Then the debate began. It produced a fun and intellectually stimulating exercise that also forced us to consider the issue from multiple perspectives.

I didn’t bathe for three days.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

12 best books I read last year – book 5 of 12

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die – Heath and Heath, 2007. Lean six traits that make ideas durable. A must read for those to want to communicate, well. Click here for more information from Amazon.

Leaders: if you plan well, major projects can be accomplished quickly

I recently sailed across the Atlantic from Southampton, England to New York City on the Queen Mary 2. It is the largest and finest ocean liner in the world. The ship is the length of four football fields, and it holds 3,064 passengers and 1,253 crew.

Her maiden voyage was January 12, 2004. Twelve years later, in 2016, she had sailed 1,791,058 nautical miles, the equivalent of the distance to the moon and back more than four times.

After all that travel, she needed to be remastered and totally refurbished. She was dry docked and the work commenced.

The remastering cost $132 million and included:

  • exhaust gas cleaning systems installed on all four diesel engines
  • four upgraded propulsion motors
  • a new ballast water treatment system
  • a new reverse osmosis water production plant
  • the entire ship repainted
  • all staterooms and public areas were remodeled (including adding 50 new staterooms)

Five thousand workers and contractors worked three shifts a day, 24/7.

Here’s the amazing fact: the entire project was completed in 25 days.

How was that possible? 25 days. Remodeling my master bathroom took longer than that.

Here’s the key: if you plan well, major projects can be accomplished quickly.

It took two years to plan the Queen Mary 2 refit. Architectural plans were drawn, parts and supplies ordered, workers hired, schedules written—then she was dry docked and the work commenced. Because of good planning, everyone knew exactly what to do and had the tools and supplies to get it done.

Leaders, I challenge you to duplicate this scenario in your organization. Visualize an important project, plan well, and then make it happen quickly.

At Stonebriar Community Church, we have an incredible children’s and youth choir program. Their recent Christmas program involved 450 children and students performing an intricate, well-choreographed 80-minute concert. All the various parts came together at one Saturday morning rehearsal; the concert was the following day.

Though on a smaller scale, the good planning and execution that went into this concert reminded me of the remastering of the QM2. Well done, Sandi and Misty.

To accomplish a large task quickly: visualize every detail, plan meticulously, and execute well.

You can do this.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.