Make your bed every morning – generate “success momentum”

Small wins have an influence disproportionate to the accomplishments of the victories themselves. Charles Duhigg

It seems our brains aren’t very good at distinguishing big successes from small successes. Often, we’ll enjoy as much emotional and mental reward when we succeed at something simple as we do with large wins. So, in your life and organization, orchestrate a series of small wins to generate “success momentum”—the feeling you get when you succeed over and over.

For instance, if you know you’re going to have a challenging day, perform a series of small wins to build momentum and to increase confidence and resiliency. This strategy will combat procrastination and complacency,  and will provide a growing sense of satisfaction and control.

If your organization is stalled or when you’re launching a new product or service, you can generate momentum by designing, accomplishing, and celebrating a series of small wins.

Here’s a great example of the benefit of small wins.

William H. McRaven, a retired U.S. Navy four-star admiral and former commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, is now chancellor of the University of Texas System and leads one of the nation’s largest and most respected systems of higher education.

On May 17, 2014, McRaven delivered the commencement address at his alma mater, University of Texas at Austin. In his speech, he gave 10 suggestions on how to change the world. His first point was: make your bed.

“Every morning in basic SEAL training, my instructors, who at the time were all Vietnam veterans, would show up in my barracks room and the first thing they would inspect was your bed. If you did it right, the corners would be square, the covers pulled tight, the pillow centered just under the headboard and the extra blanket folded neatly at the foot of the rack—that’s Navy talk for bed.

It was a simple task, mundane at best. But every morning we were required to make our bed to perfection. It seemed a little ridiculous at the time, particularly in light of the fact that we were aspiring to be real warriors, tough battle-hardened SEALs, but the wisdom of this simple act has been proven to me many times over.

If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.

And if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made—and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.”

Making your bed every morning is a simple example of how small wins can be used to generate momentum and can lead to larger accomplishments. Take advantage of the power of small wins.

Here’s a video of McRaven’s speech at U.T. Austin.

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Be angry (occasionally)

Getting angry is okay as long as you get angry for the right reason with the right person to the right degree using the right words with the right tone of voice and appropriate language. Aristotle

Many people don’t know how to properly express their anger. They either stuff their anger or spew it. Said differently, some hide it, others hurl it. Said again, some people are like turtles (when conflicts arise, they pull into their shells), others are like skunks (when challenged, they spray nasty stuff).

Stuffers are often reluctant to even admit that they’re angry and have a hard time expressing their anger. Spewers are just the opposite; when they’re upset, they let you know, and it’s usually not pretty.

Aristotle’s statement (see above) teaches a wholesome approach to anger. When you’re angry, express it, don’t stuff it, but do so in a proper way—don’t spew.

Getting angry is okay…

Getting angry is often unavoidable and, at times, healthy and the right thing to do because it is our natural response to pain and hurt.

For the right reason…

Get angry over child trafficking; don’t get angry when your newspaper gets wet. Get angry when politicians lie; don’t get angry when your two-year-old knocks over his milk.

With the right person…

When you get angry about something that happens at work, don’t take it out on your spouse or children when you get home. It’s immature, unfair, and irresponsible to flail on someone who was uninvolved in the situation that made you angry.

To the right degree…

If your kid forgets to make his bed, don’t go ballistic. If he sneaks out at night and wrecks your car, go ballistic.

Using the right words…

Don’t curse—that’s obvious; don’t exaggerate—“You’re always late”; and don’t dispense shame—“You’ll never get it.”

With the right tone of voice and appropriate language…

Even right words can be inappropriate when spoken with an improper tone of voice, so be careful not only about what you say but how you say it.

Let me add two more suggestions to Aristotle’s list: (1) While it’s okay to periodically get angry, don’t be an angry person—one who is predisposed to being upset and vexed. If you have a reputation of being an angry person, your anger is out of control. (2) Sometimes we need to “drop an issue” because it’s just not important enough to stall the day. Carol Tavris says, “For some of the large indignities of life, the best remedy is direct action. For the small indignities, the best remedy is a Charlie Chaplin movie. The hard part is knowing the difference.”

Here’s some good advice on how to manage your anger.

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Leaders, develop trust among your team members

Information about September 27-28 Lead Well workshop

Among all the attributes of the greatest leaders of our time, one stands above the rest: They are all highly trusted. You can have a compelling vision, rock-solid strategy, excellent communication skills, innovative insight, and a skilled team, but if people don’t trust you, you will never get the results you want. David Horsager

Here are some characteristics of trust.

Trust is earned; you can’t buy it or obtain it through coercion.

It takes time for trust to develop and it doesn’t come quickly. When you assume a new position of leadership, your good reputation of being trustworthy may help jumpstart the trust factor with your new team members but inevitably they will need to see you in action and to experience, firsthand, your trustworthiness; and that takes time.

Trust is built and maintained by hundreds of small and large actions over time.

Every decision you make and every action you take either adds to or subtracts from your “trust account.”

In leadership, trust is built on two pillars: character and competence.

To be a trustworthy individual, only one is needed: character; but to be a trustworthy leader, you must exhibit both character and competence.

Character includes two areas and six attributes:

Your intentions must be:

  • Caring – people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care
  • Transparent – don’t have hidden agendas or motivations
  • Open – don’t withhold critical information

Your integrity is demonstrated through:

  • Honesty – be truthful and straightforward; don’t lie, cheat, or steal
  • Fairness – being fair is not treating everyone the same, but treating each individual as he deserves
  • Authenticity – Luther Price succinctly said, “Be what you is, not what you ain’t; ’cause if you ain’t what you is, you is what you ain’t.”

Competence includes two areas and six traits:

You must demonstrate capability through:

  • Skills – do you have the necessary skills for your trade?
  • Knowledge – do you understand the basic principles of what makes your organization work?
  • Experience – is your knowledge only theoretical or has it been proven experientially?

People will trust your results because of your:

  • Reputation – the sum of all your work and leadership experience.
  • Credibility – reliability; your ability to produce over time.
  • Performance – do you consistently prove your ability to “Get ‘er done.”

Trust alone won’t make you a great leader, but without trust you will never be one.

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Beware of the spotlight syndrome

Information about the September 27-28 Lead Well workshop

Imagine that you’re in a dark auditorium and suddenly a spotlight is turned on. It is bright and clearly illumines the area it shines on. But it is a limited area and someone is controlling where you are looking.

In life and leadership be aware of, and beware of, those times when you are, either by choice or compulsion, “following the spotlight.”

Here’s why.

A spotlight has a narrow focus.

Though a spotlight does illuminate reality, it only reveals a small part of reality—your attention is drawn to, but limited to, a narrow range. In a dark space, you’re essentially blinded to all the space other than what the spotlight’s beam shines on.

A spotlight is vulnerable to bias.

Someone (the spotlight operator or the director) has predetermined what the light will focus on; someone else has determined what you will see. In essence, you are being manipulated. When there is ample general lighting, you can choose what you want to focus on, but in a darkened room where there’s only one beam of light, your focus is determined by others.

Now let’s apply these thoughts to life outside the theatre.

Sometimes in life we’re manipulated into focusing on a particular issue.

  • When you listen to a news broadcast, the topics have been decided in advance and are usually presented in a biased way.
  • In a meeting that has an agenda, someone has predetermined what issues will be discussed.
  • In conversations, someone may consciously or unconsciously choose the topics that are discussed.

Sometimes in life we inadvertently, and to our detriment, choose to focus on a singular issue. We may focus on one aspect of our lives to the exclusion of the bigger picture. We often do this when experiencing pain or hardship—we obsess on one part to the neglect of others. Or, we may become preoccupied with a single goal, one that doesn’t deserve our exclusive attention.

Leaders, understand the power of this principle and use it for the good of your organization; don’t abuse it or let others abuse it. Keep your eye on the entire organization which will enhance overall organizational health and maintain balance and fairness. Don’t fall prey to the spotlight syndrome or cause it.

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Meditate on positive thoughts

Have you ever wondered why negative events seem to impact us more than positive events?

  • The comment “You’ve gained a lot of weight” will hurt us more than the comment “You look nice” will encourage us.
  • We remember the course we failed in college more than we do the ones we excelled at.
  • The feelings of anger we have toward a driver that cuts in front of us will stick with us longer than the joy we have when viewing beautiful wildflowers on the side of the road.

In their must-read book, The Net and the Butterfly, authors Cabane and Pollack explain why negative things “stick” quicker and last longer than positive events, and what we can do about it.

“Negative things produce more neural activity than equally intense positive things. We are quicker to recognize the negative in our world. The amygdala, the fire alarm of your brain, uses two-thirds of its neurons to look for the negative. These negative things get stored into memory almost immediately. Positive things need to be held in awareness for twelve seconds to transfer to longer-term memory. This is why gratitude, meditation, and loving-kindness are necessary: we need to focus on the good for our brain to be able to truly remember it. As Rick Hanson puts it, your ‘brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.’”

One good remedy for this biological predisposition toward the negative is to systematically and regularly meditate on positive thoughts (and, according to the authors, do so for at least 12 seconds). I’m going to do that right now by meditating on the following thoughts:

  • Several months ago, I visited my favorite edifice in the world—St. Peter’s Basilica.
  • Last week I spent an entire morning with my favorite little person—my grandson, Benjamin.
  • I have so many good and faithful friends. I’ll think of a few right now: Dean, Chuck, Mike, Wayne, Jonathan.
  • My fig tree is blossoming in the backyard.

The apostle Paul said it this way: “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” A simple but highly effective exercise. It was good advice when it was written two thousand years ago, and it will benefit us today.

Meditation on positive thoughts.

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Pursue win-win situations

I enjoy cruising because it’s a win-win situation; it works for me and it works for the cruise line. I recently paid only $1,350 for a luxurious, 16-day transatlantic/European cruise (Miami to Rome) which included all meals, lodging, transportation, and entertainment. One evening, as I was munching on a filet mignon, I wondered, “How do they make this work, financially?” I don’t know, but obviously they do, or they wouldn’t be in business.

Both I and the cruise line benefited from a win-win scenario.

Often, we’re trapped in a zero-sum situation—in order for someone to “win,” someone else must “lose.” But there are also positive-sum situations in which everyone “wins.” Let’s pursue those.

How and why do we often succumb to a win-lose mentality? Perhaps through our exposure to athletics, where there’s usually an emphasis on winning or losing. Or perhaps we’ve been taught that to be successful in business, I must win and the competition must fail.

But with proper thought and structure, most experiences can be designed to be mutually beneficial.

  • Employee/employer relationships should be a win-win relationship.
  • Products and services should seem right and fair to both the seller and the buyer.
  • Close relationships should be balanced and mutually advantageous.
  • When conflicts do arise, the conflict resolution process can aim to accommodate all participants.
  • Effective networking is predicated upon being mutual beneficial.

Almost all productive social behavior is based on win-win scenarios.

I’ll close with a cute story about a bet between a boyfriend and girlfriend regarding a Brazil vs. Argentina football match.
1. If Brazil wins, the boy will kiss the girl.
2. If Brazil loses, the girl will kiss the boy.

Now that’s a win-win situation.

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Use focus groups and test

Recently, I was on a European cruise on which every passenger was given a nice faux-leather case in which to keep your stateroom keycard. (See picture above.) Though a nice, generous gesture, it quickly became a fiasco.

The flap that prevented the keycard from falling out contained a magnet; the magnet demagnetized the keycard, making it inoperable. When I approached the front desk, the attendant quickly took out a pair of scissors, cut off the flap, and declared, “now it will work”; and created me a new keycard. I’m not making this up: a few days later they gave everyone a second, identical case.

Often, I try to recreate in my mind how something like this could have happened.

So … members of the cruise line’s marketing team are sitting around a table brainstorming on how to create value-added giveaways. Someone thinks of giving each passenger a faux-leather keycard case. Everyone likes the idea, someone is assigned the task of getting the object manufactured, and they break for lunch.

The cruise line orders 100,000 units (better price in large quantities), which are shipped to the ships, put on passengers’ pillows, and …

Don’t ever launch a product or service without submitting the idea to a focus group. Focus groups don’t need to be complicated or expensive. Simply describe the product or give a prototype to potential end-users and listen to their feedback. (Preferably, members of the focus group should be end-users. A common mistake in business is to create a focus group of buyers, not users. Often, buyers are wholesalers, not end-users.)

But sometimes focus groups malfunction. That’s why there’s no substitute for testing —submit your product to actual experience.

For instance, a focus group might have approved of the concept of the keycard holder, and if a prototype was available, they might have enjoyed handling the faux-leather and thought the magnetic closure clever. But the design flaws would not be revealed until the prototype was put on the pillows of actual passengers.

Use focus groups and test.

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Don’t waste people’s time

Time is a precious commodity. If traded on the commodities market, its value would be incalculable. But alas, time cannot be bought or sold. And while the length of our lives varies and is unpredictable, the number of hours we have in each day is fixed.

Many books have been written on how to maximize your time. Read them and learn. You are the steward of your own time.

This essay focuses on the negative influence that people can have on other people’s time. In other words, if you want to waste your own time, that’s up to you, but don’t waste my time. Likewise, I don’t want to waste your time.

So let’s agree…

Be punctual.
If you have an appointment with someone at 1:00 p.m. and you arrive at 1:05, you have squandered five minutes of her time. To be on time you must be early; it’s nearly impossible to be precisely on time – time is moving too fast. For instance, if a meeting starts at 1:00 you can’t walk in 1:00 – that occurs in a milli-second and then becomes the past. You must arrive before 1:00.

Be organized.
When you are responsible for a project that involves other people, you must be organized or you’ll waste their time. You must predetermine what needs to be accomplished and know the quickest way to do it.

Plan ahead.
Plans exist in the future. The past is history, the present is reality. Always have a plan for what the future can look like.

Be decisive.
Often, it is wise to postpone a decision until it must be made – careful contemplation and monitoring changing variables are good reasons to delay a decision. But when a decision needs to be made, do so.

Be quick, not slow.
By and large, slow is not good. Jack Welch, former CEO of GE would ask his protégés, “Who wants to be slow?” It was a rhetorical question; I hope no one raised his or her hand.
While it’s good to be thorough, careful, wise, circumspect, cautious, and deliberate – don’t be slow.

Monitor conversations and keep them on track.
When you and I are talking to each other, let’s pay attention to what we’re talking about and use our time wisely. For instance, don’t spend time talking about irrelevant topics.

When I was 13 years old, we lived next door to an engineer whose hobby was rebuilding Volkswagen engines. One summer I served as his apprentice, so on warm summer evenings we rebuilt engines in his garage.
One of the first lessons he taught me was, “Don, try to anticipate what needs to happen next and act accordingly – hand me the right tool, fetch the next part to be installed – always be thinking two or three steps ahead in the process.”
That’s a great lesson to learn because it saves time.
Understand what can happen simultaneously and what must happen sequentially, and act accordingly.

Pay attention.
President Reagan was buried on June 11, 2004. It was a dreary, rainy day. Nancy Reagan and her family stood in the drizzling rain to watch the casket being taken from the Capitol Rotunda to the National Cathedral. A young military escort held an umbrella over Mrs. Reagan to shield her from the elements. In a moment of mental lapse, the young man allowed the umbrella to drift off to the side, exposing Nancy to the rain. She reached up, grabbed the man’s hand, and yanked the umbrella back into place.

Ouch. I can just imagine what the young man’s commanding officer might have said to him after the funeral: “Son, your only job of the day was to hold an umbrella over Mrs. Reagan. That’s not a difficult assignment. Millions of people were watching. What were you thinking?”

A Boy Scouts leader used to tell his boys, “If you are early, you are on time. If you are on time, you are late. If you are late you owe everyone ice cream.”

Don’t waste people’s time.

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