I’m Recommending You Take A Break (again)

As I write this, I’m also considering what I need to pack for a vacation.  Rejuvenation and rebooting is critical for us to operate at our peak performance, we all need to let go of our daily stresses.

What is the most effective way to do this?  I’ve written before on the need to pick great employees and get out of their way, a vacation is a natural extension of the philosophy.  I’m overjoyed to say that keeping great people around helps me every day to be better, and never more so than during our getaways.

Rejuvenation requires us to stop working, while I know that completely uncoupling from our job is impossible for many of us but getting as close as possible is critical.  People at work need to understand your value, and this is will become apparent when your away.

Your family also needs to understand your commitment to them which is never more evident than when you put your phone down (or better yet, leave it in the room) and engage/laugh with them.  This will recharge you in ways that work never will.

To do this, schedule critical only work events around a very small window while your away.  If necessary, check your email only during this time, and respond to only the most critical, preferably with a timeline to re-address when you return.  If at all possible shut down checking completely and relegate it to the Airport on the way home if necessary.

Let every one of your critical people know you will be gone.  This seems obvious, but limiting the amount of possible email while your away and empowering your employees to handle things while you’re out will solve a huge chunk of your need to check in.  They want you have a good time and will self-regulate to a certain extent.  When they can’t:

Designate one person that can call you.  I know that things can blow up, but someone you trust to understand the difference between a mild disaster that can wait and a full-blown fallout issue should be the only person who can interrupt family, and even they must understand that your phone might be on lock down in your room.   Choose someone you wish to empower and have faith in.

These are simple ideas but putting them in place will help you get more from yourself while away, give more to your family when you’re with them and give back to the people at work when you return.  Let the scheduling begin.

What are you really good at?

It’s the time of year where everyone wants you to lose weight, get your head straight or be a better person.  I’m not smart enough to tell you what will make your life better or your waistline smaller, but if I might, I can offer one small piece of advice about life in general?

Stop trying to be better at things that you’re genuinely really bad at.  Stop failing (in work, life, whatever) and using the same toolset to try to do it better.  If you’re not a communication king and prefer being introverted, stop listening to people that tell you to get out there and be more social.  Focus on using your introverted toolset to be a better person.

If swimming is something you cannot do (I am water challenged), stop thinking that swimming is something you should keep doing, do better, and get rewarded by becoming Olympic quality.  It’s better to know you’re not a great swimmer and move on to things that you can do at a high level.

I’m not saying don’t fail, actually, quite the opposite. Failure is critical for growth.  A better model for failure is to use your experiences to put yourself where your strengths are, and if you then fail, your abilities and new experiences in that area will help you grow from this failed event far better.

I’ll quit swimming, but add cycling.  I’m not great, or even particularly good, at basketball despite being 6’4” tall, no matter how many people assume it’s my sport.  I’ll give it up for baseball (well, softball at my age).  Now when I fail a climb on a bike,  I’m doing so in a sport that I can actually improve at.

Failing within the areas you are good at makes you stronger and more knowledgeable, failing in areas that you are genuinely not good at is just frustrating and counterproductive.

I’m also not saying that you should not try new things or that you should avoid getting better at everything you try.  I’ve written before about the benefits of expanding your skillsets well outside of your comfort zone. https://wp.me/p6fUbB-98

Perhaps the reason we don’t take this approach at work is that we are never really sure what we are good at, or perhaps not ready to admit it.  To many of us are trying to fit in at work in whatever peg hole we have been placed, trying to mold ourselves into the perfect person for the needed job.  We feel not fitting that peg could put us in a precarious position (BTW, it will/should).

I finished up Ray Dalio’s newest book “Principles”, his take on this is clear.  Define and utilize the strengths of your employees, your bosses and yourself.  Place all of these people in jobs that will utilize those strengths and mitigate their weaknesses.  Know people’s strengths, be radically honest about it with them and use them in the proper ways to benefit both them as well as you in their management.

Another Dalio tool, he’s very proactive in pointing these tools back towards himself as both a manager and an employee.  This is done by surrounding yourself with bright people that are willing to question you and be honest, another common theme in my blogs.

Dalio lists a couple of ways to find these strengths, many are hardened with time.  Myers Briggs, Team Dimensions Profile and the Workplace Personality Inventory all have been used by Bridgewater over time and are great (I have taken 2 of them).  If you looking for a personal assessment tool that is designed to help lay people make sense of their assessments, I have another for you.

Gallup (yes, the polling people) have designed a new tool to address a person’s strengths and weaknesses.  The Clifton Strengths Center is well laid out, easy to follow and the end result is a pretty impressive set of tools to understand the data.

Once you take the test (yes, there is a fee) and define your top 5 strengths (they will define 34 traits for a larger fee) you can even watch videos of people in jobs utilizing these strengths to their advantage.

I found the information well laid out and practical, but when I watched the videos describing the strengths used in the workplace this information was brought into a much tighter focus.  I’m not qualified to say it’s perfect (it’s not), but as a baseline it will be a perfect starting point for people on this journey.

On Adversity and Focusing on The Positive

I’ve mentioned in previous blogs how keeping your eye on the path around the rock while riding a bike and not staring at the obstacle is important.


Last week I was at a convention with 34,000 other people, and listening to a wide variety of speakers and concepts.  Yes, they were selling towards a specific product and mindset, but this company is very successful at what they do, and they bring a fantastic group of spokespersons to their events.  I also use their products daily so I’m hooked on seeing how they do it all.

One of their speakers was from the Gallup polling company, and his message really resonated with me.  His name is Jeremie Brecheisen, and his message was simple and very similar to my “stop looking at your obstacles” post.  Jeremie’s message, backed by Gallup poll data, was that if you want to be successful or help other people to be successful, concentrate on strengths and stop focusing on weaknesses.

It sounds simple, but his example of a student getting several A’s on a report card and one F brings this concept into better clarity.  How many of us would focus on the F with the child and let it overshadow the also necessary conversations about the A’s?  I would (I have) and I also have tended to look at my own F’s and forget about acknowledging my own successes.  It’s true, the F needs to be addressed, but current trends in data point towards the fact that focusing on the A’s is more effective.

For a week prior to my convention immersion, I spent several days bouncing around the desert of the American Southwest, and came across landscapes like the photo above.  Despite the blue skies and green foliage making this photo look inviting, I learned quickly that every element in this desert is designed to hurt us.  These cactus (and thousands here you don’t see) rattle snakes and temperatures in this environment left me in awe of how we settled this area. Sprouting up towns like Tucson and Phoenix seems almost impossible now, let alone in the early-mid 1800’s when it actually happened.

Which brings me back to utilizing the positive attributes in your life.  If the early settlers of this harsh land had constantly ruminated on the negatives and forgot to focus on the positive nature of what they were doing, they would have never succeeded in their quests.  Similarly, if was all listened to those that say we can’t accomplish what we are trying to do, whatever it is, we have already failed.

Harsh environments exist everywhere, sometimes the harshest are contained within the walls of a corporation.  Get outside of your office, find your calling and bring the wisdom and leadership of surviving in remote harsh climates into your daily one.  Your leadership and good management skills will be better for it.

Personal Expansion And Leadership

What is it that makes you a leader?  I’m not talking about a manager; many people meet that criteria based upon the position given them by their employer.  Being a manager without being a leader is common, and in many situations preferred by upper management.  However, it’s not very rewarding for the manager or for the people they oversee.

Being a leader is about expanding the people around you, not just expecting them to get their job done.  Being a leader is more about finding the creative and reproducible ways to help those around you motivate themselves, it’s not about finding ways to motivate them yourself.  Empowering people is leadership, having power over people is management (poorly realized).

How do you acquire the methods of leadership instead of management?  One thing that I find a consistent truth is that you will NOT find them at work.  Work satisfaction and in office personal expansion ARE required for good management skills, yes. However, to add leadership to your tool box, it’s necessary to find another method outside of the office and more importantly out of your safe zone.

Considering adding new certifications to your resume?  For better leadership qualities make a large percentage of them in fields that have nothing to do with work.  One of the better leaders I know took a love a wine and turned it into a 60-person monthly meeting of local wine lovers trying different varietals and regions each meeting.  He’s a scientist (chemist, actually) by trade.

I’m not asking you to take break dancing lessons (although…..).  I would start with something you already enjoy and become better at, and most importantly share what you know with people.  Find out how you become better at what you enjoy, how to be great at it, and then find the path to show others how to make themselves better at it as well.

Lastly, admit that you will always be learning in this journey and never master it.  Also agree to never just manage this journey, because that would just give us a direct path back to the original question.

Failure, An Amazing Teacher

I’m competitive in shotgun sports, and have enjoyed shooting clay pigeons for more than 10 years. Three years ago the shooting club in Reno closed, and so to did my obsession of shooting multiple times a week. Lately, my shooting outings have only happen a couple of times a year at most, usually with friends at a club in the Nevada desert, or on a hunt for the elusive Nevada Chukar.

I asked some of my regular shooting friends if they wanted to take the forty minute drive to the nearest shotgun club last weekend and spend the morning remembering what we loved about this sport. All of them agreed, so with guns and ammo loaded we drove ourselves into what promised to be a great day.

It was, punctuated for me by a reminder that rings true in so many life lessons. We started by shooting skeet, a great game that involves shooting single and double clays from different stands. After two rounds of shooting, I had a perfect score of 50/50. I was proud and surprised. While I had pulled off perfect skeet rounds in the past, I had not expected to do it after a couple of years away from shooting this game.

Next we decided to try our skills at trap shooting, single clays that run away from the shooters at different angles. Another perfect score really surprised me as I’ve never been a serious trap shooter. We decided to wrap our day up with one more trap round and I was silently proud as I currently was scoring 75/75.

As you can guess, I missed a bird in this final round, specifically the 91st. This blog is not about dropping the bird, which seems symbolic for the things all of us do in many areas of our lives, but about the reaction to being short of perfect. We all make mistakes, or come just sort of perfection in a million unique ways, but what we do when it happens is the important part.

When I was shooting frequently, missing a bird that close to the end of a perfect day would have sent me over the edge. Cursing myself, I would have allowed the negative feelings to impact my next nine birds, virtually guaranteeing that I would miss more than just that one. Needlessly missing more birds would have sent me further into a post shooting disappointment.

On this day, I laughed. What a great day we were having, how amazing was it that I hit 90 clays in a row after years of imposed retirement, and how comical was it that I might consider getting mad at this effort. I thought about how I missed the shot (no idea, it felt perfect), learned what I could (relax, forget about it) and happily crushed the last 9 clays.

I’ve come a long way around to simply say that you will fail, either subtly or with grand fashion. You will get some snickers from your friends or spears and arrows from your not so friendly work mates. If we can remember that it’s not the failure that defines us, or clarifies how we are viewed by those around us, but it is our reaction to the failure that is important.

Some Systems Are Full Of Hot Air

My wife and I were invited to spend a long weekend with a large group of ballon pilots. Camping with 30 or 35 friends is not that odd for us, however, when almost all of those people are passionate about a single type of event really makes you appreciate others peoples obsessions. Ballon pilots are an amazing group of people, furthermore, the systems necessary to keep themselves and their passengers safe are both amazing and reflective of good management principles.

I’ve been up in a ballon before. However, I never really had to be a part of the crew required to get the system necessary for my survival off the ground. To a casual observer the system looks chaotic. Tarps, ropes, wicker, trailers, gas, fans and burners all come together to keep the important part, the ballon itself, safe and begin the inflation process. More impressive is the order in which things have to happen, how that order is faithfully followed and by whom.

As a rookie, I was relegated to helping as much as possible, and despite the 15 or so people around who knew what to do, there is still a lot to get done before (and after) flight. A good pilot knows their crew and trusts them to understand their jobs, as well as expecting them to instruct the helpless people like myself to be helpful and efficient.

Namely, these pilots:

  • Pick the correct people for the job
  • Let them do their job
  • Spend their time getting obstacles out of everyones way
  • If they ever have a doubt, they double check and hold accountable

Regular readers will spot those philosophies as regular parts of my management blogs. Watching them used in a sport that has danger written all over it re-emphasizes the necessity to develop systems and understand their usage. Trusting your team to keep your project moving forward is important, if your going to fly in a whicker basket 1000’ feet off the ground, trust becomes more critical.

Lastly, I would ask that if your driving through rural Nevada any Memorial day weekend and see a group of balloons being setup on some dirt road, stop and lend a hand. The process is amazing to watch, and you might just get a ride out of the deal.

Starters vs. Finishers

In my last blog I talked about customer service oriented support people vs. just being a good technician.  Today I’m talking about another sometimes overlooked metric when determining how to hire and evaluate employees.  Getting a project off the ground can be difficult, I would not argue otherwise.  Having a valued team that starts a project on the right path is important, but more critical is having staff members that can close the project and have an eye on the finish line.
We can surround our ourselves with critical thinkers, ideas people and red team leaders.  All of these roles are important for the creative and vetting processes.  However, if your team consists of only these types of people, your timelines will creep, budgets will need to be expanded and ultimately your projects may fail, or be so far behind schedule that they will be considered a failure even when they succeeded.  Closers on projects pick up the oars when the project canoe has pushed off the dock and ensure you all get to the other side.
Good project closers are the people that add some ideas to the beginning of the project and push hard for the entire project.  They gravitate towards helpful solutions and understand who to communicate with when the project does something that was unexpected.  Great closers have a couple of added benefits:
They have an eye on the finish line from the start.  They keep communicating with the necessary people and push towards completion steadily.
They know what being flexible is, and when to use it.  Decisions that don’t need to move up the chain stop with them, and they stand by them.
Great closers use the tools given them.  Vital feedback, idea changes and deadlines are their oxygen.  Metrics helping define where the project is and how to proceed is their sunlight.
They stay ahead of naysayers.   Countering the negative feedback with facts and optimism is in their nature.
We have all met people who we would go to war with because they will not die, they refuse to quit and will climb any wall to make things happen.  They are relaxed in the pressure moments and keep a steady foot on the gas pedal during the quite times.  These are your perfect closers, cherish them and include them in your toolkit as the prized performers they are.

Customer Service vs Technicians

While working in technical professions its easy to seek out the best technicians we can find, understanding that they will have the specialized skills to fix problems.  Especially now, with so many technical people vying for jobs, picking the cream of the technical abilities crop becomes easy to do and defend.
However, I would recommend that you find a good technician from the group and then consider their customer service skills as having as much or more say in your decision.  I would also base those customer service skills foremost on their abilities at empathy.
Empathy can be difficult for technically oriented people, I know it seems stereotypical, but referencing multiple cases from my history in the I.T. field is all to easy (including myself).  It’s important for customer service personnel to understand the viewpoints and problems of the customer.  Just as important is the need of the customer to understand they have been listened to and heard.  So many I.T. base problems would not occur if technical customer service representatives took the time to listen to the entire problem before diving in.
Patience on the side of the customer is required as well.  Technical people are there to help, and they understand this.  Finding customer representatives that can bridge this gap faster and efficiently will help in almost every technical problem they approach and address.

How A Brown Bear Reminded Me About Great Customer Service

I met a friend of mine in Mammoth this last November where we both had decided to try our hand at some colder weather camping. During the first evening of our adventure we had spent our mandatory hours around the campfire catching up, then decided to call it a night around midnight. The great sleep (it always seems better in the woods) lasted until 3am when we were woken up by something investigating our camp.

We were sleeping in the shelled bed of my truck in lieu of our tents as it was getting pretty chilly during the evenings. Popping open the back of the shell revealed a six-foot male bear sitting on top of my cooler. Headlamps and noise (from INSIDE the shell, naturally) seemed only to encourage him to continue treating my cooler as both a soccer ball and a chew toy.

We had correctly packed our stores in bear proof containers, and as he continued to aggressively gnaw on my cooler, I understood how necessary that rule is. My cooler is a Yeti Tundra 75, which is rated bear proof when locked as well as latched. Honestly, I had locked it more to avoid an angry ranger than a bear as I had camped for years without any serious run-ins. My cooler was packed to the max and weighed in at 100+ pounds, which I watched the bear pick up with one paw and toss around with little effort.

Then, after briefly acknowledging our presence with a snort and a stare, he then smartly chewed off all of the latches knowing that this generally opens coolers. I got suspicious that this bear regularly worked coolers in the area. Still not getting what he wanted, he attempted to claw the lid open and chewing on the pad locks. After another 5 minutes, he moved on to investigate lesser coolers and trash elsewhere.

Returning to Reno after the weekend, I attempted to find new latches which amazingly were really the only substantial damage to the cooler (completely destroyed, chewed in half). I called Yeti and explained my story to an energetic Scott J. in the customer service department. I simply wanted to know where in town to find the parts to put the cooler back together.

What I got from Scott was new T-Rex latches, instructions on installation (harder than it seems, but not by much), Yeti hats, stickers, bottle openers and patches all shipped directly to my door and free of charge. I sent them the photo of my cooler with a large paw print and scuffs on it for their Yeti wall of fame within their corporate offices.

I like to find amazing customer service in strange places, as well as acknowledging it as often as possible. Finding great public relations in un-expected areas proves that it should possible everywhere, and how important it is to keep customers loyal. Will I buy Yeti again, from a local retailer? You bet. To achieve this positive customer service loop, we need to find the right people for the job and get out of their way. Thank you, Scott, for a fantastic experience and the refresher course in customer service.

Management Feedback:  Apple Listens


I’ve written before that feedback into your systems is critical to ensure development and improvement.  Last week I participated again in a feedback loop that I find both amazing in its usage and the perfect example of how to use this critical communication tool.  I’ve been asked to do what Apple calls “Reverse Briefings” for Apple a couple of times, and each time I do them I am surprised how well vetted they are and incredibly useful.

In short, Apple reaches out to some of their clients at regional stores and asks them to come onsite and brief their employees on how Apple can help us better.  They want us to convey a deeper dive into what our business is, how we operate, what our goals are and how we utilize Apple products to achieve those goals.  These briefings are done before the store opens and involves most of the sales staff and management in that regional area.

First, this is an amazing outreach campaign from Apple, so many companies get large and tend to forget about their customers.  Exposing management and sales teams to the core local companies that you service while conducting busy, successful operations can be daunting.  Apple’s carving out of the time to do just that shows that you can be smart about knowing your clients while growing to a global leader in computing.

Secondly, Apple’s usage of that data does not just stop with helping those that perform the briefings.  After each event Apple spent the next couple of days talking up our company to anyone that comes through their doors and seems like a good fit.  Given the number of people that come into an Apple store daily and enlisting their usually upbeat employees as pitch personnel could have amazing long term value.

Lastly, this briefing gives me an advanced look at some of the Apple services that could assist my company.  Over my last two events at the store I have found two Apple offerings that have helped me decide a new mobile management strategy and how we can get outside help from Apple employees.

The lessons to learn from these events are numerous, namely:

  • Don’t become too big to care about your daily walk in traffic. If your competition cares more your working from behind
  • Involve sales and management from your local vendors when possible to help you succeed
  • Getting good word of mouth from a dedicated sales team that sees a lot of customers has enormous value
  • Get a look behind the curtain at your vendors whenever possible, finding ways to work better together or perhaps places where things have fallen apart always improves your ROI (time or money)
  • Building relationships with vendors is always a good idea, in both small and large ways

If you have had a similar experience with any company, or the opposite, I would love to hear from you.  Write me back and as always:  Hire good people, empower them to be the best they can be, and spend your time clearing the way for them.