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Thursday, January 28, 2010

"Life's not all Beer and Skittles"

Note: The "Skittles" from the quote was a game that was a precursor to bowling, not the candy by that name. In the 19th century, it was considered a great pastime to hang out at the tavern playing skittles and drinking beer. The quote is from Thomas Hughes' Tom Brown's Schooldays, 1857.

We've got it all figured out. We're going to do X, Y, and Z. Our plan is in place. We've got it all wrapped up and tied with a bow.

Then life throws us a curve (or probably several and sometimes at the same time). Maybe it's health issues. Perhaps it's employment problems. Is it relationship troubles? It could be that life just isn't turning out the way we had expected or dreamed.

So what is there to do about it?

I guess we have a few choices:

  • We can grouse and complain. We can pitch fits because life's not fair, because it's not how it's supposed to be. Where do you think that will get us?
  • We can work to fix the issues and problems and make life more like we had hoped.
  • We can roll with the unforeseen events, making the best of the lives that we have.
Regardless of what we choose, we can't hope to completely control our lives. What we can hopefully do is be mature enough to adapt and keep a positive attitude as much as possible.

Let's face it. We're supposedly grown-ups and life's not all beer and skittles.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What are your strengths?

I was recently helping a woman work on interviewing skills so she could find a job.

When I asked her what her strengths were, she said "I don't have any, I guess." She didn't see what value she could bring to a company. As I started asking questions, we determined that she did have some strengths that would be of value to most employers.

What about you? Whether you have a job or not, do you understand what your strengths are? Do you know what value you can bring to a job or organization?

Even if you don't have much work experience in a particular field, you may have some core attributes that make you attractive to bosses. These attributes relate much more to who you are than what you know:
  • Do you have a positive attitude, in general?
  • Do you do what you say you will do?
  • Are you dependable?
  • Do you follow-up?
  • Do you show up for work and arrive on time?
  • Are you trustworthy?
These strengths may sound too basic to you. I can honestly tell you that bosses need these attributes more than any teachable skill.

Employers can teach skills...they can't teach attitude.

Take a look at yourself and think about what you have to offer.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Do You Support DOUBLE STANDARDS On Your Team?

Back in November, I wrote a post about Double Standards and the impact managers "doing as I say, not as I do" has on team morale (see post here).

I want to revisit the subject of Double Standards. It appears that some of the leaders who say that Double Standards have no place in their organization need to do a reality check.

I'd like to help with that. Therefore, I have a few questions for managers to help them determine if Double Standards (no matter how small they seem) might actually exist in their offices:

Do you have a policy or rule stating that:

1. Team members must park in less convenient parking spaces so customers have the best ones...but then you end up parking right up front because you're busy and you have to run out a lot and you're only there for a minute (or hour or day)?

2. Lunch is exactly one hour, but you habitually take longer even when the lunches aren't business related...because you work more than 40 hours a week and so the rule wasn't really meant for you?

3. No food and/or drink are allowed at the desks because it looks unprofessional to customers...but you actually have an office and a door so your office looks like a small convenience store? After all, the customers don't go in there.

4. Snacks and/or drinks are provided only for the customers so you make staff members bring their own snacks and drinks...but you're so busy that you didn't get to take lunch or you have to work late and so you deserve to get free snacks from the company.

5. Staff must greet or, at least, acknowledge customers within 3-5 seconds of them entering your establishment or the team members get in trouble...but you don't directly work with customers so you can go so far as ignore them. I mean, it's not really your job, is it?

And, the list goes on...

If you don't think your team members notice such small, little things, you are probably smoking something illegal.

You want to help morale in your office? Then make sure you follow your own rules. Nothing hurts team attitudes more than bosses who apply one set of rules for the team and then have a "special" set for themselves.

Do you have any other examples of rule breaking like above?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Evolve, Adapt, Persevere

I'm one of those CAN DO people, and you know many of us, who are people of action. When we see problems that need solutions, we're ready with the answers. When we see people who have issues, we try to fix the problems. That's what we do...we fix things.

We're used to having the resources necessary to do the jobs that we think need to get done. We're used to facing up to obstacles and blowing through them or slinging them out of the way.

That was, of course, when we still had resources...when we still had money and people. With the economy the way it is, organizations have had to take very hard looks at their budgets and their resources. They've cut back, but the missions have typically remained the same, haven't they?

There are some of us who have the mindset that "if I can't do it 100%, then it's not worth my investment and I can't be a part of it." Of course, like we said, the missions don't stop. I even know some people who, when the resources don't fit into their "criteria of acceptable", just throw their hands up in the air and give up. "I can't work like this!" they cry.

Some of us need to do a serious reality check.

Those of us who work with people like this need to be willing to stand up and preach Evolve, Adapt, Persevere!

Certainly, most of us would like our realities to go back and be like they were when the economy was good. We can't go back in time. We can't change the past. We can reasonably hope that things will get better eventually.

What we can do is put our heads down and work. What we can do is look at the mission with fresh eyes. Instead of saying "we can't do it", we can say "how can we get it done?" in the context of current reality.

What we can do is listen to the words that Teddy Roosevelt is quoted as saying, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

Don't be afraid to embrace it. Don't be afraid to say it. Don't be afraid to champion it.

As leaders, can we afford to do less?

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Let me tell you about my day.

I turned 50 years old.

I laid in bed until 7:00 and then I got up and went to the gym.

I opened birthday cards and replied to birthday emails from friends and family.

And I thought...a lot.

People say, "Oh, doesn't being 50 bother you?" "Don't you hate getting old?" "I can't believe you're that old!"

My 50th birthday does not bother me from an aging perspective. I'm one day older than yesterday. There are a lot of ways that I'm better at 50 than I ever was at 25.

What bothers me about being 50 is the amount of time and money I've wasted focusing on me. I live and have lived a blessed life. I've had a lot of opportunities that other folks haven't had.

I'm reminded of some of the times I've said to myself that I should have gotten more involved, that I should have stopped and taken the time to help someone else out, that I should have thought more about being the type of servant I preach about.

No, when I look at myself at 50, I don't see "old", I see wasted opportunity.

I'm a person who loves the idea of a clean slate, of an opportunity to start fresh. My 50th birthday gives me another chance to do that. My goal, for the next 50 years (Halls don't die young...we hang around irritating people), is to focus and refocus every day on the needs of others around me -- people I know and others who I will never meet.

God put us on this earth to serve our fellow human beings and I am re-dedicating myself to those efforts. Hopefully, I'll do better for the next 50.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Threats and Alliances

It’s not uncommon, in business, to talk about threats. It certainly makes sense when you’re looking at threats outside your business. There’s even a matrix that’s often used called a SWOT Analysis: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Some of the threats referred to here are ones that come at you from political, economic, social, and/or technological areas. Some organizations also look at internal threats to business like poor leadership, financial problems, etc.

People also look at threats personally. “Who is a threat to me and my position?” “Who can threaten my security?” I have worked with people who definitely looked at particular coworkers as threats or enemies. To combat these threats, they looked to make alliances…yes, alliances like countries do. That’s some kind of teamwork, huh? Yeah, right.

If you are currently working in an environment, or someday find yourself in a work environment that makes you start thinking about threats and alliances, you have a few choices:

    1. Start making those alliances with people who can help you fight back your threats.
    2. Leave. Get the heck out of Dodge. Try to find an organization where the team culture is positive.
    3. Look at yourself and see why someone might legitimately be a threat to your work “well being”. If someone is doing a better job than you, is that the other person’s fault or yours?

I think #1 is just plain bad. #2 should be a last resort. I recommend #3.

The whole idea of personal threats at work is most often a red herring. The real problem is often us, ourselves. Think about how you can best contribute and work to be the most outstanding employee, leader, and teammate you can be. Then you shouldn't have to worry about anyone else.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Contributing, 2010

Warning! Warning! Meaning of Life post coming up!

It's another year. I've heard and read many sentiments about how people are really glad that 2009 is over. 2009 was definitely a challenging and life-changing year for me (as if they all aren't, but this one even more so).

You know what was different though, between 12/31/09 and 1/1/10? There was just a difference in one day between them. Life goes on, we all get older, rich people keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer.

We have responsibilities. We have responsibilities to our families, our jobs, to our country and, hopefully, to God.

If we are responsible people, in general, we also have a responsibility to our fellow human beings. There are plenty of people around us who are struggling in life. No matter how bad we have things, there are always people who are struggling more.

We can help. It doesn't matter how much. One of my relatives writes personal cards to people who are alone, hurting, or struggling, letting them know others care about them. Another relative works in a "closet" where people can donate items and needy people can come and get clothes or other items they need. I have a friend who opened her home to a foster child and is most assuredly giving the child the most stable life he's ever experienced. I know people who volunteer their time in a number of charitable organizations.

I have just started volunteering, myself. You can, too. You don't have to look very hard. There are opportunities available for small investments of time or for regular, larger commitments. You can give money, and that is always appreciated, but you can give your time...our most precious commodity of all.

Let's move on from 2009, one day at a time, and make a difference in 2010.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Who's to blame?

We had the underwear bomber try to attack us in America on Christmas Day. It shouldn't have happened. There were lots of signs now that the picture has been put together. Information was available in bits and pieces, but nothing was clear at the time.

No person or group in our government is taking responsibility for our failures because doing so means career or "reputational" (is that a word?) suicide. So, we blame.

Have you ever seen an obviously guilty person try to blame another so the attention will be moved away from him or her? One might argue that this is what we, as a government, are doing now.

Hold on a minute. This is NOT "government-bashing". This problem of blame seems to be, unfortunately, culturally driven. We have a problem with this culture in America, in the whole world, and in humanity, itself.

It's easier to look at the mistakes others make than to look at the ones we make ourselves. It always has been and, sadly, probably always will be...unless we make a concerted effort to change. We've got to move away from blame and move toward learning. Blame is NOT a tool for learning. Blame only helps people be afraid to stand up and say what didn't go right and what could go better. Blame helps us feel better because, like I said above, when we point the finger at others, we're hoping no one is looking at us.

The healthy and smart thing to do is ask ourselves (and I when I say "ourselves" it can mean the government, it can mean people in business, it can mean charity organizations, and it can mean us, in our personal lives) what role WE had to play in what didn't go right. We all have to stand up and be counted and we shouldn't be allowed to blame anyone else.

I'm happy that our president is pulling all the heads of the intelligence organizations together to try to get to the bottom of our problems fighting terror organizations. Instead of inter-service rivalries, the leaders need to see what role their teams had to play or could have played to ensure our country's safety. These leaders need to get over themselves and think about the people they serve.

I don't really expect much. I'd like to say I'm cautiously optimistic, but that might be a stretch.

OK, so instead of just railing against territorial agencies and their leaders in our government, what can we do to help change the human culture, to change our culture here in the US? We can start by trying to live, work, and play in a NO-BLAME ZONE. When we encounter an outcome that we don't like or we know is bad, we can look inside ourselves and ask what role we had to play. We can ask ourselves what we could have done, directly or indirectly, to keep the bad from happening and to make the good materialize.

It's up to each of us. Yes, it's hard. It's a life's work. It can be done.