Tiger’s adversities are not unique. They are publicized because he is an iconic golfer and incredibly famous.
During the nationwide We Work Veterans in Residence orientation yesterday Todd Connor, the CEO of Bunker Labs, probably said many inspiring things. Unfortunately I stopped listening fairly early on into the brief. It’s because he said something that I and many people would normally overlook. He said “As you pursue your life’s work [...].” It was like everything stopped. I didn’t hear another word. I typed 3 words into my laptop: Your life’s work. Your LIFE’S work.
I recently interviewed Lindsay McGregor, Founder and CEO of The Vega Factor and author of Primed to Perform. She spoke to me about the concept of Total Motivation or ToMo for short. The concept essentially identifies 3 positive motives to work and 3 destructive components to avoid; all of which ultimately compile someone’s ToMo. I will only cover the positive motives in order to be concise and to not mess it up too bad. This is my basic interpretation.
1. Play- what do I like or love to do? What activity do you engage in simply because you enjoy doing it? If I enjoy planning birthday parties or family reunions then I would likely enjoy being a project manager. If I was a project manager who hated the aforementioned organizing activities then maybe my motives and occupation are misaligned.
2. Purpose - When you do an activity because you value the outcome , not necessarily the activity itself. I may not enjoy editing video for hours at a time, but I do enjoy the outcome of social media content of my interviewees that makes them happy while at the same time inspiring others.
3. Potential - Finding a second order outcome that aligns with your values and beliefs. You essentially believe the work will lead to person goals or things you believe are important. This may be eating a balanced diet and exercising vigorously in order to lose weight. The outcome ? To pass the Initial Strength Test (IST) and be within the height and weight standards required by the Marine Corps in order to qualify for enlistment or commission. The second order outcome? Becoming a United States Marine.
Often times we don’t address our problems, we don’t self-advocate, and we avoid unpleasantries because it’s simply less difficult. I believe we feel like these defense mechanisms don’t require much effort, when in actuality they’re exhausting.
I think a good no bullshit self audit should be a regular occurrence. I used to call these “temperature checks” with my direct report managers. “What’s working? What’s not? Anything else?” Maybe I was projecting a bit, but I would also ask “Do you enjoy this or is it just something you do?” Nonetheless, the easy answer to some of our lingering issues is to attach the blame to people and circumstances beyond your control. After all, “What am I supposed to do if (insert boss or counterpart name here) doesn’t care or always treats me like that?”
Cassie Frow, a former coworker of mine would often say “problems are treasures.” It was the right attitude. Nothing happens TO us, we just believe it does when we aren’t willing to put forth the effort to control our emotions or responses.
Audit your motives. Where am I in regards to play, purpose, and potential? Root cause any misalignments and get to work to fix it! After all, stress is the result of not solving problems that we know exist.
Your Life’s Work
Where am I going with all this? There were 3 years, post military service, that I meandered around with virtually no positive motives for work. It was just work. Of course leading and motivating others was a fantastic outcome but I had no control over what was happening to me- so I thought.
When, and only when, I decided to take my life and the time I spent on earth catering to my desires and ToMo motives (inadvertently) did things begin to change. And FAST. I virtually relinquished negative forces, people, and environments from my little world and built a space to welcome the positive, selfless, optimistic forces.
What I had to say, what I wanted to do, and how I perceived things to be were received with open minds. The byproduct, my mind became much more open as well.
Todd’s statement made my mind fast forward to the dreadful day I have to look back on the entirety of my life and determine if I made it count. I can now say that while I may have been a late bloomer my play, purpose, and potential are in alignment and I’m just ... well.. happy. This is not a meant to depict that “work is stupid, do your own thing.” It is meant to serve as a reminder that if you aren’t doing what you desire it will catch up with you sooner or later. Hopefully the former so you can maximize your time passionately engaged in your life’s work.
PROVE THAT YOU CAN DO THE JOB
Not your job. THEIR job; and prove that you can do it well. This is one of the ultimate ways to show that you take your team’s efforts very seriously. Spend one hour throughout the week doing the job of those you’re responsible for. You are putting your capability and efficiency on display which means you are also demonstrating that you are vulnerable.
Your team will either be impressed with how well you do or they will be impressed that you are trying to work towards performing at the level you expect them to be at. By being a regular practitioner you can have 3 motivational tools at your disposal:
1. Rewarding those who regularly work hard by asking if you can take something off of their plate. “I’ll take over for awhile if you don’t mind. You’ve been crushing it all week and you deserve a half hour to yourself. Hopefully I perform up to your standards!”
2. Asking top performers how they can help you and the team get to their level of excellence. This is not only a technical piece, but a way to determine if these personnel can convey knowledge - a critical aspect of leadership.
3. YOU can help coach low performers. If they can see that you execute at a high level, it will remind them that they can likely do more. This tool is enormously helpful if you’ve demonstrated improvement through dedicating yourself to that hour a week of practicing and getting your reps in. “Joe, I love that you do (fill in the blank) so well, but I also noticed that you struggled a bit with (fill in the blank). Don’t worry man, I used to do the same thing until Susan taught me this way. Now I’m way better. Can I show you?”
CREATE THE OPPORTUNITY FOR RISK AND FAILURE
So what if you know the answer! So what if you know a better way! By saying no to ideas you KNOW will fail only serves to protect you while allowing you to try and control the outcome. You once made plenty of mistakes and while you feel that you can help your team avoid some of them — there is also an enormous opportunity for growth here. I cannot count the times I’ve been approached with “Rich I have an idea!” Here’s how it usually went:
1. “Carl, I don’t like it. I actually think it’s a bad idea. BUT do it and let me know how it goes.”
2. “We’ve tried that one already Jackie, and here’s why it didn’t work. Knowing that, see if you can come up with something to try a better version out.”
3. “I love it. This could be BIG or it can fail miserably. Tell me what ends up happening and how I can help.”
Obviously I am not suggesting free reign of every idea, especially if it can cause something catastrophic or interrupt an important deadline. But, we know there is ample time throughout the course of a month or quarter to be the enabler and encourager of ideas. Spoiler alert: your ideas are probably not that great either. They just get better with practice.
Most people fail forward when you give them a long leash. If they don’t, this is where your leadership and mentorship will come in at an even larger scale. The greatest leaders take risks and don’t fall in love with the tried and true ways to execute.
Talk Less. Listen More.
Sometimes you just need to shut up. Sometimes you don’t need to send that 10th email by midday. Sometimes you don’t need to call out everything that you see wrong. Walk around, observe, and LISTEN. Just try and be a fly on the wall and determine what patterns, good or bad, that you see. Look, I love to talk but that doesn’t mean everyone loves to listen. When I see eyes start to wander as I’m talking or giving direction I know one of three things is happening:
1. I’m going on too long. I’m not adding value. I’m keeping people from work they want to do.
2. I’m not addressing a problem. Worse, I’m not solving a problem.
3. I’m being repetitive. They’ve heard this before or a version of “this” before. Leadership is ongoing and creative communication is as well.
Listen more by asking open ended questions. Listen more by asking questions that don’t have to do with work. Listen more by containing your response or even thinking about your response while the other person is talking. I promise you they can tell when you are prepping your rebuttal or comments. Give them the courtesy of body language that represents sincere interest in what they have to say.
CAVEAT: Talk less doesn’t mean don’t talk at all! Don’t surprise people with late feedback. Don’t fail to immediately correct something that is grossly out of standard. Most importantly, don’t EVER delay positive feedback!
“I’d love to take you to coffee sometime.” Time is everyone’s biggest asset - so offering someone coffee when you’re trying to increase your network is not much of a value add for them.
You cannot go into a cup of coffee hoping the person on the other side of the table can / will do something for you. “Networking should be reframed into RELATIONSHIP BUILDING” said Dorie Clark when I interviewed her in November. Look for people who you have things in common with and you’d like to spend time with. Not people you’re hoping to get to like you enough for an ask.
Here’s 3 ways to expand your network in 2019:
Zoom Video Communications / Skype / Google Hangouts calls.
1. This solves the proximity issue for the people you can’t ask to coffee.
2. It’s still a face to face conversation! You can be in your element and they can be in theirs.
3. No risk. You mutually determine if there’s a potential opportunity to build a relationship.
PRO TIP; Don’t have your phone out or other open windows on your computer. It’s too easy to be distracted. This goes for both parties.
Ask for introductions from your existing network.
Claude Silver introduced me to Jared Nichols, MSF via email. We had a 2 hour Zoom call (it was supposed to be 30 min). I didn’t ask for that intro but she knew he and I would have tons to talk about. If people in your network know you’re looking for good meaningful connections, these things may happen. The people that know you, will connect you with the RIGHT people.
Stop asking for things, and instead let people know you can help them if they need it...even if it’s for free. But “doing work for free has a negative connotation and devalues you.” Right? I hear that all the time and couldn’t disagree more. If you want to offer value using your skill set, and it’s completely altruistic - then do it! It’s YOUR decision. If you worry about the perception that may follow then you’re already operating in a manner in which you’re too worried about what others will think. I made some content for a now mentor and friend Jill Katz for free. I liked her the moment I met her. I wanted to get to know her. So I offered. Now she’s offered value to me because of the mutual interest we have in seeing each other’s business succeed.
So there you go. You can be more creative in fostering relationships and expanding your network. Have a wonderful Christmas!
All the best,
There is an almost mythical level of leadership that exists and Secretary Mattis sits at its pinnacle. Many people and service members, myself included, of the OIF/OEF era do not know a more articulate, unflinching, and fair leader. My most influential leaders were mentored by or served under Gen Mattis.
His military brilliance, undying scholarly curiosity, and ability to fire off memorable (but serious) one liners are all widely known; especially in the United States Marine Corps. But, his distinction lies in is his profound dedication and love for those under his charge. In this case it is the entire nation. As a matter of fact it’s always been.
I’ve been told by a loved one that my expectations of leaders are too high. Gen Mattis’ letter of resignation affirms that I should abandon any inclination to agree.
Since I’ve left the military it’s been an underwhelming experience watching those in leadership positions above me posture for numbers, promotions, titles, and money. Feeling alone and at times being told I “care too much”, resulted in me valuing things I knew deep inside didn’t matter.
I’m not proud
I changed. For the worse. My behavior changed. I was judgmental. I was unrealistic. I was a toxic peer and a rowdy subordinate. It wasn’t a cry for help as much as it was me feeling like a coward for not staying true to myself.
I loathed interacting with anyone above me. I saw technical talent galore, but I also saw strategies of personnel working and leading in a manner that was designed to keep a target off their back. I was told to “keep a low profile” and “just use this job as a money making machine.” I saw the best people leaders overlooked. I saw the most ruthless skyrocket.
I’m not proud that my values changed. It’s just a chapter I’ll have to learn a lot from. I didn’t fit in. Then suddenly I made an exhausting effort to GIVE all I can to future leaders. Life got better. Much better. Work became more tolerable. My direct reports were rising fast and getting promoted regularly. But, the damage had been done. I had deviated from my character too much. There was no salvaging what some of thought of me and what I thought of myself.
Those days are now long gone. And when I see something like Gen Mattis’ letter it reminds me that we all have our own unique sense of duties. We all have values - and sometimes they change. We all try to do what’s right. We all fall from grace. We all live our best lives when it’s consistent with how we want to live.
5 years ago my favorite author, Mark Manson, replied to a novel of an email I sent him. He wrote back 2 sentences, “If it doesn’t feel right, that’s enough. You don’t need to wait for something catastrophic to happen.” I respect the overt and underlying messages of Gen Mattis’ letter and believe he took this simplistic approach to his decision.
Serving, in any capacity, at any organization, to avoid blows to our confidence is unsustainable.
Serving to boost our confidence through merits or money is also unsustainable.
Serving to serve others is leadership in its purest and strongest form. This is where I will always try and live. I’m just glad I was reminded by the Secretary of Defense.
The Adventure of Traveling
Over the last couple of months I’ve been doing a good amount of traveling-Italy, Spain, London, Los Angeles, and New York. I love the adventures being away affords you. You learn more about and embrace other cultures. You allow your eyes to be filled with new and unique sights. You will eat something so good that you’ll inevitably fantasize about it the next time you find yourself bored with your regular options.
But getting to our destinations involves a sometimes lengthy search, a healthy amount of logistical planning, and hours in your chosen mode of transportation. During the course of my latest travels, I can happily say that I prefer trains over planes.
There are train stations in many towns and obviously almost all large cities. If there’s a chance you miss your train, there’s no penalty to change your departure time. Trains are less prone to be significantly delayed due to inclement weather. There’s no security lines. You don’t have to worry about the endless amount of “(fill in the blank) club members” that get to board before you. Space...lots of space. WiFi is complimentary and available throughout the trip in most cases. Power outlets galore. Bathrooms are three times the size of airplane bathrooms. You have a scenic ground level view of all the places you aren’t stopping which make spark some new curiosities. Lastly, it’s simply smoother.
It takes 6 hours each way and about $200-$250 for a round trip from Richmond to New York Penn Station. For about 3 hours less toys travel and $0- $200 more you can fly. See, time is everyone’s biggest asset. The convenience of speeding up how long it takes to get where we’re going is something we all pay for. However, riding the train has allowed me to brainstorm more creatively and for longer. I have a newfound fondness for the journey. Most of all traveling via train has helped me tap into a patience that had been submerged for far too many years.
”Slow is fast and fast is smooth.” You may have heard that before. I’ve heard it, said it, and applied it. I think it’s a fantastic way to think. I believe you can almost never screw anything up by taking your time to do it right. I’ve rushed many times over my lifetime and sadly when it came to some incredibly significant decisions. It never resulted favorably.
The slower and more methodical the approach the sooner you will become smooth and “faster.” More importantly, the amount of stress will likely be cut in half and in turn make for a pleasant memory; not a forgettable one.
It’s been 3 months
I took a leap of faith on myself 3 months ago. When you take a big risk you probably think a lot of people will be talking about you. You imagine these scenarios where friends and family are sitting around bashing your logic. You imagine your former coworkers and bosses taking time out of their busy day to engage in conversation about you. The truth is that’s all pretty narcissistic and a story we just tell ourselves. In reality, you’re in it alone. Nobody cares. And I don’t mean that with any degree of ambivalence. Time is everyone’s biggest asset remember? Everyone has their own shit to worry about. So don’t worry about if people are worrying about you. I think I should trademark that.
Along with patience comes strength and confidence. You don’t feel compelled to rush. You aren’t jockeying for position. You aren’t trying to validate your worth to people who may not value you. You realize more and more that you and whatever real world and professional experience you have can benefit someone. “Humans beings are meant to BE” my lovely wife said during one of our first dates. She’s exactly right. The more I just focusing on living in my terms, the more great serendipitous things keep happening.
So, in the last 3 months, since I’ve slowed down I’ve:
-Started a podcast. I’ve interviewed entrepreneurs of all industries (knitting, civil engineering, cannibis accessories, television producer, etc) They’ve all been a blast.
-Started a YouTube channel that began as a vlog and now redirecting it towards content about leadership and development.
Have spent a ton of time with my precious baby girl!
Until next time,
Your Email Backlog
A long time ago when I was an enlisted Marine, my platoon commander told me “Email is taking over. People don’t walk down the hall to pass word. We’re Marines. This isn’t good.” I didn’t use email for work in the year 2000. I was a grunt. But, now I get it.
I’m not at all under the impression that this matter hasn’t been addressed before, but it is still worth a valuable lesson. At my last company I would see my counterparts’ or subordinates’ outlook accounts with an inbox number well into the hundreds...of unread emails. I couldn’t believe it. I took a ton of pride in the fact that mine inbox never EVER had more than 10 unread messages and was clear at the end of the day. How was that possible?
I reduced the amount of lists I subscribed to, made rules for specific personnel to go to either another folder or junk, and I deleted emails unflinchingly and often. See, it was not uncommon for people on a 4 day on 3 day off rotation to come in to at least 200 - 300 new emails if they had decided not to check their email over their weekend. On a workday you might receive 75-100 per day because everyone was catching up on their unread list, forwarding information that was now old, or “replying all” unnecessarily. I’m purposely leaving out an inordinate amount of other intangibles that could lead to a never-ending backlog, but the question remains “How many of these emails really matter?”
Everyone Wants To Be Heard
I would say 40%-50% of emails would fall into the category of people simply wanting to demonstrate that they did something. I know, because I was one of them. I later realized that I was hoping that people would categorize me as valuable, knowledgable, or “on top of things.” The truth is I didn’t need to send emails to do that. I was also emailing my team way too much. I began to consolidate all the emails with pertinent information that I received and pass it on, all at once, when we were all together. I did this with the hope if sparing them from taking off-work hours to try and stay current in the ever-changing operational ongoings. I wanted to bear the burden and rightfully so. The problem was I made it a point to emphasize that part of my leadership style was understanding that “information is power” and “you never want to be the last person to know something.” So, then they would show up to our pre-shift meetings with the same information I had consolidated for them. They were showing up earlier and earlier to work trying to illustrate they were right there with me. This was admirable, but not the intent. The sending of emails and the attempts to keep up is a negative cycle, with misplaced intentions, and simply not sustainable.
When you send the 15th work related email of the day or the 100th text to your work group chat -ask yourself why you are sending it. Do this for those you work alongside and those that are in your charge. Coach them and help them gain the perspective that they don’t need to overdo it. Less IS more. After all, if everything is a priority, nothing is priority. It is your responsibility as a leader to sort through the noise, pass only the legitimately important information and let your people be with their people.
I had a few peers that would religiously avoid email during their off time. I didn’t know how they did it. They allocated that time off for their families, their hobbies, or just to simply recharge. When we would cross paths during shift changeovers I would fill them in, almost begrudgingly, to make sure they were up to speed. When all was said and done many of us performed at the same level and it was our leadership and communication styles that made us distinguishable, not our email practices.
There is No Replacement for Face-to-Face Communication
One of my former peers Eric always, and I mean always, would make multiple trips to my department to talk face to face. He always began with “Hey man, how are things going?” I’m not huge on niceties in a fast paced environment, but he did an excellent job of being concise after our initial greetings for the day. This was a practice I told him made him stand out tremendously; in a great way of course. I sometimes would be at shift turnover with my peers who were heading home for the night only to later read emails they had sent with relevant information once they were already gone! I could never rationalize why they didn’t tell me face to face when we were physically together.
Sometimes we fall into a trap where we believe that because something was written it can serve as a sort of safety net. There’s a certain pride you feel when someone questions if you passed on information, or completed a task, and you have the digital proof to back it up. However, aside from that engaging face to face will always be the best practice in terms of communication. The same way we sometimes misinterpret texts or try to analyze how it’s being said can happen just as easily in emails. The benefit of body language, facial expressions, and the ability to ask follow on questions is simply too valuable to overlook. The visual cues are plentiful. Additionally, we all too often believe that writing an email is the same as having a conversation. It is not.
“This is a People Business”
This is everyone’s favorite cliche phrase in any almost any business. Yes, most thriving businesses and impactful leaders share the characteristic of being truly involved with the experience their customers or subordinates have. Far beyond the numbers, we all have our own unique spots in the world. We are all trying to succeed in our endeavors, be happy, and minimize problems and stressors. While work is a part of everyone’s world, it is not likely not the only meaningful aspect of people’s lives. You can never tap into this or build long standing relationships if you prioritize the digital methods we are all accustomed to, rather than taking the time to just talk to someone.
Make the effort to go talk to people. Be approachable. Shut your laptop. Hide your phone. Look at people in the eye. Don’t prepare what you will say in return. Just listen. Oh and instead of asking “did you see my email?” just assume they didn’t.
“GET THE (expletive) OFF ME” I yelled instantly and involuntarily. It was the middle of the night in the woods of Quantico, VA and Matthew Hays was trying to help me stand up.
It was Mile 16 at of our last hike at The Basic School. My hamstrings decided to give out simultaneously to the point where I had to get out of formation. I was irate.
Matthew Hays was trying to help. The thing is...this was a school. This was training. This wasn’t combat. No one’s life was in danger. However, it was all the same to him. The situation didn’t matter. You help your fellow Marines.
A lot of us “go internal” in situations such as a 20 mile hike (with your weapon and all your gear). You are at capacity, physically and mentally, so you can’t think to help someone else because you don’t want to derail yourself.
When you choose to serve, you choose to serve others. Unselfishness is so immeasurably contagious and in the service I think it becomes natural to put yourself second. This is why you’ve read stories of unthinkable heroism during combat or catastrophic events. You adhere to this when all is well, not simply in crisis.
So thanks for that memory Matt. It reminds me of how to always live that way - even as a civilian.
“You ready? The grill closes at 1:35pm so it can cool off by 2pm” the woman said almost coercing us to tell her we’ll pass. It was 1:25pm. The cafe closes at 2pm.
My wife orders a combo from the one menu sitting at the counter. “We don’t have any of that stuff.” Now I just can’t help it and I have to say something. “Why is it out then?” “Cause it’s stuff we used to have, but we don’t anymore,” she refuted. I quickly realized in terms of laziness, I was superiorly outmatched.
Let me rewind. Before we walked in I already knew the hours of operation. I saw a gentleman mopping. I saw the grill clean. Yet, we were hungry and timed our meal at a specific time since we knew we wouldn’t have access to food for a long time. While I love to help people out, I wasn’t going to pass up on food because they were one step ahead of the game in preparation for closing time.
So customer satisfaction is derived from adopting a position to provide your assistance, service, or time to those looking to use or consume your product or service. In this instance, the employee cared about closing more than the customer, and in doing so created a poor customer experience. I don’t like to use the word service because that has a more finite feel to it. When we use the word experience it captures how your impression of the person and ultimately the business will linger.
It took the woman almost no time to make our meals. When she realized we hadn’t inconvenienced her as much as she was anticipating we would, she became a little more vivacious and conversational.
None of this is the woman’s fault. This is her leader’s doing. It was clear an environment had been created where her ownership of the grill, closing time, etc. meant that she could incentivize herself to be out as soon as possible to include shutting the grill down 25 minutes prior to closing time.
Leadership comes from setting an example not of how you want to portray the business, but more so on what you desire the customer experience to be. Now that I’m in the “entrepreneurial” business I look at my watch much less now. And when I do, I’m always like “Shit it’s that late already!!?” I feel like I need more hours and more undistracted time.
When you don’t enjoy what you’re doing you’re constanty wondering what time it is so you can count how much time you have left. We all do it or have done it. I’m just glad to be done with that aspect of employment and I hope it’s permanent. Feelings of guilt would always surface when I was in my various positions of leadership and all I wanted to do was be home or away from where I was.
That meant one thing and one thing only. I wasn’t providing value to anyone; at least not to my fullest potential. The customer experience of those in my charge was shortchanged. And that feeling is far far worse than having a few hours left to go.
When you find yourself in these situations, you can tough it out. You can be strong for your people. Ultimately though, there will come a point where it’s simply exhausting. If you’re a leader, the best example you can set if to position yourself on a daily basis to contribute at the highest level- not due to sheer work ethic, but because you care that deeply about where you are and what you do. If you’re not there you’re only marking time and waiting to close the cafe.
“Leaders line up!” Our Company Gunny had all the Corporals in our Infantry Company line up shoulder to shoulder facing the tree line. “Marines go stand behind the leader you would follow if you had a choice.”
This was a humbling experience. We didn’t know what to expect before we were allowed to turn around. More importantly - it created serious internal questions: “WHY would someone follow me? Would I follow me?”
I was disappointed with the number behind me and not surprised by the couple of Corporals that had a good contingent behind them.
This is when it all changed for me. This is when I began to understand leadership. This is when I realized being in a position to lead, not manage, was one of the most important tasks you could ever undertake.
In my last position so many people said “I wish I worked for you instead of ...” I’m sure this happens to many of us, but I would always ask them why. It’s not about flattery, but clearly they were missing something and no matter what we could learn from the conversation.
So if you currently lead in any capacity - ask yourself “Would anyone choose to get behind me?” If not, contemplate who they would. Whatever the reasons are, you might just take something away from that.
Don’t go through the motions. Get better. Be better.