Wednesday, December 11, 2013

How to avoid the emotional roller coaster ride of the thin-skinned

Do you know someone who bruises easily? Over the weekend, I noticed a big bruise on my husband’s arm. The variations of purple would make any K State fan a fan of the bruise. Bob explained that the bruise is from having blood drawn at the doctor’s office earlier in the week, which led to a discussion about whether the blood taker was incompetent or his skin is just sensitive. We ended up talking about how skin reacts in different situations. Although we talked literally, the same is true figuratively.

Some people are thick-skinned and others are thin-skinned. As Bob deals with the arm bruise, others have to deal with emotional bruises caused by their emotional thin skin.
Thin-skinned people often experience an emotional roller coaster of ups and downs that increase stress, reduce productivity, diminish trust, and damage relationships. Someone who sees setbacks or criticism as major life events lives a painful existence much of the time.

Some people haven’t faced major life challenges, so they think minor setbacks are a big deal. Perhaps their parents removed all opportunity for adversity (don’t get me started on helicopter parenting), or perhaps they haven’t taken many risks. Either way, they have not experienced major challenges, so the minor ones are magnified to them.
Or, the opposite could be true. Perhaps the thin-skinned people faced major challenges and are still reeling from the impact.

If you want to hone your ability to bounce back after life challenges or adversarial interactions with others, consider the following strategies:
  1. Release past adversity. Harboring insecurities from the past is not helping you thrive today.
  2. Focus externally. Thin-skinned people often are internally focused, but focusing on others can help you see the adverse situation more clearly.
  3. Accept advice. Build relationships with a support network you will trust to advise you when obstacles arise. Thin-skinned people often have a defeatist mindset, but if you have a close network who will tell you the truth, they can help toughen you up.
  4. See the big picture. In the “All-In” book and sessions, I talk with people about seeing the bigger picture of their day, tasks, work, lives. When we are focused on the mundane, or negative situations, they can overtake everything else. Seeing the big picture helps people stop sweating the small stuff. It also helps people focus on their own goals instead of others’.
  5. Think positive. No, skipping up and down the halls whistling Zippity Doo Dah will not help thicken your skin. But, recollections of triumph can. When you’re down and out, recall other successes and let those inspire you to work through the current situation.
  6. Reframe the situation. Instead of dwelling on the adversity for the challenges, reframe it so you see the possibilities. Draw a vertical line down the center of a sheet of paper. On the left, list the parts of the situation that are not going well or that you do not like. On the right, list the possible outcomes and the benefits of going through this. Use that sheet to help you position the situation for solutions instead of failure.
  7. Develop scar tissue. A great way to get thick skin is to be in situations that require you to use thick skin. So, seek advice and feedback from others. It is not easy hearing criticism, and some people are not great at delivering it, but it will help you toughen up.
  8. Apply what works. Although the criticism or setback can sting, consider what would be useful in moving your forward. Take the parts you can use and let the rest go.
If you develop a more favorable cognitive emotional pattern, you can develop thick skin that enables you to thrive during setbacks from major life challenges to minor criticisms. Also, be aware of how your actions inflict pain on others and try not to bruise other people. In the immortal words of Michael Stipes, remember, “Everybody hurts, sometimes.”

Quote du jour
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Eleanor Roosevelt

Monday, December 2, 2013

Winners expect to win in advance

Did you watch football over the weekend? Whether you watched college or professional football, or even the news, you saw a clip of one of the most exciting plays in sports history.

During the tied Alabama v. Auburn game, with one second left on the clock, Alabama attempted a field goal for the win. Since Alabama was ranked #1 and has won three of the last four national championships, it was reasonable to assume the kick would go through or the game would go into overtime.
An Auburn player did not make that assumption. He caught the ball as it missed the uprights, and he ran it out of the end zone 107 yards all the way down to the other end to score a game-winning touchdown. Auburn not only won, they prevented their rival from being #1 and winning another national championship.

The play has been shown on all of the newscasts because of the timing, championship implications, and run length. The most astounding aspect to me, however, is that the Auburn player was positioned in the end zone ready to catch the ball. We’ve all seen last-minute kicks with empty end zones. I don’t recall seeing any with opponents positioned to catch the ball if it misses.

Winners position themselves for greatness. They don’t show up on game day expecting to win. They prepare for months, years even, to be ready to win. The Auburn player was physically capable to catch the ball and out-run others, he was mentally ready, and he was in the right position. He was ready so when the opportunity came, he took it. He took it 107 yards.
If he had not physically and mentally prepared himself, his location on the field would not have mattered. He was positioned for success deliberately by himself and his coaches.

So what? How is that touchdown relevant to us?
In your job, you're not running touchdowns to win; however, we all need to position ourselves for victory just like that football player did. We have to be physically competent in that we have to hone the right skills that matter to clients today. We have to be mentally prepared to face challenges and adapt. We also have to be positioned to win. We have to anticipate client needs, market shifts, and changing demands of our industry.

It’s not that different from the football player.
Are you ready? Are you preparing for the opportunity, so that when it arrives, you are positioned for greatness? We have to position ourselves and our companies for greatness deliberately because we expect to have opportunities. We expect to win.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Observing Veterans Day with a WWII spitfire pilot and Roger Waters

This week, we will see signs acknowledging the military service of our colleagues, family, and friends. We will have coffee with them in the morning, meet with them throughout the day, and work with them tomorrow. As we do, let’s remember they have had a significant life experience the rest of us did not have. Today we set aside a few moments to honor them for it, and they let us. Most would rather the day go by without notice, but this one day, we get to recognize they have done something for us. Today, we get to remind ourselves to make their military experience worth it by earning it the rest of the year.

Two recent events reinforced the meaning of Veterans Day for me this year.

One was the Stand Up for Heroes concert last Wednesday at Madison Square Garden. The video below describes how a band of brothers came together to perform at the concert. The band members are Wounded Warriors, and they are led by Roger Waters of Pink Floyd. The band members talk about the impact music has on them and one, Marine Corporal Tim Donnelly, says, “I feel more whole now that I’ve ever been in my whole life.” He lost both legs and use of his arm in the recent war in Afghanistan.

The other event was not from the recent wars but from WWII.

Upon the death of his uncle, a man found two suitcases full of video shot by his uncle during WWII. His uncle was a flight surgeon who took more than 100 hours of film. As the man watched some of the film, he became curious about the people in the clips. He wondered if they had ever seen the film and if they would want to. One of the clips is of a pilot making an emergency landing of a spitfire.

The video below tells the story of the uncle and the pilot. The video shows Lt. John S. Blyth, a WWII recon mission pilot who flew unarmed and alone over Germany, seeing the film of his landing for the first time. The whole story is interesting, but seeing the pilot see his landing for the first time makes stories like this hit close to home.

On days like today, we often hear the phrase, “All gave some, and some gave all.” We work with people who gave some and know people who gave all. Today we honor all of them. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Learn the secret of success from a shoeshine man

Albert Lexie has one skill: shining shoes. The 71-year-old began shining shoes at age 15, and he has been shining shoes twice a week at Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh PA for 36 years. He takes two bus rides more than 90 minutes to get to work then spends each day wheeling his shoeshine cart around the hospital.  

Mr. Lexie has become a fixture at the hospital who means a lot to the employees and patients. When the family of a thirteen-year old boy couldn’t pay his medical bills due to layoffs and benefit loss, Mr. Lexie paid the $30,000 bill. The shoeshine man who many people probably overlook is a miracle to that family, and many others. 
Mr. Lexie has been shining shoes at Children’s Hospital for more than 36 years, and he has donated all of this tip money to the Hospital. As of June, he had donated more than $200,000.

Note, he is the shoeshine man, not a doctor, banker, CEO, big time author, rock star, or athlete. He is a simple man with priorities. He makes a difference at the hospital beyond the dollars, which is what causes the manager in the video to well up in tears just talking about Mr. Lexie.

This example came to mind today during a SMART Goal-Setting and Goal-Getting training session. I talked with the group about knowing yourself and what you want your life to be, so you can create it. 

Mr. Lexie didn’t set out to donate $200,000. He lives the kind of life that enabled him to donate for 36 years. Donating $200k would be a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) for most of us, but the chances of accomplishing it increase immensely if we start today. We can’t wait until we are 71, with the perfect job, in the perfect home, raising the perfect kids, working with perfect colleagues to create the life we want.  

As we discussed in the SMART Goal sessions, think now about your life and reputation so you can create it now. Create the life and reputation you want deliberately. Don’t wait until your 95th birthday to wish you had been a certain way or done certain things. Figure out what those are and do them now.  

Well, don’t do them all at once. Be patient, like the shoeshine man. One shoe, or one step, at a time can lead toward accomplishing greatness.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

5 Simple ways to get a grip

Do you ever have days that you’re so harried and need to get a grip? Usually during times like that, simplicity flies right out the window. Sometimes it feels like it flies out the window right after our sanity.

Snickers had a commercial during the Super Bowl last year that captured the sentiment. The nice guy turned in to a Joe Pesci character when he was not himself. The solution was to have a Snickers candy bar and he would be back to himself in no time.

The fact is, some days are just busier, more booked, or more stress-filled than others; however, we don’t want to eat chocolate every time. (Right?!) Here are five simple actions that can help you slow down and recover during high-pressure days:
  1. Breathe. Use the 10-5-10 technique: breathe in for a slow count of 10, hold it for a slow 5, then release it to a slow count of 10. Slowing blood flow and breathing puts you in control physically. If it doesn’t work once, do it again. It only takes 25 seconds, so do it as many times as needed.
  2. Take a break. Rushed and rattled is no way to make an important decision or engage with others. Walk outside; get fresh air for a fresh perspective.
  3. Be grateful. In the midst of a stressful time, jot down as many things you’re grateful for as possible. Set an alarm for one minute and start writing. This is a fun exercise that changes moods by changing focus and reminding of priorities.
  4. Identify the good. When you need to get a grip quickly, think about something positive about the situation you’re in. It could be a learning opportunity, or a chance to interact with someone you don’t know well yet, or a chance to show your skills in a new way. There’s usually something good even in the midst of stressful situations, so look for it when you need to get a grip.
  5. Recognize an accomplishment. When there’s uncertainty, think of something that began the same way and turned out well. Once you remember working through a similar circumstance, you can focus on working through the current one too.
Everyone feels rushed and ragged once in a while. Use these steps to get a grip so the heightened emotions don’t lead to poor decisions, hurt relationships, or damaged reputations. And, remember, everyone has days like that, so be patient when someone around is having one.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Monsters under the bed

One universal truth about children: at some point every one of them is afraid of monsters under the bed. The common fear, and parental knowledge of it, helped Disney and Pixar gross more than $560 million in 2001 with the release of the movie Monsters Inc. The fear and film came to mind Friday night during an episode of the television show Shark Tank, the business show on ABC (not to be confused with Shark Week on the Discovery Channel).

One of the products pitched by an entrepreneur to the “shark” investors was called Fairytale Wishes. It is a spray that helps children handle common childhood fears, like monsters under their beds. Simply spray the monster repellant, and the child has less anxiety about the monsters and can have sweet dreams.

My brain has been stuck on that spray ever since viewing the show a few days ago.

In thinking about the kids and monsters, wouldn’t it be better to help children understand there are no monsters in their rooms? Or, maybe once reason and logic don’t sink in, a bubble-gum scented magic potion is all a kid will accept?

Are we ever like that? Do smart adults ever imagine monsters? Or, do we ever prefer to avoid looking under the bed and rely on the easy answer instead? After all, if that spray works, it sure would be easier for a scared child to spray the room than to look under the bed. He might come face-to-face with the mean monster if he looked for it!

Are we like that: afraid to face what scares us? When is it time to put down the fairy spray and face the monsters, whatever they are?

What are the monsters in your business? What do you need to do to face the fright?

Everyone is different, but there are a few things to consider:
  1. Stay informed so you manage with facts. Rely on internal communications and your own sources for factual information.
  2. Refrain from listening to emotional rants. Others’ emotional rants are more likely to upset you and cause you to lose focus than they are to help. Remember, the television news is full of opinionated hosts more than objective journalists. Be selective and don’t let someone else cause you to panic. We would tell kids not to be afraid of the monsters under someone else’s bed, right?
  3. Assess your skills. Understand your strengths and how they can contribute to current projects. If your skills are outdated, use any down time to improve. It is always wise to ensure your skills are updated and relevant.
  4. Communicate your strengths and offer to help other teams if possible. The fact is, doing so internally is not possible for everyone. Help internally or help get external clients so you can employ your strengths there. Whether internal or external, if your skills are updated and relevant, someone will need them.
  5. Network. The purpose of networking is to share information. The exchange of information can help you position yourself as favorably as possible, no matter what happens.
The more imminent the change, the more I keep thinking about the monsters under the bed. Is it better to know they aren’t there than to take silly steps to demolish them? Or, is it better to take the steps just in case?

I’m not sure but I might check in to that Fairytale Wishes spray. One of the products is Super Hero Spray, for those days when you need a boost of courage. I wonder if there is a quantity discount…

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Are you the Red Flag teammate?

In the video linked below, Peter Bregman (CEO of a global management consulting firm which advises CEOs and their leadership teams) shares a story about consulting with a company whose staff put a red flag outside the CEO’s office to warn people against going in to his office. He says everyone knew the CEO was difficult, but the CEO didn’t know his reputation was so damaged until Bregman explained the red flag hanging outside his office.

(Click the picture or use the link to watch the six-minute video

Why is it bad to be the red flag person?
  1. You might not get to use the full power of your brain or experience if people don’t want you on their teams.
  2. Red flag people cause others to waste time and energy trying to accommodate them or fix their issues.
  3. It can be lonely when no one wants to be around you.
  4. Being a downer might go against your personal mission or goals.
  5. You might get stuck in a spot along your career journey where you don’t want to stay.
  6. It is exhausting to be so negative.
As Bregman says, “When we are not aware of the feelings, they take us with them.”
We have feelings all day long without thinking about them, and when we don’t pay attention to them, the feelings can cause us to become a negative force in the office. They can cause us to become the Red Flag people.
    While I do not want anyone reading this to be a Red Flag person, I also do not want you to repress your feelings. Some “gurus” tell us not to take things personally or to leave our feelings at the door as we arrive at work. But, I don’t think that helps either.
I’ve written and spoken extensively outside the Institute about being all in. Living and leading all in means you bring your brain, heart, hands, eyes, and everything about yourself to your life. That includes work. So, contrary to some popular “gurus,” I do think we should take things personally. Our work is personal, and our company does better when people have strong feelings about it. However, we can control how we behave in response to our feelings so we don’t become the Red Flag people.

The following tips can help you avoid becoming the Red Flag person on your team:
  1. Slow down, breath, pause and get used to your feelings. Understanding your feelings can help you deliberately adapt your behavior. Don’t repress your feelings; identify them.
  2. Decide how you need to act to maintain your professional relationships and reputation. You don’t have to address the feelings right away, but you do have to choose your behavior. Unlike a three-year old whose tantrums are cute to onlookers, we can control our behavior.
  3. Refrain from over-sharing feelings, especially regarding personal matters that will be highly scrutinized.
  4. Use support resources like your workplace friends, manager, coach, or EAP.
  5. Honor personal boundaries—your own and others’. Certain topics are not ideal for the workplace and could make colleagues uncomfortable, so be aware of others’ personal boundaries.
  6. If you can’t focus, take time off. The best professionals know when they need to take themselves out of the game to recuperate.
  7. Respect your colleagues’ time. Your best friends at work have their own work to complete each day, and they have their own personal issues to manage.
  8. Respect your job, team, and the Institute by doing great work. If you’ve decided you can show up for work, then be a stellar teammate while you are here.
  9. Once the situation improves, thank the people who supported you through it.
These nine tips can help you understand and respond to your feelings without repressing them or letting them steer you toward becoming the Red Flag teammate.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Do you have a perception problem?

Yesterday afternoon I met a friend for coffee. We had not seen each other since May, so we enjoyed catching up for a while. At one point, I was telling her about an upcoming activity with some high school students, and she encouraged me to show a lot of confidence when interacting with kids that age. Another time in the conversation, I mentioned the first year with MRIGlobal flew by yet I feel so new, and she again urged me about confidence. After her second mention of it, I began to wonder if I come across to her, or in general, as if I don’t have confidence.

So, now I’m paranoid and lacking confidence!

The conversation prompted me to dig a little about perceptions. How do our impressions of others impact our behaviors? How do our perceptions of ourselves impact our performance? If anyone reading this has a perception problem, what I learned and pondered might help you too.

The psychology gurus are pretty set on the definition of perception: it is the process by which we translate our environment into our view of the world. Of course, our view affects our behaviors and behaviors lead to success or failure with work and people.

Take a look at the photo to the left. How old is the woman you see? The way you see the woman will impact how you treat her, if she were a real person in front of you. Or, perhaps you see something else entirely?

A colleague told me a story recently. The story was about selling shoes in India. As the story goes, an Indian leader wanted to set up a shoe business in a specific region, so he sent an ambassador there to do some recon work. The elder ambassador spent little time in the region and told the leader that selling shoes in that region would be a waste of time because the people don’t even wear shoes.

In the meantime, an enterprising young man met the leader. The young man was eager to prove himself worthy of a position with the leader, so he offered to go to the same region to assess the shoe business potential. He spent time in the region, interacted with the people, noted their interests and needs. When he returned to the leader, he was excited about the potential shoe business. There was great potential because the people don’t wear shoes! Turns out, the young man was right and the shoe business prospered.

Perception affects behavior, and behavior affects success with work and people. Watch out for three common perception problems to make sure you see things as they are and act accordingly.

Self-fulfilling prophecy: Believing something is true causes it to come true. The best example I can think of for this is “parking karma.” I believe in such karma and it almost always works for me. When people in the car doubt or make fun of it, it always works. Right when a passenger laughs off my parking prayer (“Hail Mary full of grace, help me find a parking space”), someone pulls out of the front spot. Another common example is when searching for a lost item. It is better to say, “I will remember to print the report” instead of “I hope I don’t forget to print the report.”

I read a statistic a long time ago that said 70%-90% of what we say to ourselves is negative. Pay attention to how you talk to, and about, yourself to see if that number could be taken down a notch or two.


Self-sabotage: Self-sabotage goes deeper than self-talk. Sometimes people procrastinate or do mediocre work as a way to sabotage themselves. A technique that helps self-sabotagers is Stop-Challenge-Focus. (SOURCE: Turn Self-Sabotage Into Success By Geoffrey James on
When you avoid taking an action that would help you reach your goals, use the three steps:
1.       STOP. Identify the belief that's causing you to feel emotions that aren't helping you succeed.

2.       CHALLENGE. Question the validity of that belief and find reasons why it's not really true or not true in this case.

3.       FOCUS. Create a specific inner dialog that supports your goals and then take action immediately.

Fundamental attribution error: This is when we give positive explanations for our results and negative ones for others. For example, I got the “A” on the exam because I studied hard, while Joey got the “A” because he was lucky. At work, this might relate to positions, promotions, evaluations, or project assignments. A flawed sense of oneself leads to career stagnation or failure. It is difficult for others to give feedback when our vision of ourselves differs from how others view us, so watch for it yourself.

One of the great philosophers of our day, Stephen Colbert summed this issue up nicely, “It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that's not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything.”

Whether we are with friends, colleagues, or customers, perception is everything. Remember, that includes your perception of others and of yourself, not just their perception of you.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Creatures of habit

We’re all creatures of habit regarding one thing or another, right? We can repeat the same behavior for months, years even, without a second thought until something unusual happens. My father had one of those habit-altering events recently.

Like many of us, my dad is a creature of habit regarding his morning routine. He goes to Wendy’s for breakfast every day. He goes there because the coffee is free and his oatmeal bar is only a dollar. If he had to spend more than $1.07 on breakfast, he would be devastated! (only a slight exaggeration)
Yesterday morning really threw off his routine. Wendy’s was closed at 7:00am. They were closed because of a power surge or something like that. I laughed when he told me about it because their service is always terrible. They often don’t even have coffee during the breakfast hours, which is the bare minimum of service at that hour, don’t you think?

Anyway, yesterday my dad had to go to McDonald’s instead. His bill was $1.67, and he learned something valuable for that additional $.60.

As he dined in a section away from the front registers and employees, my dad saw a man ride up to the restaurant on his bicycle and park it near the back entrance. The man looked to be around sixty years old, was wearing torn shorts and a t-shirt, and was sweaty from the ride. He came inside and stopped at the trash receptacles near the door, then stuck his hand inside and pulled out a large soda cup. The man took the used cup into the restroom where he must have rinsed it out. He emerged from the restroom and filled the used cup with a beverage at the self-service counter.
At first my dad was outraged. Well, that is an exaggeration. He was miffed. Who would take a used cup from the trash? As my dad watched the man gulp his drink then leave, his view changed.

The man was not trying to rip off McDonald’s. He did not have a sense of entitlement. He was struggling. And, he was thirsty.
My dad’s view of the man changed as he watched him. My view of the man changed as my dad told the story too. I was less than sympathetic at first. I jumped to conclusions about the man based on two things: he stuck his hand in the trash and refilled a used cup. Did you jump the way I did? You probably also realized the point isn’t that the man used a cup from the trash but that he was thirsty.

How often do we jump to the wrong conclusions about people and judge them negatively?
My dad realized his tendency to do that when his daily routine was broken up. It got my attention when I heard the story. Hopefully it hits home with a few more folks who hear it too. Perhaps we all could benefit from breaking a few of our own habits and seeing people differently.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The greatness of simplicity

Usually I focus on business examples, but today let’s take a look at a different kind of leader example. Check out the comparison below.

The Pope on the left retired in February; the new Pope is on the right. Notice the difference in regalia. The new Pope, Pope Francis, has removed much of the formal regalia and majesty surrounding the Catholic Church leadership position. He doesn’t need fancy red shoes, red cape, red carpet, or ruby and diamond cross. His throne is a simple wooden one, which might be more like something Jesus would use as the son of a carpenter. His speeches are simple, not elaborate or complex. Pope Francis has changed the tone of the Vatican through his simplicity of living and communicating.

The new Pope is attracting followers because he is humble, yet strong. He has shown he thinks differently than previous Popes and those who run the Vatican, and so far, people, including Catholics like me, like it. The content of his message is the same as one would expect from the Catholic leader. It is his delivery and demeanor that are different.

You see, some leaders need regalia to feel worthy of their position. Others feel the worth inside themselves, and they trust in the wisdom of those who put them in the leadership position. Superficial, external, showmanship is not what real leadership is about. The new Pope knows it, just as other exemplary business leaders do.

We may hear more about Donald Trump than we hear about Jim Stowers, Dave Goebel, or Bonnie Kelly and Teresa Walsh, but that is changing. The pendulum is swinging as there is less interest in narcissistic Chief Ego Officers living large like rock stars and more interest in humble leaders living and working for something bigger than themselves.

Don’t confuse a humble leader with one who is meek, naïve, or docile. Humble leaders lack pretense, not guts. They know when they need help and they are self-assured enough to ask for it. Humble leaders know their weaknesses and seek input from others to counter them. Humble leaders lack arrogance, not assertiveness. They can even be aggressive when situations call for it.

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, calls humble leaders Level 5 leaders. He says, “Level 5 leaders are differentiated from other levels of leaders in that they have a wonderful blend of personal humility combined with extraordinary professional will.”

It is not about the title in the company, it is about the triumph of humility and fierce resolve. The combination is characteristic of successful leaders in the Church, in business, and in life.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Values must evolve

Success is built on certain values. For example, Southwest Airlines values being the low-cost provider. Zappos values exceptional customer service. Abercrombie & Fitch values exclusivity. As long as customers pay for those values, the three example companies can continue to be successful. But, customers can be fickle as their values change.

Abercrombie is feeling the heat of value migration this week. They are being raked over the coals in the media for selling only certain sizes and not selling other, larger, sizes. They didn’t care what larger teenage girls thought about them, as long as their skinny customers continued to shop at Abercrombie. They were sticking with their value of exclusivity. But, customers don’t like that value any more. Abercrombie’s skinny customers stopped shopping there and the company is reeling from poor financials. Now, smug statements of pride in their exclusivity have changed to be more inclusive of all teens. It appears the company is going to assess its values and try to repair the damage done by sticking with outdated values too long. (Abercrombie Apologizes: Retailer Meets with Teens to Address Controversy)

Another example of value migration happened to Rubbermaid, the maker of household and commercial storage products. Rubbermaid was known for innovation and quality. It was always near the top of America’s Most Admired Companies, and it enjoyed extreme brand loyalty from the time it launched in Ohio with the red rubber dustpan in the early 1930s until the mid-1990s.

In the mid-1990s, the cost of resin needed to make Rubbermaid’s products increased 80%, and Rubbermaid tried to pass the cost increase along to its largest customer: Walmart. The problem is that Walmart valued low prices over innovation and quality. Rubbermaid could not reduce its prices to meet Walmart’s needs, nor could they meet Walmart’s other demands. Walmart wanted a two-day delivery of orders, to dictate what products Rubbermaid should make, and to dictate how they make products (emphasizing cost over quality). Walmart’s price demands also affected Rubbermaid’s other customers, who wanted the same low prices.
When Rubbermaid could not accommodate Walmart, the retailer reduced Rubbermaid’s shelf space and gave more space to a lower-quality, lower-priced product line. Of course, Rubbermaid could not recoup its costs. Its earnings fell 30% in one year and four years later, Rubbermaid was bought by a lesser-known company.

Rubbermaid could value innovation and quality forever, but it was going out of business because those values were no longer feasible for its customer.

Many industries have seen customers’ values change in recent years. Customers who valued quality now value price. Others who valued speed of delivery now value innovation. Companies have two choices: change to value the same things as their customers or get customers who share their values. Both are reasonable options companies face all the time.
Individuals face the same dilemma, right? One of my friends worked in advertising in Chicago as the lead account person for the RJR account. After a family member suffered through lung cancer, she could not manage the cigarette account any longer. Her values changed, so her job had to change too.

Individuals and companies need to pay attention to their values. As life happens, or the marketplace changes, be aware of value migration and adjust accordingly.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Agility save lives

Portland police officer Mark James was in hot pursuit of a speeding car when he suddenly slammed on his breaks and abolished the chase. Watch what happens.

The chase began when a black car doing 52mph in a 35mph zone sped past Officer Mark James


Most people applauded the officer’s quick reaction and choice to save the goose family’s lives. But, others thought it would have been better to run over the ducks to get the speeding driver instead.

It‘s times like this—when life is happening quickly—that one’s gut takes over. During a hot pursuit of the speeder, the officer’s instincts were to save the geese. His quick decision-making, ability to respond with agility, and prioritization stem from who he is and what he is trained to do.

Today’s competitive marketplace requires companies to be the same way: make decisions, respond with agility, and stay focused on our priorities. The officer saved lives through his decision making, agility, and focus. What will your company do?


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Thank goodness for curmudgeons

I love the word “curmudgeon.” And, while I generally dislike their brashness, arrogance, and archaic views, there is something compelling about them.

Take Andy Rooney, for example. Did you rush to turn on the television at 6:50pm on Sundays to see him opine about some mundane thing we all deal with? His reminder to “slow down, don’t plan, and savor every moment” is one of my favorites because it is a surprise coming from Rooney.

Be honest, when watching Sesame Street with your kids or grands, does Oscar the Grouch often say aloud something you are thinking? Wasn’t there something great about Simon Cowell telling over-indulged singers without talent to get a new hobby? Hours of humiliation and disparagement are not my kind of entertainment; however, Cowell was not wrong about his assessment of some of those talentless wannabees. Right?

Curmudgeons get a bad rap for their antiquated perspective and poor communication style; however, they often serve an important purpose. Curmudgeons voice things others think but hesitate to say. Whether good or bad, at least issues get exposed and discussed when curmudgeons are involved.

Who are the curmudgeons at your office? Are you one? Consider five characteristics below to identify the curmudgeons around you.

You might be a curmudgeon if…
  1. Everything was better in the past, and I mean everything. “They don’t make things like they used to!” is exclaimed by curmudgeons at least monthly. During winter months, curmudgeons reminisce about their five-mile walk to school…in the snow…up the big hill…without gloves or boots.
  2. You are open to change as long as things stay the same. Curmudgeons remind everyone “that’s the way we’ve always done it here.” While knowing the past is useful, continuing to do things the way they have always been done prevents innovation, which could be a key competitive advantage right now.
  3. You refer to recent college graduates as “young whippersnappers,” you hate the goshdern music they listen to, and you can’t understand a word they say. You also may have forgotten that the old geezers spoke the same way about your generation a gazillion years ago. If you want to tell young people to “get off my lawn!” you might be a curmudgeon.
  4. You tell it like it is. Curmudgeons blurt out their every opinion without regard to how they will be perceived. They don’t care what others think about their communication skills because “if they don’t like it, they don’t have to listen to me.” Yes, they say things like that, but they really think people should listen to them. This mindset is why curmudgeons come across as arrogant. It is arrogant deliver every opinion without regard to others’ feelings. If you don’t care, you’re probably a curmudgeon.
  5. Finally, you might be a curmudgeon if people have jokingly called you a curmudgeon. Although you don’t care about feelings, your friends have been hinting because they don’t want to hurt yours. If the souvenir your kids gave you from their trip to Disney World has Grumpy on it, you might be a curmudgeon.
Being a curmudgeon is not an aspiration for most people. In fact, most of us get annoyed with curmudgeons and their harsh ways. Let’s not forget the positive side, though. Curmudgeons bring up topics that might stay hidden, and for that, we can be grateful.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The slippery slope from confidence to arrogance

There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance. The topic has been on my mind, and I wasn’t sure where to draw the line, so I briefly researched and asked a dozen people for their perspectives.
According to dictionaries and different people, the difference between confidence and arrogance has to do with how one views others.

Confident people believe in themselves. They know they are competent, and their belief is not dependent on others. They may enjoy feedback and recognition, but they do not require it in order to feel good about themselves.

Arrogant people’s confidence depends on others’ weaknesses. They even point out others’ errors and faults to make themselves appear better. One colleague said, “Arrogant people only feel smart if someone else feels stupid.”

The tricky part about confidence and arrogance is that the line is so thin between them, it makes for a slippery slope. Confidence often turns in to arrogance after success.

Success requires confidence. Success requires the confidence to take risks regarding investments, innovations, and interactions. However, success can cause insecurity: when will the next risk pay off? What if the next one does not turn out well? What if that was a one-time success? The insecurity wears a mask called arrogance, hence, the slippery slope from confidence to arrogance.

Each article I read about arrogance described it as a cover for insecurity. Isn’t that interesting? The very thing arrogant people despise, weakness or insecurity, is what they are covering by putting others down to prop themselves up.

One of the most highly regarded experts on arrogance is University of Akron Dean Stanley Silverman who spent four years working with a research team to quantify arrogance.

"Here's what happens," Silverman said. "I'm worried that other people are going to realize that I'm not very competent at my job, so I'm going to put other people down, criticize others and belittle my employees because somehow I think I'm going to look better that way. If I put down everybody around me, it makes my candle shine a little brighter." (SOURCE:

The following eight behaviors are how arrogant people make their candle shine brighter:

1.     Drop names. 

2.     Look for criteria other than business performance to use when measuring success. Since business performance might not be so good, arrogant people focus on their degree, school, or job title.

3.     One-up others. Arrogant people have the best of the best and worst of the worst of whatever experience is being discussed. They have the best book published, the worst cold the doctor has ever seen, the best behaved child, the worst boss. They did the biggest project with the most difficult client for the most money ever. Confident people don’t need to brag. They let their work speak for itself.

4.     Have an answer for everything. Arrogant people will rarely say, “I don’t know but will find out.”

5.     Interrupt frequently because they are not really listening.

6.     Avoid eye contact because they don’t care about others unless they need something from the person.

7.     Arrive late to meetings because their time is more valuable than everyone else’s.

8.     Blame others for errors or low performance. It’s never their fault the team is struggling.
What other behaviors do you attribute to arrogance? The more we know, the better able we will be to ensure we are not sliding down that slope. 

1.     Recognizing our own arrogant behavior can help improve our relationships with our colleagues. The following eight suggestions also can help if you have to work with arrogant people:

2.     Point at them and declare, “I know why you’re so arrogant: because you are weak!” in your best eight-year-old nah-nah-nah voice. Just kidding—don’t confront them. They will see it as a compliment and it will just waste your time.

3.     Build your own confidence so you do not have time to give attention to negative people.

4.     Spend free time with positive people who do not diminish your accomplishments or try to impress you. Minimize the time you spend with the arrogant person.

5.     Admire and recognize the accomplishments of others. When the arrogant person sees you acknowledge someone else, he might alter his behavior in his quest for approval.

6.     Keep secrets to yourself. Anything you tell an arrogant person could end up as fodder for her own esteem-boosting if she resorts to putting you down to pull herself up.

7.     Do not badmouth the arrogant colleague. Some people actually believe any press is good press. Also, gossiping can lead to wasting too much time on a topic not worth it.

8.     Include others in your conversations with the arrogant person. “Russell, we have heard your view. Now it is time to hear from Sally.”

9.     Most importantly, realize their arrogance is not about you.

What else have you done to work successfully with arrogant people?

Since this topic has been on my mind, I asked a group of business professionals recently how many of them have ever worked with an arrogant colleague. Every hand raised high. When I asked if they were the arrogant person, all hands went down.

"If you're being arrogant, you're going to derail your own career," said Stanley Silverman, an organizational and industrial psychologist. "It's just a matter of when. Nobody is irreplaceable."  Even when an arrogant person is more skilled, the confident person will win out because they can work better with others internally and externally.

When it comes down to it, performance matters. No one will work their hardest for someone who puts them down or tries to make them feel inferior. The good news is that if you’ve begun the slippery slope from confidence to arrogance, you can get back on track and salvage your reputation.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The beginning of the end of employee coddling

You’ve heard the news by now that Yahoo’s new CEO, Marissa Mayer, declared the end to working from home for Yahoo employees. They have been given three months to get their homes in order and get back to the office.  Yahoo says the return to work is to build collaboration and form a unified Yahoo. Is Mayer risking too much with this change or is the change a slick move?

Keep in mind that Mayer was hired to “right the ship”. Yahoo has been going downhill fast (one recent CEO there was fired for lying on his resume and others failed), and she’s there to turn it around. Clearly, what they are doing now is not working, so changes are necessary.
Wouldn’t it be silly to keep doing what they’ve been doing when what they’ve been doing is not working? Wouldn’t it be silly to retain the flexible work location just because Google and Facebook offer it to their people? Yahoo is not their peer and its people are not holding up their end of the bargain by actually working while at home.
I’d bet Mayer didn’t issue the change without identifying the most important contributors and how they work. Unfortunately, she found out that most of the people working from home were complacent. Complacency ruins companies. She’s not going to let Yahoo go down without a fight.

On the other hand, research shows that flexibility is important to workers today. Companies that offer flexibility enjoy lower turnover, higher employee satisfaction and engagement. Mayer might be jeopardizing the highly productive, engaged, and motivated employees in an attempt to boost collaboration or rid the company of underperformers.
Some people have noted that top talent won’t join Yahoo now because they will not have the flexibility to work from home. That’s a risk Mayer is willing to take. Frankly, I doubt top talent would be focused only on this one issue. They will come for other perks, if the company turns itself around.

Much of the world is up-in-arms about this edict, proclaiming it takes working women back fifty years, but let’s recognize the positives of the strategy too:

·         The change is not odd. It makes sense that an industry that relies on innovation, which is built on collaboration, would want people to be together.

·         It sends the positive message that people are so valuable, they need to collaborate more. If you don’t want to, feel free to exit may be the underlying message, but the outward message is positive.

·         It’s a great way to get rid of the complacent people taking advantage of the flexible option without having the cost of layoffs.

·         It shows analysts and customers that Yahoo is not afraid to make bold moves.

·         The change is temporary. They’ve said it is necessary “right now”, which leaves it open to change in the future or on an as-needed basis.

This might be the tipping point for coddling. In some places, employee engagement has run amok and people have taken advantage. Companies are waking up to the fact that they pay good money and it is reasonable to expect something in return. When people don’t hold up their end of the bargain, companies are going to coddle less and open the exit doors more.
As companies wake up to their power, complacent employees will be the most vocal protesters. Mark my words: the coddling days are coming to an end. The days of genuine caring will continue, just the coddling will stop.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Equipment or People: Which do you prefer?

If you could spend all day working with with equipment or people, which would you pick?

Nearly every person in a recent workshop with technical people chose equipment. Why do you think people would prefer to work with equipment over people? Some said…
  • Equipment doesn’t talk
  • Equipment comes with instructions about how it works
  • Equipment either works or doesn’t work based on what you do
When you buy equipment, for example, a laptop, what do you want to know before the purchase? Usually we want to know how it was made, how to extend battery life, how much it will cost, how to make it work.

If you think about it, working with people is very similar to working with equipment. These days, equipment even talks back when you don’t work with it the right way. It doesn’t cuss or yell when you make a mistake, but it talks nonetheless.

If we would take time to learn about people before expecting things from them, just like we do a new laptop, our interactions could be so much better.

While people don’t come with instructions, there are basic rules of engagement that improve relationships when used. 
  1. Listen to understand the other person. Usually, people think they are listening when they really are just keeping their mouths shut while planning what to say when the other is done yapping.
  2. Discern the other person’s mood when interacting. Don’t approach someone who is stressed out about a deadline in a casual, nonchalant manner. Speed up, get to the bottom line, and let them get back to work.
  3. Figure out the other’s communication preference when interacting with them. What if your preference is to be very detailed but the other person prefers the bottom line? You share details about a process used and the results that led to your conclusions, while the other person wishes you would get to the conclusion. When they rush you along, you consider them rude. When you don’t get to the point, they consider you rude. Without even disagreeing about anything, conflict can occur because of the difference in preferences.
Just like equipment, people will work better if you treat them well. Laptops won’t do anything unless they are plugged in and turned on. People are the same way.

When I thought about my preference of working with people or equipment, I almost hyperventilated at the thought of having to work with equipment. I know how to program the DVR, set up a new phone, set up a laptop, build web sites, etc. I don’t enjoy doing those things and try to tackle only a few each year because they are exhausting. But, what happens when someone can’t do those things? They have to rely on others, they don’t get them in a timely manner, they waste time, or they might over-pay for products or set-up.

Most of the people in the workshop preferred to work with equipment over people. They might even feel exhausted if they have too much interaction with others, the way I feel about equipment. However, what happens when they don’t hone their interpersonal skills? The same things that happen when people don’t learn how to use equipment: waste time, money, energy.

Whatever your preference is, the bottom line is that you have to work with people. The good news is that it can be easier than you thought if you look at it the way you look at equipment: it will do what you want if you treat it well.