Your North Star

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The concept and reality of the NORTH STAR has been around for centuries.  Scientifically speaking, the North Star, or Polaris, is the brightest star in Ursa Minor constellation (the Big Dipper). Unlike other stars we see in the night sky Polaris stays constant in the sky no matter the season. It was the star that early explorers used to navigate their journeys. It is said to have been the star that slaves trying to escape their oppressors in the south used as they fled toward the north during the civil war years.

So, with this scientific and historical context, what is your NORTH STAR?  What is the one point in the sky that you are seeking, moving toward, focusing on? Question too deep? Maybe you could start by making a list of your values – those key concepts you hold most dear and that define you as a person/worker/spouse/parent/citizen. With your values in mind, you can then begin defining your own North Star.

Each of us has a lot to do – too much on some days, right? We could all fill our days with any number of tasks.  Our email inbox is screaming at us – “check me, check me!” Our TO-DO list grows longer and longer. And the voicemail box gets fuller and fuller. Each of these distractions offers an excuse to postpone our quest.

It is hard to decide what you should be concentrating on right now to move you closer to that elusive North Star.  Most of us tend to focus on the URGENT,  sacrificing the IMPORTANT.  We get distracted, sidetracked, drawn in unproductive and sometimes even self-destructive directions. That is when we need to ask ourselves that ever important question: What is the most important thing?

Of course, the answer is different for everyone. Will it mean going back to school? Seeking that new job? Starting that business you’ve always wanted to start? Will it mean getting out of your own way, clearing the urgent from your mind so that you can truly point your thinking toward the elusive, but essential, North Star?

So, for this week, and every week, let’s look North, shall we?

Backwards and Inside Out

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I was getting dressed one morning recently and as I pulled my shirt over my head, I realized that not only did I have it on wrong side out, but backwards too. After chuckling to myself, I had an unsettling thought. What if that sets the tone for the rest of my day?

Have you ever had that kind of day when everything you do is either backward or inside out? Yeah, me too. Here’s how I choose to handle those days.

  1. Hit the reset button. When things are going wrong in your day/week/month, it is okay to take a breather from whatever is causing the stress. Take a walk, listen to your favorite music, go to a movie, read a book. By spending some down time doing things you enjoy, you can turn that bad day feeling around.
  2. Laugh at yourself. The inside out backwards shirt incident is worthy of a little chuckle. And so are many other slip ups during the day if you take the right attitude about them.  Next time one of those annoying blunders threatens to disrupt your day, laugh it off.
  3. Learn from it. Are there missteps that you can fix if you start paying more attention? I recently tripped on an irregular surface along a sidewalk I walk often. Total face plant, cracked rib and all. Now when I walk on that route, I pay very close attention during that section. I may still be a klutz, but I won’t fall THERE again!
  4. Stop Fretting.  As author Wendell Barry says, “All right, every day ain’t going to be the best day of your life, don’t worry about that.”

And I say learn, reset, laugh it off, and move on.

Analyzing Facebook

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I’ve been thinking about my Facebook account lately. I’m not going to rant about all the fake news of late being shared via social media, though I certainly have opinions about that! Maybe for another post.

More precisely, I’ve been thinking about the assemblage of Facebook friends I have.

There are the over-sharers who report every little detail of their lives. I don’t care that they are tired tonight, or had a great workout, or had a hard day at work, or where they ate dinner. Just. Don’t. Care.

There is the other kind of sharer, too. They post every goofy video or quote they can find. Facebook’s new way of launching videos automatically makes this obsession worse, subjecting us to stupid cat tricks, family functions, and supposedly amazing feats. I tend to prefer the occasional sharers, the thoughtful posts. Less is more for me and my Facebook friends.

They are an eclectic lot, too. There are liberals and conservatives, city folk, country folk, moms, dads, students, elderly friends, baby boomers, genXers, millennials.

In political seasons, it is as if my friends are debating the candidates on my very page. My liberal friend will post something from their side; my conservative friends will post their perspectives. They certainly cannot see the others’ posts, but it is almost comical how often two opposing views are back to back on my wall. Occasionally someone gets ugly so then I hide, unfollow, unfriend, or even block them – whatever seems appropriate in the moment. I even blocked my high school sweetheart once and am glad I did, too. Seems he turned nasty and mean in his old age. Don’t need that drama!

I certainly don’t accept all friend requests – have pretty strict rules about that, actually. But I have developed friendships with people I barely knew, just because of their posts, shares, and photographs. I know where everyone goes on vacation, what their hobbies are, what they do on Saturday night. I get to ‘like’ pictures of their kids/grandkids/cats/gardens. And they mine, except for the grandkids part. I celebrate, laugh, grieve with them. When I run into a Facebook acquaintance in real life, I am almost a little embarrassed, knowing so much about their lives without really knowing them. Is it just me or do others feel that way too? Should I mention something from their Facebook life or does that seem too much like I’m stalking?

So many questions. I’m not sure if Facebook is good, bad, evil, or just ‘is’, but I do know that it is mildly entertaining. At least for this Baby Boomer of a certain age with little else to entertain her on a Saturday night.

Time to read. Finally!

I have recently retired from my more than full time job leading a mid-sized nonprofit organization. I know I will have a next act, but I haven’t exactly pinned down what that will look like yet.  Retirement has given me much more time to reflect, to get organized in my personal space, to write more, and to read. It’s been fun.

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I have always enjoyed reading management and personal development literature. (Don’t judge!) It has helped me become a better leader, learn to manage my time and relationships better, and explore new theories and ideas. The trouble has always been, though, that with a demanding professional life, I have not had enough time and head space to really delve into management writings like I would like to. There was no time at the office, and very little mental bandwidth left when I finally got home.  Sound familiar?

As I reorganized my  books within my home office, I began reading some texts and articles I never had time for and re-reading some of the management texts that have guided my work over the past thirty years. This is certainly a work in progress, but here is a list of some favorites I am rediscovering.  (I’m linking to Goodreads.com in case you want to explore more because I am not inclined to recommend you purchase these books from one on-line retailer or another. In fact, your local independent bookseller can get them for you, or you can probably get them at your local library, even better.)

Love is the Killer App, by Tim Sanders – an oldie but goodie. This book, more than any other I have read taught me the value of being helpful, open, and supportive of others. It certainly re-energized my career and my relationships at work when I first read it, probably 15 years ago.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni. I wish this book was phrased more positively, but I guess the “dysfunctions” part sells more books.  I turned the “dysfunctions” to “practices” in my mind, and derived great benefit from the message.

Good to Great, by Jim Collins – a classic.  Good advice for becoming ‘great.’ Some of the example companies are no longer viable, but the message is still important.

How Did that Happen, by Roger Connors and Tom Smith. I originally read this when I was having to deal with some significant performance issues in my team. It really was helpful to learn how to hold people accountable.  Another similar read, Radical Candor by Kim Malone Scott, is a must read for accountability, performance, and leadership.

The Leadership Challenge, by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner. Another classic, and is full of empirical research and best practices for values-based leadership.

There are many more books and articles on my “to read” list, but I think this is a pretty good start, don’t you?

What leadership books have you read that you would recommend to others?

(So you won’t think I am a total bore, I read plenty of fiction, too. Fine literature, best sellers, sappy love stories, mysteries, crime novels, I read them all.  Maybe soon I’ll share some of my favorite novels and authors, too.)

Mutually beneficial

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“Tell me what you want, what you really, really want.” Recognize those lyrics? I know you need to hear the whole song, now, right”  Here you go: Spice Girls – Wannabe

And now you won’t be able to get the song out of your head for the rest of the day. You’re welcome. 🙂

But back to the point.

We’ve all seen people rushing out of work at the end of a hard day, right?  On to dinner or the kid’s soccer practice or that favorite TV show or to the gym.  What if the work you do is so satisfying that you want to rush INTO work, too?  I truly believe that when you lead with the goal of mutually beneficial results, the job satisfaction will naturally flow to you.

Now please ponder this question for a moment:

What is it that you hope your clients/customers/participants/students/employees will be able to do, think, act, own, feel, behave or believe differently as a result of the work you do?

And the next logical question, of course, is: Given that my client/ customer/ participant/ student/ employee will be able to do X, what impact will that have on them as an individual? Or as a family? Or as a company/ team/ network/ organization?

Our impact is compounded when we seek to have an effect instead of simply being satisfied with the encounter. It is all about impact.  And impact is more likely when you develop a relationship that will lead to the desired outcome. How can what you do today build a relationship that will be beneficial for you AND your constituents into the future?  Call it what you want – customer service, service leadership, salesmanship. But if the goal is the relationship, the outcome will always be success.

Yeah, that’s hard. But it’s right, too, don’t you think? “Better at the other end” should always be our goal.  And that’s what we all really, really want!

Stretch yourself!

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S   T   R   E   T   C   H 

Albert Einstein is famous for thinking about the world around him in new and mind-expanding ways.  How he stretched his own knowledge – and thus the world’s – is legendary. 

We cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.                                                                             -Albert Einstein

And boy, oh boy, did Albert Einstein solve problems!

Obviously few of us have the wisdom of Einstein. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t be more like Einstein in our thinking. When we are honest with ourselves we know that the things we did in the past will not continue to work in the future.  “Acting like Einstein” is always striving to reach the next level of performance.

A very practical example can be found within our schools. If a teacher continues to teach a child the letter ‘A’ over and over, that child will know a lot about ‘A’. But beyond that no real progress will be made. She must move to the next letter of the alphabet, to words, to numbers, to simple and then more complicated concepts, and so on.  Right?

Just as the child reaches new levels of performance over time, so must the teacher. It is like that in leadership, too.  How you lead a new employee is completely different from how you should be leading your top performers. If you don’t move to a new level of leadership performance your employees will suffer and so will your organization.

What’s your next level?

My guess is that you are generally happy with how far you’ve come in your development as a person – spouse – parent – employee – leader – citizen – volunteer – caregiver.

And now it is time to ask yourself: Are you working from the same place that got you to this point? Or are you stretching yourself?

You may be super-strong. But if you lift the same weights in the gym over time, your muscles will adapt and you’ll stop seeing progress. It’s the same at work.  If you continue with time-worn practices and processes in your profession, you will eventually stop seeing progress. Your competitors will be advancing, so you will actually begin to see things deteriorate if you continue doing things like you always have, comparatively speaking.  It is no coincidence that customers continue to expect more of each and every company. They expect us to make it to the next level, and the next, and the next.

Unfortunately, your  next level  doesn’t magically show up one day. It requires stretching – pushing past your previous limits.

Ponder these questions:

  • Are you satisfied with your impact in your own spheres of influence?
  • What needs reviewing/quitting/starting/revising?
  • Where would you like to be headed next with your work?
  • What do you need to do to get there?  Or need from others?
  • What’s step #1?

Let’s make this the summer to S  T  R  E  T  C  H  !

Pollyanna or Eeyore?

How’s your attitude today?

Olympic Medalist and cancer survivor Scott Hamilton talks about attitude this way: “The only disability in life is a bad attitude.” His words run so true in my experience. Anytime I have failed at something, or lost my passion, it has been because I have lapsed into a bad attitude.  Same with you?

You may call me a Pollyanna, but I have decided to keep my attitude positive in life, work, family.  (Well, to be honest, I do not and never will have a good attitude about gridlock traffic, but otherwise, I am pretty positive.)

Throughout our lives we have many experiences that have the potential of shaping our attitudes – toward the positive or the negative. Family, health, money, education, and much more.  It is up to us to decide whether these external factors will influence us positively or negatively.

Henry Ford believed that attitude was essential to success. One of my favorite quotes of his is, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t – you’re right.” When you have a positive attitude about a task, you are less likely to spend your time complaining, blaming, or wishing things were different. Instead, you are focused on doing whatever is needed to accomplish your task.

A positive attitude is contagious, too, isn’t it? I love being around positive people and find energy from their positive presence.  I bet you do, too.  And boy do I hate being around negative people.  It makes me feel heavy, sluggish, lacking energy. Just thinking about those cartoon characters, Eeyore or Sad Sack, makes me tend to slump just a little.

Another inventor, Thomas Edison, had a great attitude about failure, commenting that he now knew one more substance that wouldn’t work in his light bulb. He viewed failure as a step forward! And we should too. When our co-workers, friends, family experience a set back, we need to be there with the positive spin to help them keep that “I can do this” attitude. What if you don’t keep a positive attitude in your work? How many of your efforts will fail because you don’t respond positively to the inevitable challenges?

So I leave you with this question to ponder: When you think about your own attitude, is it helping you or is it holding you back?