Eleanor Rigby…

We were driving to the airport on Friday. My wife, daughter and me. Reviewing and reminiscing…planning and preparing. It’s always an interesting conversation – what have we done, enjoyed and remembered. What will we do next week, differently and deliberately.

My wife offered a quote. Well in truth my daughter did – but she had been given it by my wife. Both attributed it to Eleanor Roosevelt. I thought Eleanor Rigby – and started to sing the lyrics with perfect tone and timing (honestly) – but a genius song nevertheless.

I love great quotes. Eleanor Roosevelt gave us many great quotes. I frequently use quotations. A quote from someone wise or well known – or ideally both – has impact in a conversation. I always attribute quotes. My challenge is I remembering the quote and who said them.  Anytime anyone gives me a quote I always take note.

“Take one day at a time” – Eleanor Roosevelt.

Another great quote. My only problem? When I checked on line for the exact wording, I couldn’t find any evidence to suggest Eleanor actually said this. She said a great many inspiring and amazing things – on many and varied topics – just not this…

But Eleanor did say…

“With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts” – Eleanor Roosevelt.

…which as I think about the words is ‘not dissimilar’ in intent to what both my girls were saying. We did the best we could today. Tomorrow is a new day, a fresh start and tomorrow is our chance to do better. Take one day at a time…

The Big Picture. The long term vision. What we are trying to do, achieve or deliver in the future. We hear and see and talk about this big picture a great deal. We all do – at work, at home, at play. This longer term view is good and is important…but it can also sometimes become almost overwhelming. And often the simplest and best approach is for us to focus on one day – each day – at a time.

We savour today. Whatever we do we do it as best we possibly can. At work. At play. On vacation. We enjoy it – we feel proud and we feel happy. We celebrate. We are present. We take today.

And we do the same tomorrow…only better…in whatever way we possibly can. We avoid thinking about where we want to be at the end of the year, or quarter or even month. We focus on what we want to do – need to do – and achieve and enjoy today – and we do that. Today.

In either guise then, I think this is a great message – simple, true and powerful – like most great quotes. Like most Eleanor quotes.

The process of returning to work after a wonderful vacation can feel challenging. The process of starting a year of study at an oversees University can feel daunting. The process of returning to work after a wonderful vacation can feel challenging. Starting a new month when your revenue or sales return to zero. The process of starting a new role or a new job.

And so we take each day at a time. With energy and with commitment. Whatever we do, want to do, or are asked to do – we do it as best we possibly can. We start each day anew and we think afresh.

These are our choices to make each day. No-one else can tell us how we feel. No-one coaches us to not do our best.

And this is where and why Eleanor and her quotes are so often so good. No-one ever suggested Eleanor ‘lives in a dream’…

Cheers

Steve

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Pitch Perfect…

On and off I have had need or opportunity to travel to the East Coast for over twenty years. That’s a lot of East Coast and a lot of trans-Atlantic. My first ever trip to the US was to Boston – to a conference – and that was a lot longer than twenty years ago. I don’t remember much about it – I remember being very tired all the time. And very hot. I remember going to a baseball game with some colleagues from work. And I remember having no idea what was going on.

I think I have been to a total of three professional baseball games – two others including that very first one…one in St Louis and one more in Boston. And I am proud to say that after all my East Coast time and those three games…I still don’t really know what is going on. I do understand cricket though if anyone is interested…

There is not a lot of philosophy in professional sports. More accurately there is not a lot of professional philosophy – quite like most other professions in truth. But there are lots of microphones and lots of reporters. Overall, a lot of nonsense gets asked and said by a lot of those involved (sports again now rather than other professions).

And this was how and where I met Kevin Youkalis. Kevin was a large man, had no hair, wore red socks and played for several years for Boston’s baseball team. Early one jet lagged morning, late one long summer in Boston, I saw Youkalis on an early morning re-run of a sports TV show.

He was being asked a complicated question by a quizzical reporter. The premise being that when Youkalis first played he did very well. This second year he didn’t and hadn’t. Until August when he turned every forecast on its head. He out performed every expectation of his leaders and team…and maybe even himself. He finished that year with an excellent personal performance and an outstanding team contribution.

The eventual question was quite simple – how had he managed to pull himself back up the dreaded slippery slope? Commentators, pundits, players and fans were amazed and intrigued. ‘What was his secret? What had he stopped – or started – doing differently?’

‘I hit the ball I am pitched’, was his answer.

That one stirred me from my jet lag pretty rapidly! It wasn’t close to what I’d been expecting. How simple! How obvious! And how inspiring.

He hit the ball he was pitched…

I still have no idea if this was Youkalis being Youkalis…or Youkalis being philosophical. But his words certainly had an impact on me. And no – not in the world of professional sports…but yes in other professions.

Youkalis continued his answer and added colour….rather than waiting for the next ball…that next opportunity… that better ball to hit…Youkalis just played what was in front of him.

And it was this simple message that resonated with me. We all know that ‘next ball’ feeling – I certainly do. Tomorrow everything will be better, or next week, or next month. My next project or opportunity will be so much more impactful and successful…my next team will be significantly more supportive and enjoyable…my next role will be dramatically more engaging and rewarding

At that moment that morning in Boston, I decided to break the habit of a lifetime – I chose to take a piece of learning from a surprisingly philosophical sports player. I resolved to ‘play’ the ball I was pitched. To always work the project or opportunity or team that was in front of me….

…rather than waiting and looking.

Cheers

Steve

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Distant Vacation…

I am on vacation. I love vacations but I’m not very good at being on vacation. When asked the difference between me being on vacation or me being at work – my answer was ‘wearing shorts’.

That’s not a good answer let alone a funny answer. Fortunately I have got much better than I used to be (at taking vacations rather than humour). Better at switching off (my cell phone) and turning off (my thinking). Time away from work is good for us. Good for our friends, our family and good for our work. Good for our minds and good for our souls.

I used to give back vacation days to my company all the time. Quite a strange concept really when I think about it. I never use to get any additional pay, nor praise, nor promotion. I just worked more days. I don’t now.

The thing about vacations – the obvious and beautiful thing – is that I always feel better, stronger and more able after I have had time off. Insurmountable problems seem straight forward. The unattainable opportunity appears within reach. And the everyday frustration miraculously becomes a daily delight. That confounding conversation morphs into a game changing exchange.

And I am sure distance is crucial to a good holiday. Physical distance to an extent – but more so mental distance. I have to feel a long way away. I have to be distracted. By where I am, who I am with, what we do…and by what I don’t do and where I am not, and who isn’t there. Both literally (who is there next to me) and figuratively (whose emails am I reading and phone calls am I taking).

Not being where we are routinely allows me to think differently and to think different things. Ideas I have supressed or not assessed become obvious. Possibilities I have precluded become realities. Topics, ideas, solutions and opportunities that would never have occurred to me become the norm. But for this to happen I have to be distant. I am out of office. I am not on line. I am off email. My phone rings unanswered…or silently…or both.

The distance concept can sound strange…but it’s true. How often do we say or hear…’I don’t have time to think’? Or ‘I have no space’? Our surroundings can constrain our creativity. When we are too close to something there can just that one way of viewing and thinking. One way of doing or answering.

And then I am away. Waking from that afternoon nap; looking up from that book I promised myself; or turning for home from that long walk – a time when work seems a million miles away — that we suddenly find the answer I’ve needed all along.

A long weekend. A week away. Ten days. It’s not so much the length of time for me – it’s the place. It’s the difference and distance. And for me it’s my family. That unconditional love and simplicity of pleasure that comes from being distant together.

So I have my shorts on. My legs are on display (I know – too much information). We didn’t do anything today. But we did nothing together. We sat with friends. Told stories and listened. Laughed. And laughed some more.

An occasionally I thought. Ideas came to mind. Things to do. Or not. Or change or increase. I did word puzzles and read the news, and chatted about unrelated and different and important topics. I let my mind wander. And then I didn’t.

Guilt is the most useless of all emotions. I am on vacation and vacations are important and are deserved. I have no guilt. Just shorts.

Cheers

Steve

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Friendly Change…

I met up with an ex-colleague who is still a good friend on the East Coast last week. It was a meeting based on opportunity – I was there and so was he. I had a different meeting but that cancelled. I called my friend – a good enough friend to come out at short notice without a problem…or a good enough friend not to tell me that he was disappointed to be my fall-back option!

We met over coffee – some things never change! But it soon became obvious that many things had changed for us both since we last met. Personally and professionally. Children grow up and leave home. Parents grow older and leave. Friends grow apart – well more accurately friends sometimes have to move away, but good friends stay connected and can still meet and enjoy… even at short notice.

By the end of our first coffee, I was in need of a second! So much seemed to have happened to us both in such a short period of time, and to those around us. But our conversation was as much invigorating as it was exhausting. Much of the changes we described were wonderful – full of opportunity, pride and pleasure…amazement and achievement. Who knew?

I guess it’s one of the benefits of every so often taking stock with someone you know and who knows you. Someone you trust and respect. It’s frequently only when we stop and look back that we realise just how far we have come….how well we have done…and how good we feel about where we are.

After my friend had left, I found myself wondering what this all meant. My first answer was obvious – I had to meet up with old friends more often! The second was something my friend had said as he left – something along the lines that everything we had discussed suggested we managed changed well.

Really? Well I know I could have just taken that as a compliment and moved on, but I still had time before my next meeting, and so I sat and thought…

…theoretically I could have experienced more change than others having been around a while. And in theory, more experience of anything can help when it happens again.

But in the end, my conclusion was that this compliment just wasn’t true for me. We all handle change and in truth we all handle change much better than we ever give ourselves credit for.

There aren’t many of us who would say we like change – inevitably it’s easier to identify good things we believe will be worse after change than it is to conceive of anything that will be better. But this isn’t true – either way round. There is always positive unintended consequences of any change…every bit as much as there is potential for negative unintended consequences.

We worry most about change over which we feel we have little control…and we are more relaxed about changes we believe we have instigated. Again though, I just don’t think this is right – likely as not we have less influence over events we believe we have instigated…and we have more control over events around us that we feel are ‘out of our control’. Maybe we should balance how we think and feel with what we know and understand?

I finished my self-analysis and moved onto my next appointment. As well as caffeinated, I felt energised. And I knew why.

It was nothing to do with change agility, or double espressos! I felt energised because I had met with an old and good friend who I hadn’t spoken to in person for at least six years…

Cheers

Steve

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Empowered Entry…

I have a US visa. I am still not 100% certain that this is essential, but I long since decided to follow the advice of our legal/visa experts and – at least in theory – a visa should make my passage through US immigration more straightforward. A good theory. Practice is not always so simple.

Entering the US – much like entering the UK – has recently become much more technology based. Passport scanners, facial recognition, automatic barriers are everywhere. Arriving in the US from the UK is so much simpler and rapid these days…unless you have a US visa that is!

I fly in on a UK airline. Everyone who doesn’t have a visa in their passports strolls in via the automatic machines. Me? I have to stand in line – inevitably a long line – to be inspected by one of the Immigration Officers. It seems anywhere from ironic, through unbelievable all the way to frustrating that I have a US Embassy approved visa and yet I seem to be the one with the long wait and the twenty questions.

I have no choice of course. And I often find myself standing in line waiting to be interviewed for what can feel like hours…on my trip to Boston last week it was ninety minutes. I was so bored…I needed something to do to pass the time.

I decided to see if I could help other UK travellers standing with me. Not many UK travellers actually have US visas, so it seemed unlikely that these fellow Brits where in the right line, and likely they were simply unaware they had the option to stroll through the automatic reader machines.

I smiled at the man standing behind me and asked if he had a US visa. His facial response was more consistent with being asked to lend me his phone, his wallet and his passport! I explained. He didn’t have a visa. I suggested he could leave our long line and use the machines. He was unimpressed and not inclined to move.

Of course I knew that convincing a complete stranger to do something he didn’t want to do wasn’t going to be simple. I couldn’t just empower him to move – he would have to feel empowered. I couldn’t make the decision to switch lines for him – he had to make that call himself. By talking to him in line I was stepping over an unwritten ‘boundary’…let alone offering advice on how to enter the USA!

I tried again. I had time and I was as interested to see what was possible (without causing offence and without security being called). I showed him my US visa. I offered more information about US passport control. I compared our line to the non-existent line at the other end of the Immigration Hall. He was unmoved.

In the end I offered a ‘money back’ guarantee – well more specifically a ‘place back’. If my advice was wrong I would let him re-join our line in front of me. Off he went, through he walked and into the distance he disappeared.  I smiled…and turned to the next person in line behind me.

I have often wondered how possible it is really for us to empower someone. Or is the key more about not disempowering them? From my Immigration experiences it was apparent that clarity over decisions and boundaries are vital. What decisions can be made, when and by whom…and with whose permission?

And we will fail to empower if we define boundaries but then don’t keep to them. And the boundaries themselves are crucial…too narrow or too wide, then they may as well not be there.

Cheers

Steve

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Paris Possibilities…

I have been on many training courses. In all transparency most have happened because someone else has suggested I attend…as opposed to me identifying the opportunity myself. That having been said, it was always me who went, me who engaged and me who learned…whatever the topic.

My training events have covered everything from presentation skills and report writing through stepping up to supervision and career aspiration. And in most every case, even now, I can clearly remember themes and moments, coaches and fellow participants…with great affection.

My ‘training action learning cycle’ is always much the same. I start off somewhere between sceptical and confused…I participate and engage…and I end up educated, converted and a passionate advocate. Every time.

I have done Myers Briggs training some seven or eight times…in different settings and with different teams. Myers Briggs is a ‘personality typing’ process. As a participant, I answer questions individually – questions that indicate how I operate, behave, think and contribute – and then we look together at how our team comes together by sharing, comparing and contrasting our individual styles, approaches and ways of working. Always good, often eye-opening and consistently high added value.

There is one Myers Briggs parameter (out of four)…’Judging or Perceiving’ – one parameter on which my assessment tends to vary every time. In effect this parameter assesses whether I am more organised in how I live and operate – Judging or J in the parlance – or more flexible – Perceiving or P.

My scores always tend to be in the middle of the sliding scale. Everything else is clearer and more obvious. My ‘J’ vs. ‘P’ is right on the edge. And this creates all sorts of interesting and confusing discussions with the experts. ‘Think about your natural approach’ they say ‘rather than your adapted approach’…nope – doesn’t help. ‘If you are walking in a forest do you find yourself looking at the wood or the trees (I know – honestly happened).

Eventually this dilemma was resolved for my by a long-time friend and colleague who asked me a very different question. If you and your family were going for a weekend in Paris would you book a hotel in advance, near tourist sites, restaurants and coffee shops…or would you just get on a plane knowing that it’s Paris and that – come what may – you’ll have a wonderful time.

‘I would research and book of course’ was my immediate reply…’how could anyone do anything else?’ He smiled.

‘I knew that was your answer’ he said. You are so much a ‘J’ – you like to plan and organise’. ‘Me though’ – he added – ‘I could no more do all that planning in advance than I could flap my arms and fly myself to Paris’.

He was a ‘P’…all instincts and flexibility…intuition and adaptability. Very different from me.

And yet we enjoyed working and socialising together. And we were always being asked to work together on teams at work. And we were sometimes very successful…or more accurately we contributed to our team’s successes.

At which point I immediately recognised the value and opportunity provided to me by this particular training course. It wasn’t so much about me, or him, or her, or them…it was about us. What we all brought individually to the team, how we could help ourselves and our project (and our project sponsors) by playing to all of our strengths.

And above all how we could avoid the energy sapping problems that arise when we assume or require that everyone works and thinks in the way we do.

That having been said…our families still haven’t been to Paris together…

Cheers

Steve

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Best Boss…

I experienced the good, the bad and the ugly of Chicago O’Hare airport last week. I am convinced there are maybe four weeks in total in the year when O’Hare is on time, tranquil and friendly. The rest of the year snow storms or thunderstorms change everything.

I was on my way to the mid-west. We had some senior leaders visiting our site and I was involved. Good news is that my O’Hare travels (and travails) were worthwhile. As well as opportunity to engage with our visitors, I was able to meet up in person with lots of other local leaders at all levels.

I always enjoy those sorts of one-to-one meetings. I am always interested in what comes up as themes….similarities in topics and discussions. Sometimes it’s very surprising…other times not so much.

Our people are passionate, engaged and motivated. I always hear passion, see engagement and feel motivation. I always leave with more ideas, greater excitement and different worries…than when I arrived. O’Hare was definitely worthwhile…

Last week I found myself thinking about leaders, supervisors…about bosses. Bosses I have had. I was asked in one meeting if I could recall the best boss I had ever worked for. A different question. A question I hadn’t been asked before.

It took me a while to consider…just about two seconds I would guess! I knew immediately and instinctively. The best boss I have ever had. And I also knew why…immediately.

I knew how I felt at that time. I knew how much I had grown in that time. How much I enjoyed that time.  How cared for I felt. How I learned so much.  I laughed so much. I felt engaged and empowered. I felt I could do, achieve and deliver anything and everything.

That next morning around 4:00am (jet lag is a strange enabler of deeper thinking) I also recognised an additional ‘truth test’ of my best boss answer. I knew I would go anywhere at any time if it involved opportunity to work with my best boss.

This isn’t my test – this is one of the classic philosophies of leadership and supervision….engagement and retention. We leave leaders if we depart rather than companies…and we stay with leaders rather than with companies.

The people we work for make a difference to us – to me…they make all the difference to us. We stay because of who we work with…and we follow if they move.

My best boss had such an impact on me that I knew – in the middle of my early morning workout I knew that my answer would be an unequivocal yes. If I was asked. Anything. Anywhere. Any time.

Perhaps not surprisingly my next thought (still early that morning) was what sort of a boss I am. Once I realised the impact of my best boss on me, it was obvious to consider my impact on others. How well am I able to work out what my team need from me to grow, deliver and enjoy…and just as importantly what they don’t need?

How do I make them feel? How empowered? How engaged? How happy? How much have I learned from my best boss and how much do I manifest that learning?

I know what I want the answer to be, but in truth I am not sure that I know.

But I know how to find out, not least since I know how my best boss found out about what I needed – it’s so easy to ask. And I recognise that my answers were factored into what my best boss already knew and thought…

I want to be a best boss…

Cheers

Steve

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