Monthly Archives: August 2009

Legislation for the Few

Have you ever stopped to consider where most of our laws, rules, restrictions and requirements come from?  Most of them were created to protect the many from the few.  In other words, most legislation (be it from a government or the Compliance department) is put into place to protect the many law-abiders from the few law-breakers.

I get it; it makes sense to me.  And I think many rules and laws are necessary.  But haven’t we taken it a little too far?  Sometimes we create so many rules and regs that we end up punishing the many just to restrict the few from their rule-breaking tendencies.  Once a rule is created, it ties the hands of everyone, not just the unruly rule-breakers.

Take this example from Seth Godin’s book, Purple Cow:
“At Brock’s Restaurant in Stamford, Connecticut, here’s what it says on the menu (in large type):


Consider what prompted this sign to be posted.  Restaurant management noticed some people piling on salad selections and then sharing them with their friends and family members.  How often do you suppose this happened?  How much do you suppose it actually cost the restaurant in salad losses?  I would wager that a month’s worth of salad stealing didn’t cost that restaurant more than one to two hundred dollars in actual losses (and I think I’m being generous).

Now, consider how many honest and conscientious salad patrons read that message.  How many of them do you think were irked by it?  How many of them left with a lower opinion of the restaurant than they had when they arrived?  How much bad publicity has that sign generated since being published by a nationally best-selling author?

Finally, think about the relatively small percentage of dishonest customers who dine at this restaurant.  Do you think the sign was a sufficient deterrent to prevent them from salad-stealing?  How many customers who had never thought of stealing salad now considered it after being introduced to the idea by the sign?

To quote an old proverb, the restaurant is “straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel.”  They are punishing the many to catch the few, and they probably aren’t catching the few anyway.

Seth Godin continues…
“Compare this to the wine policy at a restaurant called Frontière. The owner puts an open bottle of wine on every table, and at the end of the meal you tell the waiter how many glasses you consumed. The honor system.

Which is more worthy of positive comment? Marketing benefits aside, which leads to more incremental profit? (Hint: Two glasses of wine pay for a whole bottle at wholesale!)”

Both restaurants talk about an “honor system.”  The second restaurant demonstrates theirs.  Relying on the best of human nature, they put their money where their mouth is.  Sure, they will experience losses from dishonest people, but the losses won’t be anything compared to the positive press the restaurant gets for its sign of good faith.

Am I saying that we should get rid of rules and regs?  Not at all.  I’m saying, before you create a rule to govern the activities of your team or your customers or your kids (or anyone, for that matter), think hard.  What percentage of people is this rule intended to protect us from?  What percentage of honest, well-meaning people will be punished by it?  Could you better manage the behavior of the rule-breaking few by dealing with them directly?  Is the risk associated with the rule-breaking manageable?  In other words, can you live with the consequences of having a small percentage that are not in compliance?

Sometimes the cure is more expensive than the disease.  Maybe the problem isn’t worth solving.  Count the cost before you legislate.


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Filed under Abundance, grace, Interpersonal, Marketing

Yesterday’s Extra Effort

One time when I was working in a corporate environment, I got a new boss, who made it a point to fight for bigger annual bonuses for her direct reports.  Because my department’s bonuses fell under the heading of “discretionary,” they were typically rather, well…let’s just call them “modest.”  (Big enough to super-size your lunch for a few days but not big enough to start your retirement.)

However, this particular year, they were considerable.  My bonus was so large that I could have added all my other bonuses together and multiplied them five times without reaching the total.  In fact, when my boss called and gave me the number, I was sure I had heard her wrong.  Those types of incentives were reserved for the production departments – not for training.  But sure enough, when the check came, it was the number she gave me.

Do you think I was motivated by my boss’ generosity?  Absolutely!  I was ready to walk through walls for her.  I was prepared to volunteer for every project that came up, and I probably did….for about three months.  After that, a funny thing happened.  I forgot about the bonus.  The money had been spent almost as soon as I had gotten it, and the thrill of cash in the bank account had been replaced by the dread of credit card bills and car payments.

But that’s not the worst of it.  Fast-forward to annual performance review time at the end of the year.  My boss called me to tell me that I again got a bonus and to let me know what I could expect.  I was pumped!  I couldn’t wait to hear the number, and I just knew it was going to be a significant increase over the previous year.

Imagine my disappointment when the number was actually lower.  Now mind you, it wasn’t much lower – about the size of one of my previous bonuses lower – but I was so upset that I thought about quitting my job.  I’m ashamed to say that this was my attitude even though I still could have multiplied all my previous bonuses by five and fit them into this new one.

I’ve shared this embarrassingly ungrateful side of my personality to make a point.

Yesterday’s extra effort is today’s expectation.

This is true for most of us, not just spoiled rascals like me.  Let me give you a few examples to prove it.  Have you ever brought breakfast in for your team?  I bet you were met with smiles, appreciation and compliments on what a great manager you were.  But continue to bring that breakfast in on a regular basis, and it won’t be long before your team is complaining, “Glazed donuts again?  Couldn’t you get some jelly donuts or something hot?  What, no Starbucks coffee?”

Yesterday’s extra effort is today’s expectation.

Or how about when you put in extra hours at the office?  At first, your boss and all those who benefit will comment on your incredible work ethic.  They will commend you for your dedication and self-sacrifice.  But try to scale back to your regular hours and see what happens.  Suddenly, you’re “not as accessible as you used to be” or “you’re performance seems to be slipping” even though it’s just as high as it was before the extra hours.

Yesterday’s extra effort is today’s expectation.

Taking some liberties with the motivation theories of Frederick Herzberg, the phenomenon I’m describing happens because of the difference between Satisfiers (Herzberg calls them “Hygiene Factors”) and Motivators.  Satisfiers are things that have the ability to satisfy us but not to motivate us.  In a sense, they are the price of admission into that arena of motivation. Motivation starts where Satisfaction leaves off.  This graphic ought to help make the idea clear:
Herzberg - Satisfiers 1

When someone is 100% satisfied, it opens the door to motivation, but it doesn’t go in.  100% satisfied is not necessarily motivated, but it’s where motivation often starts.  For example, I’m satisfied with my level of pay, but I’m not motivated by it.  I don’t get up in the morning thinking, “I can’t wait to get to work to earn this salary I’m making!”  On the contrary, I feel like I deserve it.

If you want to motivate me, you’ve got to do it some other way – through recognition or meaningful work or incentives…  Now, if you pay me less than I feel I deserve, I’m easily dissatisfied.  You’ll find it very difficult to motivate me with any motivators until you’ve addressed my dissatisfaction issue.  Make sense?

What makes using this information tricky is that Satisfiers and Motivators are moving targets.  Let’s say that I’m perfectly happy with my level of pay, but at lunch one day, one of my peers lets it slip that he’s making a little more than me.  Do you think I will still be satisfied?  Nope.  Now, I’m highly dissatisfied.  Why?  Because my level of expectation just increased.  To satisfy me, you have to pay me at least what he’s making (and apologize).  Using the graphic again, here’s what has happened to what I need to satisfy me:

Herzberg - Satisfiers 2

Do you see what changed?  Now it takes much more to satisfy me.  When expectations increase, so does what it takes to satisfy me.  Are you starting to see why yesterday’s extra effort becomes today’s expectation?  In my previous example, the really large bonus increased my level of expectation.  I didn’t know it was possible to get a bonus that big before, but now that I knew, nothing less would satisfy me.  In fact, even just a small decrease created dissatisfaction.

These changes aren’t limited to pay and things related to work.  We change our expectations in many areas of our lives.  A friend of mine owns a very nice house.  It’s much larger and nicer than most of the houses my other friends have.  But he and his wife recently visited some neighbors who have a one-million-dollar house.  As soon as they got home, everything they had started to look smaller and less appealing in comparison.  Their level of expectation was raised.

Or here’s another example.  Remember when your kids were young?  Every little thing they did was a surprise and a delight, and you made sure to let them know how proud you were.  But as they have grown, so have your expectations of them.  If you find that you spend much more time criticizing them than praising them, it’s because it takes a lot more to motivate you to praise.  (I wonder what would happen if we started to lower our expectations in areas where we could afford to do so.)

So what lessons do we take away from this?  I have a few:

  • Before you start to hand out expensive motivators (like bonuses and costly incentives), consider that their motivational power has a shelf-life.  It will increase the performer’s level of expectation, and you’ll find that the motivator has to get better and better or bigger and bigger to continue to motivate.
  • Consider internal (or intrinsic) motivators first, because they have a long shelf-life and do not increase levels of expectation.  Internal motivators include things like pride in work well done, sense of contribution, learning and growth, challenging and meaningful work…  These are harder to use well, because you have to know your team members well enough to know what charges their batteries.
  • Before you commit to giving more and more of yourself to your job, your ministry or your community, count the cost.  You may not be able to scale back in the future without some heartburn.
  • If you find that your expectations are too high in some area of your life, lower them.  Believe it or not, you can just decide to be satisfied with less.  I’ve found that this strategy has really improved some of the most important relationships in my life.

As a general rule, expectations increase.  We tend to want bigger, better and faster.  Unless you intentionally slow their progress, you might find it difficult to keep up with them.

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Filed under delayed gratification, expectations, Instant Gratification, Interpersonal, leadership, motivation


schadenfreude \SHOD-n-froy-duh\, noun: A malicious satisfaction obtained from the misfortunes of others

Feeling guilty already, aren’t you?  Who doesn’t have moments (hours, days, months…) of schadenfreude when our enemies and competitors get their come-uppins?  They deserved it, right?  What goes around comes around.  It’s even better when we didn’t do anything to cause their misfortune.  There are no fingerprints at the scene, so to speak.

I’m not going to try to tackle the rightness or wrongness of this feeling when it is derived from our enemies and competitors.  Lots of gray area there.  But what particularly interests me is how commonly this feeling is directed at people who are on the same team as us.  They have the same goals and objectives as us, but we want them to stumble.  Why?  The two most common reasons are competition and resentment.

While competition can be a positive and healthy thing for athletic teams, it’s not so great within the Body of Christ.  We often measure our worth by comparing ourselves with those around us.  This can lead to frustration, despair, envy, covetousness, bitterness and even sabotaging behaviors if we feel like we are on the losing end.  It can lead to pride, complacency and disdain for others if we feel like we are on the winning end.

Holding a grudge about a perceived wrong done to us makes it difficult for us to see the “guilty” party succeed.  We want justice.  We want fairness restored.  They slighted us, attacked us, overlooked us, punished us…, and we feel that we are righteously indignant.  Failure, embarrassment or difficult obstacles in their path would make us feel like the scales had been returned to their proper positions.

Hopefully, it’s obvious that this isn’t healthy.  It leads to all types of passive-aggressive and aggressive behaviors, ranging from negative thoughts to gossip to rumors to Tonya Harding-inspired pipes to the knee.  Even at their most “innocuous” levels, these feelings lead us to withhold assistance and advice and prayer that might help the other person.  Schadenfreude is the equivalent of cancer to the Body of Christ.  It will destroy us from the inside out.

As brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to be diligent to spot the signs of schadenfreude when they surface, and we need to deal with them quickly and decisively.  When we see them in ourselves, we should be quick to pray for God to give us the ability to forgive and to have His love for the other person.  When we see them in others, we should lovingly point out the bitter root and help our friends forgive and love.

We’ve got enough enemies and competitors without adding them from inside the Body.  Let’s stop doing the devil’s work for him.

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Filed under Abundance, agape love, blame, Body of Christ, christianity, emotions, forgiveness, Interpersonal, justice, love, Relationships

Shepherd or Sheepdog?

Shepherds and sheepdogs are similar in that both are responsible for taking care of the sheep and moving them in a particular direction.  They protect the sheep from danger and round up strays, but their approaches are totally different.

The sheepdog runs barking into the herd to get them going.  Its approach is effective at creating movement, but it tends to cause them to head off in all different directions.  The dog then has to run frantically around the herd to get them moving together.  On the other hand, the shepherd simply leads, and the sheep follow.  The sheepdog motivates through fear, the shepherd through trust.

In this metaphor, you can see two different approaches to managing people: push and pull.  The sheepdog pushes the herd much like an ineffective manager pushes his/her people.  Cajoling, warning and threatening, the sheepdog manager tries to get his people moving.  Unfortunately, he creates so much fear, confusion and discord that everyone is looking to his own interests.  The ineffective manager then has to round up the stragglers and try to cajole, warn and threaten them to start marching toward the group goal.  By barking threats, he eventually gets them to their destination.

The shepherd pulls the herd much like an effective manager pulls his/her people.  She doesn’t need to cajole, warn or threaten.  Her values, dedication and interpersonal skills draw people to follow her.  She shows her people how achieving the organization’s goals will help them achieve their own goals.  She points them toward the horizon and tells them why it’s worth achieving.  She creates trust that she has her peoples’ best interests at heart.

By modeling the behaviors he wants to see from the front, the shepherd leader inspires others to follow.  A shepherd leader doesn’t need a lot of noise and frenetic activity to get the job done.

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Filed under leadership, management

Fake It Till You Make It

Unless we are compelled to do something, most of us live life doing the things we feel like doing.  Happiness, comfort and pleasure are our main motivators during our non-working hours.  This approach keeps us firmly rooted in our comfort zones.

Unfortunately, the tricky thing about comfort zones is that they tend to shrink if they aren’t stretched regularly.  When we aren’t pushing their boundaries, they start to close in on us, and we find ourselves “comfortable” doing less and less.  Before long, all we feel like doing is renting movies from the local video store.

We won’t grow inside our comfort zones.  Growth is beyond their borders, and we have to push through some ugly discomfort to reach it.  Like a rocket leaving the earth’s atmosphere, we will expend most of our fuel getting out of the lower atmosphere of our habits, but there is a payoff – it gets much, much easier once we have made it through.

What this means is that if we are ever going to introduce some positive change into our lives, we are going to have to do what we don’t feel like doing.  We have to exercise when our body screams, “NO!”  We have to apologize when our pride gives us excuses.  We have to take a leap when the fear (spelled F.E.A.R.) cements our feet to the ground.  We’re going to have to fake it until we make it.

In other words, we are going to have to act like we want to do it even when we absolutely don’t want to do it.  But there is a payoff here, too.  It gets easier.  The feelings will follow after we act.  The want to follows the do.

The American psychologist, Jerome Bruner, says,

We are more likely to act ourselves into a feeling than feel ourselves into an action.

When we use our will to take positive action even though we don’t feel like it, the positive feelings will eventually follow as we start to see the benefits of our new behaviors.  Who hasn’t felt better after a long-procrastinated workout, a pride-swallowing resolution to a family conflict or a a fear-conquering leap of faith?

True, the feelings don’t always come right away.  It may take repeated trips out of the comfort zone.  But before too long, our comfort catches up with our new activity and we feel better about ourselves for doing what was difficult.

When our feelings decide our actions, we retreat into our comfort zones, but when our actions lead our feelings, we grow.  Act before you feel like it.  Fake it until you make it.

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Filed under Challenges, Change, comfort zone, delayed gratification, determination, Goals, growth, habits, Instant Gratification, motivation, overcoming obstacles, Persistence

The Fortunate Fall

I’m not speaking theologically here.  I’m talking about normal, everyday failure.  Oh, how we dread it!  How we avoid it!  How we guard against it!  How we try to hide it when it happens!  Failure is so…(if my international friends will forgive the expression)…so…un-American!  It carries with it the stigma of unworthiness, and we refer to those who have failed as the “losers,” the “has-beens,” the “also-rans” and the “one-hit wonders.”  Tsk…tsk…

No wonder we don’t want to fail.  There’s little grace for the “failure” in today’s world.  Failures are written off and disowned, and many take delight in pecking them to death like chickens do with their weak and wounded.  It’s survival of the fittest, and there seems to be a measure of justice accorded when the “imposter’s” sins find him out.  Besides, what if it’s catching?  Maybe his failure is contagious!

How short-sighted of us if we hold these views.  Failure is rarely the end of the story; oftentimes it’s just the beginning.  How many people have you known who have experienced a significant failure only to rebound in a spectacular way?  Consider these examples:

  • John James Audubon, whose name is now synonymous with birds and bird conservation, didn’t start traveling and painting birds until his dry-goods business failed and he had to be jailed for bankruptcy in 1819.
  • Joe Rosenthal, who received the Pulitzer Prize for his stunning photograph of the flag-raising at Iwo Jima, wouldn’t have been there to make the moment immortal if the armed forces hadn’t rejected him for service because of his abysmal eyesight (one-twentieth of the average person).  Instead of going to war, he photographed it for the Associated Press.
  • William Faulkner didn’t start writing seriously until after he was asked to resign from his postmaster’s job.  Within five years, he had written The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying, considered to be his greatest works.
  • Ulysses S. Grant failed as a farmer, as a real-estate partner, in a bid for elected office and in several key battles of the Civil War before he found his niche at the head of the Union armies.  Within a few years, he won the war and was appointed a full general –  the first since General George Washington.  Three years later, he was elected President of the United States.

Each of these men capitalized on their failures.  They learned what failure had to teach them.  They gained self-awareness and clarity around their strengths and their weaknesses, and then they used failure as motivation to operate in their strengths.  For them, failure was a fortunate fall.

When was the last time you had a fortunate fall?  Are you avoiding it because you fear the consequences?  Are you struggling in a no-win situation, because you don’t want to admit it’s a bad fit?  Are you trying to hide your lack of skill or talent or results from your peers or from your boss?  Isn’t that draining the life out of you?

When we try to be someone we aren’t, the stress and frustration accumulates until one of two things happen:

1.    We make the decision to make a change.
2.    Someone else makes that decision for us.

Wouldn’t you rather make the decision of your own initiative?  It could be the beginning of a whole new chapter in your life, a chapter of incredible self-fulfillment and achievement.  Stop focusing exclusively on the negative consequences of failure.  It has much to teach you, and it can be the catalyst for positive change.

One last note: if you know someone who is trying to be someone they are not, the kindest thing you can do for them is to hold up a mirror.  Tactfully, share what you see as the disconnect and encourage them to face the facts.  No one can be successful at everything that they do.  Help them to find that for which they were created, and you free them to reach their highest potential.

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Filed under acceptance, Challenges, Change, determination, failure, growth, overcoming obstacles, self-image, self-worth, success

Three-Legged Race

Marriage is a three-legged race.  When we pledge ourselves to our partners for life, God sees us in many ways as one person.  We are bound to each other.

This can cause a number of problems.  It’s awkward to try to run with someone tied to us.  We have to re-learn how to move so that we don’t throw our spouse off-balance.  If our spouse runs at a different pace or with a different rhythm (which they almost always do), we have to make adjustments to find a happy medium.

Should our spouse fall, it doesn’t do us much good to try to drag them along.  We have to reach out and lift them up.  This can be time-consuming and frustrating, especially for those of us who are goal-oriented and competitive.  We can see all the other couples passing us by, and the further behind we get, the more irritated we become.

We might feel tempted to scold and blame our spouse.  At best, these might shame our spouse into getting back up, but they won’t ever help the relationship.  Nagging doesn’t help.  Making jokes at our spouse’s expense does not help.  The only thing that will get us back into the race with a committed and enthusiastic partner is to stop and go at his or her pace.

I didn’t come to know Christ until five years into my marriage.  My wife had been a Christian since she was a young girl, and my sudden enthusiasm for following the Lord was a welcome change but somewhat shocking for her.  I quickly committed to all kinds of Christian activities that we weren’t accustomed to.  Church, Bible studies, volunteering, tithing, teaching, conferences, service projects…you name it.

Before long, I realized that I had left my wife far behind me.  Her walk with the Lord had been moving at a much slower pace for many years.  Now, I was trying to force her to go from that walk to a sprint in just a few, short months.  I was disappointed that she wasn’t growing as quickly as I was, and I tried to push her along to catch up with me.  All this accomplished was getting her to dig in her heels and start resenting me for trying to make her go faster than she was ready to go.

Over time, I’ve learned to slow down.  God won’t allow me to cross the finish line without my wife.  We are a team, and the rules of the three-legged race are that you finish together.  When I relaxed and allowed my wife to find her own pace with the Lord, she began to grow faster and faster.

I’ve also learned that fast isn’t necessarily good.  Much of my early speed was about doing, doing, doing for the Lord, but not all of my doing was God’s will. I have a list of things I volunteered for that turned out to be disasters.  If I had slowed down and gone at the Lord’s pace for me, I might have grown more quickly.  Now, instead of doing, doing, doing for the Lord, I’m trying to learn about being, being, being with Him.

It doesn’t matter how super-spiritual you are or how much the world needs you, if you are married, you can’t go faster than your spouse and please God.  Your first ministry is to the one you’ve committed your life to.  Stop, go back to where you left him or her, and help your spouse get back on his or her feet.  Then, run (or walk) the race together at the pace of the slowest person.  You might find that there was much you were missing by going so fast – the first of which will be the joy of running the race together.

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Filed under agape love, christianity, commitment, Compromise, Daily walk, family, growth, love, marriage, Relationships, sacrifice, Serving Others, Spiritual Growth, submission