Monthly Archives: January 2011

Fire Fighting


If you were to analyze what firemen do during the course of the year, what percentage of their time do you suppose would be devoted to actually fighting fires?  Would you believe me if I told you that it’s actually only 2% of their time?

So what do they do with all their time?  True, a good deal of their time is spent sitting around the fire station, but that’s necessary so that they can be available in the event of an emergency.  The rest of their time is spent in fire prevention.  I found a fireman’s job description on the web.  Here are some of their typical responsibilities:

  • Cleaning, preparing and testing hoses, fire trucks and other equipment
  • Testing water flow on fire hydrants
  • Determining what caused fires that couldn’t be prevented
  • Holding fire prevention workshops
  • Inspecting buildings, sprinkler systems and extinguishers
  • Speaking to children about fire prevention
  • Participating in fire drills
  • Attending training classes in fire fighting, first-aid, and related subjects

Spending all that time on prevention helps reduce the number of fires they are called to put out.  Plus, lives and property are saved.  No matter how much time or money they have to invest in fire prevention, it has to be cheaper than the cost of the fire fighting and destruction that occurs when fires aren’t prevented.

Many of us spend a greater percentage of our time and efforts putting out fires than the typical fireman.  Could it be that many of the fires that erupt in our schedules are a result of poor fire prevention?  Maybe we are not spending enough time in planning and preparation.  Maybe we’ve allowed key relationships to suffer from lack of attention.  Maybe we’re so tired from fighting those fires that we don’t feel we have anything left to invest in learning how to prevent them.  Maybe we’ve just resigned ourselves to the fact that we will always have to spend most of our time fighting fires.

The truth is that most of our fires are preventable.  But like the firemen, we have to get ahead of them.  We have to learn the most common sources of our fires and put plans in place to prevent them.  We have to educate ourselves about how much the fires are costing us in emotional and physical stress, missed opportunities, unfulfilled commitments and quality.  It’s time to stop playing productivity pyromania.  As Benjamin Franklin (the founder of the first volunteer fire department, inventor of the lighting rod and fire insurance) once said,  “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

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Filed under Challenges, creativity, Decision Making, delayed gratification, learned helplessness, performance, planning, Preparation, priorities, Prioritize, Priority, Problem Solving, Productivity, Sharpening the Saw

Crazy Maisie


Maisie DeVore had a vision.  She wanted to build a community pool for children to enjoy.  She was worried that there weren’t enough positive and healthy activities for kids in her hometown of Eskridge, Kansas, and she felt that the pool was just the thing they needed.

But she had a problem.  Money.  Maisie decided the best way to earn the money was by collecting aluminum cans and turning them in for recycling.  She began searching for them all around town – in trash cans, behind bushes, along roadsides.  When that didn’t net enough cash, she began collecting scrap metal, then making and raffling quilts, then picking wild berries to sell as homemade jellies.

Her neighbors thought she was crazy.  “Hide the toaster!  Maisie’s looking for scrap metal again.”

Her family thought she was crazy.  Said one, “I never came right out and told her I thought she was nuts, but I said, ‘You know Maisie, are you gonna be okay with this if it doesn’t happen?’”

In truth, no one but Maisie thought she would ever see ground broken on the pool.  But that was all the belief she needed.  She collected cans, scrap metal and berries until she had earned $100,000 ($83,000 from the 90 tons of aluminum cans she found).  When the state of Kansas got wind of what she had done, they kicked in a grant of $73,000 to make up the difference.  It wasn’t long before the pool was going in right across the street from Maisie’s home.

As you may have guessed, Maisie didn’t raise that much money overnight.  It took her 30 years!  During that time, Maisie kept her focus on her ultimate goal.  She withstood the teasing and the gossip and put in the incredibly hard work required to see it through.  Now, her neighbors don’t call her “Crazy Maisie” anymore.  As dozens of kids enjoy playing in “Maisie’s Community Pool” each day, all the neighbors call her “Amazing Maisie!”

(S – “Making a Splash,” CBSNews.com, 7/14/02)

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Filed under Abundance, Attitude, belief, Challenges, commitment, creativity, dedication, delayed gratification, determination, overcoming obstacles, Persistence, Problem Solving, sacrifice, Serving Others, success

Restoration


A man walked into a pawnshop and went straight to a worn down piece of furniture hidden in the back of the store.  He moved several other items that had been stacked against it and stepped back to take a look.

The piece of furniture was once a beautiful writing desk made with fine craftsmanship, but the former beauty had been worn away through years of use as it served first one family and then another.  These years were followed by even more years of disuse after it had been left out on the curb and salvaged by the pawnshop owner.

It was no longer beautiful.  Its drawers were broken, its roll-top in splinters, its feet uneven and wobbly, its stain faded and surface scratched and dented.  Looking at it, it was hard to imagine what the piece had looked originally.  You certainly wouldn’t want it in your home.  It was a real eyesore.

Even so, the man pulled out the desk and told the shop owner that he wanted to buy it.  The shop owner named a price – a surprisingly high price considering the condition of the desk – but the man was willing to pay it, and the transaction was made.

The man loaded the desk in his truck and took it home, where he placed it in his garage.  He turned on the overhead light and gave the desk a thorough inspection.  He took note of the broken drawers, the splintered roll-top, the wobbly feet and the scarred surface.  Nothing escaped his trained eye.

Having completed his assessment, he mentally planned what repairs and improvements would need to be done.  Then, he turned off the light and headed to bed.  Tomorrow would be soon enough to begin the work.

The next day, the man arrived late in the afternoon with new lumber and a collection of well-worn tools.  He was a carpenter, and these were the tools of his trade.  He had begun and finished many projects before this one, and he would begin and finish many more.  The work thrilled him.  It was a labor of love, and he thoroughly enjoyed taking something discarded and bringing out its true value.

With a smile of anticipation and a clear vision of the finished product, the man turned the desk on its side and sawed a heart-shaped piece from the bottom panel.  He then replaced it with a custom-made heart piece – golden in color with intricate etchings and made from a fine wood.  It was on the bottom panel, where it was unlikely that anyone would see it but him, but it was his trademark and showed the love and care he put into refurbishing the piece.  Those familiar with his work knew where to look for his signature.

He turned the desk back up and began with structural repairs.  He replaced one of the feet, repaired the broken drawers and built a new roll-top.   Before long, evening arrived.  The man put away his tools and retired for the night.

The next day, he returned to his work.  Using a sanding block, he began working on the inner parts of the desk that no one typically saw.  This might have seemed like a waste to most, but again, this was his trademark.  He always began from the inside and worked his way out.

After a week, an observer might not have seen much difference, but the man knew how smooth the inner boards had become, how silently the drawers slid in and out, how strong the joints and the frame had become.  It was a work of quality he was engaged in – not a work of speed.  He was not concerned about turning a quick profit; he wanted the finished product to be a blessing to some family who needed it.  He wanted it to bring them joy for years and years to come.  He thought about the children and the grandchildren who would live life around this desk, and he wanted the changes he made to bless generations.

And so, he worked, slowly but deliberately – never leaving off a task until it was done to his exacting standards.  Then, he moved on to the next area that needed repair, and then the next…

When he was done with the inner parts, he began work on the outer, and the piece began to really transform.  Each board was smoothed to take away the abuses of the past.  But he didn’t remove every dent or every scar.  Some, he knew, added value to the piece and gave it character.  Still, even these blemishes received his painstaking attention.  In fact, he spent more time on them than he did on the smoother parts, and when he was done, they became the most interesting parts of the whole piece.  What was ugly became beautiful and interesting, and those who saw them would want to know more.

When everything was prepared and the dust and grit and stains of past years had been removed, the man applied a covering.  It was a deep, reddish stain that soaked into the wood and provided a protective finish.  It was such a unique color that those who knew recognized it as the work of the man whenever they saw it.

The man then sealed the piece with a clear, protective coat, installed new hardware to the drawers and roll-top and finally stood back to admire his work.  The piece was impressive and made you want to come closer to look.  Its wood was so smooth that the man could literally see his reflection in it.  He smiled and said a quick, “well done!” to himself.  It was good.

In fact, it looked even better now than the day he originally created it.  You see, the pawnshop owner thought he was taking advantage of the man when he sold the desk at such a high price, but the man always knew the quality of the workmanship, because he had made it himself many years before.  Years of abuse and neglect had all but ruined the desk, but the man trusted in his own unique ability to restore the piece – even to make it better than before.  So he paid the high price, and he had no regrets.

Looking at the restored work, he knew exactly who he was going to give it to – a gift for a family that he dearly loved.

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Filed under Christ, christianity, Covering, grace, Jesus, mercy, Protection, sacrifice, Salvation, sanctification, Savior, self-image, self-worth, unconditional love

Career Tacking


Whenever you move up to a new level of leadership, you will need to make adjustments.  The change you go through is similar to a skill used in sailing.  It’s typically not possible to sail directly to your goal in a straight line.  You have to sail in the direction the wind pushes you and change directions at strategic moments to move closer and closer to your final destination.  In effect, you surrender the wind that was carrying you in one direction and exchange it for a new wind that will carry you in a different one.  You end up making a zig-zag pattern across the body of water.  The skill is called “tacking,” and it requires a keen eye and knowledge of wind and water patterns.

Likewise in your career, it won’t be possible for you to reach your ultimate goal without making some strategic tacks.  But instead of exchanging one wind for another, you’ll be exchanging skills.  Old skills that made you effective in your previous role have to be surrendered for new, more effective skills.  Even though your old skills might carry you for awhile and help you to experience success, they will eventually carry you away from your ultimate goal.

The skills that you learned as an individual producer won’t get you very far when you start to manage others.  Those are the skills of the expert.  You need new skills – skills for leading people.  The old skills will only serve to make you a “micro-manager” and a “control freak” as you attempt to stay personally invested in everything your people do.

Then, as you move from leading individual producers to leading leaders, the winds change again.  Now you need a skill set that includes the ability to grow your leaders, to help them move away from being the expert.  You need the strategic focus to give your leaders a common vision behind which they can rally their teams.

And as you move from leading leaders to leading organizations, the winds change once more.  Your will need to focus less on getting things done through others as your leaders become more and more competent.  Instead, you will need to develop a global view of your organization that has a clear perspective on its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

As you progress through your career, you will find that the wind changes direction many times.  Each time, you will be challenged to do less of what you are good at and do more of what is out of your comfort zone.  Along the way, you are likely to pass many who aren’t going anywhere in their careers due to their inability to recognize when to tack.  They mistakenly thought that their old skills would work in their new roles.  They tried to continue toward their goal without being willing to change.  Don’t follow their example, or you might find your career dead in the water.

 

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Filed under Challenges, Change, coaching, comfort zone, delegation, determination, leadership, performance, sacrifice, success

Q3 Magnets


In Stephen Covey’s Time Matrix, Quadrant 3 (Q3) describes tasks that are urgent but unimportant.  It’s the quadrant of “Other Peoples’ Priorities.”  The tasks that fit into this quadrant are important to someone, but they don’t have to be important to us.

It may seem crazy that we would spend any time working on things that are unimportant, but we often confuse urgency with importance.  When a phone rings, we feel we have to pick it up.  When there’s a knock on the door, we feel we have to answer it.  When someone drops by, we feel like we have to stop what we’re doing to talk to them.

But what if we could make it so that they rarely dropped by anymore?  We can…by getting rid of our Q3 magnets: the things that attract and invite the interruptions in the first place.  Try these strategies:

  • Get rid of the candy dish on your desk. It’s an invitation to stop by for a sugar fix, and they will feel obligated to stop and talk if they are going to take your candy.
  • Remove chairs from around your work space. A standing interruption won’t last nearly as long as a sitting one will, and it may not happen at all.
  • Stay busy. If someone peaks in and sees you staring into space, he/she won’t feel bad interrupting you.
  • Take home the conversation piece. If you have something near your desk that invites questions or discussion, take it away.
  • Relocate out of high-traffic areas. If your desk is on the way to the restroom or the breakroom, you can be sure that a percentage of the people going that way will drop in to chat.
  • Get out of the line of sight. If people can’t see if you are at your desk when they pass by, they are less likely to stop in.
  • Put your inbox as far away from you as you can. Make it easy for people to drop things in your inbox without having to engage you.
  • Move popular resources elsewhere. If people have to come to you (or near you) for files, supplies or other materials, you’re inviting interruptions.
  • Kill the grapevine. It may be that people are frequently interrupting you because you’ve got the best gossip.  It may be painful, but if you stop passing along information, people will stop coming to you.
  • Close the “open door.” The open door policy is widely misunderstood.  It’s was originally intended to allow an outlet for employees who needed to air issues or unload burdens – not for unproductive interruptions.  Close your door (if you have one) when you need to concentrate, and let everyone know that they can come by and see you during a particular hour of the day.  Schedule your “interruption time.”

A word of caution:

These strategies are not meant to completely eliminate time that you use to interact with your coworkers.  Building relationships is important, even when it’s not urgent.  It’s a Q2 activity that requires a time investment but pays off in the long run.  Be careful that as you eliminate your Q3 magnets, you don’t send the wrong message to those you need to be building relationships with.

 

 

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Filed under Challenges, communication, fatigue, focus, habits, importance, Interpersonal, overcoming obstacles, priorities, Prioritize, Priority, Productivity, Relationships

Visuals, Verbals, Vocals


“What’s wrong, Honey?”  I ask.

“Nothing!  Absolutely nothing!” she says between gritted teeth as she slams cabinet doors in our kitchen.

I have a choice to make at this point.  I can believe what she says (that nothing is wrong) and go about my business, or I can believe what her tone of voice and body language are telling me (that something is most definitely wrong).  I’ve taken a few lumps in our marriage, and I’ve learned to disregard what she says if it doesn’t match how she says it.  Saying, “Okay, Sweetheart.  I’ll be in the garage if you need me,” only gets me in a deeper stew.

Professor Albert Mehrabian (UCLA) has done research that would have been useful to me a little earlier in our marriage.  He analyzed where our messages come from when we communicate, and his findings are surprising.

  • 55% of our message comes from nonverbals, or Visuals, (i.e. our body language, gestures, facial expressions, posture…).
  • 38% of our message comes from our tone of voice, sounds we make, our rate of speech…, or Vocals.
  • 7% of our message comes from the words we use, or Verbals.

Only 7%!  Seems unbelievable, but I’ll tell you why I believe it…because we lie.  We are expert liars.  My wife was lying when she said nothing was wrong, even though she really wanted me to know that something was.  We lie all the time to avoid facing unpleasant circumstances directly.  Our boss brings us a huge project Friday afternoon and asks if we have time for it.  “Oh, sure.  I’ll fit it in,” we sigh, knowing that our plans for the weekend have gone out the window.  We’re told that team meetings will now be breakfast meetings and start at 6:30 a.m.  “Hey, there’s a great idea!” we tell a peer sarcastically.  A friend asks us what we thought of his presentation.  “It was terrific,” we lie, because we don’t want to hurt his feelings.

We’ve learned from experience that you can’t always trust what people say.  However, Visuals and Vocals are much more reliable.  People send signals through their body language, tone of voice and other nonverbals.  Sometimes they do it intentionally (my wife, for example), and sometimes they just can’t help it.  We bring the team together and tell them about a new change that means doing more with less.  As the leader, you know you have to put a positive spin on it, but your fake smile and monotone voice quality give you away.  People put your words on a shelf and judge your sincerity by your nonverbal communication.

Often, we are telling the truth, but people misread our nonverbals.  We ask a simple and sincere question, but our arms are crossed at the time, and the other person goes away with the idea that we are totally against her proposal.  We were up late the night before, and some of our team members perceive that we are in bad mood because we didn’t sound cheerful when we greeted them.  We are fast talkers, and we find that slower talkers distrust our message because we seem “slick.”

The key is matching your verbals and your nonverbals.  If we want our message to hit home, Verbals, Visuals and Vocals all have to be marching in the same direction.  It may take practice in front of a mirror or with a tape recorder, but you can improve how you communicate by increasing the consistency of these three components.

On the flip side, don’t allow yourself to accept what someone says as the whole story.  Watch and listen to their nonverbals to determine if they match the message.  If they don’t, respond to the nonverbals rather than the verbals.  Back to my example with my wife…a better response to her would have been, “You seem upset.  Would you like to talk?”  Notice that I’m disregarding the words she used and focusing on the underlying message.  You may need to make several attempts at this before the other person is willing to be honest Verbally, but their nonverbals have been telling the truth all along.

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Filed under communication, conflict, culture, emotions, feedback, Interpersonal, listening, public speaking, Relationships, speaking

Do What You Do Best


A colleague once asked Albert Einstein for his telephone number and was surprised to see Einstein reach for the phone directory.  “You don’t remember your own number?” the man asked.  To which Einstein replied, “Why should I memorize something I can so easily get from a book?”

Einstein may owe some of his genius to his ability to prioritize.  While he certainly had the capacity to memorize large amounts of trivia, he knew that this wasn’t the best use of his talents.  He reserved his brain power for solving complex problems and used other resources to help him with the less complex.

I’ve found that great managers do the same with their time.  While they are certainly capable of making copies, shuffling paper or solving routine problems, they recognize these tasks for the traps that they are.  Less-discriminating managers become entangled in a web of administrivia and find that they have no time left to work on more important priorities. Often in an attempt to appear like a “team player” to their direct reports, these managers waste their hard-earned experience, knowledge and training on tasks that could be handled more effectively (and less expensively) at a lower level.

Don’t sell what you’ve worked so hard to gain so cheaply.  The most effective are not always the most popular, but they spend their time like they spend their money – where it will bring them the greatest return on their investment.

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Filed under creativity, delegation, expertise, leadership, management, priorities, Prioritize, Priority, Productivity