Category Archives: Challenges

Wanted: Crocodile Hunters


Thailand, where I live, is suffering from the worst flooding in over 50 years.  My home in Chiang Mai flooded a few weeks ago, but now the floods are in Bangkok, and most of the city is under water.

An unfortunate side effect of the flooding is the escape of man-eating reptiles.  This from the New York Times World a few days ago:

Thailand is one of the world’s chief exporters of crocodile products, and farms some 200,000 of the animals at 30 farms and 900 small breeding operations, according to the Fishery Department. About 100 were reported to be on the loose in Ayuttthaya, to the north of Bangkok…authorities have put out a call for crocodile hunters offering a reported bounty of 3,000 baht, or about $100 dollars each. (Seth Mydans – New York Times World http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/26/world/asia/flood-waters-in-bangkok-shut-domestic-airport.html?_r=1)

“Don’t worry,” they say later in the article, “these are friendly crocodiles who move slowly and willingly submit themselves to capture.” (…or something to that effect.)

The three men in this photo apparently believed it, and maybe it was true.  The crocodile might have willingly slipped into their restraining system.  But I doubt it.  He looks really uncomfortable.  And he was free!  Surely the gastronomic choices outside the breeding farm were much better than the slop he was fed inside.

So, assuming that he put up a bit of a fight, do you think the approximately $33 apiece that each of these men earned for risking life and limb was sufficient compensation?  Not for this crocodile hunter.

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Filed under Challenges, culture, funny, humor, motivation, overcoming obstacles, Rewards, Thailand

There’s a WOMAN in my bathroom!


One of the most difficult challenges of living in Asia for me?  There is always a woman in the men’s public restrooms.  I appreciate that she is there to make the place as clean and comfortable as possible, but why is she always inside?

And she doesn’t leave when I come in.  She sticks around while all the men do their business, sometimes mopping around our feet while we go.

I think it’s because women don’t know about the male code related to bathrooms.  We have certain unwritten rules that all men observe.  I don’t know if we learn them from our dads or from inconspicuous observation, but we all know them:

  • Always skip at least one urinal between men.
  • If the only open urinal is between two men, use the stall.
  • Don’t talk to the guy next to you unless you know each other well.
  • Eyes to the front, elevated approximately 110 degrees.
  • Never shake hands in the restroom.

But the most important rule is….Don’t hang around if you are done with your business.  It’s creepy.  Get in and get out.  Quickly.  That’s the rule.  I don’t even like it when there is a male custodian in the restroom.

Of course, I know what my wife will say when she reads this post.  The woman is there to supervise the men, because no matter how old we get or how much practice we’ve had, we still miss the bowl.

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Filed under accountability, Challenges, culture, Culture Shock, discomfort, funny, humor

Thermopylae


Thermopylae is a narrow pass (about 50 feet wide) in ancient Greece, between Mount Oeta and the Malian Gulf.  It leads from Thessaly (Thessalia) into Locris.  In ancient times, it was the main route by which an invading army could penetrate from the north into southern Greece.

It is best known for being the site where King Leonidas I died with his 1400 men (of whom 300 were Spartans) during the Persian Wars as they attempted to stop Xerxes and the Persian invasion of Greece in 480 BC. When Xerxes arrived with his enormous contingent of soldiers (Herodotus estimated it at 2.6 million, but it probably wasn’t nearly that high), he expected the small group of Greeks to retreat in light of his superior numbers, but Leonidas and his men refused to move.  In fact, they appeared confident, even calm, in the face of certain death.  Xerxes tried to wait them out for four days, but they wouldn’t leave.

When fighting finally began, it took three days for Xerxes to defeat the Spartans.  The Greeks easily repelled the initial attacks on their position, for what they lacked in numbers, they made up in determination and strategy.  The Spartans believed in a code of courage and discipline.  Retreat and surrender were not options.  They made their stand at Thermopylae, because the narrow pass nullified the threat of Xerxes’ overwhelming numbers.  Further, Leonidas knew that the Persians’ shorter spears made them unable to engage the Greeks at close quarters.

Had it not been for betrayal by a fellow Greek, Leonidas and his men might have held off the Persians indefinitely, but Ephialtes, a Thessalonian, showed the Persians how to use a path over the mountain to attack the Greeks from behind.  Once betrayed, it was all but over for the Greeks.  Leonidas was killed as he helped defend the pass.  Xerxes then dispatched his 10,000 Immortals, an elite fighting group.  The remaining Greeks retreated to a small hillock, where they formed a circle around the body of Leonidas.

Xerxes asked for the body of Leonidas in return for sparing the lives of the remaining Spartans, but the brave warriors refused.  Xerxes didn’t want to command his men to close in on the Spartans, because it was clear that the Persian armies were afraid of the Spartans.  They had never seen such determination and reckless abandon.  The Spartans didn’t care about preserving their lives.  They only wished to die honorably and protect the body of their leader.  Faced with his soldiers’ reluctance to fight, Xerxes ordered his archers to shoot arrows into the dense circle of Spartans until the sky was blackened and every Spartan dead.

Why did Leonidas and the Spartans fight so hard even after the battle was clearly lost?  Leonidas took counsel of an oracle before the battle, who foretold that either Sparta would perish or one of her kings would perish. By his death, Leonidas hoped to sacrifice himself to save his city.  And as it turns out, he did.  While the Persians went on to take Athens, they had been delayed long enough at Thermopylae to allow the Greeks to regroup and reinforce.  Later in 480 BC, the Greek navy defeated the Persians at the Battle of Salamis, halting Xerxes’ advance on Greece and putting an end to his imperial ambitions.  Had the Greeks not be able to repel the Persians, the later contributions of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and other Greeks would never have been possible.

The Spartans had cohesion.  They stuck together no matter what the threat.  They didn’t do it because it was their job as soldiers.  They didn’t do it because of the paycheck.  They didn’t even do it just for their love and respect they had for their leader.  They did it, because they had a common purpose that was larger than all of them.  They had a unifying vision and a common enemy to that vision.

If you want the commitment of your team members, you’ve got to give them something worthy to fight for….a common purpose, a common enemy, something larger than the fading motivation of a paycheck.

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Filed under Challenges, commitment, conflict, determination, discipline, Engagement, failure, focus, leadership, management, motivation, overcoming obstacles, ownership, passion, performance, Persistence, pressure, priorities, purpose, sacrifice, team, teambuilding

Achilles and His Heel


You may have seen the movie, “Troy,” with Brad Pitt as Achilles, greatest of the Greek warriors in the Trojan War.  What the movie didn’t cover was how Achilles got to be so great.  In Greek mythology, Achilles was the son of the sea nymph Thetis and Peleus, king of the Myrmidons.  The Fates prophesied that Achilles would die in the Trojan War, but Thetis sought to secure a different destiny for her son.  She took him to the River Styx (the entrance to the underworld), held him by his ankle and dipped him into the water.  As a result, Achilles became invulnerable everywhere on his body except for the heel with which his mother held him over the river.

Years later, Paris, prince of Troy, abducted the wife of King Menelaus of Sparta.  The Greeks rallied behind the offense and set off with 1,000 ships for Troy.  Despite Thetis’ attempts to prevent Achilles from going to Troy, her son was persuaded by Odysseus to join the effort.  The Greeks lay a long siege to the city.  During the tenth and final year, Achilles was mortally wounded by a well-aimed shot from Paris’ bow.  The arrow struck him in the heel, his only vulnerable spot.

The term “Achilles Heel” has come to mean a weakness that seems small but is in fact potentially fatal.  Many leaders have an Achilles Heel.  Sometimes they know that it exists, and sometimes they are blind to it.  It can go undiscovered for years until they are given a challenge that exposes their shortcoming, but once it is revealed, it is almost always fatal to their forward motion.

Some managers have an Achilles Heel in their ability to deal with people.  Like Achilles, they are tactically superb, receive accolades from high levels, move up through the organization with dexterity and speed, but they leave dead bodies everywhere they go.  As long as they move quickly enough, no one traces the destruction back to them.  But once they reach a spot on the battlefield that will not yield (i.e. get stalled out in a position), those around them begin to make the connections.  And once their Achilles Heel has been located, it’s not long before their enemies use it for advantage.

The best managers identify their Achilles Heel by seeking frequent feedback from all levels and all directions (e.g. through a 360 degree evaluation).  In this way, their enemies become their allies, helping them to identify their weaknesses.  Once they have identified their Achilles Heel, they take steps to strengthen or eliminate their weakness through training, coaching, difficult assignments and other means.  They never allow success to be an excuse for not growing.

 

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Filed under Challenges, coaching, Denial, failure, growth, leadership, management, mentoring, mistakes, overcoming obstacles, parenting, performance, temptation

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

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