Tag Archives: training

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

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

Maybe you’ve heard the analogy about how difficult it is to teach an “old dog” new tricks.  An “old dog” is someone who is set in their ways, who’s “been there and done that” and who is not particularly impressed by our leadership credentials.  We run into “old dogs” all the time when we inherit teams, and they can make our jobs a chore.  I once had a children’s joke book that had stellar advice about how to deal with “old dogs.”  The joke went like this:

“What do you need to know to teach an old dog new tricks?”

“More than the dog.”


Great advice!  As leaders, we need to stay at least one step ahead of those on our teams.  You do this through continuous improvement – taking courses, being a bookworm or a tapeworm (someone who listens to tapes), reading trade publications, attending conferences….  There are a gazillion options available to us.  The hard part isn’t finding a way to learn more; it’s making it into a habit!

Think about this:

If you haven’t learned anything new lately, have you earned the credibility to lead a group of people who are experts in what they do on a daily basis?  You can’t lead any farther than you yourself have gone.

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Filed under authority, coaching, discipleship, expertise, Fathering, growth, habits, leadership, learning, mentoring, modeling, parenting, Sharpening the Saw, Spiritual Growth, Teaching, trust

Why They Are On Top

I ran across some research (Performance Intervention, Sugrue and Fuller) that has been done on top performers across industries and what separates them from the pack.   Take a look at the list of things they typically do, and I bet you’ll see some of your own success tactics listed.

Top performers often do the following:

  • They do away with unnecessary steps.  (Top performers innovate.)
  • They perform an extra step that is needed but not documented.  (More innovation.)
  • They use available information and documentation that others do not.  (Simple, but smart.)
  • They possess a self-created job aid that others do not.  (Hint: Look for sticky notes around their cubical.)
  • They possess information or data that others do not.  (Because they take initiative and search it out.)
  • They possess better tools than others.  (“The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”)
  • They possess different motives for performing.  (An internal drive; a goal they are working toward…)
  • They receive different guidance and feedback.  (Uh-oh, this is one you have control over.)
  • They obtain different incentives.  (We don’t have much control over this, unless you consider intrinsic rewards.)
  • They rarely succeed solely as a result of training.  (This one takes me down a notch or two.)

So, if this is what puts top performers on top, why can’t we teach it to our other team members?  Try this experiment… take this list of characteristics and ask your top performers if they use each one.  Document what you learn, and share it with the rest of your team.

If you want more leaders, multiply the ones you’ve got.

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Filed under character, coaching, commitment, expertise, feedback, leadership, management, Productivity, success

Releasing the Clutch

When I was fifteen, my mom took me to a large and empty church parking lot on Saturday afternoons and taught me to drive….sort of.  She had good intentions but lacked the patience to put up with my herky-jerky ineptness at releasing the clutch.  I just could not get it!  Maybe it’s premature to try to teach a teenager how to drive a manual transmission before he has even gained control of his own gangly arms and legs.

I did fine once I got it in third or fourth gear, but I was miserable at the lower gears.  In first, I would rev up the engine until it begged for mercy.  Then I would try to easy up on the clutch with both eyes closed and every muscle in my body tightly clenched.  No matter how many times I tried, the end result was always the same – a bucking bronco ride in my little, burnt-brown Honda Civic.  Sometimes, I even stayed in the saddle the full eight seconds – one hand on the stick shift and my mom’s hands in the air.  I was one tough import-riding hombre.

It’s been almost 25 years, but I’m still taking driving lessons.  Not in a car – I’ve long since bought an automatic.  Now I’m learning to drive as a parent of teenagers, and it’s every bit as herky-jerky as those Saturday afternoons outside the Presbyterian church.

Instead of a clutch and a gas pedal, I’m struggling to learn how to interchange autonomy and control.  It’s nerve-racking!  I’m always using too much of one or the other.  Either I give my kids too much autonomy, and they end up abusing my trust and getting into things they have no business getting into, or I enforce too much control and “ruin” their lives with my “arbitrary” life-sucking rules.

What makes it worse is that my wife and I are both trying to “drive this car.”  We’ve each got our own steering wheel, clutch, brake and gas pedal.  When we agree about where we should go, things go pretty smoothly, but if she turns left when I turn right, our family comes to a jerking stop.

And maybe it’s God’s sense of humor, but he made my wife more of a clutch person (control) and me more of a gas person (autonomy).  That adds no end of fun to the driving experience!  Our kids learned these differences long ago, and they are constantly giving me opportunities to get pulled over by my wife for reckless driving.  (In our family, she doubles as driver and law enforcement officer.)

What we want is “wreck-less driving.”  Less big mistakes, less arguments, less hurt feelings, less wear and tear on our teenage model domestics.  I’ve learned that the first rule of “wreck-less driving” is synchronizing directions and pedal movements with my wife.  Even if we make a wrong turn, it’s better to make it together.  That means frequent communication and a willingness to give each other the right-of-way at times.

The second rule of “wreck-less driving” is to listen to the sound of the engine (it represents our kids’ thoughts and opinions).  The sound the engine makes helps us know if we are giving it too much clutch or too much gas.  When we give it too much clutch, the engine will whine (and whine and whine and whine…)  That doesn’t mean we should always give it the gas, but the engine’s complaints can tell us when we need to let go a little.  Remember the advice from Apostle Paul:

“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)

Too much control prevents our kids from developing the wisdom and driving skills they will need when they are out on their own.  It can lead to rebellion and bitterness while we are at the wheel and wild, authority-defying behaviors once they start driving their own cars.

On the other hand, when we give our teens too much gas, their engines can get clogged with impurities.  We’ve got to keep an eye on their fuel source, because it influences the quality of decisions they make when we give them some autonomy.  This is the third rule of “wreck-less driving.”

If our kids are spending daily time in the Word of God and have some close, godly friends, the fuel is probably pretty clean.  But if they are spending most of their time around the T.V. or with a negative peer group, it’s likely that their thinking won’t have the maturity for them to get much mileage out of it.  By listening to their engines (thoughts and opinions), we are likely to hear early warning signs that indicate we need to take our foot off of the gas.

In my own humble view, I think parenting is much more difficult than learning to drive.  It’s crazy that no one asks us to pass a parental driving test before getting behind the wheel.  We’ve got to do most of our learning on the freeways and tollways of life, and it’s definitely a white-knuckle experience.  But our kids will never grow into maturity if we always drive like we have Miss Daisy in the car.  Our kids need the experience of building speed by practicing making decisions on their own.  Along the way, they will get in some fender benders and earn their share of traffic tickets, but as long as we follow the “wreck-less” rules, they should be okay.  So, don’t be afraid to give them the gas every once in a while!


Filed under accountability, authority, autonomy, coaching, communication, conflict, delegation, discipleship, Fathering, growth, leadership, management, marriage, parenting

All Eggsperts Were Once Beginners

In 1885, Peter Carl Fabergé, a goldsmith and jeweler, volunteered to create a jewelry egg for Czar Alexander III of Russia to give to his wife, Marie, at Easter.  He kept the egg a secret until the special day and then presented it to the czar, who then presented it to his wife.  It was a rather ordinary looking egg, somewhat large with a plain whitish shell.  But when the czarina opened it, she found inside several tiny surprises made of gold, enamel and precious gems.  The gift delighted his wife so much that Alexander commissioned a new one to be created every Easter.  Each egg, lavishly and creatively decorated and always with a surprise inside, typically took a year or longer to create.  They became so popular that when Czar Nicholas II took the throne, Fabergé began making two eggs each year – one for the Czar’s wife and one for his mother.

Today, we know of 56 of these eggs, though a few of them have disappeared.  The last Fabergé Imperial Egg to go on auction was sold for $9.57 million at Christie’s in April 2002.  It’s no wonder Fabergé Eggs have become synonymous with anything that we consider to be a priceless possession, something to be handled with utmost care.

As leaders, we sometimes treat some of our responsibilities like Fabergé Eggs.  We won’t delegate them to our team members because we are so afraid that they will drop them.  This can be especially true with projects or tasks that we started ourselves.  We carefully put them together; we tweaked and fine-tuned; we polished and shined them until they were perfect.  And though a team member or two has shown interest in taking them off our hands, we continue to clutch them possessively.  And who could blame us?  No one will take care of our Fabergé Egg like we will.

While that may be true, we’ve got to get up the courage to pass the Egg along.  While creating it brought us new skills and knowledge, the Egg can no longer help us develop.  Its value now is in passing it along to allow others to gain skills and knowledge as they care for it.  And even if they drop it, there are lessons to be learned in that, as well.  (After all, you probably dropped it a few times as you were creating it.  How do you think you learned to care for it so well?)  All eggsperts were once beginners.

What’s your Fabergé Egg?  Pick someone who needs the skills it teaches, and pass it along.  It will free your hands up to start working on your next creation.

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Filed under Abundance, delegation, discipleship, failure, Fathering, leadership, learning, management, mentoring, parenting, Scarcity, Teaching

The Performance Pill

Got a team member who’s a pain in the neck?  Struggling with an employee who gives you headaches?  Suffering some heartburn after hiring someone to fill a position on your team?  You’re in luck!  The clinic is open, and the doctor is in!

Much of the time, we address the symptoms of our problems (the pain in our neck, the headache, the heartburn) rather than their sources.  That approach gives temporary relief, but it usually creates more problems than it solves in the long run.  For example, taking an aspirin deals with the headache, but it does nothing to deal with what caused it.  The headache may have been the warning sign of a more serious problem.  A band-aid may cover up the bruise, but if we keep banging our knee, the bruises will keep popping up.  Dealing with sources rather than symptoms will lead you to better solutions.

I’m going to make a bold claim.  Any performance problem you are struggling with on your team can be traced to one of five sources.  Knowing these sources helps you to quickly diagnose your problems and prescribe treatment.  Together, these sources make up the Performance Pill, a tool for curing what ails your team.  Let’s look at each source individually.  (You’ll notice I’ve taken some rhyming license to make these fit together.  Please don’t accuse me of malpractice.)

Performance Pill

“Instill” problems occur when we fail to instill our performers with expectations, knowledge and feedback related to their work.  Many times, our expectations are silent.  We forget to make them clear at the beginning of a task, or we assume that the performer should know them.  Sometimes the performers don’t have enough information to do what we ask them to do.  And sometimes, we neglect to give them feedback about a task to let the performer know if they are on the right track or not.  The solution rests solely on our shoulders for this type of problem.  If we haven’t equipped our performers with expectations, knowledge and feedback, we’ve set them up to fail.

“Skill” problems occur when performers have not yet developed the talent to do the task.  The solution is simple.  The performer either needs training or practice (with lots of feedback).  But be careful…this is the most common misdiagnosis for performance problems.  Managers love to send their performers to training to “fix them.”  Why?  Because it’s easy, and someone else will do it for me.  It may be easy, but it’s also expensive – in money, in time and sometimes in your relationship (not everyone wants to be sent to training).

“Hill” problems occur when an obstacle (something they can’t get over) blocks good performance.  The obstacle could be a system problem, a lack of authority, a policy or procedure, a lack of resources…  Even other people can become obstacles to good performance.  Whatever the “hill” is, it’s out of the performer’s control.  Either you or someone else with the authority to deal with it must move it out of the way.

“Will” problems occur when a performer doesn’t want to do what you want them to do.  People are not motivated to perform in a certain way for a variety of reasons, but they almost always have to do with consequences.  Sometimes people are rewarded for doing the wrong things.  Sometimes they are punished for doing the right things.  Sometimes, it doesn’t matter one way or the other what they do, because no one notices.  And sometimes it may matter, but it doesn’t matter enough to the performer.  The solution for “will” problems is to make it matter.  Find consequences (both positive and corrective) that the performer cares about, and implement them.  If appropriate consequences are already in place, intensify them.

“Refill” problems occur when a performer does not have the ability to do the job or does not respond to increased consequences intended to improve “will” problems.  The solution is to “refill” the position with a candidate who does have the ability and the motivation to do the job.  However, avoid jumping to an early diagnosis in this area.  All other sources should be explored and addressed before coming to the conclusion that a performer is in the wrong job.

Feel better yet?  If not, take two and call me in the morning.

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Filed under leadership, management, performance