Leading with Trust

5 Pieces of Advice for all Those “Average Joe” Grads

Graduation CapsI attended a high school graduation this past Friday. It was similar to all the other high school and college graduation ceremonies I’ve experienced over the years. The graduates filed in to their seats accompanied by the notes of Pomp and Circumstance, the high achieving graduates received special recognition and a stream of awards, then the valedictorians (the highest achievers of the high achievers) gave speeches, followed by the mass roll call of all the graduates as they crossed the stage to receive their diplomas.

A new thought struck me as I watched the ceremony on Friday. When you take out the time allotted for the graduates to march to their seats as well as the time for the roll call awarding the diplomas, 90% of the graduation ceremony is focused on 10% of the highest achieving students.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with being a high-achiever. I think every student should aim to perform his/her best and those outstanding performers definitely deserve special recognition. However, those are the exceptions, not the norm. Most people won’t graduate with a 4.87 GPA and plans to study Neurobiology at John Hopkins University. The fact is that most of us graduate with little clue as to what we want to do with the rest of our lives. What sort of leadership advice should be passed on to those “average Joe’s?”

Well, from one average Joe to another, here’s what I would say:

1. Don’t stress, it’s normal to not know what you want to do with the rest of your life. Most of us are bozos on the same bus; we’re figuring out life as we go. Very few of us have a crystal clear purpose of what we want to do in life, and even many of those high achievers giving the graduation speeches will take unexpected turns in life that deviate from their original plan. It’s called life. We learn, grow, and mature (hopefully) and our wants and desires change over the course of time. But somehow life has a way of working out. We all eventually find our niche and you’ll find yours.

2. Don’t compare yourself to others. Playing the comparison game is a guaranteed way to make yourself miserable and unhappy. There will always be someone who has a better job, makes more money, owns a bigger house, or accumulates more “stuff” than you. But that doesn’t mean they’re happier than you. Learning how to be content in all circumstances is one of the secrets of life. If you can find contentment, gratefulness, and thankfulness for what you do have, then you’ve got it all.

3. Be patient. More than any previous generation, today’s graduates have grown up in an instant gratification society. Many young graduates expect the work world to operate the same way. It doesn’t. Get used to it. However, you are among the brightest and quickest learning people to enter the workforce in ages and that has its own strengths. Work hard, listen more than you speak, learn from the experience of others, and prepare yourself to take advantage of opportunities when they arise. You’ll get your shot, but it will take some time and hard work.

4. Live for something bigger than yourself. If you haven’t yet learned this universal truth, I hope you will someday soon. Life really becomes meaningful and filled with purpose when you learn you aren’t the center of the universe. Life is not all about getting that job with the corner office or the handsome paycheck. It’s not about vacationing in Europe every summer or making “bank” as my 19 year-old son likes to say. Life becomes worthwhile when you realize it’s about giving more than you get. It’s about serving others, not yourself. One of the mysterious paradoxes in life is the more you give your time, talent, and treasure to others, the more deep-seated satisfaction you receive in return. I don’t know how else to describe it and I don’t think there’s a way you can learn it without doing it. Give it a try. Sooner rather than later. You’ll save yourself a lot of wasted living.

5. Don’t give up. Life throws you curve balls and sometimes you strike out. Other times you get beaned by the pitch and you’re on the disabled list for a while. But if you keep getting back in the box and swing at enough pitches, you’ll get your fair share of hits. It takes time, effort, and patience but it will eventually turn your way…as long as you don’t give up. You matter. You are important. No one else in this world is like you and we need you. Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.

None of this is rocket science; much of life isn’t. It’s the basic fundamentals of life, that when practiced well, lead to success and happiness. Not being the honor grad with plans for a grand future doesn’t mean you’re a loser…it just means your normal. And normal is a pretty fantastic thing when you consider how amazingly gifted you are (even if you don’t realize it or believe it).

Congrats all you grads! There’s a fantastic life waiting for you. Go out and live it!

Advice to Leaders: Building Trust is a Journey, Not a Destination

Trust Compass“So, Randy, how long does this whole process take?”

That was a question from a senior executive with whom I was recently working. His company is proactively working to build a culture of trust and engagement, something few organizations do intentionally. Usually senior executives only start paying attention to trust when it has been broken and they’re in dire straits. This particular company is going about it the right way, taking a purposeful approach to building a high-trust organization that will continue to fuel its success well into the future.

However, his question clearly revealed his current mindset about this strategy of fostering trust and engagement. He considered it another item on the to-do list, something he would need to devote attention to for a few months and then move on to the next priority. That’s not the way it works.

Creating organizational trust and engagement is a journey, not a destination. It’s not a box you can check and say “Done!” It’s something you have to build and nurture every day of the week. It’s much more about who you are as a leader than what you do. It’s about being clear on your leadership point of view—your beliefs about leading and motivating people—and leading in a way that builds trust with others.

You’re never done building trust.

The presentation below, far from a complete treatise on the topic, lays the foundation of what it means to lead with trust. Feel free to leave a comment to share your thoughts about leading with trust.

4 Ways to Transform Failure Into Success

Success-Failure-SignIn yesterday’s Super Bowl, Seattle Seahawk quarterback Russell Wilson threw an interception at the end of the game when his team was on the verge of scoring the game winning touchdown. Earlier in the game, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw a couple of interceptions that led to his team being in a 10 point deficit heading into the fourth quarter. The coaches of each team, Pete Carroll for Seattle and Bill Belicheck for the Patriots, had been fired from NFL jobs earlier in their career before they found success later in life. All four of those men are considered “winners,” yet each of them have experienced notable failures on their road to success.

Our society likes to celebrate winning and everything that comes along with it: money, status, power, privilege, and fame. Yet failure is often what helps us develop perseverance, wisdom, and maturity. No one likes to fail, but failing isn’t all bad and you can use it to your advantage if you do these four things:

1. Redefine success and failure — Too often our society views success as a win-lose proposition. You know the mindset…if you’re not a winner, you’re a loser. We have distorted definitions of what success and failure mean, and unless you change the way you perceive success and failure, you’ll never feel satisfied with your lot in life. Failures are just life experiences that didn’t turn out the way you intended. Learn the lessons and move on. Don’t obsess over the situation and don’t use absolute language like “I’m never going to succeed,” or “I’m always going to fall short of my goal.” Don’t dwell in self-pity by ruminating on “Why me?,” but instead focus on “What can I learn?”

2. Be purpose driven — It’s easier to recover from failures when you’re living on purpose. Your purpose is your reason for living, the values and beliefs that drive you to be more of the person you want to be. If you aren’t clear on your purpose in life, you’re like a ship without a rudder, your direction controlled by the randomness of the current. When you’re unclear on your purpose, failures seem more catastrophic and debilitating. When failures occur within the context of pursuing your purpose, they become learning moments for growth and maturity. John Maxwell says that, “More than anything else, what keeps a person going in the midst of adversity is having a sense of purpose. It is the fuel that powers persistence.”

3. Be Persistent — Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.” Woody Allen famously said, “80% of success is showing up.” Both quotes convey the same idea – persistence pays off. Orville Redenbacher (yes, the famous popcorn guy) spent 15 years perfecting the corn hybrid used for his popcorn. He spent another 10 years making his popcorn the best-selling brand in the world. When asked about his philosophy, he said “I’ve followed the classic homespun principles. Never say die. Never be satisfied. Be stubborn. Be persistent. Integrity is a must. Anything worth having is worth striving for with all your might. Does it sound corny? Honestly, that’s all there is to it. There is no magic formula.”

4. Separate your identity from your performance — Our tendency is to derive our self-worth from our performance. If we succeed, then we’re worthy people. If we fail, we’re losers. The reality is that when it comes to achieving success, many things are out of our control. We can do everything right trying to achieve a goal, and something completely out of our control happens that causes us to fall short. Does that make us a failure? No, it just makes us human. Erma Bombeck, the famous humorist and writer, suffered many failures throughout her life but kept them in perspective. She said, “What you have to tell yourself is, ‘I’m not a failure. I failed at doing something.’ There’s a big difference…Personally and career-wise, it’s been a corduroy road. I’ve buried babies, lost parents, had cancer, and worried over kids. The trick is to put it all in perspective…and that’s what I do for a living.”

“Tell yourself, ‘I’m not a failure. I failed at doing something.’ There’s a big difference.” ~ Erma Bombeck

Fear of failure holds us back from taking risks. We paralyze ourselves, stuck in a state of inaction that leads to resignation and dissatisfaction. Instead, we can become our own heroes by learning to redefine failure as opportunities for growth. We can discover our purpose and pursue it with persistence, all the while growing in understanding that even when we fail at a certain goal or task, we aren’t failing as a person. That’s what it takes to turn failure into success.

The 1 Question All Leaders Must Ask Themselves

influence match sticksWhen you started your career, did you intentionally set your sights on being a leader or did it sort of, you know, just happen? For most of us, it just happens. We start out in an individual contributor role and soon find out the only way to gain responsibility and earn more money is to get promoted into a supervisory position. Suddenly we find ourselves responsible for leading other people and we probably never gave much thought about what kind of leader we wanted to be or if people would even want to follow us.

If you’re currently in a leadership position, or are thinking about moving into one, you should consider one very important question:

“Why should people allow themselves to be influenced by you?”

Mel Lawrenz poses this question in his book Spiritual Influence – The Hidden Power Behind Leadership. The question contains several important truths:

  • Leadership is influence, not power or authority
  • People can choose whether or not they receive your leadership, you can’t force it upon them
  • The leader needs to have something worth giving

influence quoteIn an effort to help you answer that question, let me ask you a few more. Do you view your leadership role as a position, title, or form of power that will help you achieve your goals? Or do you view your leadership role as one of supporting other people to achieve their goals? Do you force your leadership influence upon people by coercing or demanding they follow your directives? Or do you earn the trust of your people by acting with integrity, being consistent in your behavior, taking a sincere interest in your people, and following through on your commitments? And what do you have to offer to your people? Do you have a track record of success and the expertise to share with others to help them in their own jobs? Do you have a desire to give people support, direction, and encouragement to reach their goals?

People want leaders who are authentic, genuine, and trustworthy, not those who play politics, are insincere, or out for their own gain. People want to know their leaders are invested in helping them succeed and will have their backs when times get tough, as opposed to hanging them out to dry when they make mistakes.

Why should people allow themselves to be influenced by you? Answer that question and you’ll reach a deeper level of insight into your leadership motivations than you’ve ever had before.

Ditch the New Year’s Resolution and Do This One Thing Instead

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Photo Credit: deathtothestockphoto.com

Admit it, you’re in trouble with your New Year’s resolution, aren’t you?

That’s okay, you’re not alone. Surveys show that just a few days into the new year, 22% of people have already broken their resolution, 11% have abandoned it altogether, and just 8% will actually keep their resolution the entire year.

So ditch the New Year’s resolution…go ahead, just do it. I give you permission. But do this one thing instead: choose a word.

One word.

A couple of months ago I spent a weekend at a men’s retreat with Jon Gordon and that’s where I learned the power of one word. Jon’s written a number of best-selling books including The Energy Bus, The Carpenter, and One Word, co-written with Dan Britton and Jimmy Page.

The concept is simple yet powerful. Spend time in solitude and reflection to determine one word that will provide focus, clarity, motivation, and purpose to your activities this coming year. Not a mission statement…not a phrase…but a word. Just one word.

The word applies to all dimensions of your life: mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, and relational. Choosing one word forces you to think deeply about what’s important, not just what’s urgent. It forces you to consider the impact you want to have on others and how you want to feel about yourself when the year is done.

Jon would say the word chooses you as much as you choose it and that was true in my experience. The word I chose during the retreat, and that I’m carrying over to this year, is invest.

I’m in a new season of life where I want to invest in relating to my sons (22 & 18 years old) as adult to adult and not just parent to child. My children don’t “need” me in the same way as they have in years past and sometimes that hurts. Occasionally I find myself mourning the change in our relationship rather than celebrating the season we’ve come through. Invest reminds me to get out of the victim mentality and be active in creating new ways to relate to my children. You never stop being a parent; it just changes complexion over the years.

I want to invest in rediscovering my wife of 26 years and developing new aspects of our relationship. Since our lives are no longer driven by the activities of our children, new doors are open to us that have been closed in the past. I want to invest in personal friendships that have taken a back seat over recent years as my focus has been on family and career. I want to invest in my physical, emotional, and mental health by developing healthy and nourishing hobbies, like cycling and golf.

I want to invest in being a better leader at work, by making a positive contribution to the organization and helping my team members reach new levels of success. I want to invest in my spiritual life by developing more regular times of prayer, meditation, and reading Scripture.

Invest…just one word but multi-dimensional in implication and potential impact.

Life gets busy and we find ourselves occupied with the urgent circumstances that arise. It takes intentional effort to focus our energies and simplify life and the one word process can help in that regard.

So ditch your new year’s resolution, if you haven’t already done so, and choose one word instead. Leave a comment letting me know your one word and why you chose it. I know Jon would appreciate you tweeting him with your one word also.

Make 2015 a great year!

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