Managing Our Work is Managing Ourselves

February 3rd, 2011

I have a friend who, like me, teaches time management. He says – and I agree - we can’t manage time. Managing means controlling and directing. Can I tell my watch to go slower or faster? Can I get more hours in a day? I wish I could! But, wish as I might, I have 24 hours each day, and some unknown number of days left before the body passes away.

So, my friend says – and I agree – we don’t manage time. We manage what we do with our time.

But how many of us have tried that and failed? Everyone! We all say, “I want to do this,” and then don’t follow through. Each year, 80% of people who make New Years resolutions give up by January 15th. And how few restart later in the year! And how few try again next year?

So – can we manage our work? Can we control, guide and direct what we do with our time? The answer is yes, we can. Obviously, people and companies do set goals and achieve them. And, at the same time, its incredibly hard. It always has been. The first person to name the problem was Aristotle, over 2,000 years ago. He said that “It is easy to know the good, but it is not easy to do the good.” And he called it the Problem of Will.

We’ve been struggling with that problem ever since. Effective people are people who handle the problem relatively well. And, as my wife pointed out before she ran off to work this morning, that is not just a practical matter. It is also spiritual. Acting with discipline to make our dreams real is empowering. Being creative and generous, we give our gifts to the world, making the world a better place.

Such a wonderful ideal! How do we do it?

We begin by realizing that managing our work is managing ourselves. And, to manage ourselves, we must pay attention to ourselves. I encourage us to spend less time being concerned with the economy, the weather, and political changes. Be informed. But don’t be distracted from our work. Our success – in any economy, political situation, or storm – is a result of our work – our preparation, our activity, and our follow through to realize our goals.

So, once we pay attention to ourselves, what do we do?

We face the biggest obstacle of all.

What’s that?

The stuff that goes on between our ears!

Bringing awareness – Observation without criticism – to what we are doing, we can see what actions are valuable, and which ones are distracting or pointless.

But this is hard work. I find it must be done daily, and, in fact, many times a day. Each morning, using affirmations – talking and even singing them aloud – I remind myself of what I really want to be doing. And I’m starting to use accountability checklists – giving myself gold stars for doing new habits daily, more or less.

This kind of self-management may seem wacky or weird. But I’ve been doing it intensely for two weeks now, and I’ve restarted daily blogging, reached out to over 100 prospective clients in a single day, and done a whole lot more, as well.

My wife and I are doing this together. We are spinning our wheels and chasing our tails a lot less. We are getting a lot more work done. We are doing creative work – including graphic arts and healthy cooking – together. We are reaching out to friends more. And we’re having a lot more fun!

I’ll keep you posted as the experiment continues!

Hiding Our Heads in the Sand – Until We’re Buried in Snow

February 2nd, 2011

Global climate change is one of our big problems – and it won’t go away soon.

A chaotic economy, especially for the US and Europe, is another big problem – and it won’t go away soon, either.

I first learned about global warming the same way Al Gore did – through a movie that circulated in the 1970s. I was a bit younger than he was - in junior high school – and I had the naivete to think that the government would jump on the issue and solve it. (Note: Governments do very well, sometimes. If they didn’t, we’d have a deadly hole in the ozone layer.)

But we missed the boat on this one. Even if we began a global effort to rein in climate change, it would take 50 to 100 years to fix the problem. And there is no one – no government or business – in a position to take effective action.

The same is true with the global economy. Like the weather, it is a huge, complex system, essentially chaotic in nature, that has gone out of balance. And no one is in a position to take effective action on the economy, either.

It’s like we’re all standing holding on to the end of a leaky garden hose with no nozzle. We’re getting soaked. And no one can get back to the faucet to turn off the flood.

Both the climate and the economic system have too much energy running through them. And when a big system has too much energy, it doesn’t just heat up, it goes chaotic, with extremes of hot and cold.

And that is not a good thing.

If the planet just got gently warmer, we could plant different crops and keep feeding ourselves. But as the weather goes chaotic, no crop can reliably survive. Deeper winter frosts, followed by flood, followed by drought are not an environment for easy farming. Nor do our cities cope well.

It’s the same with our economic system. Too much money produces a series of booms and busts, both of which are great opportunities for scams and profit-takers. And it is hard to grow a real business with real value.

So, where is the good news?

All over the place!

The good news is in being small. 70 million years ago, tThe dinosaurs did not survive the weather changes after the big meteor strike. And small mammals got to move up in the world.

Being a small, flexible, dynamic entrepreneur is the answer.

But, to be dynamic, we must focus on “doing what we can do,” as my coach Kim George would say. My marketing coach, Jeanna Pool, author of Marketing for Solos, recommends that we stop watching TV and news for a while, and focus on our own business.

A very good idea. Let’s rebuild our world, one business at a time.

Think Twice, Click Once

July 7th, 2010

This morning, I received an email from my executive assistant. It said, “I thought of that right after I sent the message.” In this case, she had suggested an idea that was not in line with our plans, and I said “no,” and told her why not. She ended her message with, “lesson learned: don’t send emails when I’m tired.”

That’s a good lesson. And we can take it deeper, because a lot of people send emails that aren’t on target (to put it politely) during the day, too. How about taking the old saw from builders, “measure twice, cut once,” and apply it to the Information Age: “Think twice, click once.”

I know of a number of horror stories – including some that did serious damage to careers and opened the door to lawsuits - that resulted from someone sending something out without thinking twice.

And its not just email or texting. What about our words? There’s an ancient Chinese maxim that I’ve turned into a practice. “Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” What if we listen to what we’re about to say before we open our mouths, and ask all three questions about what we’re thinking. We can revise our ideas or our choice of words, and then what we say will be much less distressing and much more effective.

And sometimes, checking twice isn’t enough. When human systems run out of control, we end up taking great risks unnecessarily. The destruction of the Space Shuttle Challenger and the BP Gulf Oil Spill are both examples of this. The rule in the design of the Space Shuttle was that three different things must fail before catastrophic damage will occur. And even so, we’ve lost two shuttles and their crews. In addition to triple-checking, we need to fix systems that are running out of control

To err is human. But, as humans, we can be aware, and catch our errors and correct them before they go too far. There’s a great movie, The Dish, that shows how everyone can make mistakes, but, as a team, still do amazing things – like go to the moon.

One way to be a leader is to accept and correct our own mistakes, and lead by example, giving others a chance to make mistakes, and also to correct them and contribute to success.

Vampires, Werewolves, and Employees

May 13th, 2010

The essence of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is that, if each individual is independent (habits 1 through 3) and seeks interdependence (habits 4-6) and does good self-care (habit 7), then the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And its not just a bit greater, it’s synergy (habit 6) which can lead to results 50 times more powerful than the same people working alone.

Here’s a simple example of synergy. Suppose we need to move 5 heavy blocks, each weighing 100 pounds. Suppose one worker can lift 50 pounds, and the other, 70. Working alone, no blocks can be lifted. Some extra cost – pushing, getting a forklift, whatever – is needed. But if the two work together, each picks up one end of the block, and the work is done in minutes.

The benefits of synergy are even greater when the two talents are different. Writers are often terrible editors, and vice-versa. In fact, writers and editors often don’t like each other. Creative people and precise people often don’t get along.

But when we can work well with people who don’t think the way we do, we get great results. (That’s also the essence of a great marriage: In 25 years I’ve learned that my wife and I can have a lot more fun if we quit trying to understand one another!)

The problem is that whenever a team – even just two people – don’t have positive synergy, they have negative synergy. Things don’t just plug along. Instead, they get 50 times worse!

That’s why I talk about vampires and werewolves.

These days, people often talk about emotional vampires – people who suck you dry. And there are more and more popular books and movies like Twilight and Moon Called, that are about vampires and werewholves living with us today.

The Vampire – the team member who is not independent

A strong team member is self-led and self-managed. People who aren’t create a management vacuum. They are not managing their own work well. This forces the team leader or business owner into a double-bind, a choice with no good answer. If we don’t manage the work, then the project fails or the business loses money. If we take over and manage, we undercut the employee’s independence, and lose synergy. Micromanagement is a co-dependent work relationship. The worker is not independent, and the leader is substituting for the worker, instead of doing his or her own job. In structure, this is the same problem that happens in a dysfunctional relationship where one adult partner is not mature and self-responsible, perhaps due to addiction or psychological issues.

In business, the only good solution is prevention – all employees should be trained in self-leadership and self-management, and those who don’t achieve both promptly should be let go by the end of a probationary period.

The Werewolf – the independent worker who isn’t a team player

Werewolves don’t suck you dry – they rip you apart.

Werewolves are independent. They lead themselves and manage themselves very well.

Unfortunately, they also think win-lose. They think, “I win by eating you. You win by eating me. Who wins, and who ends up as lunch?”

The worst examples look like this: An independent consultant you hire as a sub-contractor who steals your clients; or a worker in a big organization who makes his boss look bad to get him fired and take his job.

But there are milder versions. There are the werewolves who just keep doing things their own way. There are the ones who work well, but won’t help a new team member get up to speed. There are the ones who get the work done, but keep all the knowledge in their heads, instead of delivering it to the organization. They’re protecting their territory. They think they have job security. But they’re actually pulling the whole company down around their heads.

With werewolves, we can sometimes have a working relationship by setting a clear, distant relationship with a very strong contract. But that kind of relationship gives us little synergy.

How Rare it is to be Human

Our society idolizes and idealizes independence, and creates a lot of werewolves. Our educational system doesn’t teach emotional intelligence, and our economy doesn’t allow much time for good parenting, and that creates a lot of needy vampires. The result is that there are very few human beings around any more – if there ever were.

You will find some people who are human – independent and good on teams – in well-structured work environments when there isn’t too much pressure. Some of them will fall apart, though, if they face economic or family pressure. Others can do well in safe, predictable environments, but not as well in the more flexible environment of small business. The more creative the people, the higher level of self-leadership is needed. The more rapidly everything is changing, the more likely fear will bring out the werewolf in an otherwise reliable person.

The Dance of the Team

Picture a dance. The vampires are weak and hungry, and trying to get a grip on you and get to your neck. The werewolves are strong, but, if you get too close, they’ll rip you apart.

Not a nice picture, is it? But its more or less the dysfunctional workplace we have in America today.

Let’s change the picture. Imagine a dance where everyone is human. We all stand up ourselves. We are all comfortable being close to one another, and sometimes stepping out in front – or stepping aside – too. Some like it fast; others like it slow. Some like to tap. Some like to swirl. Some like to toss others in the air, and some like to be tossed.

That is the dance of true teamwork. That is the image of a business that nourishes – and requires – healthy self-leadership and self-management. Such a team does the best for everyone involved – not just win-win, but win-win-all-the-way-around.

The Sword – Discernment and Swift Action

May 9th, 2010

This morning, I was reading Common Purpose: How Great Leaders Get Organizations to Achieve the Extraordinary. The author, Joel Kurtzman, quoted Ramit Varma, cofounder of Revolution Prep, a dymanic, successful education company, saying that, when dissent is the manifestation of a perpetually negative mind . . . “You must be brutal and quick. When someone doesn’t work out, you have to get rid of them. And you have to do it fast. If they don’t uphold your values and vision, if they don’t come around to your goals, they can do real damage.”

I am not comfortable with this.

And also, I see it is true, and essential.

It makes sense to accept the truth of it, and also to accept that it must always remain an uncomfortable truth.

On one hand, far too many companies and organizations and people in leadership positions in this country have become comfortable being brutal. This leads to fear in the workplace, which destroys the quality of our lives and quality of work and results. “Eliminate Fear in the Workplace” was #8 of Deming’s 14 points of Total Quality Management, and, in my view, the most important.

And on the other hand,  far too many organizations and people in leadership positions have ducked their heads and avoided necessary clarification and action. especially when that action means ending a business relationship. Most companies and organization live with perpetual discomfort, stress, and confusion. This perpetuates hassle and waste, another source of reduced quality of life, products, and services.

Act Decisively to Create and Maintain Synergy

It is simply true that success requires synergy. And synergy requires both parties acting with mutual respect and with common goals.

It is a leader’s responsibility to see with clarity.

It is a leader’s responsibility to stop damage to an organization, just as it is a surgeon’s responsibility to stop bleeding.

In a well-run organization, emergency surgery is rare. But, in any organization or organism, when emergency surgery is necessary, it should be done immediately, and done well. That’s basic and definitional. Emergency means immediate action is required. And surgery must always be done well; sloppy surgery leads to disease and death.

Symbolically, such actions are represented by the Sword. In society, it is Athena’s Sword of Justice. The Sword is the symbol of mind, clarity, and decisiveness. The Sword – or scalpel – cuts quickly and precisely.

Why must we act with swift precision at these times? To save lives and prevent illness and suffering.

That’s obvious in the medical emergency room. It is equally true in the business emergency. If a business is bleeding red ink or losing employees or morale or productivity because there is a conflict at the executive level, it must be resolved swiftly. If attempts to resolve it with the person do not work out quickly, then it may be best to let that person go. And, if so, the surgery is best done quickly and cleanly. And the same truth scales down all the way to the small shop and the individual worker.

And that is usually the best for everyone involved.

When win-win is not possible, no deal is the best option. Moving to it directly helps everyone.

Firing Should Happen Rarely

But let’s be clear. Firing should happen rarely. Why? For two reasons:

  • Respectful dissent is essential to organizational success. We need eveyrone in the company coming up with better and better ideas all the time. We need people to promote their ideas, and challenge ours. Leaders destroy an organization by cultivatign fear and creating yes-men under them. If we fire people too quickly, we quash dissent.
  • Good hiring prevents firing. If we make the decision to hire well at the beginning, then we rarely need to fire anyone. So, every time we let someone go – and when someone leaves as a result of a conflict in the business, it is important to perform a root cause analysis and learn how to prevent such events. In most cases, that will mean changing hiring practices or changing ourselves and our own fundamental attitudes. By and large, leaders create the conflicts and problems within their organizations.

Firing Should Be Done Well

If firing, done well, helps everyone, that means that, when a leader fires someone and does it well, the person he fires is better off. Or, at least, every effort is done to create the possibility that the person being fired is better off.

Firing might be compared to the complicated surgery of separating Siamese twins. The goal is two healthy children. But, sometimes, even doing our best, only one child can survive.

As leaders of organizations, our first responsibility is the health and success of the organization or company we lead.

But, higher than that, as human beings, our first responsibility is “First, do no harm.” So we also act with concern for the person who is leaving the organization.

I have been fired, and it was healthy for me.  I couldn’t grow in that organization. So it made sense that the leader of the organization insist that I be transplanted somewhere else.

In a garden, transplanting creates shock. But if the plant being moved survives the transition and moves to a better place – more sun, bigger pot, or the freedom of the yard with deep earth, then that plant is better off.

So, when firing, do not cast away weeds. People are not weeds. Transplant what does not work. Nourish the person who is leaving, and, when possible, encourage them to find a place that they can grow.