Difference Maker

Sitting in a conference room with an HR leader and my client – an executive of a major hospital in Houston – we awaited the arrival of one more person. As our casual conversation hit a lull, I took a deep breath and said, “May I share an observation?” They nodded, so I said:

“There are signs in your nine-story parking garage that say ‘5 MPH,’ yet I saw a lot of people just now taking corners really fast. In fact, one of them nearly hit me. That seems to be inconsistent with the values of one of the nation’s leading health care providers.”

They both laughed and one of them said, “I guess those are only guidelines.”

Right then the third person opened the door and that conversation ended – and I thought clearly my input doesn’t matter.

Two weeks later, I had a coaching session with my client… and as she walked me to the elevator afterward, she said: “There’s something I thought you’d want to know. The day after our last meeting, an email went out to all of our thousands of employees: ‘You are expected to drive safely and obey the signage in all of our parking areas. If you see someone not abiding by this, you have a responsibility to report them.’”

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Judge Mint

Chocolate or Vanilla. F-150 or Silverado. Ginger or Mary Ann. Every day at work and at home, life is a continuous stream of choices… and each one has some degree of impact on what follows afterward.

Hit the alarm snooze button one too many times and you’re 10 minutes late for that early morning meeting. Eat smaller portions and skip that frequent glass of wine for 30 days and you drop 10 lbs. Take a different path home one evening and you discover later a serious accident occurred on your regular route that could have involved you.

Since there are so many things you can’t control – the price you pay at the pump, whether Social Security remains solvent when you reach retirement age, what happens at the end of the final episode of Game of Thrones – it makes sense to be intentional about those things you are able to influence.

Teenage daughter going to prom on Saturday night with someone you don’t know? Be at your front door to greet her date… and ask a lot of questions.

New employee starting on Monday? Make time in your schedule to spend with him over the next several weeks to ensure he’s getting everything needed to be successful.

Driving in heavy traffic? Put the cell phone away and stop surfing all around the radio dial.

So many choices. So little time. Yet, so many opportunities to impact outcomes by focusing on the most important things.

Which brings me to… chocolate, F-150 and Mary Ann.

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Worthy Servant

We buried my father-in-law last week. He was 87.

The first time I met him was the day I asked for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Kathy had a black and white picture of her parents as young newlyweds on her apartment refrigerator. Then he was a strapping 20-something Navy pilot with a big moustache. It surprised me that the man I shook hands with that day 30 years ago didn’t look the same at age 57.

Carl Dean Lott, Cdr, US Navy (ret.), served this country for nearly three decades. Six months of the year he lived aboard aircraft carriers as an F-4 pilot. The other six he was home working on a base – in Florida, Virginia, Mississippi, California, and to his final appointment at NAS Corpus Christi. Kathy’s mother, Margaret, served as a loyal military wife, relocating wherever and whenever duty called… raising two children alone half the time.

After retiring, Carl spent a decade teaching new pilots to fly in simulators – driving to the base early each morning to prepare the next generation. Surprisingly for a Navy fighter pilot, he drove as slowly as anyone on the road… almost unsafely. When, Kathy’s brother Mike had to take away the keys three years ago, it was not a welcomed action. ‘Old soldiers…’

His military rank meant little to me until the time he took us to the base to see the Blue Angels. When we approached the guard gate in his car, two servicemen saluted Carl and I thought, ‘Maybe he’s important.’ Then another seated us on the first row. Yep, he’s important.

Following a brief funeral service during which the Navy chaplain reminded us to celebrate Carl’s achievements and life well-lived, we walked 50 yards to his final resting place and military honors. A bugler played Taps, two young enlisted folded the flag, then one kneeled next to Margaret’s wheel chair and offered condolences on behalf of the United States Navy.

Afterward, the family gathered for lunch at the hospice care facility where Carl and Margaret lived. Near the entrance was a table with a pair of opened folders. Pictures of the two residents who died last week – both veterans – and personal messages from the staff. Carl’s private care nurse had written: “Goodbye sweet, sweet man. God’s new angel.”

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Quote This

Amidst this record-setting shutdown, each day seems filled with more negativity and uncertainty. Negativity about our elected leaders, our core values, our place on the world stage. Uncertainty about the economy, the climate, the future of our children.

Rather than wallow in what could go wrong, I find it better to focus on what will go right. Since I’m no expert at predicting the future, I typically pull out my Word document that contains more than 30 pages of inspirational quotes and let others impact my thoughts…

“The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today.” ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

“Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.” ~ Booker T. Washington

“When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hold on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” ~ Harriet Beecher Stowe

“Both optimists and pessimists contribute to society. The optimist invents the airplane, the pessimist the parachute.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

“We find comfort among those who agree with us – growth among those who don’t.” ~ Frank A. Clark

“By working together, pooling our resources and building on our strengths, we can accomplish great things.” ~ Ronald Reagan

“What is worse than having no sight is being able to see but having no vision.” ~ Helen Keller

“There are risks and costs to a program of action, but they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inactions.” ~ John F. Kennedy

“When you do BIG things, you make big mistakes. The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” ~ Walt Disney

“There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist or accept the responsibility for changing them.” ~ Denis Waitley

“The problem in my life and other people’s lives is not the absence of knowing what to do, but the absence of doing it.” ~ Peter Drucker

“Those who expect moments of change to be comfortable and free of conflict have not learned their history.” ~ Joan Wallach Scott

“Do not confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps moving but does not make any progress.” ~ Alfred A. Montapert

Be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for.” ~ Will Rogers

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The Gift

One of the inclusions in our coaching program is to present clients with a feedback report that helps them better understand the perceptions people hold of their leadership approach. The process involves interviewing by phone up to 12 supervisors, peers and direct reports – asking about: specific strengths, opportunities for improvement, communication style, what the client should keep doing and what to stop doing.

Before handing clients their report, I ask them to consider it a gift… the opportunity to learn things they may never have read before. I say: “You asked people to offer their thoughts and they graciously took the time to provide candid comments.” I do this because the experience of receiving feedback elicits a lot of surprise reactions and emotions, ranging from ‘Wow, that’s great. No one ever told me how positively that impacts them’ to “Oh, I had no idea when I do that it’s so disruptive to the team.”

I also remind clients not to focus too much on a single comment, and instead to look for patterns in areas they want to keep doing (‘Affirmation’) or change (‘Redirection’). About a week after the session, I follow up with a phone call to see what specific items are resonating with clients and introduce a template to create their development plans. Once completed and shared with their supervisor, that document becomes the guiding light for our ongoing coaching work together.

The experience of receiving feedback takes an open mind and commitment to do something with the information. For those willing to step out of their comfort zones, build on strengths and change areas that are limiting their success, it can be a career-advancing journey.

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