Mine Games

This month I traveled to Louisiana to work for a day with the U.S. Director of five salt mines. This person grew up in France, lives in Montreal, and spends 48 weeks a year on the road.

These are three lessons learned during my visit:

1) This leader stepped in a while ago on an interim basis as GM of the plant. Twice he brought in someone… and it didn’t work out, yet he avoided the temptation to rush. Sixteen months and a lot of 18-hour days later, the right person appeared. The day after I departed, the leader went back to his ‘regular’ job.

2) I’ve worked for several years with leaders in the Canadian oil sands. That’s heavy-duty stuff. This was my first journey to a salt mine. I interviewed my client’s direct reports for feedback on his leadership style. After three of those I realized ‘mining is mining.’ Safety is placed above all else – including profit. As one person told me: “I’ve worked in 24 mines the past 30 years. This is my first salt mine. The only difference is the product leaves on a conveyor belt instead of a pipeline.” He was a fourth-generation miner and his two boys are now in the industry.

3) King Cakes purchased in Lafayette just before Mardi Gras taste a lot different than the ones we usually get at Kroger.

Change Magic

Some folks say the biggest fear people have is giving a speech. Others claim it’s being buried alive. A few believe it’s being buried alive while giving a speech. Of course, the most likely biggest fear is… change.

Think about some of the big changes in your life. Going to a new school in junior high? Unsettling. Starting your first full-time job? Scary. Watching your 16-year-old drive away in the car alone? Frightening.

Change just doesn’t feel as comfortable as that old pair of shoes, as familiar as that drive you take to work every day, as tasty as that dessert at your favorite restaurant. Yet shoes wear out, roads get rerouted and restaurants revise their menus.

Rather than fear change, perhaps the magic comes when you approach it as an opportunity to experience something for the first time. To lean in and anticipate the possibilities. After all, what’s the fun in going through life without ever standing in front of an audience and giving it your best shot?

Singular Focus

“You can have it all. You just can’t have it all at once.” ~ Oprah Winfrey

“By perseverance the snail reached the ark.” ~ Charles H. Spurgeon

“Believe you can and you are halfway there.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt

Those are three of my favorite quotes about sticking with a goal. For often, just when someone is thisclose to achieving what they set out to do, that old adversary impatience – and its buddies frustration and pain – shows up and causes a person to quit.

To keep those bad boys from derailing his efforts, one of my friends uses the analogy of ‘one more swing of the axe to fell the tree’ to keep him focused. Another reminds herself of the familiar ‘eat that elephant one bite at a time.’ I think about my swimming workout.

When I get in the indoor pool – which is not warm this time of the year – and think about what’s ahead, finishing 2,000 yards seems so hard and so long… and I fight thoughts of ‘do I really need to do this again today?’ To overcome those self-inflicted disrupters, I break the next 40 minutes into smaller chunks: 2x 200 / 150 / 100 / 50 and reverse.

While it may be a mind trick, I quit thinking ‘still another 1,000 yards to go’ and focus on ‘two more laps to finish this set.’ If it’s a tough day, I pull out another of my favorite quotes – by Vince Lombardi: “The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender.”

Creating Space

One of my friends shared with me this month the approach he’s taking to be more empathetic toward others. He switched from a ‘me first’ attitude to a ‘you first’ style.

A few months ago he began looking at how he relates to others by focusing on ‘Free from / Free for’. Allowing himself to be free from things that are important to him so he can be free for listening more closely to the person right in front of him.

“I went to a meeting,” he told me, “and there was a person who I needed to get answers from. I started to approach him to ask questions, caught myself and instead said hello and kept my mouth shut. That person then shared something that was important to him. Had I followed my natural tendency – jump right in to solve my concern – I would have missed the chance to help him.”

‘Free from (myself) to be free for (others)’ opens up a lot of possibilities. It also works in other areas of life…

Free from (watching the Super Bowl) to be free for (spending time with my family)
Free from (checking Twitter) to be free for (reading a business article)
Free from (parking near the entry) to be free for (getting exercise walking)

Major Disappointment

In September 2017, Hurricane Harvey devasted a large part of Houston. During the following weeks, the Astros run to the World Series energized and united the city. Much of America got behind the team – and ‘Houston Strong’ became the rallying cry.

The Astros had more success – making it to the ALCS in 2018 and the World Series last year. Then the bottom fell out. A former player went on the record about a massive cheating effort to steal opponents’ signs. The Commissioner’s investigation verified the allegations and he took swift and harsh action.

Failing to act cost the General Manager and Manager their jobs. It cost the New York Mets and Boston Red Sox their Managers who had ties to the Astros. It impacts the legacies of several All-Star players. It forever taints the Astros World Series rings.

While sports may hold too high a priority given the world’s many problems, they serve as a window into the soul of a community. For an area that struggled to overcome the moniker ‘Choke City’ – a curse finally lifted by those 2017 Astros – this is one more gut punch.

Several people had the opportunity to end the cheating and let it continue. The end justified the means. The lesson? See something. Say something. Do something. Never stand by idly and look the other way. The light of truth will ultimately shine on you.