What’s the fifth most important lesson I learned this year?
Father Time – For a service project leading up to his confirmation, my son decided we would spend a day working with Habitat for Humanity. A June day. In Houston. During the hottest summer on record. Our eight-person team painted the entire outside of a house in six hours. These were our only instructions: “be safe; ask for help if you don’t know; treat it like your own home; have fun.” Simple is often best. By the way, the grateful homeowner contributed 250 hours of labor in exchange for an interest-free note on her new 1,200 square foot residence.
In 2006 – when the economy was surging with no apparent end in sight – we decided it would be good to let our children experience the struggles less fortunate people endure. So on Thanksgiving, we joined with other families from our parish to serve at a homeless shelter in downtown.
There we encountered men and women whose lives no one would choose to endure. Yet amidst all of the pain and suffering from ailments, abuse and avoidance, there was gratitude. As they made their way through the line to receive turkey and all the fixings, some responded with words and smiles, others simply nodded. I struck up a side conversation with a young man who said he arrived in Houston three nights earlier, having been dropped from a bus after being released from prison. “I don’t know anything about living on the street,” he said. “I’m scared, and have no idea what to do.”
Watching our youngest, who was eight, refill water glasses and hand out cake, I realized she had no fear at all. To her these were just people and she was getting to help them. It was a wonderfully fulfilling day for the five of us… and we returned at Easter and a few other times over the next few years. With each opportunity to serve came joyous feelings of playing a small part in making our community a better place. I believe our children have a clearer understanding of the world because of those simple acts of kindness.
Today, as you break bread with your family and give thanks for the many blessings in your life, take 10 seconds to remember those who are alone and adrift. There are a lot more people hurting than five years ago… and every one of them could use your prayer.
As I write this, the state of Texas is blazing. Sixty-four wildfires started in the past two days as lack of rain, strong winds and low humidity combine to create the perfect firestorm. The biggest conflagration is in central Texas – 500 homes destroyed and 30,000 acres burned in Bastrop. Less than 15 miles as the crow flies from our house northwest of Houston is an inferno that’s consumed 5,000 acres. This latest round comes after a series of fires in North Texas during the spring; the biggest one consumed 200,000 acres and destroyed 250 homes, including our good friends’ lake house.
Wind and rain are an annual threat to those living on the Gulf Coast. Each June, proactive citizens prepare for the worst: buying supplies, developing contingency plans and determining evacuation routes. Tropical Storm Alison flooded downtown in 2001. Hurricane Rita missed in 2005. Ike delivered a direct hit three years ago next week. Until the season ends in November, there is always the possibility of destruction.
Last week’s forecast that Tropical Storm Lee was heading this way brought anticipation of an end to the worst drought since the 1950’s. Instead, Lee took a right turn, all the rain went elsewhere and the backside winds flamed the raging fires. Much like the Dust Bowl that ravaged the Great Plains in the midst of the Great Depression, these roaring flames – along with Hurricane Irene that ravaged the East Coast – are piling on to the nation’s woes at the worst of times.
Life is busy. You get moving fast. Caught up in a lot of little things. Then one day you wake up and are told to evacuate your home… to leave behind all your memories. It’s a helpless feeling, and for some, all their keepsakes will be forever lost. Please take a moment right now in your thoughts to remember those affected by these natural disasters. Say a prayer, too, for the first responders and all those who lend a helping hand. As the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 arrives on Sunday, you know it’s times like these when America’s great light of care shines brightest.
During a recent business trip the airplane scheduled for our outbound flight was delayed by bad weather. After arriving at the airport 90 minutes before our 8:30 a.m. departure, we suddenly had two additional hours on our hands. The five of us decided to relax and enjoy a sit-down breakfast at one of the franchise restaurants in the terminal. Service: Good. Food: Fine. Value: Excellent. One of our party commented, “I’d come here again.”
Three days later upon arriving at the airport for the early morning return flight home, we again faced an extended wait. As luck would have it, the same restaurant was right next to our gate. We decided if it worked in once, we should eat there again. How did things turn out the second time? Service: Weak. Food: Poor. Value: Minimal.
Our waitress had an attitude and didn’t want to be there. Since the choices were limited, each of us ordered the exact same thing. These portions were smaller and taste was missing. When the bill arrived I took out the receipt from the first meal and discovered there was a $15 difference in the amount. Turned out some of the things that came ‘standard’ in Houston were ‘extra’ in Louisville. That same traveling companion said, “I’ll never eat at this restaurant again.”
Customers have expectations with a franchise that it will deliver the same experience every time. That’s why McDonald’s french fries and Baskin-Robbins ice cream taste the same wherever you are in the world. When a rogue franchisee fails to fulfill those promises, it affects the entire brand. I flew again a few weeks later, and – walking by the location here – thought, “Your Louisville buddy ruined it for you.”
The result is the same in your organization, even if you’re not a franchise. You set the bar on how I expect to be treated. Fail to live up to those lofty goals – whether it’s quality or service or value – and chances are you’ll lose me forever.
Since we moved to Houston in 1998, the only local sports highlights were when the Astros played in the National League Championship Series twice and made it to the World Series once. Rockets? One playoff series win in 13 seasons. Texans? Still mired in mediocrity after nine years. Meanwhile, in the past eight months, my hometown – DFW – has seen the Rangers play in the World Series and crowned the Mavericks as NBA Champions. That’s great for my family and friends there… and I’m enjoying it from afar.
Listening to and reading commentary of media experts this morning about what happened to the South Beach dream team – for instance, Colin Cowherd on ESPN Radio said, “I honestly thought Miami was better last night with LeBron James on the bench” – it’s clear Dirk Nowitzki and the deepest roster in the league outplayed the Heat’s three highly paid All Stars.
Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron joined together last summer with the goal to win multiple championships. Number one will have to wait another year. As Michael Rosenberg wrote on SI.com: “The self-proclaimed King wanted it to be easy. His company’s logo should be a cart in front of a horse.” LeBron disappeared in the fourth quarter of every game. He’ll have the next four months to develop his post play and figure out how to do more when the basketball is in someone else’s hands
The Heat proved it’s hard to buy your way to success. Its travails serve as a lesson to business leaders that you need everyone on your team working together to become a champion. It took Dirk 13 years to lift that trophy. Time will tell whether the Big Three ever stand on the podium with smiles on their faces… or if this great experiment turns out to be the Big Mistake.
Note: Tomorrow at 1 p.m. EDT, I’ll appear on Insights Live, an Internet radio show, to share how to get everyone on your team pulling in the same direction. Here’s a link if you’d like to join us: http://bit.ly/keUIj4