Clarity

Everyone I run into today, and I mean EVERYONE, keeps asking me “did you get contacts?”  I simply reply “no.”  But then I find myself forced to recount, for what feels like the millionth time, how I left my glasses at my brother and sister in law’s house in San Antonio, Texas…like an idiot.  Then the follow-up question from every person I encounter is, “so, can you see?”  I then get to explain how my farsightedness is pretty minor.  The glasses that I wear everyday are not because I am legally blind without them.  I wear them because they help me see things better from far away and honestly provide clarity to my overall vision.  I then “comedically” try to assure everyone that asks me, that they are not in danger when I drive.  Hahaha….blah.

These repetitive conversations are becoming exhausting and it’s not even noon yet.  If people aren’t asking me these same two questions then they are pointing out how, “you look SO different without your glasses,” which feels like their nicer version of, “WOW – you are even more unattractive without your glasses…you need to get them back ASAP.”

I really do feel like an idiot for having left my glasses at my family’s home.  I was loading the car with mine and my wife’s luggage but it was raining outside.  I was quickly taking loads to the car, from the house.  After a trip or two, I decided to remove my glasses until I finished packing the car and we were ready to leave.  Again, it's not as if I am unable to see without my glasses so as I was finishing packing the car and we hurriedly got into the vehicle to leave, I failed to remember to put them back on.  We got into the car, pulled out of the driveway, and the glasses were left.  About fifteen minutes into the trip home, I realized my mistake.  

The main issue was that I did not have a key to my family’s house.  They all had already left for work that morning.  I told them we didn’t need a key and that I would just close the garage while doing the acrobatic/spy/ninja maneuver over the beam.  This would ensure that their home was safely locked up and I didn’t have to waste my time, driving out of my way to their work in order to return their key before I headed home.  The only problem was that I left my glasses in their home without a way to enter back in. 

Sure, I could have turned the car around, headed back toward San Antonio, gone to their workplace, borrowed a key, drove back to their home, retrieved my eyewear, drove back to their workplace, returned the key, and then headed home.  But the reality was that I was scheduled to see them again in just two weekends from that date.  I figured that I could easily make it two weeks without my glasses and get them back at that time.  In that moment, I acknowledged that I’m far lazier than I am in need of my glasses.  So I decided to live without the glasses for two weeks.  No big deal…or so I initially thought.

It turns out that these past few days have been a struggle without my glasses.  I didn’t realize just how much I relied on them.  It is true that I am not blind without them.  But I never noticed how much they help me focus when I have them.  I was unaware of how much clarity they bring when I am working at a computer, driving a car, concentrating on a book, and so forth.  I never realized how much I squint and struggle to do most of the things that I do, when I don’t have my glasses.  I now know that the squinting and subtle extra work that I do to try and see more clearly creates more problems.  I have had a headache almost every day, all day, since I haven’t had my glasses.  At this point, I honestly cannot wait to get them back and am tempted to have my family mail them back to me…except that I am probably cheaper than I am lazy.

In all of this reflection on the importance of my glasses, I cannot help but relate it to a more general concept of leadership.  As I have pondered the need for clarity in my vision, I equally recognize the need for clarity within an organization.  I know that this is true within the organization(s) that I am a part of.  I recognize that this is also true with the thousands of organizations that I have encountered over the years.

Let’s take communication within an organization for example.  The staff members within an organization excel when there is clarity in communication.  It’s undeniable.  Think about how much easier it is to focus your efforts when there is clarity in your job description.  Think about how there are fewer problems to deal with and how there are fewer figurative or literal headaches when the goals for your job are clear.  What would happen if you had a very clear mission statement for your department that you could point every effort toward?  Would this not bring clarity to your day-to-day tasks, the way that you try to inspire your team, the dreams that you come up with and try to work toward?  When there is clarity in communication, people know what their responsibilities are and how they can better work together as a team in order to achieve success.

So let’s get personal.  There are a lot of things in my organization that I cannot control.  The things that I think need clarity may either fall outside of my departments’ jurisdiction or I may simply not be at a higher level of leadership in my organization that is necessary to make positive change on those things.  But the truth is that there are policies and procedures that I am a part of and that I do control that can be improved upon.  So let’s think about it and again, let’s make it personal.  What are areas or details within my organization and specifically my department that need more clarity?  What details can I concentrate on in order to implement positive change rather than being someone who only complains about what needs to improve?  Instead of gossiping, how can I take steps toward providing clarity to things that need to be better?  It is possible to lead well, even though I may not technically be in charge.  

Live The Adventure!

While reading Mansfield’s Book of Manly Men by Stephen Mansfield I came across a quote by Jon Krakauer that I wanted to share in this blog.  Mansfield quoted Krakauer while writing on the topic of quest/adventure.  Krakauer’s words are similar (yet better) to the words that I wrote and the point that I was trying to make in a previous blog post on “try something new.”  Before I share the quote, I want to encourage that if you are a female reading this blog post, please don’t quit reading simply because I am quoting from a man who was quoted within a book titled “Mansfield’s Book of Manly Men.”  This encouragement is for all mankind, not just the male gender.  Krakauer said:

“Make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt.  So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservations, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future.  The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure.  The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.  If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy.  But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty.”

As my friend Hunter Mangrum would encourage you to do: “Viva La Adventura!"


DETAILS MATTER

Earlier this month I posted a picture on Instagram showing a local business which was advertising on their sign that they were “takeing applications.” Obviously the word “takeing” was misspelled and the word used should have been “taking.” It was even misspelled on both sides of the sign. The tagline to my instagram post was “details matter.” Even though the mistake was probably innocent and funny to observers like me, it is true that when it comes to communication, details really matter.

I saw another example of this recently. Every day I drive by a burger restaurant in town. A couple of months ago, I noticed that the restaurant was advertising on their sign that they were “NOW HIRING!” The other day I drove by again, but this time the sign said “STILL HIRING.” There was something inside of me that didn’t like what I saw. Sure, the information was technically correct. Nothing was misspelled. The message was obviously different that what was posted before, although just slightly different. The burger restaurant was in fact still looking for people that they could hire because their first effort apparently did not fully accomplish the goal. I understand that they were probably concerned that people would become numb to the advertising of “NOW HIRING!,” if it were posted the same way for too long of a period of time. They wanted passers by to know that they were still hiring and hoping for more interest. So they changed the words from “NOW HIRING” to “STILL HIRING.” It makes sense. But is “still hiring” the best way to advertise what you want/need? I suggest it doesn’t. Because details matter.

Think about what the simple two words convey besides the obvious. To me, it felt like the restaurant management personnel was frustrated and desperate. They didn’t get what they needed in their first go around with advertising, applications, and interviews so they needed to keep looking for good help. In essence, they were telling me and everyone that read the sign that "we’ve been trying to hire some new staff for a while now and haven’t found good help so we are still hiring. We need people to apply because nobody wants to work here.” Is that what they really mean? Probably not, but maybe. Is that what everyone thinks when they read the words “still hiring?” Probably not, but maybe.

Think about better ways that they could have messaged the fact that they were still looking to hire some quality workers without sounding so desperate, lazy, or frustrated. Surely there were better words that they could use so that even a few people like myself wouldn’t get the wrong perception. Because as an old mentor used to tell me, perception IS reality. What is the perception that people have when you advertise for your company?

As the manager of that particular burger restaurant, I would want to go back to the drawing board and ask myself, “is this form of advertising working like I need it to?” “Should I use another form of advertising to try and inform people that we are looking to hire more staff and a certain quality of staff?” “What language can I use in my advertising that clearly communicates what I am want/need but also makes this company look professional, strong, and a place that exceptional people want to be a part of?"

I challenge you to think through the details of everything that you do with your business, whatever your job may entail. Think about what is being communicated even in the nonverbal part of your marketing and advertising strategies. Think about perceptions people have by what you are saying. Details matter. I promise you that.

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An old letter

Yesterday, I was reminded of something that I had read in a book a long time ago.  I thought that I might still own the book so I moved toward my bookshelf to see if I could find it and more importantly find the passage, in the book, that I was trying to fully remember.  I fumbled through a bunch of different titles until I finally found it.  As I opened the book to try and locate the section that I vaguely remembered but was trying to refresh my knowledge of, a hand written note fell out from one of the pages and landed on the floor near my foot.  I bent over to pick up the note that was aged with color and texture.  As I unfolded the tight creases of the paper, I read the old words from a very old friend.  

 

As I read the note, I remembered having read the words before, even though they seemed somewhat new since it had been so long from the last time I had seen them.  The note went all the way back to my high school days.  The friend that wrote the note is someone that I haven’t seen or talked to since those high school days.  I am not going to divulge exactly how long ago those days were but it’s been a long while.

 

As you might imagine, the memories flooded back with the sight of that persons name and their unbelievable words on the paper.

 

I am not one who journals.  But today I realized the value of the art.  I got to experience the awesome power of an encouraging word….again.  I got to experience the fun of feeling the power of those words, after long forgetting them and their original impact on my life.    

 

It’s good to look back and see where we have come from.  It’s good to see how things have changed and how much progress and good has happened.  Anybody can remember the hard times of life but we need to be regularly reminded of the good things that have happened and the good things that other people see in us and have said about us in midst of those tougher times.

 

I tucked the note back in the same book, almost hoping I would soon forget about it again.  I hope that as I might forget about the note one more time, I might also stumble upon those words in a few more years from now with the same intrigue, surprise, and refreshing reminder.    

Leadership

This week I was riding on a plane returning home from a conference in Atlanta.  While on the plane, I was reflecting on some leadership principles I had learned during the conference. 


Andy Stanley was one of the speakers at this particular conference and these are a few high points that he shared:

1)   There is an unmistakable correlation between leadership and change.

2)   Great leaders love to fix things that are broken.

3)   Great leaders want to change the world.


Another speaker at the conference named Christine Caine added: “We have a whole bunch of ‘leaders’ who want to change the world but not have themselves changed.”


As I drank my “complementary” ginger ale, I was challenged by these comments and the fact that I need to seek change in my own life before I passionately seek to change the broken parts of the world.


I actually paid attention during the pre-flight emergency plan overview during this flight.  During the explanation, the flight attendants show that if the plane goes into a state of emergency and the oxygen masks are deployed from the compartment, the rule is that you are to put your own oxygen mask on before you try to help somebody else with their own mask.  As I reflected on this demonstration, it made perfect sense to me. 


My initial reaction to this oxygen mask rule was critical.  It seemed to me to be “more right” to help other people to safety before I try to help myself.  Helping others first seems like a noble rule and the most “honorable” thing to do.  But in reality, how would I be able to help someone else, if I don’t put my oxygen mask on first?  I might be able to help a few.  But there is no way for me to LEAD others to a better life situation if I am passed out or dead.  I have to get myself into a place of health and then I can more successfully help others and help more people than the alternate way.


The visual made sense toward the leadership principles I received at the conference.  As an effective leader, I have to put some measures in place, for my life, that will help me stay mentally, physically, and spiritually healthy so that I will be fit to best help others that I am leading.  I have to be willing to change some of my habits.  What good is my leadership if I am constantly drained, burnt out, and running on empty? 


The question I then have to ask myself is what are the measures that I need to have set in my life that will help me be a healthy and effective leader?  What do I need to change if I am not currently leading well?  What needs to be improved?  For example, what mentor(s) should I have in my life that will consistently challenge me and hold me accountable?  What should I be doing to stay physically healthy so I have the stamina to get through a hard day and still be a great husband and dad when I get home from work?  To continue with the flight analogy, what are the yellow oxygen masks in my life that I need to put on (and keep on) before I try to help lead others?


Try Something New


My challenge for you today (and for me) is to try something new.  The, should go unspoken, rule here is that you don’t try something new that is also illegal or dangerous.  This is not me advising you to do something obviously stupid because it fits in the category of “new.”  


What I AM suggesting is that you try something new in the area of something you normally wouldn’t find value in.  You may look at things like art, the opera, classical music, wine tasting, antique shopping, a sporting event, the rodeo, etc. and find it uninteresting, maybe even pointless.  You may look at those things or look at people who enjoy those things and just be negatively critical.  Perhaps these are phrases you have used or thought when considering something like art (if you have no interest in art) - “I don’t get it,” “why would anyone want to do that,” “it’s so boring,” or “I would rather just…”  This time, instead of being critical for the sake of negativity, give it a try.  


I challenge you, heck, I double dog dare you to try something you would normally deem pointless.  But don’t just walk through the motions so that you can say you accepted my challenge.  Really give it a shot.  If for you, antique shopping seems pointless and stupid and the last thing that you would want to do on a Saturday, don’t just go, but try to figure out why someone would enjoy it.  Obviously people do enjoy antique shopping.  There are stores all over the place for that sole purpose.  Find a friend that enjoys antique shopping and ask them to go with you.  Walk around several antique stores trying to enjoy the process.  As you “shop”, take time to think “why does someone enjoy this?”  Ask “what value would this bring to someone?”  Ask these questions of the friend that you go with who does find value in such a thing.  Pick their brain.  Find out why this makes them tick.  Figure out why they would love something that you don’t understand.  Try to figure out what they love this thing in the same way that you love whatever it is that you are passionate about.  I am not suggesting that you have to leave the experience in love with something you hated before.  That may indeed occur but the challenge is simply to be open minded enough to learn something new about someone different than you.

Ultimately, the goal is that when we try something new, we might learn something new.  We don't just learn something new about that genre or field of study or hobby but we learn something new about the people who enjoy that particular thing.  Then we find ourselves effective leaders.