Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Politics

A couple weeks ago I wrote about power. Since then I have really been thinking about my sources of power and how I help or hinder the use of my power at work. There is a secondary aspect of power that needs to be considered; do not assume just because you are brilliant or nice people will do what you want.

"Politics" is an ugly word but a real one. You can use "wisdom" as a better substitute, but wisdom will tell you to pay attention to politics. Politics is the process of influencing group decisions. Power is the muscle that politics applies. When I want to exercise power at work I must consider not only what I am doing but what everyone else is doing. Everyone wants to have power but if we always exercise against each other we do not grow a healthy environment.

The other day a co-worker and I needed to come up with a schedule for our teams. He and I are team leads and he is pretty smart, so I knew whatever he came up with would be good and fair. Instead of exercising my power to direct my team activities I let my co-worker do the schedule. I asked my team to make sure he had the information he needed and to talk to my co-worker to get their parts of the schedule right. My co-worker increased his power by doing the schedule and I increased mine by supporting his efforts. My action was the right thing to do and also a good political move. My co-worker knows I recognize and support his power and my management knows that I will work with both teams to get the right things done.

You might think that putting my political plans in public is an unwise choice. It gives others an advantage over me. That is true, in one sense. However, my goal is to build people and teams, not tear them down. So while I act politically there is no embarrassing secret to what I am trying to do. The more people understand what my political goals are the better off we are. I think.

How about you? Have you given thoughts to your power sources? Have you looked at what your political goals are and how you can better reach them?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Power

Let me save you $50,000 or so and share what I learned in grad school. I came away with a diploma and exactly four worthwhile things.

Power is the ability to influence things. Often times the word "power" is used in a bad sense. Generally, if you talk bad about a politician exercising power you are just being truthful. However, you can use power for your own good. In fact, if you are not exercising your power you will pay the price.

If you can influence who gets what shift, then you have used power. Or who stays late Friday afternoon. Or who is team captain. More to the point for working people is getting your great ideas accepted and integrated into your work so things go better. That's power.

If you are the boss, or the one who can punish, or the one with the money, you have those forms of power. However, the rest of us have access to two other forms of power. The first is called "referent"; really, who you are. Do you have such a positive reputation at work that people will do what you ask just because it's you? This is an aspect of power strongly in line with informal leadership. You can build your ability to get things done by leading people to where they want to go. It makes them happy, it makes you happy, and life is good.

The other sort of power non-managers have is "knowledge" power. That is, you know stuff other people do not. This is a tricky power though, as any IT person will tell you. In the IT world it is common to know a heck of a lot more about computers than anyone else in the company. However, no one really cares any more. Geeks lost their power when they thought knowledge was all they needed. IT people have so isolated themselves from the business of the company that they are viewed as a cost center and not really part of the business team. Manpower levels and budgets are showing the problem with that image.

While it is cool to know stuff other people do not, remember to not make that your only source of power. Figure out people and how to support them being successful in a way that lets you be successful too. If you are a geek, learn how to use all those CPU cycles to make things easier for Sales and Marketing.

What sources of power do you have, and how are you using them?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Where are you?

In the past few months I've written several suggestions and questions for you. It is my belief that the things I am thinking through may be of use to some one else, some place else. It is not that all people for all time should apply all things I say; far from it! There are a few people who are at a point in their lives that one or two things I talk about will help them reach whatever their next step is.

It is also my belief that all of us can do better at the basic things we apply our lives to. You may or may not be at a place where my notes help, but you are some place and generally you are on the way to some place else. I have a few interesting blogs I read. The important ones I keep linked to from here. Those people often write things that help me where I am.

Who helps you? Is it a blog, a friend, a mentor? How are you doing in your own growth? Is there anything I can do to help you?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Contortions

Much of my current reading pushes the concept of mental attitude as a critical factor of success. A strong, if not the strongest, factor in mental attitude is physical well-being. The level of exercise, the proper diet, the amount of rest; each of these has a critical part to play in your physical and mental health.

You can imagine the agony those of us who like greasy burgers and immoderate portions of chocolate feel when this is discussed. It's like living on those cheap cardboard tasting pizzas we used to order all the time. Filling, but...ugh! And we don't even get the pepperoni grease!

So, I know that my body is a temple and I've been making more room for the Holy Spirit. He can do with much less cubic foot space, I'm being told. It may even keep me around longer since my blood has to be pushed through a back lane country road over a lot more mileage.

To act upon this I have started taking a combination of Pilates, Tai Chi, and Yoga. No real mysticism in the class, unless you count what keeps the fat boy coming back. The teacher is helpful, the movements are modifiable to fit what I can currently do, and surprisingly I leave class with more energy than I showed up with.

Since I missed class all last week (I'm blaming work; ignore the Hershey's Kisses wrappers around my desk) I knew it was time to get in some movement. Those of you with pine trees in your yard are probably well familiar with the "rake wet needles against the fence" routine us Westerners have come up with. Some of you are probably used to the advanced modification "while avoiding dog poo".

While I must admit that the workout was harder than reading about a new exercise routine, it seems to have gotten more done. Mostly clean yard, sweaty brow, and blistered hand. My mental state is elevated, no CPR was required, and I can sit back and watch a movie with a clear conscience and "to do" board.

What about you? Have you started linking your diet, exercise, and overall health to your plans for success?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

When I grow up.

I'm still not sure what I want to do when I grow up. Chronologically I'm old enough to have grand-children, mentally I'm a bit giddy about all the neat things I want to learn. That is, however, the biggest frustration I have right now. My brain can handle learning a thing or two. My list of "I want to learn..." is a couple dozen items long. Even if I were as smart as I used to think I was, there is  no way I can learn all that at one time.

Time, however, may be on my side. You probably noticed that I write about leadership philosophy. Few things are more dear to my heart than helping people grow at work and in life. On the recent family vacation my wife went and took beautiful pictures of the Great Smokey Mountains in Tennessee. I sat around the campfire and read "Management" by Peter Drucker. Great stuff, I have several pages of notes and last week's blog post in my notebook now. It was fun coming back to work and seeing how I can put Drucker's thoughts into practice.

This weekend I've spent some more time with dear Peter and have another stack of notes I want to master in practice. One of which is planned continuous learning. Instead of confusing both my brain cells I'm going to pick a topic and spend the next year or so on it. Well, in addition to the Drucker learning and the physical workouts to keep the achey-creakies away. A topic, mind you, means the other nearly two dozen topics are not going to be allowed to intrude on my learning. I have wasted a large amount of time bouncing from one topic to another, to another, and to another. In the past few weeks I have learned little except that I can easily waste time thinking about learning instead of actually learning.

I think humans are easily distracted. Am I right? Do you find yourself looking over a new product or magazine instead of spending time learning those things you said you wanted to know? Have you gotten into an activity cycle that keeps you so busy you can't find time to learn anything? My brain was boggled! It kept being so until I figured out something and promised myself that I will stand firm on this (my wife is probably snickering at this point). I will waffle, that is, I will allow myself to fail some times. But I will come back to my path and see where I am in a few months.

How about you? Is there something you want to learn? A new mental adventure you want to set out on? Now is a good time to start! Much better than "tomorrow".

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Fire

Some time ago I was at a wilderness training camp and heard the role of "fire keeper" used in a derogatory sense. The speaker seemed to consider it a lowly position. Naturally, I lept at taking such an honored role. Fire, the building and use of, is one of mankind's greatest tools. When you are out in the cold few things warm the heart and body like a crackling fire and a hot meal cooked over it.


Let me use another derogatory term, please forgive my language. "Management". There, I said it. You can uncover your children's ears and eyes now. Few roles have been so disparaged yet are so critical to keeping the energy of industry going. Few roles had such capacity to stoke or quench the passion in a worker than the "M" word.


As I build my fire-making skills I am intrigued by the corollaries in my career field. What is the best way to engage the breezes to my campfire going. How do I use the changing winds of IT innovation to keep my team fully engaged and passionate? What can I do to fend of the dampening effects of rain and personnel changes?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Are you smarter than me?

I hope so.

If you have not watched the movie "The Big Year", I recommend it.  Steve Martin plays Stu Preissler, Jack Black plays Brad Harris, and Owen Wilson plays Kenny Bostick. All three are serious birders engaged in a "Big Year". They are trying to see the largest number of species from 1 Jan to 31 Dec. Stu is the "really" guy; he is really in tune with his family, really rich, really significant, and who many of us would really want to be. Brad is the "real" guy; he has a real job, real family difficulties, and a real hard time connecting with the girl of his dreams. Kenny Bostick is, well, "totally" a bird guy. Totally consumed with a task, totally missing the beautiful in his life, and totally blowing it.

In the movie Brad makes some less than ideal choices but he also makes some right ones. Even Stu grows, but the real transition is when Brad chooses to be less "totally" committed to the task and more "really" committed to priorities. The line "What am I doing?" is pivotal in the movie and even more critical in our lives.

What am I doing to really make a difference where it counts? 

What am I doing to ensure the people I love really know they are loved? 

What am I doing that is really important?

To be honest, I have spent more of my life like Kenny than Brad. Guys find it easy to seek significance in a task and easy to forget that the task is not the master of our fate nor the sole measure of our value. Smart guys wind up like Stu; they are really connected to what is really important. Smart guys do not always have the Mensa card to whip out but can call on friends and loved ones in a time of need and get a significant response.

I want to be smart but have a long way to go. How about you?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Degrees and Education

Not too long ago I wrote about choosing the size of events in my life. As of yet I can't seen anything wrong with the idea, except that it is harder to do than to write. Much harder. Things at work started to worry me and I let them intrude for a while. This was happening right while I'm reading Dale Carnegie's "How to quit worrying and start living". Talk about time to put the material to work! I chose to reduce the size of those events in my life and made some mental plans if things did get out of hand.

And that tidbit is the difference between getting a degree and getting an education. Important information is not just what you know but what you can use to make things better.  When you look for a job the hiring manager generally puts more emphasis on what you've done with what you know than with just what you know. If you have saved $100,000 at work by doing X instead of Y, then no one cares if you had a GPA of 4.0 or 2.0. Most won't care if you have a GPA at all.

Let me be honest, I have a graduate degree. I thought it would make me more hireable in my chosen career field. I no longer work in that field and can only remember two useful things from my entire graduate experience. Had I found those two useful things in a magazine somewhere I could have saved a lot of time and money. I got the degree but didn't get much of an education. On the other hand I currently work in a career field that I am woefully under-trained for and have no degree in. Instead I have gained a lot of experience learning from smart people and beating my head against a problem until I pass out and the solution comes to me in a pain induced haze. I have an education but no degree.

The beauty of an education is simple. It lets you sort through a lot of information and quickly find those parts that are critical. The sum of human knowledge on any subject is over-whelming and you cannot take into account every variable and possible scenario before you make a decision. You also get a good feel for just how much effort is necessary to succeed. It is so much easier to tell your boss something over coffee than to do a twenty page report that they may or may not read.

As I transition to a new career field I look for training and certification to get hiring manager's attention. However, I'm really hyped about getting my education. For that I write business cases for projects, try and figure out earned value and how to explain it, and stare at network diagrams until my brain oozes out my ears. If I cannot show by my experience that I have already learned the basics who will hire me to do advanced stuff?

If you are looking at a job or career transition, how good is your education? Can you prove it?









Monday, October 3, 2011

Size Matters

Apologies for the late post, Sunday took more out of me than I expected.

There I was, with all life's problems and accomplishments, sitting on the side of the dive boat Steel Slinger. While Captain Pat and Divemaster Kyle were doing a great job of tending a bunch of divers. I was fascinated with the water roiling off the bow. As each moment passed more water was displaced than the mass my body occupies. That mass was smaller than the boat we were on which is much smaller than the wrecked boats we dove on. Yet even those boats were almost lost in the small space we operated in off Panama City Beach. If Pat didn't have the coordinates we could have never found them just by looking. It struck me how small I was and how big the world is. You could take everything I've ever owned, every place I've ever worked, and every town I've ever lived in, dump them in the ocean, and the water level would not be noticeably changed.

Down on one of the wrecks I watched a fish who was hiding behind a metal ledge, watching me. There wasn't enough of him (her?) to make a snack out of but it was fascinating to meet eye to eye with a creature you cannot communicate with. The fish was looking at this ungainly bubble blowing thing and possibly wondering what was about to happen. The ungainly bubble blowing thing was realizing just how interesting life could be if you met it eye to eye. That fish, unnamed but not forgotten, really means more to me than the problems I had left up on the surface. He, or she, made me think about all the other odd species I encounter and forget to really look eye to eye with. Marco the dog who lovingly puts his chin on my leg and pees on the floor for me. My wife, odd sort that she is, puts up with me from day to day even when I fail to really pay her the attention she deserves. And she doesn't even pee on the floor! My friends, here and everywhere, who give me their attention when I ask for it. I too often fail to meet them "eye to eye" (or "e-mail to e-mail") and pay proper attention.

Size matters. Not the physical size of an object like a boat that bobs up and down on the ocean nor the culturally prized size of your bank account. It is the span of your attention given to a friend and the depth of your love for another that really speak volumes about you. As I sat on the side of the boat and looked out over the water, I understood that I determine the size of a person or problem in my life. It makes no sense to bring a small problem from work home and let it diminish the attention I pay my wife. I have to act upon the size imbalances I've let creep up in my life.

Are the things in your life the proper size?






Sunday, September 25, 2011

Base line Life

Base Lines in Project Managemet are pretty useful tools. They track where you should be in terms of expenditures and successes and let you identify places you need to pay more attention to. For example, if you are almost our of budgeted funds but only half way through the project, there may be an issue.

While some projects are forced away from their base line by major events like corporate reorganizations or major budget shifts the reality is that most suffer from "scope creep". That's what we call the little requests that come in for favors, "just one more feature", or trying something new.

Scope Creep jumps us in life, too. One more family commitment, promising to bake that cake by next Sunday, or picking up a new set of work out videos because the last ones didn't do much for you. We often make a good promise on a good thing but don't remember to take into account all the other good commitments we already have.

I thought about encouraging you to clean up your schedule a bit and spend time giving away toys, tools, books, videos, and whatever else you have that has been doing nothing but gathering dust for years. We've done a few rounds of that lately and I can assure you life is much better! There are things I've been beating myself up about; I spent good money on something but never really used it. My personal monkey is books; I have lots of them. Really....lots. Like "pared down to just four bookshelves full" lots.

That was the planned conversation; a sort of "Think about what's important" kind of encouragement. Then I spent some time in our Prayer Chapel at church and spoke to God about the needs written on little prayer request cards. Needs like wanting to beat cancer so you can see your child go to kindergarten. Or a family trying to cope with an accident at work where someone won't be coming home, ever. I sadly realized that what had been important before paled in comparison with what my brothers and sisters are facing.

So, yeah, take those diet books and workout videos to the library. On your way home park it on a pew somewhere and open yourself up to God about how you can really focus on what's important in life. Skip worrying about Monday morning at work and spend time on the life and love we take for granted. Apologize for that argument, take that walk with someone special, and don't equate earned income with personal value.

If realizing you're way off base makes you cry, well, you're not the only one.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Will the real me please stand?

Anyone who believes the statistic that only one percent of the population suffers from multiple personality disorder has never tried to be a parent, worker, spouse, bread-winner, cried on shoulder, best friend, junior league sports coach, dutiful child, Scout leader, bill payer, church goer, "one of the guys/girls", and engage in one or more of a zillion hobbies we can consumed by.

At work one beautiful day a gentleman who serves as a mentor/managers asked me "What do you enjoy doing?" His question was designed to get me clear on career goals and I sadly must admit to gasping like a fish out of water. My career has been "whatever needs doing" for so long that I couldn't really remember what I truly enjoyed.

That got me thinking, and reading, and studying. Soon I realized that I had been doing the "whatever needs doing" in my hobbies, relationships, and spare time. Things I once enjoyed were now just items on a rather long task list. Decent money has been spent on things that I thought I should be doing or sensed there was some vague need for.

Oh Lord, "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made..." (Psalm 139:14a)  Now, uh, Lord, who am I?

Lest you think have hard evidence that I am totally crackers, go back to the first paragraph and see how many personalities you are expected to fill. I probably missed a score or two and you can fill in the blanks. Go on, give it a try! I bet you can come up with at least a dozen things you're expected to be in the course of the next couple weeks. Are there enough hours in the week to give each of these roles half a day and still go to work and get any sleep?

So here is the challenge; to find out what I really am created to enjoy. Who is the real me and where did all these other shadows of me come from? How many are expectations because I didn't say "no" to a volunteer assignment. Or something was broken and no one else was working on it.

Who am I, really...and who are you?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Even the kids were there.

Lee County. Georgia. held a special ceremony honoring the First Responders locally and remembering the sacrifice of the First Responders in the 9/11 attacks ten years ago today. I was proud to be in the crowd. 

The other day I posted on a Tom Dziubek's Facebook page:  "I think we are more judged by what we stand for, and against, than for what we allow. Telling a child about 9/11 means dealing with the existence of bad in the world but also the strength and community that bound America together in the aftermath. I strongly feel that the more we, as a nation, stand up and remember the more we, as a nation, deter it from ever happening again. When all races, creeds, and life-styles join together and say "Touch any of us and we'll all kick your $%$%$%!" The less of a target of choice we become."

How do you tell your kids about anything? With openness and truth. Parents are responsible for educating their children on the basics of life: why drugs are bad, why sex is special between a husband and wife, and why patriotism is a good thing. There is a strength in clarity that is tempered with wisdom and love. The terrorist attacks on America were wrong but we are no less wrong if we degrade people with no connection to the attacks. Tell your kids that bad people attacked America and that we are seeking justice. Tell your kids that making a bad choice has a bad consequence. Passionately affirm your kids when they make good choices and joyfully celebrate them when they stand for the right thing against the odds and their peers.


As Mark Twain said: "Always do right. This will gratify some people, and astound the rest." Do right in your home and model it for your kids. Live your life in a way that astounds people.

And never forget.