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For Good

Recently, my wife was asked to write a recommendation for a long-time friend and colleague.  In her closing comments, she used a line from my favorite song in my favorite musical, Wicked.  The song occurs when Glinda (the "good" witch) and Elphaba (the "wicked" witch) are saying their final good-byes to each other:

I've heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led to those who help us most to grow
If we let them, and we help them in return

The song goes on to talk about how each of them have been changed for good.  So as we were preparing for bed that night, my wife asked me who my "for good" people are (outside of family members).  Who are those people who rocked my world and left me a better person for it?  It didn't take a lot of thinking to come up with my list and why they were on it:

  • Brian - a long time friend, introduced me to the career of consulting and pulled me away from cubicle-dwelling big box employment.  Even moreso, he saw in me talents that I didn't even see, and he gave me a boost of self-confidence that was lacking at a time in my life when I needed it.

  • Delaney Kirk - she is the one who raised the bar on my teaching career, who emulated the classroom behaviors I wanted to follow, who championed me within the halls at Drake and guided me to where I am today.  I owe her a lot in my teaching success.  Recently, a student sent me a message telling me how much I had impacted her life.  I forwarded the note to Delaney, thanking her for guiding me on my journey so I could in turn guide others.

  • Mike Wagner - what an infusion of passion!  This guy gets branding, and he's the one who helped me discover my own brand story of Carpe Factum.  He jokes with me, challenges me, and is a tried and true sounding board.  When it comes to delivering a keynote or speech, my personal challenge is to "be like Mike" in helping my audiences understand the importance of a topic.

  • MBA254 Spring 2008 - An entire class of 38 students?  Am I kidding?  Not really.  I've been teaching almost 15 years, and I've never had a whole class affect me like this group did.  I've never been as moved by a collection of stories and personalities and thought leaders.  While they would be surprised to hear this, I learned more about who I am as an educator that semester than they learned about leadership and human capital development.  I've had many of them as students in other classes hence, and each as individuals continue to inspire me.  Together, they made me fall head-over-heels, passionately in love with the art and craft of teaching, and I haven't been the same professor since then.

  • Travis - another friend, who serves on the SWAT team I've been researching.  He's pretty modest and is going to be irked with that he's on this list, but the friendship I've forged with him over the past two years has taught me much about leadership, integrity, effort, and accomplishment.  Our schedules don't mesh often, but when they do, I always come away a much better person for having had the exchange.

There have been others who have impacted my life, some in lesser roles, many family members who continue to support me, some anti-heroes whose negative behaviors convinced me to move in a different direction, but I've been shaped as a person, as a professional, by some outstanding people, and as I sit here in the pre-dawn hours (when I should be sleeping), I think about those who have changed me... for good.

It's Dirty, Loud, and Dangerous... and I Love It!

INola-fq 'm visiting New Orleans for the third time in my speaking career.  It's great to keep coming back and rekindling the wonderful friendships I've made.  And they keep challenging me to come up with new material.

Another cool part about visiting this city is seeing the French Quarter.  It almost has a Jekyll-Hyde quality about it.  During the day it's quiet and charming and historically seductive (I'll let you interpret what I mean by that).  By night, it's boisterous and raucous and raunchy and obnoxious.  And really, no two excursions to the French Quarter, by day or by night, are the same.

So why is this relatively unassuming small-town Iowa boy constantly drawn to the modern equivalent of Sodom and Gomorrah?  That's easy.  Mystery.  I just don't know which French Quarter is going to show up.  She keeps me guessing all the time, and there's a part of this overly-structured type A hard-driver that likes to be kept guessing.  It keeps me humble and reminds me I don't have all the answers and don't always know what to expect.  In a way, the French Quarter forces me to be off-balance when I'm in her territory.

So what about you?  Are you allowing yourself to be off-balance?  To be kept guessing?  Who are those people in your life who throw you curve balls?  Who keep you out of control?  Do you embrace them or run from them?  Granted, life is not meant to be a constant surfing contest, but the occasion experience outside your normal comfort zone is healthy.  What can you do to expand yourself into unknown territory?

Phantom of the Oprah

Oprah_winfrey One of my students recently made me aware of the Living Oprah Blog, created by writer/actress, Robyn Okrant, who started an experiment to see if she could live her life for a whole year according to all the principles of Oprah Winfrey:  food, finance, exercise, clothing, relationships.  It sounds a lot like the "What Would Jesus Do" push only a lot more holier-than-thou with a heaping side dish of overbearing.  Her general observation very quickly arrived at living like Oprah is exhausting and is more than a full-time job.  To which I respond, "Well, DUH!  How much of that does Oprah actually do herself and how much is farmed out to her labrat minions to try for her so she can go and tout it on her show?"

Don't get me wrong... I like watching the occasional Oprah in those exceptionally rare moments when I have absolutely nothing else better to do... ok, so I NEVER watch Oprah.  But I know she has some good resources and her show, and she shares a lot of neat ideas which people can try to apply as they see fit.

Oops... I let out the secret, didn't I?  "CAN TRY to apply as they SEE FIT"?  Guess what?  You don't have to do EVERYTHING Oprah says you should do.

So why do I bring this up?  Well, we have a lot of Oprah-esque people running around our workplaces in the form of consultants and knowledge experts and hired guns.  They tout things like Six Sigma, Lean, Open Door Management, Open Book Management, Project Management... but you have to do EVERYTHING exactly like they tell you or your life and your career will be a complete failure.

A lot of my colleagues and friends accuse me of being anti-Lean or a Six Sigma Cynic... the reality is that I think each one has some great principles that can work; they're just generally led by people who are so myopic and dogmatic that you have to do things their way.  Then they throw up difficult roadblocks which make doing it their way unbearable.  ICK.  I am NOT a methodology-monger; more accurately, I'm a big fan of common sense.

So the next time you want to live like Oprah in your workplace, ask yourself some simple questions:

  • Does this make sense to you?  What doesn't sit right?

  • Are there other ways of getting to the same result?

  • Will this fit your organization's business need and culture?

  • Is your senior management really on board or is this just the flavor of the month to get quick fix results?

  • Are you balancing direction with freedom?  Can you tell the "expert" that you'll take their opinion under advisement?

  • Is the resistance you're feeling from others simply resistance to change and trying something new, or can they tell common sense better than you can?

  • Have you asked for a "second opinion" from others who have already done this?

It's All My Fault

Finger-pointing I'm sorry.  It's all my fault.  Really, it is.  This late season snow.  The blizzard.  The cold.  Blame me.  I deserve it.  I can shoulder the responsibility.

First, I put the snow blower in storage.

Then, I got the lawn mower tuned up.

And if all that isn't bad enough, I gave my car a good cleaning Friday night.

Hence, I'm the cause of the weekend's bad weather.  Any one of those things may not have been enough to cause the heavy snow and sleet, but I'm guessing it was the "combo pack" of doom which did us in.

We do this a lot in office politics.  We love to find scapegoats.  And if we can ride that fence between ridiculous yet plausible - just to catch others off-guard - all the better.  There are some scapegoats who are just too easy:

  1. Your boss
  2. Your customers
  3. The smelly messy guy in the far cubicle
  4. The corporate culture
  5. IT
  6. Those "bozos in Marketing"
  7. Our products

Come on... you know you've used at least one of them as a scapegoat at some point.  After all, any of those reasons cause enough headaches within the organization; why not blame the most current crisis on them as well?

The first thing I tell people to do in office politics when they are looking for a root cause on their most recent conflict is simple:  look in the mirror.  There's a reason why my most popular office politics keynote and workshop is entitled "What do you mean, 'I started it'?"  When searching for causal relationships and root causes, pointing the finger inward is not very popular (ask the executives at AIG and other bail-out targets).

Often our motives and our tasks are noble.  We simply want information.  We're trying to get things done... to seize the accomplishment... why are these people picking on me?  What did I do to deserve this?

But that last one is the very question you need to answer HONESTLY.  What did YOU do?  You may have burned bridges in the past.  Your department may be in direct competition.  You may be carrying the perception of a downsizing or worse by your request.  They feel they have no choice but to engage you in the game.

So next time:  ask yourself the tough questions about what YOU did to get into this mess.  The answers might surprise you.

The Best Part of April Fools Day are the Fools

Ignorance_is_blitz Ok, this has nothing really to do with business...

It's even marginal as an accomplishment...

But if you need a good belly-laugh on April Fools Day, pick up a copy of Ignorance is Blitz (formerly published as Non Campus Mentis).  It is the entire history of the world as told through college term paper bloopers.  Professor Anders Henriksson is utterly brilliant for compiling such a mixed up mess of muddledom.

A few examples:

There was Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt.  Lower Egypt was actually farther up than Upper Egypt, which was, of course, lower down than the upper part.

Cesar inspired his men by stating, "I came, I saw, I went."  When he was assinated, he is reported to have said, "Me too, Brutus!"

During the Dark Ages it was mostly dark.

Machiavelli, who was often unemployed, wrote The Prince to get a job with Richard Nixon.

It was the Enlightenment of the 18th Century that contributed most to the 17th Century.

I haven't laughed this hard in ages.  Sort of reminded me of my freshman year of college, when I would type others' term papers for them.  My favorite title was the paper on "Mid-Evil Christianity."  Hmmm... think my pastor missed that one.

Sometimes laughter is a great accomplishment.  Happy April Fools Day!

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