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My Hero(es)

3d Earth Globe“A leader’s greatest obligation is to make possible an environment … where people can aspire to change the world.” - Carly Fiorina, Former CEO of HP

One question I field frequently - both individually and often in QA sessions with students or other audiences - is "Who are your heroes?" I need to apologize to past audiences as I've dodged the question notoriously, giving very weak answers. But that question keeps haunting me, not so much from audiences nowadays, but from the recesses of my own brain. So much so that I decided it was time to really sit down and define who some of my heroes are.

  • Amy is one of my heroes. When her uninsured friend, John, needed surgery in the face of cancer, Amy rallied her friends, his friends, and an entire network to raise over $100,000 in just 37 days.
  • Kevin and Shelley are my heroes. Ignoring logic and common sense, they followed their faith-filled hearts to adopt a little girl from half-way around the world. This little girl had a congenital heart condition, but not only did that not deter them. It only made them more determined to give this girl a loving home.
  • Rod is a hero. When his wife, Michelle, was diagnosed with cancer, Rod used his amazing data skills to track her numbers all the way through her treatment, keeping his wicked sense of humor intact the entire journey. He stayed by her side until her battle was finished. While the love story didn't have the happy ending for which he and his family and friends hoped, his unwaivering dedication inspired many.
  • Speaking of cancer warriors, Sarah is a hero. I met her through Twitter during my mom's cancer battle (amazing whom you can meet with the hashtag #cancersucks). She has championed her son's battle with cancer, while inspiring others through her blog and other charitable acts for the community.
  • Janet is another hero. A freak motorcycle accident forced a leg amputation last year. Now, if I thought Janet was one tough lady before the accident, she raised the bar freakishly high with her determination, independence and positive attitude through her amazing rehabilitation.
  • Ever think of creating a global not-for-profit WHEN YOU WERE IN 8TH GRADE??? That's what makes Jessica a hero. When she's not dedicating her time to children from other countries (or in her own community), she's willing to trek to another state to speak (dynamically) to other kids for a day about their own global impacts.

These are just a few. Most of them probably had no idea I felt this way about them (shame on me for not being more vocal before now). None of them have ever been hoisted on their team's shoulders to receive a championship trophy. They've never walked the red carpet to deliver an acceptance speech. Papparazzi have never chased them for a tabloid exclusive. They don't fly or wear capes.

Why then, are they heroes? Simple. They changed the world. Maybe not the "big W" in all cases but in changing their own world (small w), they invited us to watch their challenges, to observe their journey, to share their victories, and to learn from their setbacks. And their actions, their attitudes, and their accomplishments created a ripple effect. Those of us in the periphery caught a glimpse of greatness. Each of these people would argue with me that they only did what needed to be done. I'm sure one or two, when they read this, will scold me for putting them on a pedestal. (There's really not one tall enough or grand enough for their accomplishments, in my opinion.)

In light of all the talk of the Boston police's heroic actions from last week (law enforcement is always a default setting on my hero meter, by the way), I think it's important for us to think about it today: who are your real heroes? And why? Are they changing the world? Are you?

Hack School Project Management

Take 11 minutes and watch this video...


It's refreshing to see a kid like Logan communicate so eloquently. Having taught graduate school for 12 years and consulted for over 20 years, I can honestly say most of the adults I meet can't articulate what they want to be when they grow up.

I've pretty much figured out that being a contented accomplisher is my calling in life. Sometimes this takes the form of speaker; other times it's being an author. But at my core, I'm always a project manager. And as a project manager, I've figured intuitively how to be "hack school" over the years. Logan's description of hack school is spot on:

Hackers are innovators, hackers are people who challenge and change the systems to make them work differently, to make them work better, it’s just how they think, it’s a mindset...

I take advantage of opportunities in my community, and through a network of my friends and family. I take advantage of opportunities to experience what I’m learning, and I’m not afraid to look for shortcuts or hacks to get a better faster result. It’s like a remix or a mash-up of learning. It’s flexible, opportunistic, and it never loses sight of making happy, healthy and creativity a priority.

Picasso QuoteOnce, I was brought onto a client because a person wanted to learn from me as I managed a major project for her organization. A couple of months into my contract, this individual took a seven-week online project management class. Voila... the class turned her into an instant "expert" in project management. She started taking glee in pointing out all the things I didn't do according to her instructor and text book. The problem with her approach was that I was actually getting results by doing things my way. I knew how to do things "by the book" but the difference between knowledge and wisdom is knowing when drop the book. (Purely unrelated, I'm thinking of switching physicians... do you know anybody who completed medical school in seven weeks online?)

A few years ago, Dr. Delaney Kirk sent me an article about the main reason fire fighters die when working on wild fires: When surrounded by flames, they focus too much on saving their tools and equipment and not enough on just running to save their own lives. That really sums up my project management "hack school" mindset. I love tools, by the way. A great project plan can save months and dollars to an organization. A well-written status report can bring critical issues to light. Issues logs cut through office politics. I love tools, but I don't rely on them. What I rely on is the ability to accomplish a successful end result.

So what about you? Are you more "by the book" or "hack school"? How can you start dropping your tools? Who knows? By doing so, you might just grow up to be happy and healthy.

Young and Hungry

I'm at a crossroads with our current house. We've done almost everything to it we possibly can, but should we decide to stay in this house long-term, there are a couple more projects we'd like to tackle. The question isn't really about the projects, but more about who would do the work. We've used one contractor fairly consistently over the past 10 years, but I think we're moving on.


Well, he's no longer "young and hungry."

When we first used him, he was just starting out and was very eager to prove himself in the dog-eat-dog world of contracting. And he did. Which was why we kept inviting him back for more projects. Sunroom. Bathroom. Kitchen. But by the time he reached our basement, things had changed. He was successful. He no longer did (or even directly supervised) a lot of the work himself. He used more subcontractors. And things important to me were missed. And he acted like we - his customers - were more of an inconvenience by merely asking questions. And while the final product was... well... just okay, it wasn't the level of work that made us love what he did and compelled us to keep inviting him back.

It's that way in the white-collar business world as well. I once subcontracted to a consulting firm that was young and hungry. I was one of their first recruits. Those first couple of years were stressful yet exhiliarating. We worked our tails off to prove ourselves as a viable consulting firm. The owner and founder worked even harder to match up projects with the skills and strengths of the consultants. We got larger and more successful. And then he turned over the operations to a salesperson. So much for "care and feeding" of the consultants. At that point, we were treated more like mental prostitutes as the emphasis went from "young and hungry" to "established and self-satisfied."

Young and hungry is a mindset. Young and hungry abdicates lazy satisfaction. Young and hungry celebrates a job well-done, and then turns around and looks for ways to raise the bar. Young and hungry stays in training to become better, faster, stronger, more agile. Last month, Fast Company released its annual list of the 50 most innovative companies. It was interesting who wasn't on the list: Facebook and Twitter. Ubiquitous? Yes. Young and hungry? Not so much.

Young and hungry is not about ego. In proving itself, young and hungry lets the accomplishment trump the personality. We'll let Kim Jong Un stay in North Korea, thank you very much. We have enough little dictators invading our cubicles already. Young and hungry is not autocratic. It doesn't need to be. Young and hungry doesn't backstab or steal credit. Young and hungry doesn't need to issue hollow ultimatums to get its way; young and hungry sets out a compelling vision. Young and hungry invites others along on the journey and attempts to keep them engaged as long as they want to be part of that journey. Young and hungry doesn't delegate; it rolls up its sleeves and welcomes the work.

So where do you fall on the scale? Are you still young and hungry? What will get you back there?

What Part of "NO" Don't You Understand?

It's been an interesting few months... that's an understatement. A lot of things culminated last week, giving me some much anticipated (and highly needed) down time to catch my breath and catch up on life.

No-yes-480And I've been taking advantage of it. Bill paying, paperwork, taxes, laundry (yes, Chief Accomplishment Officers do their own laundry), and some house cleaning have been my task list this week. Oh, and blogging.

One of my favorite quotes is "The Quality of our YESes is determined by the Quantity of our NOs." I'll admit I've had hard time finding the origin of this quote and web searches have yielded little. I originally thought it belonged to the late Stephen R. Covey, but now I'm not so sure. Maybe I picked it up from a random speaker or sermon from years ago. Regardless, it's stuck with me. And the past several months, blogging has fallen into my "NO" category.

But I started realizing how much I missed it. There have been so many things that have happened in the past year that have warranted a passing "Oh, I should blog about that," but then my other pressing YESes took over. And you want to know what? I'm good with it. Sure, I probably need to start over building a readership, but I think I can figure out how to do it.

So bear with me. I have a lot to say. About current events (and past events and future events). About accomplishment and leadership. About project management and people. About branding and behavior. About me. About you.

We have a lot of catching up to do as I move from "no" back to "yes."

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