Citizen, Father, Leadership, Marketer, Musician

Discovering competence

Most of us have been in situations where we arrive on a scene, especially when joining a new group, and learn that something is going terribly wrong. The Boy Scout group planning an activity is disorganized. The band uniforms to distribute are all in a giant unsorted pile. The last guy wasn’t enforcing the rules so violations are commonplace. The previous leadership didn’t put key systems in place to make it easier to make decisions. So you must decide whether to let it rot, or whether to step forward and exert your will to course correct.

But sometimes, you discover competence. The people in the group you’ve joined have already figured things out. Processes are in place and they work. There are precedences which guide behavior, or a positive culture focused on getting the job done. Inventory is organized; leaders are stepping up, setting examples, and giving direction; exceptions are flagged and handled. Sure there are problems, but they are identified, triaged, and assigned an owner. The primary decision is not whether to help, it’s to decide where and how you can contribute to them moving faster and being more successful.

Don’t let that joy of discovering competence go unacknowledged. Remind the competent that they’ve come a long way and are doing a great job. Give hearable praise about why what they’re doing is making a difference. Because there’s a good chance they’ve forgotten while they target the blemishes and try to keep the positive energy moving forward.

Human, Leadership, Marketer

Puzzles

When your brain is fully engaged in a challenging puzzle, the rest of the world can fade away.

It could be a pencil and paper puzzle, like a cryptic crossword clue or “who owns the zebra” logic puzzle. It could be the situational puzzles that come up in complex board games, like how am I going to get the most points from these three moves, or which sequence of cards can I play to win on this turn. Or it could be work puzzles, like how to structure a fluid organization, hire and fire the right people, and what processes to put in place to get the most efficiency out your employees.

Whatever the challenge, fully grabbing your brain’s attention and finding flow is enough to melt away the worries, the stress, the what-if’s, and other chatter that can occupy thinking bandwidth and negatively affect your mood. Even if a temporary respite, it’s better at bringing joy than any drug could be.

Athlete, Father, Leadership, Marketer, Musician, Runner

Showing you still know how to do it

Ever find yourself in a situation where you have to tackle a specialized task, and flex muscles that you haven’t used in a while? And imposter syndrome starts to set in?

Maybe it’s helping your child with his algebra homework.

Maybe it’s cooking or baking a complex recipe for company coming over.

Maybe you’re taking the field/pitch/gym/rink as an athlete for a sport you abandoned years ago.

Maybe you’re up in front of others and you have to convince them that you know what you’re talking about, like teaching a class, leading a group exercise, or presenting at an event.

Maybe you’re showing off a talent of yours in a performance, like singing or dancing or acting, but it’s been a long time since you last took the stage.

It’s like riding a bicycle – once you learn how, you can always do it… right? You know that you know how to do it. Well at least, you knew how to do it, once upon a time. You’re pretty sure you can do it again. All the evidence shows you can do it. And yet, deep down inside, there’s a tiny but convincing voice saying oh my god what are you thinking you haven’t done this in forever how dare you think you can do it again oh god oh god this is crazy you know you can quit now and you won’t be embarrassed this is nuts stop stop STOP…

There’s joy in re-discovering that yes, you can still do it.  And in the satisfaction of telling the tiny but convincing voice of your lizard brain to shut the hell up.

Father, Homeowner, Husband, Leadership, Marketer

Strategic vs Tactical

Our days are so full of tasks to complete, like quests in a never-ending role-playing game.

Laundry, dishes, decluttering, bills, groceries, straightening, meal prep, errands.

Emails, phone calls, status reports, one-on-one check-ins, presentation revisions, invoices.

Decisions, optimizations, quick fixes, interventions, assists, demonstrations, coordinations, deferments.

It’s both exhilarating and exhausting to check off items from the ever-growing to-do list, whether it’s explicitly written out before you or churning amorphously in your overloaded brain.

That’s why it’s so important to take a step back.  To climb a tree and make sure your team is swinging the machete in the right direction as you all hack through the jungle:

  • What are we trying to do?  Why are we doing it?
  • What does success look like?  Is there a metric, a milestone, a goal to shoot for?
  • Where do we want to be in 1, 3, 5, 10 years?  How do we get there?
  • Do all of us agree?

Whether it’s your family, your coworkers, your activity group, your circle of friends… one rarely hears of anyone accused of being “too strategic.”  Get away for a weekend.  Have an offsite.  Go on a retreat.  Meet for a drink.  And while you’re away from the checklists, figure out where you’re going.  Then you’ll find joy in having a progress bar to go along with your checklist.

Human, Leadership

Recognizing an Inflection Point

There are these great moments that are easy to spot in hindsight — moments where everything around you changes irrevocably.  At work, it could be a new boss or new CEO, or an acquisition or sale. World news such as an election, an attack, or a crime can alter the course of history. Major personal events such as a marriage or birth or death leave an obvious, indelible mark on the trajectory of our lives and others.

Those are obvious inflection points – points on the timeline that you can use to end one chapter and start another in the story of your own life. But what about the less obvious ones?

That moment when you realize you’re not going to stay in your job and it’s time to figure out what’s next. The first time a teen calls you “sir.” The day you realize a new way to approach a familiar task, or that you start a habit that stays with you.

Those inflection points are great to look back upon and acknowledge when you are reflecting on your path traveled.

It’s even greater when you spot one as it’s happening and see in real time how it’s changing you.

But the greatest is when you can actively turn a moment into a inflection point and say now. Right now. This is happening, I’m turning the page, I’m declaring a new chapter, and I am going to make this work.

We have that power.