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.

Human, Leadership

Sadvocates

In any tough situation, you can choose to look for joy.  To find the brighter side.  To not get discouraged by the setback.  To put yourself in the other person’s shoes.  To think slower, not faster and suppress your lizard brain reactions. To shape your own reality.

Or you can choose to look for sadness. To interpret cynically.  To believe the worst of others. To mourn the past, or damn the future.  To point out what’s going wrong, not what’s going right.  To be Eeyore.

Acceptance is a dynamic act.  You’ll find both joy and sadness if you look for them.  Unless you’re battling a mental illness like depression – you get to choose.  And your choice doesn’t just affect your reality.  It influences the reality of those around you.  So, which will you advocate for?  Joy or sadness?

We humans like to flock together.  We naturally give into peer pressure to fit in, like in the famous Candid Camera elevator experiment.  So it’s very easy to follow along with the sadvocates.  To nod your head as they tell you why your jobs all suck, or why the old way was better, or why this will never work.

Don’t.

 

Leadership, Marketer, Musician

Common Ground

Back about 25 years ago, when I was an undergraduate living in a fraternity, I was right in the middle of a house-wide contentious debate about how we would choose to support the co-ed chapters of our fraternity, if at all.  The details aren’t as important to remember as the emotions — at the time, it felt like the house’s very survival depended on resolving this intractable situation. Tempers flared. Ad hominem attacks flew. Fallacious accusations and misattributed positions confused the issues. But I distinctly remember one person playing peacemaker by trying to identify the beliefs that everyone had in common first. It went a long way towards defusing the tensions and building at least some consensus, which led the way to compromise and resolution.

Since then, whenever I find myself in a situation in which two opposed groups have formed and emotions are running high, I regularly make a point of looking for common ground facts that all sides can agree to, state them for everyone (with as little “marketing spin” as possible so as not to inject my own opinion), and try to converge support for the reality they represent.

One can usually find something to build on. Even strongly opposed groups, such as pro-choice and pro-life supporters, may have common ground somewhere — for instance, both want to lower the rate of abortions. By elevating the discussion above the points of contention, you can discover problems both sides can work together to solve.

I’ve been trying this rhetoric when it comes to the recent schism in the chorus I sing in. You can read my attempt over here on my other blog. Rather than talk about who’s right and who’s wrong, I try to talk about what happened, to identify the questions being debated, and to point out a higher level problem — in this case, the need to rebuild trust.

It’s also how you can spot when you’re unlikely to succeed. For instance, in today’s politics and media coverage, when the facts often get shoved aside in favor of a good narrative, it’s even more difficult to find that common ground. Some retreat to their own realities and see any admission of common ground as a sign of weakness. In the chorus example, as the rhetoric ratchets higher and higher, I’ve seen some members so overcome by emotion that they make highly charged, arguably unreasonable and hurtful statements. I don’t yet know how to elevate the discussion with people who have stopped listening and are determined to scuttle any compromise. So far I think the answer is the same answer to “how do you eat an elephant” – one bite at a time.

There’s joy in finding that common ground that can be the first step toward getting two factions to listen to each other.  See if you can spot it the next time you’re watching the Hatfields and McCoys go at it, and be a peacemaker yourself.

Leadership, Marketer

Seeing Thestrals, and the Bridge Test

Firing someone is a terrible but necessary rite of passage for every manager.

I have two overly dramatic metaphors that have helped me describe it.

In the fifth book of the Harry Potter series, Harry learns that what he originally thought were magically self-propelled carriages are actually pulled by mystical creatures known as Thestrals — winged reptilian horses that are only visible to wizards who have witnessed death.  It’s a tangible symbol of the perspective change after seeing another person meet his end.

In the Star Trek: Next Generation episode “Thine Own Self,” the character Deanna Troi earns her promotion to Commander by passing the Bridge Officer’s Test.  The solution to the test is to order a fellow crew member to sacrifice himself in order to save the ship.

Years ago, as a manager, I passed my Bridge Officer’s test.  And now I can see the Thestrals.

There’s no joy in the deed.  In fact, you rob joy from someone else’s life, which is hard for my personality type to handle.  But addition by subtraction can still bring joy, if it inspires the rest of the team by reinforcing their belief that hard work is rewarded.  And once you’ve lost your innocence and can see the Thestrals, it’s disturbingly easier to order the next crew member to his fate, for the good of the crew.

I find joy in knowing that I can save the ship when I have to.  I hope you find joy when you discover you are strong enough to make tough choices.