What do I have to do?

This is a very personal topic. I struggle with this continuously. It is the dreaded question we all ask ourselves; what do I have to do?

For me, this is extremely difficult because it comes with an overwhelming sense of being defeated. I have made every attempt to improve my knowledge, skills, and abilities through education and experience. In my most humble opinion, I fail horribly. Let me detail some reasons why I fail and why I keep repeating this failing behavior.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over exactly the same way, but expecting different results. Albert Einstein

If leading and managing were easy everyone would be really great at it and there would be few problems, issues, or situations in the world. I know, I am sounding a bit cliche here. Back to the ranch and the topic at hand.

What do I have to do? As an informal leader, this means I am not in a recognized and paid position for my leadership contributions, I am continuously seeking opportunities to convert my informal status to a very formal status. For some this seems to be a very simple process and becoming a formal leader or manager is almost divine plan. Here are a few issues which pose the most formidable barriers to my perceived success.

I am passionate. I throw myself completely into what I do. Sometimes I take too much ownership of things, especially things which are beyond my control or expertise. My passion is often misunderstood and is a major liability to my success as a leader. A good leader would temper passion and develop tactics to level the passion to relevant issues.

My perception is my reality. There is no such thing as a shared reality because we all carry our own biases and interpretations to our surrounding environment. There are moments when situations are shared, but still I will argue there is no such thing as a shared reality. I perceive things in extremes, I suppose because I worked in electronics for a number of years and things are on or off which is clearly extremes. The idea of shared reality is a detriment because I like to think people care about the things I care about, but very untrue. This leads to some resentment and my stubborn side manifests itself in very unfashionable moments. A good leader would absorb the various perspectives and adopt a more global reality taking into account the many players in a situation. My way is not always the best way or even a good way. Learning to recognize and develop others is a vital aspect of being a good leader.

Emotions are damning. Closely tied to being passionate, but not exactly the same because emotions are the demons who rear their ugly little heads and let situations go flying out the window. This might be the root of the question, what do I have to do?  Emotions drive a sense of desperation in leading. What a good leader might do is employ personal tools to keep this little monsters in check. For me, I breathe and do a yoga meditation chant in my head. It works, the evil little critters scurry back to their cages in full retreat. I have spent years getting to the point where I see one loose and I go full-tactical so I do not become over-run by my emotions. Still, it happens. I have lost jobs because I let these destructive uncontrollable emotions overcome me at the wrong time. Note: too good of emotions can be not so great, it can create a euphoric attitude and then some one loses an eye and no one wants a loose eye rolling about!

Should. Very few things will go the way they should. I am a serial rehearser. I play situations out in my head over and over again, talking myself into what I think should happen. I will say this, I am not clairvoyant, and I cannot predict the future. There is a little strategy to controlling the should; every time I use should I stop myself and question why something should be the way I imagine. Three words I want to eliminate from my vocabulary are: subordinate, that, and should. I think the best way to get around this word which can play havoc with a mind is to be aware of one’s self and how it sets one up for success or failure. This is applicable to everyone, not just perspective leaders.

Say NO. Some place in my youthful adulthood I developed this very bad mantra; be all to all at all times. I am by no means a yes man, still I have a very difficult time saying NO. Good leaders know how and when to say NO. If people find out I cannot say NO, they will take full advantage of me and use me until I let the emotional demons run a muck. Over the years I have developed a sense of NO, very difficult, but it does exist and I wish I used it more often. I have occupied positions of leadership in my past and I am a very different animal when I am in a formalized leader position. I will use NO very liberally as a leader with those in my sphere of influence, but those outside of it I rarely say NO to because I want to be the best and I know how to drive to the best results. I will find a way. NO is a very hard pill to take for just about everyone in the world and it will be the creator of conflict before its sound stops resonating. A good leader not only can say NO, but can also justify it with grace and poise. I think it all takes practice to become proficient in saying NO.

Expectations can be good? Not always true, but expectations can be very good. First, expectations can be devastatingly destructive because it can set people up for blistering failure. Example: I expect to go to work and everything will go as smooth as a hot knife through room temperature butter, but then everyone else did not get my memo and it becomes a storm of disproportionate belief. One cannot go to work and expect everything to be perfect, not can one be the eternal pessimist and expect the worst to happen at each turn. These are personal expectations and rarely are they ever good. On the other hand, organizational expectations supported by sound policies, process, and procedures are very constructive to good leadership. A team without expectations is no team at all. Think about it, it a team takes the field of play without the expectation to win they will not employ strategy and tactics to drive success. There is a guy I know who always says, “No plan is planning to fail.” In leadership (and management) plans are expectations. Expectations are the plays used to achieve a win.

What the heck does all this mean? What do I have to do? I have to keep in my vigilant mind these things because these things can undo my best intentions in no time at all. These are not necessarily requirements for being a good leader, but these are my weaknesses and as such illuminate the possibility everyone else has their own set of weaknesses. There are strategies to develop and tactics to employ to disable these shortcomings in everyday life and as a leader. I encourage everyone to do a deep diving self-analysis and determine what barriers impede success for them.



Hey! See Me? See Me! The Art of Recognition.

Very few leaders, managers, or leader-managers demonstrate mediocre attempts at recognizing their people.

How many people on their way to work ponder such thoughts as, “I think I’ll just blend in today and be average or just mediocre”? I like to lean towards the optimistic side of this question and I truly believe most people want to be their best every day. I feel being our best is key to our happiness because it validates our usefulness and sets up our foundation for feeling accepted and wanted within our social groups. Yes, even in our jobs! Many people are very social at work because we spend, at least eight-hours a day for five-days a week with our coworkers. Humans are social creatures and we form our social groups with those we are surrounded by for most of our waking hours.

How does this impact leading and managing? Easily actually, this is where strategy comes into play for most leaders, managers, or leader-managers. I have to say, in my humble experience, very few leaders, managers, or leader-managers demonstrate mediocre attempts at recognizing their people and their people’s efforts to be their best. In a recent study mentioned in an article on Psychology Today author Victor Lipman discusses employee recognition. Lipman’s article references studies in 2007 and 2013 where non-monetary recognition importance for employees in the workplace rose from 57% to 70% during the time frame. What does this mean?

Most people go to work to be their best. At the end of the day we all have to admit to ourselves we work to earn pay. We trade our time and abilities for pay to survive. Without a doubt (and I do not have to quote a study), nearly everyone who earns a paycheck goes to work with the root reason to earn money. Again, we are social critters and we seek validation within our groups. Recognition is a big key in how we see ourselves and establish our value to others, including our employers.

Recognition is the most cost-effective strategy to engage people in the workplace. Lipman’s article demonstrates people are not necessarily looking for money anymore, but instead are seeking a pat on the back and a hearty “Job well done!” This is a topic which really makes a lot of sense to me. Leaders, managers, and leader-managers (I know I keep throwing that in here, maybe I’ll discuss it later in another post) can really impact the level of satisfaction people have at work by sincerely praising efforts which exceed normal expectations. The key buzz word in today’s workplace is employee engagement.

There is a balance and there is finesse in the art of recognition. Many leaders, managers, and leader-managers (let’s call them L M & L-M for now) fail to hone their abilities to really sharpen their unique recognition strategies. There are several key factors in making recognition meaningful.

For recognition to be meaningful the following steps can be used in a successful strategy by a L M & L-M:

  1. Be aware and timely. Know what people are doing and respond with recognition as people are doing exceptional work or going above and beyond. No one wants to be recognized two weeks after they did something more than their usual.
  2. Be specific. Address the specific action. “Bob, I noticed you updated the TPS report log. Great job! The log has been a mess and your efforts are going to make everyone’s job so much easier. Thank you, you are appreciated.”
  3. Use the person’s name. I once heard people wear names tags so they are not commodified. Recognizing a person’s name makes situations personal and familiar.
  4. Say, “Thank you.” I know I always get a warm-fuzzy when someone thanks me and I get to say, “You’re very welcome.” Try it in your everyday encounters, just take the moment to say thank yous and you’re welcomes. I find both phases can be humbling in very good ways.
  5. Be open. Praise people in groups with their peers and other L M &/or L-Ms. DO NOT turn the attempt to recognize someone into a neck-sack bloating boast session. State the recognition for everyone to witness and move on. Lingering in recognition too long becomes awkward and embarrassing.
  6. Recognize justly. DO NOT pick favorites to continuously  recognize. It’s a trap! This is where I find real effort to be paramount on the L M & L-M’s part. Refer to strategy 1 Be aware!
  7. Recognize continuously. Give recognition on a regular basis, people do great things everyday. Be cautious not to be overly praising because it will devalue recognition moving forward.
  8. Avoid group recognition. It’s a trap! A big L M & L-M fail falls into this category. It is the sign of oblivion and laziness. Not everyone in a group participates at an equal level, when a group is recognized it devalues the efforts of those who really put forth the effort. It is perfectly okay to exclude members of the group who did not exert effort in an accomplishment.
  9. Recognize the facts. DO NOT embellish. Awkward!

By no means are these 9 steps the all-encompassing be-all-end-all to patting someone’s back. These steps do play a big part in a sound foundation. Real effort is entailed in recognition, more so in the informal recognition like I have been discussing here.

Please feel free to refer to the example of Bob’s accomplishment in Step 2.

People want to be patted on the back, proverbially because some people really do not like to be touched. Plus, you really do not know where they have been! Give a handshake if appropriate. Recognition takes time and time is money in the business world. I encourage everyone to invest in seeing people and what they do every day. We do not have to merely recognize those we work with, but we can extend this to everyone. When a server keeps your beer full, thank them. When a store clerk grabs another dozen eggs because one is broke in your carton, thank them. When someone thanks you, say, “You are very welcome,” and mean it. Others’ day will be brighter and you will feel lighter and more appreciative of the things which go on around us!

In the workplace, if not done regularly, recognition may be seen through skeptical lens. Over time and properly utilized recognition strategies will become like a virus. Most will be infected and want to do extras because they want validated and accepted. The cost is time and awareness if properly done.

Note: Leaders, managers, and leader-managers are not the only ones who can recognize someone. I find peer and customer recognition to be especially important and rewarding. Go out there and pat some backs!

Your Oxygen Mask First

In the event of a rapid cabin depressurization oxygen masks will drop from your overhead control panel.

I like to tell stories sometimes. I like to think of them as those bits of wisdom I carry with me. I want to share this one story which most can readily identify with and may not have ever thought of in terms of leadership.

Most of us have flown on commercial jets at one point or another, some more than others. Having worked on military aircraft I am always pumped to fly, scared a bit, and a little anxious! I grab the airplane emergency sheet in the seat-back as soon as I sit down. I want to know what type airplane I am on; I prefer Boeing jets above all others!

I listen intently for the Captain to tell the Flight Attendants to, “Prepare for push back.” It signals the Flight Attendant’s safety speech which I absolutely love to intently listen to like every flight is my first! I can almost repeat it verbatim, I hope you cannot hear my grinding gears in my mind!

“In the event of a rapid cabin depressurization oxygen masks will drop from your overhead control panel. Sharply pull the mask and bag to you to activate the flow of oxygen. Place the mask over your nose and mouth. Pull the straps on either sides to secure the mask on your face and breathe normally.” Now comes the leadership part, “Please put your mask on before assisting others.”

Please put your mask on before assisting others. I always envision a strapping twenty-something man worried about his wife or young child. He is willing to sacrifice his own good to protect them. Most will think his action heroic and appropriate. I see things a bit differently.

As leaders we are charged with the health of our organization and the well-being of those who work for us (Do not worry a blog for this topic will follow). Back to being a leader who needs to consider organizational health and human well-being. The most important part of this equation is the leader. Please do not scrunch your brow and think me crazy.

The reason you have to put your mask on first in the case of rapid depressurization is so you are able to assist others. If you are passed out from oxygen deprivation you are the one who needs assistance. Put your mask on first so you are able to help others.

Being a leader is similar. A leader must take care of them self. To make decisions in the best interest of the organization and people a leader must be at peak performance. A leader can only be as effective as they are healthy them self. When I say healthy I am not merely meaning physical health, I mean every aspect of health. A leader’s body, mind, and soul must be healthy to successfully lead. A leader must maintain healthy moral beliefs and ethical standards. Leaders must also keep professional and personal relationship viable.

When the oxygen mask drops a leader must recognize something has gone wrong in life. It is not being selfish to stop and take care of issues which need attention in the immediate here and now. Great leaders can see unhealthy issues coming and have developed countless skills and strategies to resolve them before there is a problem. Perhaps I will revisit this topic later to discuss some of the not-so-mystical strategies and skills to head off doom and gloom!

My point here is this; leaders are required to be at their best 24/7. When leaders let issues make them unhealthy we get to read about their fall in the headlines. Go to any news media outlet after you read this and you will see plenty of fallen and potentially falling leaders. These fallen leaders could have stopped, assessed their health, and overcome the negativity raining down on them.

Strategy 1 to develop skills to maintain health is to stop, assess your situation, and ask yourself, “Hmmmm, how would I like to read about this in the headlines?”

Lead Change in the World

Lead People, Manage Things, Develop Strategies to Blend the Two.                        Gary Wood Jr


People are smart and they know what it feels like to be managed, or what most term as being micro-managed. It most assuredly is not a welcome feeling because it robs an individual of their humanity. What is a reasonable solution? In this context of dehumanizing people, managers and leaders have a daunting task. It really is about how people are treated, not only in the workplace, but in life itself.

I believe in a simple rule for understanding managing and leading. Manage things. Lead people.

Things are managed, like commodities, objects with value which must be controlled to minimize loss and maximize profit. Profit is not necessarily monetary and many can ponder the many different ways profit can be realized, still not the point here, right now. A manager oversees objects like machines or even process because things are not always tangibles.

People are led through several types of leadership. Because we are human and have those nasty things called emotions which have been formed through our life experiences, therefore it is necessary for us all to be led. We all have our own set of perspectives and biases which drive our emotions from moment to moment. Effective leaders understand this and know there is no one-size-fits-all method for leading people. Often times when a leader or manager attempts to create the level playing field their attempts at developing fairness end in a mix of success for some and failure for others.

Leading people starts by understanding each individual’s motivation for doing some task. Why do people do what they do? In my post Hey! See Me? See Me! The Art of Recognition I mentioned people go to work to make money, money provides the ability to meet our needs and desires. There are more motivating factors than just money. People go to work to have social interactions and to pursue interests, these are aspects which fulfill or need to be a part of something, feel valued, and as part of  our journey towards self-realization. It is ever so important for leaders and managers to understand the motivating factors which drive people.

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic motivation theories are very applicable to leadership principles, strategies, and tactics. It is crucial to understand which direction a motivation is coming from, whether it be from internal drive or external needs and desires. A strategy which may be successful is to understand where a person finds their individual motivation, perhaps it is a single mother who wants to raise her child to be a productive and respectful adult citizen or maybe it is a person who wants a new car and is willing to work long hours and overtime to get what they want. Once the root of motivation becomes clear tactics which manipulate those driving factors become apparent, but I caution it is easy to fall into a trap because there are always emotions tied to motivation, even extrinsic motivation.

Unless you are a soothe-sayer who can predict the future or read minds, it is safe to say understanding an individual’s motivational factors is no easy undertaking. Now, imagine being a leader of several to many people and it becomes necessary to understand all of them in order to guide and develop their abilities to complete tasks which effect the organization’s bottom line. I must say this from my own experience, it is an ugly, dirty, and smelly challenge because there is a very fine thin line between knowing someone professionally and personally.

As leaders and managers the task is to first take into account the best interests of the organization. Honestly, if leaders and managers do not put the organization first, there likely will not be an organization for long. It is so much more though than just taking the organization’s position as the most important strategy because there are many factors which contribute to the overall success of an organization. Believe me, it does not matter much if an organization makes a thing or provides a service there will always be one constant variable, people.

More to follow….