Putting the “D’oh” in “Don’t think that you have control.”

Here were are; roughly 5 months away from the US Presidential elections.  It’s almost like having a season of the year, except that instead of seeing tree leaves changing colors or feeling the temperature changes, we’re instead exposed to political ads, campaign commercials, and auto-dialers calling at 8:00 AM in the morning asking for campaign contributions.  Some of my friends look forward to the election like it’s the fight of the decade (will we ever get to see Manny Pacquiao versus Floyd Mayweather, Jr.?), but I personally tend to get annoyed.

Why?  It’s because politics remind me of bad leadership practices.  Every day we’re exposed to the presidential nominees making promises about their plans following the elections in November.  It’s not the necessarily the plans that are bad (depending on your perspective), but rather the language that these nominees use.  It’s as if they are providing a 100% guarantee that they can deliver on their promises. 

Even the President of the United States reports to someone in order to get anything accomplished.  Lots of new laws or presidential decrees require funding which is under the control of Congress. If the President upsets the wrong people in Congress, it becomes much harder for him to follow through on his promised agenda.  If he cannot pass his agenda, his campaign promises are null and void.

That’s the problem with leadership, and I’m not just referring to politics.  I’m specifically referring to the old thinking that being in a leadership role means that you’re in control no matter if your background is in politics, business, etc…  Whether you’re in a position of power or not, the only person you can truly control is yourself.  You cannot say with certainty that just because you want or demand something to happen, it does not mean you can make it happen.

Let me give you another example: Let’s say I manage an individual working on a large project.  I just found out from my own manager that the deadline on that project needs to be moved to tomorrow.  I need this individual to stay late to finish up the project to meet the new deadline.  That individual tells me that they cannot stay late because they’re attending their daughter’s school play and they cannot miss it.

What are my options at that point?  That individual has made it clear that their daughter’s school play is their priority.  If I’m somewhat unreasonable, I could reprimand them or possibly even fire them, but what then?  The deadline still gets missed, and I’m now the one in hot water with my own manager.  The other option could be for me to compromise.  Let the individual see their daughter’s play, but ask for them to come in early the next day.  If they refuse, we may still have a problem, but at least I’ve done something that a lot of leaders don’t do, which is compromise.

I’ve worked under leaders in the past that ruled with iron fists.  If you didn’t do things exactly the way the wanted, even if there were better ways of doing things, you would be reprimanded.  I’m sure almost all of us have worked for at least one individual like that in the past.  All it winds up doing is causing the rest of us to start looking for new jobs.

Leadership is really about influencing those underneath and around you.  It’s about making compromises with the people you lead in order to get the job done.  You can “push” people in one direction or the other through influence, but you cannot move them from point A to point B on your own.

Leave your comments!

A Much-Needed Time of Rest

It has been a while since I’ve taken time off for a vacation (or “staycation” in my case, since I’m really a homebody).  However, I’ll be taking some time off starting next week.  I am quite giddy as I’m watching the clock counting down to the end of business today.  I can’t wait to leave my responsibilities behind!

After reading that, you might be thinking that I hate my job or my work environment or my coworkers (or all of the above).  It’s actually quite the opposite.  I have a great job where I’m challenged on a regular basis.  My company has the greatest culture out of any company where I’ve previously worked.  My coworkers are all more like family than simple associates, and I know that if I’m in trouble or need support, I can always rely on them.

However, even though I appreciate all of these aspects, I’m burnt out.  I feel mentally exhausted.    I’ve lost some of that passion I’ve carried with me in the past.

Being challenged at work is a great thing.  It leads to both personal and professional growth.  However, it’s also a cause of stress.  When you’re challenged over and over again without any breaks, it’s like someone has access to your personal stress button and they’re trying to break it by stomping on it repeatedly.  

For others out there, maybe challenges aren’t the problem.  Maybe it’s a lack of challenges, or perhaps doing the same routine day-in and day-out.  Whatever the source, all of us eventually get exhausted and need to get away from work in order to recharge our batteries. 

Various studies have shown that vacations allow workers to come back to the office feeling refreshed and more productive.  Confused.com compiled statistics from some of these studies and listed additional benefits of vacation, such as having a better feeling about life, or longer life expectancy in certain individuals.  

Unfortunately, not everyone has vacation time through their employers since it is not mandated by the federal government here in the United States.  Some businesses simply deny their employees this benefit. 

I have not personally seen a business do this, but I did have a friend who was denied paid time off for the first two years of their employment.  To think about working for 2 years without a break seems crazy.  They even admitted to me that they were not feeling engaged by the end of that 2-year span until they were able to take some time away from they office.

What amazes me the most is that for those of us who are fortunate enough to receive paid time off in the US, the average American worker does not use all of their vacation time each year.  According to a study by Expedia, the average number of vacation days provided each year is 14, yet only 12 of those days are typically taken.   It’s a shame because those vacation days are meant to be used and not stockpiled.

It doesn’t matter if you’re someone who is head-over-heels in love with their job, or someone just in it for the paycheck.  If you’re one of those individuals who does not use all of their vacation time, use it up!  You need that time away for your own mental health.  You’ll feel better about yourself and about your work.

Leave your comments!

Look To The Past To Improve The Present And Future

My younger brother, Chris Morris, is an insanely talented musician/singer/songwriter. (Sure, I might be a tad biased but if you don’t believe me just see for yourself). This week Chris released a new music video for a song called, “Why Don’t You Come Home?” The song is a resurrection and recreation of an incredibly rare and unreleased Stevie Wonder song from the 1960’s that inexplicably never made it on to any of Stevie’s albums. (Listen to Stevie’s original version here). When Chris stumbled across it he “decided to get in the studio and pay tribute to this unknown masterpiece.”

What amazed me is that more than 40 years after the song was originally written and recorded, it still sounds current and relevant. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say the song was ‘ahead of its time.’ And now, decades later, it has been given new life.

In thinking about Chris’ process, I’m reminded that often the best ideas, practices, methods, systems, and behaviors, are those that have been there all along, sitting around collecting dust. So why not look for new growth and development opportunities by reflecting on old ones that either used to work or were never put into practice in the first place?

Considering the following questions:

  • What worked well for you in the past that you’ve gotten away from? Did you have a system or process that worked well for an old task or job that could be applied to your current job or a current task? Do you no longer flex your leadership style as well as you used to?
  • What have you learned in the past that you never put into practice? Have you ever read a book or article and thought, “I need to do that,” but never did? Have you ever taken a class, loved the subject, but forgot about it the minute you put the textbook up on the shelf?
  • What were you once very passionate about that you’ve since abandoned? What activities or hobbies significantly contributed to your overall happiness and well-being that you no longer participate in?

I challenge you to sit down and do some brainstorming around this subject. What ideas, practices, methods, systems, and behaviors from the past can you breathe new life into? Once you’ve identified them, bring them home where they belong.

Follow me on Twitter: @adammorris21 | Add me on Google+: gplus.to/AdamMorris21

Make YOUR Living

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” –Henry David Thoreau

As the plane sat at the gate, making final preparations for take off, I gazed out the window, watching two ground crew members, tramping around in the muddy slush, loading up the last pieces of luggage. They looked busy. They looked focused. They looked determined.

Mud Time

As my thoughts turned toward home, the fascination with the two workers below was interrupted with a sudden, “You from Boston?”

I turned to the man next to me and chuckled, reveling to him my New York Yankees jacket, “No, just visiting.”

As fate would have it, he wasn’t content to leave it at that. “Ahhh! Business or pleasure?”

Perhaps he was a little concerned as to the cause of my red eyes and rather weary appearance—little knowing that I had just spent the past several days in a New Hampshire cabin with no running water. Or maybe it was just one of those rare occasions when I looked a little more vulnerable than my usual, leave me alone, I’ve been on a long journey, traveler look—still a glow from all of my recent discoveries within the ancient American region of New England.

I carefully guarded my growing suspicion over his line of questions with as few words as possible, “A little bit of both.”

He seemed to ponder the response, then fell silent for a moment. I could sense he was on the edge of leaving me alone—finally! Thankfully… he gave it one last shot.

“How do you make your living?” The hook slipped into my conscious with the precession of a Wicked Tuna fisherman out of Gloucester Harbor that had finally snagged the big one.

We’ve heard the question a thousand times, on a thousand trips around the world, when getting to know a stranger, in some strange place. But this time, it wasn’t a strange question. This time the question penetrated my very being and challenged me to give the curious lad a meaningful and well thought out answer.

Perhaps it was symptomatic of my natural buzz from the lack of sleep? Nay, I knew it was more than that; it was something lurking in the salty philosophic Atlantic air that whispers through the timeless picturesque scenery North of Boston—the same whispers that spoke to some of America’s most profound writers, like Frost, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Alcott, and Eliot, while they tried to answer questions about life and death and time, and all things concerning the affairs of our daily busyness…and business.

How do you make your living?

It was the very question that had been haunting me the entire trip, with each log I split, in every step taken on a hike to some small peek overlooking the New England landscape, every snowflake that sung to me on it’s decent to the frozen forest floor. In fact, it has been haunting me the past couple of years of my career—the so-called Prime Earning Years between the ages of 30 and 50 years of age. That age when family responsibilities and economic recessions catch up with the hopes and dreams of what you thought you could become through your career. That age when we struggle to make our living, rather than allow our living to make us, through a rhythm and routine that wears us down like the mountain steam does to the rock when no one is looking.

What is a living, anyway? And how does one go about “making it?”

Making a living isn’t about a paycheck—it is not your job! If we try to answer that question by simply explaining what we do to make money, than somehow we’ve reduced the meaning of how we spend the majority of our days. Our work needs to be much more than just a how we make money; it must be about the purpose or cause we serve through our efforts at work—making other people’s lives more productive and enriching because of what we do—while also serving as a means to providing quality choices for the things that we cherish the most.

Where are you in relation to where you want to be in your career—in your life?

Circles of Work and Play

Maybe you don’t currently do what you love to do. Maybe your current job or project is not what you dreamed of doing when you were off earning degrees at the University or working for that revolutionary start up company when you first entered the workplace. But if you don’t believe that there is a higher purpose or meaning in the work you do, then you’re in danger of slipping into what Thoreau warned as, “quiet desperation.” If the gap between work and play is so wide that you can’t wait to get to the weekend so you can do what you really love to do, then it’s time to look in the mirror and ask the question, “How do YOU make YOUR living?”

To make a living requires a continual renewal of spirit and perspective that pulls all of our hopes and dreams, experiences, responsibilities—our living, into a larger, more integrated and meaningful context. It takes effort to align the things we love, and are passionate about, with what we call work. And yet, it is as simple as splitting wood this side of winter, on a spring day, in late April or early May—just for the pleasure of it.

As the plane began it’s decent, nearly four hours later, into San Diego, California, my new best friend and I had thoroughly investigated how we make our living. Just after the plane touched down in a land far from those ancient poets gravesites, I shared with him a few words I had just found, inside the wood I was splitting, just North of Boston. Words…that are there with you too, right now, on your computer’s keyboard, in the pen on your desk, in the code you punch in to enter your office, or the clock you punch your card into, or on the palm of the handshake you’ll receive at next Tuesday’s Business meeting. And those words are whispering to you:

My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future’s sakes.

Robert Frost, Two Tramps in Mud Time

About the Author: Jason Diamond Arnold is a Consulting Associate with The Ken Blanchard Companies, and Co-Author of Situational Self Leaderhip in Action

The Privacy Blur of Personal Information

It seems like every day there are new stories of the ongoing privacy battles between online service providers and their individual users.  Facebook always seems to take heat from the public anytime is makes a change to its privacy agreement.   Google has been taking flak for recent changes allowing it to track users across all of its services, allowing Google to create a profile of users and their interests purposed for extremely targeted marketing.  However, a new battle is brewing around the online privacy of individuals versus those who employ (or will potentially employ) them.

In the last few weeks, there have been a few different stories about whether employers are overstepping their boundaries.  There was the teacher who was fired for refusing to give out her Facebook password because a parent who was also a Facebook friend saw a private image they thought was inappropriate and complained to the school.  There also seems to be a new pattern emerging for potential employers asking candidates for their Facebook passwords during the interview or screening process.

The tracking of our online activity is one thing.  Demanding a personal password to gain access to something not pertaining to the workplace (at least in most cases) is another beast in itself.  It can be compared to demanding access to your bank account, or even your medical records.  It is a breach of privacy and a huge violation of trust between employers and employees.

 On one hand, I understand that businesses want to make sure that those they employ don’t do anything to embarrass these companies or create bad PR for them.  I previously wrote about a woman who was fired because she criticized her employer on her Facebook page.  In that particular case, what she posted was public for others to see.  The internet has been around for so long that by now, we should all realize that if we post negative public information about the companies or individuals we work for, it could be used against us when it comes to our job security or future employment opportunities. 

On the other hand, Facebook has the private settings for a reason.  Some communications or images we post are not meant for the public.  For example, people may post something to their spouse which they would never share with anyone else.  The only thing accomplished by demanding these personal passwords is that these businesses are creating toxic work environments for themselves. 

I’ve mentioned the ABCD’s of the TrustWorks! model previously, but I want to specifically point out “B – Believable” element in reference to this topic: 

Act with Integrity.  Trustworthy leaders are honest with others. They behave in a manner consistent with their stated values, apply company policies fairly, and treat people equitably. “Walking the talk” is essential in building trust in relationships.”- Randy Conley, www.leadingwithtrust.com

The integrity seems to be missing component from these types of demands. 

With that being said, I want to leave you with a hypothetical situation.  Let’s say I was a hiring manager for your potential dream job.  The job consists of everything you’ve wanted to do.  It has your ideal salary and the perfect benefits package:

Don’t forget to cast your vote, and as always, be sure to leave your comments!

The Beauty of Diversity

I recently took a class on human resource management and one of my favorite topics of study was around diversity. Not only is diversity a critical part of employment law, but it can be hugely beneficial to the strategy and success of an organization. Those companies that can move beyond compliance alone toward embracing and even leveraging our differences will find that they are fostering better workplace cultures, developing more satisfied employees, generating a healthier bottom line, and ultimately making a more positive impact on our world.

Everyday I am inspired by the incredible people around me – friends, family members, and colleagues alike. I can’t help but be grateful for their lives, and particularly the ways in which we are different. I’m not just referring to the color of our skin, nationality, religion, etc…but what makes us tick. Like the longtime girlfriend of mine who challenges my left brain tendencies by constantly generating creative new ideas; visionary is simply a part of who she is. Or the family acquaintance whom I just learned through Facebook is a brilliant musician; he just produced his own music video, in which he plays the guitar, piano, drums, and sings in different segments – who knew! Or my coworker, a fellow project manager, who recently volunteered to facilitate a workshop on career planning at our annual all-company meeting. Amazing! Isn’t it inspiring to see others in their sweet spot?

This sounds so simple, and yet oftentimes I think it is easy to forget; it is easy to lose sight of why our differences should be embraced. Organizations, leaders, individual contributors – people in general – are constantly trying to influence others to see things their way. Of course there are times when that is necessary; without both the leader and follower roles nothing would be accomplished. Yet the reminder here is that, in the end, we weren’t made to be all the same. We are all unique, and our differences produce a collective, even synergistic beauty that could never be realized otherwise. Let’s face it – and I will be the first to admit – life would be pretty dull with just a bunch of Michelles running around! We need those who can imagine, those who can create, those who can analyze, those who can build, those who can wonder, and those who can execute. We simply need each other.

People have so much to bring to the table, sometimes more than they realize. The strengths, gifts, talents, curiosities, and hobbies of others make us all better, stronger, and wiser. Weaknesses even have a place at the table – they can foster a culture of learning, authenticity, and compassion. Based on the research from my class, I took away several key benefits of diversity in the workplace, such as the ability to generate greater creativity in products and client solutions given the larger pool of life experience to draw from, the ability to market to a greater, more diverse customer base, and the ability to attract and retain the best talent out there, to name a few. All of this can generate increased employee engagement and more instances where people are working on activities that transcend time and money – activities that simply produce joy (or intrinsic satisfaction) by working on them.

I think it’s easy to fall into my-way-is-the-best-way tendencies; we trust ourselves and know we’ll do the best job, right? But doing so deprives us of a world of creative opportunity, learning, and growth. As we continue opening ourselves up to others and learning what makes them tick, as well as sharing our own passions, let’s celebrate our collective beauty and remember that we need each other, always.

I would love to get your thoughts on this…  How have you or your organization encouraged diversity and helped others to thrive by using their various gifts?

Thank you for your comments!

With Greater Leadership Comes Greater Expectation

Like many, my college experience provided the opportunity to make friends and interact with some fascinating people – classmates whom I admire and respect more than they will ever know. We all had our dreams and aspirations, then graduation day came and we parted ways, ready to pursue our passions and make a positive difference in this world. We were ready and willing to be the best leaders we could be, prepared to serve others, stand behind our beliefs, and utilize the tools we had acquired – at least as far as our toolbox would take us.

What began as one such dream for a few of these classmates turned into an international charitable organization employing dozens of staff members, enlisting hundreds of volunteers, and impacting countless lives around the world. This past week, something happened to this organization that changed everything: it garnered global media attention virtually overnight. This organization is known as Invisible Children.

You may be familiar with the latest media blitz surrounding this non-profit and their viral video, Kony 2012. The team posted the video last Monday, hoping for 500,000 views by the end of the year. Yet what they received was far beyond their wildest dreams: 52 million views in just four days…and over 78 million views as I write this. This has led to an outpouring of news articles, TV interviews, blog posts, enormous praise, and even a severe backlash of criticism from people around the world, across nearly every major media entity from the Wall Street Journal to TMZ.

Wow. These young leaders must be feeling so many emotions. I would imagine they are thrilled beyond belief to have their message heard by so many people, yet fearful and/or frustrated by the criticism, and perhaps even nervous by the overwhelming attention in general. The international fame happened nearly overnight. Yet whether they were ready or not, this organization and its leaders will forever be held to a higher standard. Their leadership, or perhaps more importantly, others’ perception of their leadership, has been forever changed.

You see, whether we agree with it or not, leading at higher levels requires a new level of perseverance. The higher we go, the more others expect of us. It may not seem fair, but it is a reality. When you reach a certain level of fame, fortune, or position, opposition becomes inevitable. People will take shots at you, even when you know you’re doing the right thing. Observers will scrutinize your every action just because they can.

As leaders – leaders who are continuously growing and likely aspiring to reach new levels of leadership – we must always remember this. As our ability to influence others and our capacity to act as role models increases, we must expect that higher standards, albeit often unspoken, will be placed over us. As we continuously strive for moral and ethical excellence, we must trust that we’re doing the right thing, even in the face of criticism. And as we responsibly persevere, we must remember the expectation – and the privilege – that the more we receive, the more we must give; the more we lead, the more we must serve.

Our individual leadership journeys may never reach the level that Invisible Children has as an organization (or perhaps they will!), but regardless, the lesson is the same for all. Leadership simply gets tougher the higher you go and the more lives you touch. Not that my opinion matters in this case, but I am enormously proud of my classmates, grateful for their generous work, and fully confident that they will continue to do amazing things for this world… They’ll face a higher level of scrutiny and more forceful opposition, but as with all great leaders, this will ultimately only strengthen their resolve and improve their effectiveness.

Thank you for your Comments!

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