The Icemaker Died

The other day, right before the Fourth of July weekend, the ice maker in our refrigerator died. The weather was hot, and the gin and tonics were ill-suited to warmth. 

Days later I called a repair service, noting lightheartedly that not having an icemaker was hardly a big deal. The service rep lowered her voice, saying that I would be surprised at how many people regard having a broken icemaker as a catastrophe. “If not having an icemaker is the worst thing to happen to me this year,” I quipped, “then it will be a good year.” The service rep laughed in agreement. 

Too often, we get distracted, annoyed even when things, little things, don’t go our way. It’s easy to become frustrated, and in doing so, we forget just how fortunate we are. A flight delay. A missed dinner. A dying appliance. These annoy us, but in the grand scheme of life, they are trivial. In years to come, such inconveniences are not likely to be remembered.

Gain perspective

We must put life into perspective. Easy to say. Our irritation blinds us to reality.

We have endured a year and a half of disappointment and delusion—as well as exclusion and isolation. And we’re still here. The pandemic persists, but we are coming back slowly to a different form of life. Not the same, but different. In some ways, it is richer because of what we have experienced.

We have been tested, and we have survived. Not everyone did. More than 600,000 Americans died. Millions lost their jobs. Three million women exited the workforce. Those are tragedies. They are benchmarks of actual loss. Annoyances come and go. Losses live as scars in our memories.

A novel lesson

The novelist J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in The Hobbit, “So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their endings.” For him, this statement was true. Tolkien was a young officer in what his generation of Britons called The Great War. He fought at the Battle of the Somme. After the war, Tolkien returned taught medieval literature at Oxford. He also raised a family and told his sons stories that would become great novels of fantasy in time. Fires and dragons do die out, leaving in their wake the possibility of renewal. 

So, take a deep breath.

Exhale slowly.

Remind yourself of your blessings

Take another deep breath.

Exhale slowly. 

Smile in gratitude.

First posted on Forbes.com 7/23/2021

On This Fourth of July


“United we stand” seems an odd notion

In our time of division.

We speak now more of what divides us

than what unites us. 

Division is what brought us to now.

We separated from an Empire to become a Republic.

We separated races so one could serve another.

We separated into North and South for Civil War.

Division has led to distrust, disharmony, and dispute

Always simmering, on the surface and below.

Division may be our heritage, but it is not our destiny.

We are a nation built upon an ideal.

That freedom is not an aspiration but a foundation.

We fought to preserve that foundation against threats, foreign and domestic.

Freedom earned is freedom preserved.

It, however, cannot flourish we deny the responsibilities freedom demands.

Respect. Justice. Liberty.

No country offers the bounty we have.

In terms of resources and opportunities.

Our motto is E pluribus unum.

“Out of many, one.”

Our strength lies not solely with our might.

It is rooted in our dreams, our duties, and our determination.

United we stand.

Happy Birthday, America! 

First posted on LinkedIn on July 4, 2021

Richard Feynman’s Lessons for Life (and Leaders)

Richard Feynman won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1965. 

Making the complex understandable was a specialty of Dr. Feynman. Even though seriously ill with cancer, Feynman signed on to the committee investigate the Challenge space shuttle explosion in 1986. In testimony before a congressional committee, 

Feynman dipped  O-ring composite material into a glass of ice water to demonstrate how cold makes rubber brittle. It was an O-ring failure that triggered the explosion.

Feynman was a brilliant scientist, yet unlike so many scientists, he was a gifted teacher and beloved by his students at the California Institute of Technology. In addition to physics, he shared life lessons. Here are eight classes he wrote that have become widely known and have implications for students of leadership. (Feynman’s words are in bold.)

Work hard. Discipline is essential to mastering your craft. It takes years to learn it.

What others think of you is none of your business. Don’t become distracted by opinion and hearsay. Focus on your job.

It’s OK not to have all the answers. Very important. Leaders are not know-it-alls. When you flout how much you know, you realize that no one cares. No one likes a show-off.

Experiment, Fail, Learn and Repeat. Leadership is often a matter of experimentation. Leaders base decisions on assumptions they believe are correct. If results do not equal expectations, it is important to try again.

Knowledge comes from experience. There is no shame in failing; shame comes from disregarding the lessons learned from failure.

Imagination is important. Leaders need to make it safe for people to think big. Encourage people to pursue ideas as a means of adding to the greater whole.

Do what interests you the most. Teams only move forward when the goals inspire them. The pursuit of big goals is true in sports as it is in life. Think big and act bigger.

Stay curious. Curiosity keeps a leader’s imagination fresh. A curious leader is engaged in the pursuit of knowledge and its application to problems in need of a solution.

Two principles

Following these lessons apply not merely to nascent scientists but are sound principles for leaders to follow for two reasons. One, they keep the leader’s ego in check and remind her that failure is part of the human condition, humility is essential, and the pursuit of knowledge takes commitment. Two, they remind the leader that it is his responsibility to foster curiosity and enable people to try and try again. Failure comes from having put yourself out there. Organizations only grow when leaders and followers alike are willing, as Feynman encouraged, to “experiment, fail, learn and repeat.”

Leadership by nature is not a set of aphorisms. It is both practice and art, as well as an example. Rules such as those by Feynman and others remind us that it is also a quest, a journey that requires self-learning that applied well leads to self-knowledge and, ultimately, the self-confidence necessary to lead others.

Thank you, Dr. Feynman.

First posted on SmartBrief.com 3/26/21

Burnout Stops with Self-Care

“Employers need to be mindful of the pace of work demanded from their teams and the impact on the teams’ effectiveness,” said Dr. Millard Brown, senior vice president of medical affairs at Spring Health and a practicing psychiatrist by training, in an interview with me. “There are times when a hard push is necessary. Leaders need to balance the hard push times with other times to take a breath and catch up.”

Self-care for leaders sets the right example. “Leaders should actively encourage self-care by team members and lead by example,” Brown said. “Keep an eye out for employees who demonstrate a change in work engagement and proactively seek to understand and support any concerns.”

The problem with burnout is that it feeds on itself, particularly in crisis times, such as we are living in now. “Most of us likely need to spend more time with self-care, as we are often harder on ourselves than we are on those around us,” Brown said. “As burnout takes hold, we tend to neglect our self-care further.”

Company intervention

Companies can help prevent burnout from occuring. The challenge is to act promptly and proactively. “Once an employee reaches the complete burnout stage,” said Brown in the news release, “recovery can become a challenging and long-term process that significantly disrupts both the employee’s life and the organization’s efficacy.”

There should be no shame in burnout. “Do not judge me by my successes,” said Nelson Mandela. “Judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” The ability to rise again is a form of resilience.

Getting back up again is not easy. It takes two forms of courage. One, to recognize that you are not as strong as you thought you are. Two, you are stronger than you think you are. This approach is not a mind game. Recognize we all have shortcomings, and by acknowledging them, you can forge a path forward.

Adapted from my post for SmartBrief.com 12/18/2020

Going Back to the Office

Louis Carter and David Burkus, two colleagues of mine from Marshall Goldsmith 100 Coaches, have written about going back to the office. I quote them and their work in this new article for SmartBrief.

Here is an excerpt.

There is always a tension between the wishes of management and what employees are willing to do. The challenge is for those in authority to provide a means for employees to achieve the mission by following the organization’s strategic direction.

One such issue arising and worth of study right now, even before it happens, is the workplace’s future. According to a new survey by the Best Practice Institute (BPI), 83% of CEOs want their employees to come to work back in the office. Only 10% of employees are interested. Of those who responded, safety was the prime concern. “Over 60% of employees responded they wouldn’t be comfortable returning without trusting the company’s confidence in communicating co-worker illness, clear instructions on health and safety policies, and the option to work from home.”

Management wants a physical presence

Louis Carter, CEO of BPI, told me in an interview. “Research shows that any change, especially during a highly volatile time, will most likely cause a great deal of stress. People are already very concerned about their health and catching COVID (and rightly so), and going into work present a huge amount of potential for additional stress. Those who did indicate they would come into work gave us clear expectations of what they needed to make it easier for them to come back to work.”

David Burkus, Ph.D., organizational psychologist and author of Leading from Anywhere: The Essential Guide to Managing Remote Teams, says it is necessary “to recognize that it’s about way more than just where people work from during normal business hours. People had the opportunity to rework when and how they do their work as well. So even those who want to return to the office are unlikely to want to return for the standard, Monday to Friday from 9 to 5. There’s no way around a need for flexibility, so the best thing you can do is recognize that it’s not a binary choice. Most people will end up choosing a little bit of time at the office and a little bit of time at home. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s probably better.”

Read the full article first posted on SmartBrief 2/19/2021

Hymn to Inspire

I am seated at the piano because I am remembering my grandmother. She was a gifted piano player. She also taught music and played in her church.

Every morning before my grandfather went to work, she would sit down and play songs. And he would sing along. It was a great way for both to begin their day.

Part of my practice routine is playing hymns. While I was raised in a faith-based tradition, but I am not observant these days. But I do find comfort and solace in the hymns. They are timeless.

They also have an energy about them that gets us motivated.

And so today I want to play a hymn called “Eternal Father, Strong to Save.”

When Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt met off the shore of Canada in summer of 1940, United States had not yet entered the War. Amid the talks, they found time to hold a Sunday service on the deck of a British warship.

“Eternal Father, Strong to Save” was one of the hymns that was played. It was a favorite of Churchill, but also of Roosevelt. I know such a hymn gave these statesmen solace just as it does us.

First posted on LinkedIn newsletter 2/28/2021

Love = Respect

There’s a famous quote from the grizzled football coach Vince Lombardi.

“I don’t necessarily have to like my players and associates. But as their leader, I must love them. Love is loyalty. Love is teamwork. Love respects the dignity of the individual. This is the strength of any organization.”

Love is important.

Vince talks about it from an organizational standpoint, and from a people standpoint.

It’s about respect.

And when you show respect to people, you demonstrate that you care about them

And in return, they will show you loyalty.

Not because they have to, but because they want to.

Because you know what?

They will love you in return.

First posted on LinkedIn 2/14/2021

Experience + Engagement = Virtual Success

Do you miss hearing live speakers?

Well, of course you do.

There’s the crowd.

There’s the adrenaline.

There’s the energy.

I miss it, too.

But virtual presentations can achieve some of the same effect, including energy.

A successful virtual presentation must have two things.

The first thing is to create an experience… something memorable.

Make your presentation actionable.

Give people things to think about when they go back to the workplace.

You also have to capture interest, which we call engagement.

You speak in shorter segments… five, six, seven minutes.

Create exercises, poll questions…

Things like that to get the audience and keep them engaged.

Experience and Engagement.

What a Friend Taught Me about Listening

The other day a colleague of mine, commenting on a short video I did on the topic of trust, noted that I had not mentioned listening. And so he made a list of things necessary to improve listening and communicating.

My friend, who asked that I not use his name, has shared these thoughts with the young leaders he mentored and coached. And he has graciously allowed me to share them here.

Keep your word.  If you say you are going to do something, do it. 

Listen well.  Genuinely listen. Ask questions that allow others to know you’re listening. 

Don’t speak over people. Don’t finish their sentences for them. Good eye contact is helpful, and important. 

Maintain confidentiality, when appropriate and for sure when asked. 

When needed, roll up your sleeves and join the task to help. 

Ask your people what they think and why. Do it often. 

When you disagree, argue the facts, not the personality.

Do not criticize your direct reports in public. Do it in private. 

Support members of your team. Have their backs, especially when they are in a tight spot. Support does not confer agreement. 

Likely you have heard many of these before, but it’s always good to be reminded of how we can become more attentive listeners. “There is perhaps no greater gift you can give to another person,” goes the saying, “than by paying attention and let them know they are being heard.”

Listening is an investment in another person. It is a sign of respect. Doing it regularly and with kindness demonstrates that you value the contributions of others.

First posted on LinkedIn 2/07/2021

Martin Lindstrom: Minister of Common Sense

You don’t just read Martin Lindstrom, you laugh with Martin Lindstrom.

Here’s his new book The Ministry of Common Sense: How to Eliminate Bureaucratic Red Tape, Bad Excuses and Corporate B.S.

Let me give you a little taste.

Have you ever gotten locked out of your computer while you’re at work?

Well, the good news is, according to IT, is that support is available on the website.

Or how about this one?

Big box retailers pride themselves on stocking common merchandise.

Well, why is it that one big box retailer puts snow removal equipment in Florida?

A lack of common sense, I would think.

“The Ministry of Common Sense” is about those foibles that keep good companies from being even better.

It’s a good look at human nature.

And no surprise, because Martin is a student of human nature.

He’s studied more than 3,000 people in customer interactions to find out their behavior.

But Martin, above all, has a deep love for all of us as people.

And this book “The Ministry of Common Sense” talks about how we can get better if we think more clearly.

It’s a good read. It’s enjoyable.

It will tell you a lot about yourself… and show you a way you can get even better.

+++

Here’s a link to my most recent interview with Martin on my LinkedIn Live show.

GRACE under pressure: John Baldoni with Martin Lindstrom