Taking Responsibility (#131)

I was heading home a few weeks ago after a rare trip downtown when a car suddenly veered into my lane without signaling and hit my rear bumper. This frustrating situation was exacerbated by the fact that it was during rush hour, on one of the busiest roads in Boston, and the only option was to pull over in the high-speed lane, which almost instantaneously caused a major traffic back-up.

As I approached the driver whose car had hit mine, I realized it was a young woman. I was frustrated and ready to ask her what she was thinking, however, she preempted me by saying, “I am sorry, that was totally my fault,” which she repeated several times. She explained that it was her father’s car and that she would tell him what happened.

The young woman, Veronica, and I quickly exchanged information. I thought about asking her to write down a statement or record her admitting fault as I know how these stories can change when people return home and speak with their parents, spouses or insurance agents. But as cars were backed up all around us and because she was so apologetic and a bit shaken, I simply told her that it was alright, these things happen. We quickly got back in our cars and went our separate ways.

When I got home, I realized the damage was minor and mostly cosmetic. A few days later I spoke with her father and told him that I appreciated Veronica taking responsibility (I had expected her to tell him a different story). I also offered to take my car to a body shop for a repair estimate and that they could cover the cost of repairs directly. He appreciated this option as it would prevent them from having to go through insurance, which would increase his daughter’s rates for years to come as she was a new driver.

I called him back after I received the estimates and told him that I was fine with the lower repair cost option as I just wanted it fixed enough so I wouldn’t have issues with the leasing company. I suggested he pay the body shop directly so he’d have confirmation of the repairs, but he said that wasn’t necessary and that he’d just mail the payment. He also commented that it would be a good lesson for Veronica, albeit a costly one.

A few days later, without ever asking to see the estimate, the check arrived inside a card that said, “Kindness is always in fashion” along with a note thanking me for being kind to his daughter in a stressful situation.

We all make mistakes. What’s important is that we take accountability for them, learn from them and not repeat them in the future.

What’s more is how we behave when we take accountability. In her case, Veronica was respectful and sincere, which I believe reflects the values instilled by her parents.

In truth, I had expected the worst. Maybe that was based on past experiences or on my perspectives about the lack of accountability in society today. Either way, this experience taught me a valuable lesson about kindness and the inherent goodness in people. And, I have no doubt that, next time, Veronica will remember to use her blinker and check her side mirror when changing lanes.

Quote of the week

“Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.”

Lucius Annaeus Seneca



The post Taking Responsibility (#131) appeared first on Friday Forward.

Having Potential (#119)

Much of our motivation in life is driven by two feelings that are often at different ends of the emotional spectrum: inspiration and discomfort.

This week, the focus is on discomfort.

A few months ago, a friend of mine spoke to a group and imparted some harsh but salient wisdom that stuck with me. He said, “When you are ten, potential is cute. When you are 20, it’s nice. But by the time you get to 40, it starts to become an insult.”

While this can be painful for some to hear, I think there’s a lot of truth in his words. Here are two definitions of potential, courtesy of the Oxford dictionary:

Adjective: Having or showing the capacity to become or develop into something in the future.

Noun: Latent qualities or abilities that may be developed and lead to future success or usefulness.

Based on these definitions, it makes sense to refer to something as having potential when it’s early in its lifecycle, be it a person, product or organization.

However, as time goes on, using that same phrase moves from something inspiring to something that becomes a crutch to, eventually, an insult.

Don’t believe me? Tell a mom or dad of a 15-year-old that they have the potential to be a great parent and see how they react.

It’s not that a person who has been dabbling in something for 10-20 years without success doesn’t have potential. What’s more likely is that they lack the talent or the conviction to convert that potential into something meaningful.

For instance, when an entrepreneur talks about the potential of their product yet, and it’s been a decade or more since it’s generated any meaningful sales, they are fooling themselves.

The same goes for an organization that’s been doing essentially the thing for ten years and getting the same results. Saying they have “potential” is no longer the right word to use.

Indeed, potential has an expiration date.

Ultimately, we need to decide where we want to convert our potential into achievement. These will likely be areas in your life that are most important to you, not what others decide are most important or valuable.

The question to think about in your own life or organization is, where in the future would it be an insult to look back and hear that you had had potential?

I have asked myself this very question. At no point in my life do I want to look back and feel that I had the potential to be or do better – as a father, a husband or a leader in my business – and not lived up to it.

With that in mind, pretend it’s five years from now and ask yourself the following:

  • Where would I not want to be told I had potential in my business (either overall or for a product)?
  • Where would I not want to be told I had potential in my family and personal life?
  • Where would I be really upset to hear that I had the potential to be an X?

If you’re not on track to live up to your potential in any of these areas, then go do something about it.

Don’t be someone who had potential. Be someone who acted on their potential.

Quote of Week

 “There is no heavier burden than an unfulfilled potential.”

Charles Schulz

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Raising Values (#118)

As a company, we have always aspired to not have a lot of rules. Instead, we prefer to focus on and reinforce our company’s core values. We believe they are key directional markers that can help team members make more thoughtful, sound decisions.

Recently, while reading Adam Grant’s book Originals, I learned about a study done by two sociologists who studied non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust (rescuers) with a group of neighbors who lived in the same town but who did nothing (non-rescuers).

The study revealed that what ultimately differentiated the rescuers from the non-rescuers was how their parents disciplined bad behavior and praised good behavior.

When the rescuers were asked to recall their childhoods and the discipline they received, researchers discovered that the word they most used was “explained.” The focus of their parents was on the Why behind their disciplinary action and the moral lesson or value to be learned, rather than on the discipline itself.

This practice conveyed the values their parents wanted to share while also encouraging critical thinking and reasoning. Grant notes that by explaining moral principles, the parents of those in the rescuer group had instilled in their children the importance of complying voluntarily with rules that align with important values and to question rules that don’t.

The rescuers were almost three times more likely to reference moral values that applied to all people, emphasizing that their parents taught them to respect all human beings.

Another key to creating these moral standards that researchers found is praising behavior or character over the action itself. For example, in one study, children who were asked to be “helpers” instead of “to help” were more likely to clean up toys when asked. Similarly, adults who were asked “Please don’t be a cheater” cheated 50 percent less than those that were asked “Please don’t cheat.”

The same researcher suggests that we replace “Don’t Drink and Drive” with “Don’t Be a Drunk Driver.”

It turns out that values are far more effective than rules at eliciting the outcomes and behaviors that we want. In either a family or an organization, it is virtually impossible to cover all possible rules or monitor the adherence to them. Doing so would create a lengthy process manual or a draconian set of guidelines.

I’ve observed that highly successful families, organizations and companies select and focus on a few values that are most important to them. These aren’t token values that sit on the wall. They explain the Why behind those values to their group and regularly reinforce them, both in terms of accountability for not meeting the standard as well as celebrating decisions that are made which support those values.

These values can cover hundreds, if not thousands, of situations, far more than any set of rules could. Most importantly, people are encouraged to openly question decisions that are incongruous with the values. Enforcement is not top down; it’s made by all the members of the group.

The individuals who acted bravely to save would-be victims of the Holocaust were never explicitly told to do that. It was following the values that were instilled and strengthened throughout their lives that brought them to a logical, courageous decision.

Quote of the Week

“The moral values, ethical codes and laws that guide our choices in normal times are, if anything, even more important to help us navigate the confusing and disorienting time of a disaster.”

Sheri Fink

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Moment or Movement (#117)

This past Saturday, students all around the world marched peacefully in the March for Our Lives. In Washington DC, it was the biggest youth demonstration since the 1960’s.

The symbolism and significance was not lost. One of the last speakers at the event was Yolanda Renee King, an extremely poised 9-year-old granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King.

One of the themes brought up several times by the young speakers was the importance of making this march and the cause behind it a movement, not just a moment.

In an interview after the event, a professional organizer was asked what the difference is between a moment and a movement. He replied, “A movement has to cost you something.”

This is a powerful statement, one that I thought about for a quite a while.

It reminded me of a story a friend shared with me about one of his employees who did not agree with a position that the company had taken on a societal issue. The employee told my friend, the CEO, that he was quitting because of it.

Rather than be upset, my friend told the employee that he respected him tremendously for paying the price of being true to his values. For those values, he was willing to sacrifice his job.

It can be easy to ride the wave of a moment and go with the current. Many politicians specialize in and make a career of this.

But when that moment is over, there is a decision to make.

Truly launching a movement requires sustained action around a deep-rooted purpose, no matter the personal or professional cost. It will involve ups and downs, roadblocks and sacrifices. There will be many detractors and haters. However, what keeps a person, group or team going is the belief that the price of failure is greater than doing nothing.

What I finally grasped for the first time this weekend is that these kids believe that the status quo is threatening their lives, and that’s no longer an option.

A few years back, CVS Caremark rebranded with the tagline “Health is Everything.” CVS then put their money where their mouth was, suspending the sale of all tobacco products in 2014. That decision cost them an estimated $2B in tobacco product sales almost overnight. However, following the announcement, the public rewarded them by driving their stock price to a 34-year high.

As individuals and organizations, we will each have our moments of opportunity. The question is, when your moment is over, do you have the conviction to create a movement?

Quote of The Week

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead

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2017 in Review (#104)

Sometimes, what we need is a reminder of what we already know rather than learning something new.

Because many of you (myself included) are on vacation this week, I thought that, instead of writing a new post, I would highlight the top Friday Forwards of 2017 and give a quick summary of each.

The Human Element: In many ways, our focus on technology and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is causing us to lose our ability to effectively communicate with and relate to each other as humans. It doesn’t always feel like progress.

18 Summers: This post affected a lot of parents. Many wrote to tell me that it inspired them to make similar plans with their family.

BS of Busy: Saying we are busy has become a cultural crutch. Being busy doesn’t make us happier or more productive.

Bad Week: The story of how Dr. Mary-Claire King was able to push forward during the worst week of her life, leading to a medical breakthrough that has saved millions of women’ lives.

Freedom to Fail: Important lessons from a soccer coach on how we all need to have room to fail, learn from our mistakes and grow.

Beautiful Day: This is the story of a man who created a wonderful legacy for his family.

Tri-It: Reflections and lessons learned from running my first Olympic Triathlon, including why you should practice on stage.

RV Reflections Part 1 and Part 29 lessons learned about life and business from a 10-day RV trip with my family though Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.

Burning Bridges: Why it’s never a good idea to burn a bridge, even when you need to walk away from a relationship.

Carpe The Diem: The improbable story of how my son and I ended up together at the greatest Super Bowl in history after I decided not to be a hypocrite and take a chance.

Quote of the Week

“Any idea, plan, or purpose may be placed in the mind through repetition of thought.”

Napoleon Hill

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Freedom to Fail (#95)

We all need room to make mistakes. The goal should be to learn from them and move forward, without repeating them. An example of restricting that freedom is Volkswagen’s diesel engine debacle. According to many company executives, former CEO, Martin Winterkorn, was demanding, authoritarian and abhorred failure; he also fostered a climate of fear.

A key part of Volkswagen’s aggressive growth strategy was a new diesel engine that would deliver low emissions and high efficiency; the automotive Holy Grail, if you will. The problem was that, as the engine came into production, it didn’t meet the goals Winterkorn had publicly stated it would. Too afraid to bring this failure to their boss, the engineers used their collective ingenuity to cover up the problem, leading to billions of dollars in losses and damage to the brand.

A great example of a leader embracing failure can be found in Ray Dalio’s best-selling book, Principles. In it, Ray speaks about an expensive oversight that an employee made at his hedge fund and his decision not to fire the person. Ray believed that firing the employee would encourage others to conceal their mistakes out of fear.

Instead, Ray used the experience to create a “mistake log” where all mistakes were reported and logged company-wide so others could learn from them. Now, making mistakes is not a fire-able offense. However, failing to report a mistake is.

The concept of failure is a nuanced one with many cultural implications. But ask any successful person and they’ll tell you how failure and learning from it contributed to their success. Sadly, so many parents today are robbing their children of this valuable experience.

Sure, these “helicopter” parents may be well-intentioned, but they are grossly overreaching. Because they can’t handle seeing their kids truly be challenged, uncomfortable or, god forbid, fail at something, they interfere in every area of their lives.

I strongly believe that this explicit and implicit discouragement of failure poses a serious and growing threat for the development of an entire generation. And I’m clearly not the only one.

My youngest son’s soccer (“football,” for those of you outside the U.S.) coach, Sean Napier, sent a strongly-worded note out to parents last week, which I applaud. Sean’s words are an important reminder for both parents and business leaders of how we need to cultivate an environment that fosters failure, growth and self-discovery. It’s also a great example of how an organization can set clear standards and guidelines for acceptable behavior.

I hope you enjoyed the weekend games. I want to take this opportunity to remind you about the conduct of parents on the sideline during games. This is a huge topic within youth sports and particularly with youth soccer. Unfortunately, on more than one occasion this fall, I have received negative feedback regarding the ‘coaching’ that is coming from the parents within the X group. This is something I feel very strongly about; there should be zero instruction coming from the parents side. Words of encouragement are welcome, but that is it. I am usually focused on what is happening on the field, so I do not hear it. There is no reason for any players on any of my teams to feel uncomfortable playing in front of their parents or teammates parents because of negative comments or instructions coming from that side of the field. Moving forward, there will be a zero tolerance policy with regards to this. If I hear any instructions coming from the parents side, I will have the referee stop the game and ask you to leave. This is not the World Cup; the boys are 8 and 9 years old! You pay a lot of money to have me coach your son; please leave the coaching to me.

I was at the field early yesterday watching games from the parents side and some of the stuff I heard being shouted onto the field was nonsense. I am guilty at times of over-coaching during games, but I try and help them through guided discovery and asking questions.

 If a player is constantly being told what to do by a coach or a parent from a sideline, or constantly yelled at for their mistakes, is the player really taking anything from the experience?  Coaches and parents who find it necessary to shout instructions to individuals or coach their team through the entire match are eliminating one of the most important aspects of a players development, the ability to make mistakes. Allowing players to make mistakes on their own, without the threat of immediate backlash from a coach or parent, or without the ability to blame someone for shouting the wrong instruction to him or her, is one of the critical elements to any players growth in the game. Players need to make mistakes on the field in order for them to realize what needs to be done the next time around in order to see a different outcome.

 I came across this analogy which I think is pretty accurate…

  ‘A GPS system is great for getting from point A to point B, but most of the people who use a GPS tend to pay a lot less attention to where they are going.  Many people end up relying on the GPS to the point where they cannot find their way without it, even when they have been on the same route multiple times. In a similar manner, coaching from the sidelines can hinder players from developing the crucial ability to make their own decisions and think for themselves.

For drivers who do know where they are going, the GPS can be a real annoyance, cutting into the songs on the radio and interrupting conversations with the passengers to tell the driver information they already know. At worst it is a distraction that might prevent the driver from concentrating on the road.

Now imagine if your GPS could not be turned off, and that it always presumed to know where you were going without ever asking you. Let’s further suppose it didn’t appreciate you exploring a side road or detouring to that espresso stand, and got increasingly loud and angry if you failed to follow its directions. “Take the next right turn …” “When possible make a U-turn” “Recalculating route …”  “When possible make a U-turn …” “Recalculating rout …”   “HEY DUMMY, YOU’RE GOING THE WRONG WAY!”

What would driving be like if you had a GPS like this?  It would be a lot like trying to play soccer while people on the sidelines were constantly yelling at you.

Bottom line: If we want our young players to develop and have fun, we need to learn to shut up and let them drive.”

Quote of The Week

“The greatest successes come from having the freedom to fail.”

Mark Zuckerberg

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