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Happy Campers (#190)

My three kids arrived home from summer camp this week after seven weeks away. For those who didn’t grow up with the tradition of going to camp every summer or in cultures that don’t have long school breaks, it may seem odd for parents to send their children away from home for weeks at a time.

For those who did attend sleepaway camp however, most had the experience that my kids have. They cannot wait to go each year and often don’t want to come home at the end of camp because they’re having such an amazing time.

After hearing recaps from my kids about their summer camp adventures, I’m reminded of the invaluable life skills that this experience can offer to kids—as well some of the practical knowledge that seems to be fading from society. Here are a few notables:

  1. Take responsibility for your actions.

Children at sleepaway camp don’t have their parents around to pick up the slack or whisper constant reminders in their ears. For example, when kids forget to put on sunscreen, they get burned. If they forget their cleats, they don’t play soccer. While painful, these are critical life lessons.

Pain is a powerful teacher, as I’ve seen with my middle son. He started getting migraines last year and we were worried about how he’d manage while away. After experiencing his first migraine at camp, he stepped up and internalized what his body needed. Ever since, he’s been mindful about avoiding situations that tend to trigger these headaches and has had fewer migraines as a result.

  1. Getting out of your comfort zone.

Summer camp encourages kids to try new things in a safe, supportive environment. While campers certainly aren’t expected to enjoy everything that they try, they’re at least expected to give it a shot.

The first year my daughter arrived at camp, she was afraid of the water and was anxious about taking the basic swim test. But, when she had to step up to the expectations set at camp, she surprised even herself. By the end of the first week, she chose to complete the half-mile lake swim. A few weeks later, she got up on water skis. This year at camp (her last), she passed her lifeguard test.

  1. Values over rules.

We are living in a generation of over-parenting and micromanagement. Very few parents and leaders are able to step back and provide values, coaching and guidelines without stepping in and doing the work themselves.

Before my kids leave for camp each year, I remind them about our family’s core values and give them some examples for how they could live them at camp. Just as parents need to let their kids grow up, leaders need to set high expectations for their team members and give them the resources and room to meet them on their own terms.

  1. Practice leadership.

Leadership is a tough job, and good leadership takes a lot of practice. Camp has given my kids the chance to practice making decisions and handling the consequences. Each has had the opportunity to lead their respective age groups in Color War, a camp-wide competition that involves athletics, singing, bunk inspections and even silent meals that are judged for points.

To be elected as a group leader, they had to write a speech about why they thought they’d be up to the task and present it in front of their peers. Once elected, they had to set up the teams and organize line-ups for the competitions. Sometimes their group won. Sometimes they lost. Either way, they had to learn to do both well. And, when their friends weren’t happy about their decisions, they had to learn to accept the feedback.

  1. Going offline for relationship-building.

Our kids’ camps have strict “no technology” policies. This means that our children get a long break from social media and, instead, get social the old-fashioned way—by strengthening their real-world interpersonal skills. The beautiful thing is that they don’t even miss their devices and they are honestly happier without them.

Our kids have gained leadership skills and independence at camp. They’ve learned self-advocacy, become more responsible and have had the space to discover what they enjoy most. And all of these things have happened without their parents being present. We could benefit more from the lessons of summer camp.

Remember, leadership is never about the leader. It’s always about the person being led.

 

Quote of The Week

“Tell Me and I Forget; Teach Me and I May Remember; Involve Me and I Learn.”

 

-Benjamin Franklin

 

 

The post Happy Campers (#190) appeared first on Friday Forward.

Blame Game (#187)

A few weeks ago, during one of our company’s leadership trainings, several employees expressed how impactful our core value “Own it” is to them inside and outside of work. For many, our concept of Own It has become a standard, even with friends and family.

Three years ago, we had a similar core value, “accountability.” However, while team members were certainly willing to be accountable for their inputs or effort, they didn’t necessarily have the same perspective when it came to the overall outcome, especially when external variables existed that they could not fully control.

When we looked at this core value more closely and what we really wanted it to reflect, we focused on what our best people did. We realized what set them apart from just being “accountable” was that they “owned it.” They focused on what they could control but also took responsibility for those external variables. So, we updated the core value to Own It.

We are living in a time where actions and consequences seem to have become detached; where people have a hard time taking ownership for their mistakes or things they might have done differently or better.

In our 24-hour news cycle, critics, commentators and politicians can’t ever seem to apologize when they were clearly in the wrong or out of line. Their knee-jerk response is to say that they were misunderstood and/or that it was someone else’s fault.

Nowhere was this more evident than when former Congressman, Jason Lewis, partially blamed his election loss on the late John McCain, a deceased colleague.

People who are generally unaccountable love to blame others, even unnamed forces. They refer to the “theys” and the “thems” without any specificity. Without ever looking in the mirror.

This is incredibly unfortunate as invaluable learnings can come from being aware of our reactions and from trying to anticipate things we can’t control.  For example, I might learn to react much better to a client who is having a bad day and says something that sets me off. Or, I might learn to better predict if an action might upset them. Do I ignore my part?

Last week, after reading a Facebook post from my friend Jayson Gaignard, I was reassured that there are still people who understand the true value of ownership, even when the circumstances are embarrassing or uncomfortable.

Here’s his story:

“This morning I became the proud owner of a NASTY ticket.

I haven’t received a traffic ticket in years, and today I earned myself a nasty one. A police officer knocked on my window as I was scrolling through my phone at a red light. Although a $600 fine stings pretty bad (that’s four nice dinners out with my lovely wife), I’m actually really grateful. It may sound odd, but here’s why…

My daughter Ava is at a very coachable age. As a parent, you have the ability to heavily influence your child’s operating system or “software” so to speak… How they see the world, how they approach challenges, how they navigate relationships, etc…

Anybody who knows me is well aware that this is a role and responsibility that I take very seriously. Out of the few key “features” that I am really striving to instill in her, ownership is one of the more critical ones (taking 100% ownership of things you can control / and have 0% attachment to things you can’t). As I get older I tend to worry that as a society… fewer and fewer people are taking ownership of their actions, behaviours and oftentimes, circumstances.

Now although I’ve capitalized some coachable moments in the past to teach her the importance of this, why I’m so grateful this morning is because of MY reaction to being pulled over. Many people will give advice, guidance or forceful direction while not practising what they preach. Although I’m sure I fall out of my values at times, the alignment of my head, mouth, and heart is really important to me. After all, consistency builds trust and children learn a ton through osmosis.

In my younger days in incidences when I was pulled over, on the “surface” I would take ownership, however under my breath, I would come up with excuses… I’d blame my work, the car in front of me, the police officer, or whatever…

Maybe it’s come with maturity and old age, but in this case, I was 100% at peace that I was at fault / breaking the law from the second that he knocked on my window.

Ultimately I still got a ticket… it still sucks (financially)… but at least I know that when I stress to my daughter the importance of taking ownership of her actions… I’m walking the talk.”

Was Gaignard outraged after receiving an expensive ticket for using his cell phone while at a red light? Was he calling for the laws to be rewritten? No, he took his medicine and was even grateful for the experience as it created an important teaching moment for his daughter.

In considering both his and Lewis’ situations, what type of behavior and mentality do you want to emulate for those you lead?

 

Quote of The Week

“A body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody.”

 

-Thomas Paine

 

 

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Going Down (#185)

Last week, I wrote about my grinding climb up Grouse Mountain. Fortunately, I didn’t have to climb down as the traffic is only one-way.

While we were able to enjoy a leisurely gondola ride back to the bottom, there are many mountains where this luxury is impossible, such as Mount Everest.

On incredibly steep, high-altitude mountains, the descent can be far more perilous than the ascent. In fact, many don’t realize that the majority of hikers who have died on Everest have met their fate going down. 2019 has been one of the deadliest years on the mountain.

When people are headed up a mountain, they are typically vigilant and focused; they’re locked in on the goal of summiting. On the descent, however, they are tired, their adrenaline is lower and their concentration is less acute.

In thinking about all this, I found it to be a poignant metaphor for leadership.

Consider what it takes to be a good leader. Whether a company is on a rapid growth trajectory or on a downward-facing decline, steadfastness and focus is imperative. In situations of stress, crisis and panic, strong leaders must be the voice of calm and encouragement. They provide the vision for how to navigate the rough patches and slippery slopes that are ubiquitous in any company’s journey.

Conversely, poor leaders tend to panic during precarious times. They often lose their cool and make the people around them even more nervous and defensive, which only serves to exacerbate the situation. As my friend and former United States Navy SEALs commander, Rorke Denver, likes to say, “Panic is contagious. But so is calm.”

Almost anyone can be (or give the appearance of being) a “good leader” when things are going well, whether that’s within a company, in politics, in team sports or in family relationships. What sets a good leader apart from a great one is how they act above and beyond what’s expected.

Great leaders take it one step further by leading when the need isn’t as obvious, such as on the descent down Everest when there are no long queues of climbers and the weather is calm. They don’t let complacency set in or allow for over-confidence. They remain vigilant and see success as an opportunity to coach, point out areas of improvement, reinforce high standards and demonstrate the level of excellence that they expect at all times.

Years ago, I read how legendary New York Yankees baseball manager, Joe Torre, would get on his players’ case if they made mental mistakes or started playing lazily when they were winning a game. If players didn’t sprint to first base, even when their team was ten runs ahead in the ninth inning, they’d get an earful from Joe when they got back to the dugout.

However, if a player made a crucial mistake during a close game, Torre would be the first person to pat them on the back, tell them to shake it off and move on. He never yelled at them or gave them a tough time when they were down and needed support.

Weaker and inexperienced leaders take the easy road when things are going well. They bask in the accolades and often attribute success to their astute leadership. Guards go down and performance gradually declines; when an unexpected obstacle appears, no one is prepared.

What every person and company deserves is a leader who is alert and dedicated when others are losing sight and frustrated. Who’s encouraging and motivating when those around them are tired and fearful. A leader who holds them to high standards, even when things are going well.

We’ll all be called upon to step up and lead during a difficult situation at some point in our lives, be it for a brief moment or for many years. The question to ask yourself is, when the time comes, what kind of leader do you want to be?

 

Quote of The Week

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

 

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

 

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The Grind (#184)

Three years ago, inspired by Brian Scudamore and Cam Herold, I wrote a Vivid Vision for our company describing what Acceleration Partners will look and feel like by January 1st, 2020. It includes some very ambitious goals, most of which we’ve met or exceeded and a few that are within range. This Vivid Vision is shared with all new employees, prospective employees and partners.

As January 2020 approaches, I have been simultaneously reflecting on the journey and thinking ahead to our company’s future; what AP will look and feel like in 2023.

Serendipitously, in the middle of drafting a new Vivid Vision for our company, I had the opportunity to climb the Grouse Grind, a 1.8 mile hike up Grouse Mountain in Vancouver, BC with 2,800 feet of elevation gain and 2,830 stairs up to the summit. It’s affectionately called “Mother Nature’s Stairmaster” and is a mental and physical exercise in resilience.

As I made the climb up with a friend, I came to appreciate that the Grouse Grind trail is a powerful metaphor for any difficult challenge. Each quarter of the ascent also mirrors aspects of our company’s Vivid Vision 2020 journey.

The First Quarter

When we started up Grouse Mountain, we had a lot of energy and optimism. The reality of what lay ahead had not yet sunk in. As a result, our pace was probably faster than it should have been at the outset. I also drank far too much of my water too early. In retrospect, this reminded me how important it is to pace yourself and conserve energy when faced with a long, challenging experience as you may need to tap into those reserves when the going really gets tough. If your journey is going better than expected once you get past the halfway point, that’s the time to turn up the pace. But if you need reserves and don’t have them, believe me, you’ll feel it.

Halfway Point

Similar to many endeavors, the halfway point is a great time for reflection and assessment about how you’re feeling and what your supply situation is looking like. It can also be a time to mentally readjust to get through the remainder of the climb based on the reality of the first half. In our case, we realized that reaching the time goal we’d set for ourselves wouldn’t be possible. So, we set a new one.

Three-Quarters

In relation to both our climb and AP’s path to reaching our 2020 Vivid Vision, the three-quarters portion of the journey typically comprises the greatest challenges. On Grouse Mountain, the three-quarters section was the steepest part of the climb. Fatigue set in and I became too focused on each step; I lost perspective of the fact that we were 75% of the way to the summit. This same phenomenon often presents itself in one’s business, especially when progress goals are high.

The Summit

There are numerous studies on the burst of energy that people get in the last leg of a race or upon seeing the finish line.  I certainly experienced this on my hike. Even though I was exhausted, as soon as the summit came into view, I began to sprint. The desire to reach the goal overrode how my body felt.

This made me realize that the most dangerous part of a difficult endeavor is the point in between the three-quarter mark and the finish; when you are mentally or physical exhausted, but don’t yet have the top of the summit in sight.

Upon reaching the summit, I made a video for my team to remind them that the finish line for our Vivid Vision was only a few quarters away. This is something my leadership team had been asking me to do as my sights were already on our 2023 Vivid Vision. As someone who spends a lot of time looking ahead, I had failed to understand that my team is still in the three-quarters section and has been feeling the strain of the steepest part of the climb without seeing the summit.

My advice for both a tough climb and a big goal is this:

  1. Start slower than you think you need to.
  2. Reassess and adjust halfway to your goal.
  3. When you reach the three-quarters point, remember to look forward and
  4. Last, but not least, make sure to keep that finish line in sight.

 

Quote of The Week

“The best view comes after the hardest climb.”

 

-Author Unknown

 

 

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Micro Management (#181)

This week, my youngest son’s school held their Insect Fair, where students invent their own “insect,” including its backstory.  What was different about this year’s event compared with the previous ones for my other two kids was that the parents never saw the kids’ creations prior to the reveal at the fair.

After seeing far too many projects being turned in that looked like the work of professionals (aka, parents) and not elementary kids, their school transitioned to having all major projects completed in their classroom.

The school has also stopped giving kids homework before 5th grade because teachers were having a hard time figuring out which kids had truly mastered concepts and which hadn’t. Many parents were unwilling to let their kids’ homework be turned in uncorrected and/or with mistakes.

I give a lot of credit to the school for making these changes and for being cognizant of the current micromanaging parental culture that has necessitated it. It’s clearly paying off.

One of the major differences I saw from this year’s student creations was that they were far more colorful, creative and inventive than previous years’ parent-assisted models. The backstories were also far more imaginative.

My son’s own “Fire Bug” lived on a diet of people, fire and sushi, and he was excited to tell us about it. More importantly, it was his team’s creation, something that they were noticeably proud of.

If you’ve ever had a micromanaging boss, you know how demotivating that heavy-handed approach can be. Instead of being able to make your own mistakes and learn from them, the expectation is that everything must be completed to perfection. As a result, you become more focused on avoiding mistakes and not doing something “wrong” rather than on being creative and generating ideas that your boss might not have expected or come up with themselves.

One of the most disturbing trends I see today in our achievement-oriented culture is the value placed on getting things “right” instead of on creativity and learning from mistakes.

In fact, just last week I learned from an expert on generational differences and communication styles that individuals born in the “Gen Z/post-millennial” generation (loosely 1995-2010, McKinsey & Company) prefer to be told explicitly what to do as opposed to being left to figure things out on their own.

This generational insight left many Gen Xers in the room (born between 1960 and 1979) questioning whether these preferences are something that should be nurtured in the workplace – especially if an organization is looking to develop emotionally intelligent leaders who understand the value of delegation, empowerment and decentralized decision-making.

For example, one of the motivations behind a benefit we launched in the US at our company, where we pay employees to stay offline from work, was to incentivize and encourage delegation, one of the hardest leadership skills for someone transitioning from an “individual contributor” to a “manager” to acquire.

In many cases, team members were working while on vacation, not because they were told or expected to, but because they’d designed too many critical systems to run through them. They hadn’t empowered their team to step up.

Whether you are a parent, teacher or leader, promoting independence and the development of others is one of the greatest gifts you can give. Here are a few tips to help you make this shift:

  1. Give your team the freedom to fail.
  2. Focus on what was learned from mistakes made, not the mistake itself.
  3. Focus on values, not rules.
  4. Focus on getting the best out of someone, not the best for them.

While my son and his team’s Fire Bug may not win any prizes, I hope the experience will build his confidence and lead to more important wins in the future.

 

Quote of The Week

“The ‘result’ of micromanagement is perhaps tangible in the short run, but more often causes damage for the long term.”

 

-Pearl Zhu

 

 

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Little Things (#178)

A few months back, I received an e-mail newsletter from a local law firm about an upcoming workshop. Normally, a simple e-mail blast like this would not raise my blood pressure, but I had unsubscribed from this same e-mail several times by this point. The last time I’d received their newsletter I even e-mailed the sender and politely asked to be removed from the list.

But here it was again.

After some deep breathing and recognition that it was a First World frustration, I decided to spend a few minutes investigating why the unsubscribe was not working.

The first thing I discovered was that the e-mail address displayed in the “This e-mail was sent to X” section was not mine. I then noticed that the newsletter was actually being forwarded from one person in the law firm to another.

After piecing it all together, I realized that someone in the law firm’s marketing division was creating the e-mail through a newsletter system, then forwarding it to someone who was then sending it out to a group of people using BCC – all from an e-mail to which they were not responding. Because everyone was getting the same copy, this process made the unsubscribe function useless.

Upon my discovery, I reached out to one of the managing partners of the firm whom I knew and shared my feedback. To his credit, he was very apologetic and said he would dig into the issue. He did and the e-mails have since stopped.

Although this was a frustrating process, it highlighted some important lessons:

1.It’s become a common practice in business today to run processes on autopilot or rely on automation without reexamining the steps involved, checking the work or thinking about the impact on the end user. The focus tends to be on volume, not quality. The problem with this is that first impressions matter—a lot.

Had I been looking to hire a law firm, I very likely would have been discouraged from working with this particular one due to their lack of communication and attention to detail, despite the fact that they were offering a free benefit. The same is true for salespeople who send the same automated template e-mail five times as an initial outreach. Or the woman who reached out to me a few weeks ago about having a well-known guest on my “podcast about X.” High volume rarely makes up for poor quality.

2. Across an organization, excellence is a holistic commitment to quality. Two of my favorite stories about excellence relate to making copies and fixing a boiler.  Inherent in the principle of excellence is improvement. Being an excellent horse and buggy repair shop in 2019 cannot really be considered excellence.  If there is something you have been doing for a while without any change, it might be time to reexamine that process, whether it still works, is relevant or could be done better.

At Acceleration Partners, we frequently talk about how we have an open source operating system of best practices that we want employees to follow. At the same time, employees are expected to look for “bugs” in the system and, more importantly, identify ways we can upgrade “the code.” If our operating system doesn’t change over time, we can’t excel. Excellence is both a top-down and bottom-up framework. When you do the little things right, you’re more likely to get the big things right.

3. Finally, ask for feedback. Feedback is critical to improvement. It’s a gift to receive, even when it’s tough to hear. If you react defensively when being given feedback, people will naturally hold back the next time which will prevent you from learning about your blind spots.

Quote of The Week

“Excellence is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.”

 

-John W. Gardner

 

 

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