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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

 

 

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The Saddle (#189)

Last week, I wrote about my wife’s bike accident on our recent vacation and her perspective of how it could have been worse.

What I failed to mention was that, after a day’s rest, she got back on her bike and participated in a large portion of the last two days of our group’s ride. Part of her motivation was to be able to experience and enjoy the entire trip as planned, but I also believe she understood the psychological benefit of getting back on the bike and doing so quickly. Otherwise, that lasting memory of the fall may have caused her to be apprehensive and fearful about an activity she has always enjoyed.

Her experience brought to mind the story of a close friend. When he was around 12 years old, he was skiing with his father after a snowstorm and they found themselves caught in a serious avalanche. He was not pulled under by the snow, however his father was. He ended up so buried that only his hand was visible. A few skiers saw his hand sticking out of the snow and rushed to help dig him out before it was too late. Miraculously, he was okay.

You can imagine how traumatic that experience must have been — for both my friend and his father. Understandably, it could lead to someone never wanting to ski again. My friend’s father must have known this because, the very next morning, he insisted that they both go skiing.  He understood how important it was to get back out on the skis right away and create a new, happier memory.

To this day, many years later, skiing is one of his family’s most loved activities and one that’s enjoyed by three generations.  Had it not been for his dad’s determination to go out and ski the very next day, that avalanche could have been the last time my friend ever skied.

There is a reason the saying “get back in the saddle” is used when someone faces a difficult situation, whether that’s getting thrown from a horse, falling off a bike, going through a divorce or starting a new job after being let go. The longer you wait, the harder it gets.

I talk to a lot of people who have never recovered from one of these defining moments, especially if it happened when they were young. A bike they are afraid to get on because of a fall. A debilitating fear of dogs after being nipped or bitten. In most of these cases, the person ran from the incident and it became their defining memory, never to be overwritten by a new one.

Sometimes, colleagues, friends and family are unintentionally complicit. In trying to console us, they tell us that it’s okay to avoid the thing that we just failed at, that scared us or that caused us injury. Understandably, they are trying to protect us. Unfortunately, in doing so, they might be hindering us in the long run.

The reality is that what we often need the most is to face that exact thing that just caused the pain – and we need to do it quickly. This way we can move past and through it and make a new memory, overriding the bad experience with a new one before it has the opportunity to set in too deep.

In the week after the bike accident, we had the opportunity to spend a few days in Copenhagen with family, where the main form of transportation is biking. Biking was a huge part of our experience there and we may not have had that opportunity had my wife not jumped right back in the saddle as she did.

 

Quote of The Week

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

 

-Confucius

 

 

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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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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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It Will Pass (#180)

I recently heard someone say something to the effect of “If you are really happy or really sad right now, don’t worry, it will pass.”

This concept represents interesting philosophical and mathematical principles around regression to the mean and the concept of normalization. Here’s a recent example to explain this a bit more.

This week, my wife and I finally replaced a trash compactor in our kitchen that has been broken for almost seven years. Reflecting back to when it originally broke, I remember thinking at the time what a huge inconvenience it was going to be not having a usable trash compactor. Then, when we learned that it was pretty much unrepairable, we were faced with ordering a new one.

But we didn’t. Life got in the way and other things pulled at our attention. Eventually, not having a trash compactor became normal. We’d adjusted to the new reality of using our broken trash compactor as an overqualified and undersized trash can and having to empty it more often.

In fact, the only reason we ordered a new one this week is because it’s part of a larger project this summer to fix everything that’s broken in our home. This includes a new closet door that has gone unpainted and that’s been missing a handle for five years, both of which I’d stopped noticing years ago.

My feelings of annoyance and frustration at not having a trash compactor eventually passed. In the larger scheme of things, living without this appliance wasn’t the big deal it felt to be at the time.

The “this too shall pass” concept also applies to things that initially make us really happy. Most of us can relate to that dopamine surge we experience after buying something new (new car, new home, new trash compactor, etc.). But over time, that new thing simply becomes a regular part of our existence and no longer provides the same level of excitement it once did. It too passes.

Why does this matter? While these are simple examples, they represent those longer-term decisions we all make in life and business though a short-term perspective. When we look at things through a “zoomed in” lens, it can be easy to give them too much significance– positive or negative. Often, what we really need is to zoom out to look at the bigger picture.

By doing that, I believe we make better choices, especially in the moment, overreact less and create a more sustainable state of happiness.

For example, is a few weeks of enjoying that new leather smell really worth the additional years of monthly car payments or the unfavorable feelings you’re likely to have when you open the bill each month? Are those extra features you “had to have” at the time of purchasing a new TV something you’ll even notice or use in a few months’ time? 

Maybe, but more likely not.

Something I’ve tried to get better at is sitting with something for a few weeks and then seeing if it’s still bothering me or making me extraordinarily happy. If those initial feelings of delight or discontent have passed, I know it really wasn’t all that important.

The reality is, time will always pass. By acknowledging this, you’re better able to use your time and energy more wisely and achieve sustained happiness.

Things going really well? This too shall pass. Something really bothering you? This too shall pass.

 

Quote of The Week

“The ability to discipline yourself to delay gratification in the short term in order to enjoy greater rewards in the long term, is the indispensable prerequisite for success.”

 

-Brian Tracy

 

 

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Second Chances (#176)

“What would it be like if you were known only for the worst thing you had ever done?”

This question was how Cat Hoke, founder of multiple prison reform programs, started a resignation e-mail that she knew would destroy her career but save the Prison Entrepreneur Program (“PEP”) she had helped start in Texas and cared deeply about.

For over a decade, Hoke has been dedicated to helping incarcerated inmates have a second chance at life.  In fact, she’s the founder of Hustle 2.0, the program I took part in and dedicated two Friday Forwards posts to my perspectives a few weeks back.

Hoke’s also been the beneficiary of several important second chances of her own.

A surprise divorce led to a dark period in her life. During that time, she crossed personal boundaries with formerly incarcerated inmates who had been part of her program. The “sex scandal” that ensued led to her ouster from PEP in 2009 and the resignation e-mailed noted above. What followed this experience were days of self-loathing, loneliness and severe depression.

Shortly after sending the email, people who’d known and cared about Hoke reached out, offered support and helped her get back on her feet.

Although it took time, Hoke was eventually able to rebuild herself, her career and her purpose, launching two new organizations (Defy and Hustle 2.0) that are now helping to improve the lives of tens of thousands of prisoners and their families. She’s also written a book titled, A Second Chance, that features a forward written by Sheryl Sandberg.

The interesting thing about purpose is that it tends to stem from a painful or formative life experience.

On the surface, Hoke’s choice to work with inmates was highly unlikely.  When she was 12 years told, her good friend was brutally murdered by two 16-year-old boys. One boy was sentenced to five years in prison and the other was sentenced to ten, both of which she felt were gross injustices compared to what they had done. Understandably, she was a hard-liner when it came to crime.

Years later, at 26-years-old and a rising executive at JP Morgan, Hoke began looking for more to life than “dying with a big pile of money.” When a colleague suggested she join her at a prison in Texas where she was doing volunteer work, she initially resisted. Her judgement of the prisoners, clouded by her own experience, was that they all deserved what they got and didn’t deserve help from volunteers.

Her friend, however, was ultimately able to persuade her into going. When Hoke recollects this experience, she shares how her very first conversation with a prisoner “changed everything,” including her viewpoint on incarceration and second chances. She even cried for days when she reflected on how ruthless she’d been in writing people off as being less than human.

In today’s “always on” news cycle, we are quick to judge mistakes in real-time and castigate those who we don’t know. It’s a “shoot first and ask questions later” philosophy. Too many take a position of superiority, pointing the finger at someone else for being different and “less than” based on a single poor decision they made.

Yet, we really aren’t all that different.

Show me someone who has never made a major mistake and I will show you someone who never put themselves out there. We all make mistakes to varying degrees of severity and, at some point, we are going to need a second chance. But first, we need to believe that we are worthy of one. As Hoke learned from her experience, sometimes the person we need to forgive most is ourselves.

If you can forgive yourself, you may find it easier to forgive others. You may even go on to help them as Hoke has done.

Perhaps the most powerful question you could ask yourself is the very question that Hoke included in the beginning of her resignation e-mail: “What would it be like if you were known only for the worst thing you had ever done?”

I had the privilege of sitting down with Cat Hoke in person on the Elevate podcast to talk about her own second chance and the thousands of second chances she’s gone on to create for others. I hope you enjoy our conversation.

 

Quote of The Week

“Sometimes life gives you a second chance, or even two! Not always, but sometimes. It’s what you do with those second chances that counts.”

 

-Dave Wilson

 

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