Where to start to make it better?

These are difficult times. Some express the view that we just have to accept that it’s all going to be downhill from here.

At a recent parenting workshop my wife asked participants what they were doing to help their children deal with society as it is today. The majority told stories of the supportive, nurturing strategies they are trying to adopt in the home. They want the best for their families and are doing what they can to make a positive impact on their children.

Many said they believe it is possible that by guiding their children to be law abiding, self reliant, caring individuals they were making positive waves that can spread beyond the household.

If we take the responsibility to contribute to an atmosphere that supports mutual respect, growth and development, that is a seed that can grow into something very powerful.

Many people imagine that the problems around them can only be solved by other people, usually people in authority. But nothing will get better unless we do something to make it better.

The home is a good place to start.

The car accident that saved his mother’s life

A car slammed into the back of my friend’s vehicle a few Saturdays ago. His 8 year old daughter was in the back seat. He said she began to cry, telling him of pains in her head and back. Hospital scans later revealed nothing was broken, just bruises. He took her home. He was scheduled to be in work on Sunday, but called and explained what happened and that he would be staying home to keep an eye of his daughter.

While making breakfast Sunday morning his mother, who lives in the same house, called out saying her chest was hurting “real bad”. He found her in bed sweating. He rushed her to hospital. The doctors said it was a massive heart attack and it was fortunate he got her to the hospital as soon as he did otherwise she would have died.

My friend told me if the accident had not occurred on Saturday, he would not have been home taking care of his daughter on Sunday, so he would not have been there to take his mother to hospital.

Bad stuff happens… but it might be just the opening scene in a movie that has a wonderfully positive ending.

Do you know when you cross that line?

So the line is drawn between what is allowed and what is not allowed, or what is right and what is wrong. And everybody is cool with that. But over time, some folks decide they want to operate very close to the line. Then, when no one is looking, they move the line. Just a little, but enough to give them an advantage or in order legitimise their actions.

Before you know it, everyone starts using this new line and gets comfortable with it. After a few years the process is repeated and the line keeps getting moved. Not only that, but because so many people are stepping on the line, it’s becoming faint, barely visible. So even those who want to do the right thing have difficulty knowing the boundaries. They don’t even know when they cross the line.

Seeing others moving beyond where lines used to be they ask themselves, “Well, if everyone is getting away with it, why not me?”

And so it goes on. Is there still a line? Do you see it?

You are a Motivational Speaker

When I am invited to speak at an event I am often introduced as an independent radio producer and motivational speaker. I’m okay with the first part, but motivational speaker… What’s that? I once told a host I will accept the title if he accepts it for himself.

We are all motivational speakers. Check it. Haven’t you found yourself in a cloudy frame of mind and someone, even a person you didn’t know, said a few words that trigged an ah-ha moment, a moment of clarity that helped you get back on track?

Or you’re in a meeting, something is said and a switch flicks on to help you see more clearly. Perhaps something a child says or a story told by a senior. All this speaking has the potential to motivate.

And what about when you speak to others? You may never know how many people you have positively impacted with your words.

If you keep your ears and mind open you will likely realise that we are all motivational speakers.

Who are you going to motivate today?

Many give orders, but few know how to lead

In every business, whether large or small, once it comprises personnel, there will be personalities to deal with. Personality, as defined by the Oxford Online Dictionary is the combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual’s distinctive character.

A person’s personality has an effect on others. Sometimes just the presence of an individual can change or impact a group of people. This is often noticeable in the workplace. The atmosphere can change very quickly when the boss is around. That change may be for better or for worse. The personality of a boss can affect efficiency, attitude, cooperation and overall progress within a company. It would follow then that the quality of leadership impacts the whole organisation. As obvious as that may seem, I’m sure you can think of examples where lack of effective leadership resulted in failed companies.

It can be a major challenge to get buy-in from employees. But as leadership consultant and author John Maxwell points out, “People won’t go along with you if they can’t get along with you.”

The impact of personality in the workplace involves a complex series of interactions. Each worker has to deal with himself or herself, his/her co-workers, with customers and clients and with the boss.

These interactions are regularly tested and can be the source of conflict when it comes to delegating duties or issuing directives.
Do this!
I want this done.
Can you handle this for us?
How do you think this ought to be done?

Each of the above statements reflects a personality trait. If the order is barked out, the response may be prompt, but will probably reflect a certain amount of resentment. If, on the other hand, an order is made to sound like a request or a call for expertise, this soft-skilled approach invariably brings better results. The worker carrying out the order feels better about himself/herself in terms of being useful and he/she feels better about the person who has given the order.

There are bosses who fear that this soft-skills approach is an undermining of their position. They want to make it clear to everyone that they are in charge. They will shout and sulk, curse and accuse, order and abuse. Some say aggression is the only way to survive in this crazy world. They believe that unless you scream your head off, no one will listen. Is that really true?

If you twist someone’s arm they may well do as you say. But will you get the best from them? On the other hand, if you interact respectfully with people, it’s much more likely they will respond to being treated like a human being and will perform with a sense of responsibility, feeling valued.

Theodore Roosevelt is quoted as saying, “The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.” Unfortunately, this piece of advice is sometimes ignored by employers/bosses who consider it their birthright to be in charge. This can project an air of bossiness. Such bossiness may have someone in authority, but confidence makes a person an authority. Confidence is bred of competence; it is a credential difficult to fake. You cannot order someone to trust you or demand a show of confidence and respect.

Some bosses consider themselves leaders and their employees as followers. But if you want to lead, do you do anything that would make people want to follow you? There are several differences between a boss and a leader. Sam Geist, author of, Would You Work for You, notes a few… “The boss depends upon authority… the leader on goodwill. The boss inspires fear… the leader inspires enthusiasm. The boss says I… the leader says we.”

Are you a boss or a leader?

Originally published in Business Journal.

Some build up … some cut down

Ambition plus fair and honest competition are very useful in one’s journey up the ladder of success. But have you noticed how some people believe that the only way to move forward is by holding others back?

Instead of endeavouring to hone their own skills, they would rather blunt the other person’s blade. Perhaps we could name such people M.O.W.E.R.s (Moving Ahead With Extreme Ruthlessness).

Their planning is geared towards finding ways of denigrating the opponent, making the public feel that the competition is incompetent, and cruel. Even if their competitors produce something of worth the MOWERs will find a convoluted way of illustrating an imagined hidden agenda.

Who are these MOWERs? They are everywhere; in fact if we look closely we can often see a little MOWER inside ourselves. By trying to make others look bad in order that we should appear good, could well be an indication of our shallowness. By extension, whatever we have to offer would also likely be superficial.

Appreciating the good that others do goes a long way in the development of mutual trust.

It is so easy to take everyday occurrences for granted that we no longer recognise their importance. This can be observed in the political arena, in work place and even in the home. In the world of business this behaviour surfaces often not only between competitors, but also within individual companies.

Picture the following scenario. Mr. Smith is troubled by the youth, vitality and creativity of Mr. Jones. He is fearful of the sharpness and innovation shown by Jones. Instead of retraining and grooming himself to be up to date and more efficient, he chooses to step on Jones’ foot.

Jones cannot move forward any longer, but it is also clear that in order to maintain Jones’ stagnation, Smith has also to remain on the same spot mashing the foot of Jones. What we have here is a clear case of stalemate. To impede the progress of Jones, Smith has to sacrifice his own growth. If he raises his foot he knows that Jones will race ahead.

Maybe Smith’s basic difficulty is insecurity. Because he has an underdeveloped or inaccurate self-image he is in constant fear of being toppled from his position. He cannot afford to let the bosses, or the public, develop too much affinity with Jones for then they may forget him. If Smith experienced greater security both men could share the best of what they have. Smith could share the wisdom of his experience and Jones could infuse Smith with new ideas and methods.

There are many people like Smith who feel threatened by what they perceive as competition, regardless of its origin. They refuse to co-operate in case the competition learns too much, even if the competitor is on their own team.

Maybe there is truth in the often held view within spiritual circles that the ills within the world and within our homes are due to the ills within ourselves. Many of the problems facing us are of our own making and require a change of perspective; a vision of development that spans more than the four or five years of a political term in office and the understanding that personal greed leads to national need. When the nation is in need ill gotten wealth loses its value.

Some may label such thinking as naive and idealistic. Well that may be so, but surely we have to start somewhere. We can choose to be GROWERs or MOWERs.

Originally published in Business Journal.

Zoned Out in the Comfort Zone

If it ain’t broke… break it


A client asked me to design and deliver a workshop as part of a staff training programme. During one of the sessions a participant said she didn’t think the ideas presented would work, because that’s not the way she’s accustomed doing things. And anyway, “My manger has not complained. In fact, I scored quite well on my latest assessment.” A few others agreed with her.

Without compromising my confidentially agreement with the employer I explained that in today’s constantly shifting market-space, the company wanted to make sure it had the flexibility and agility to handle whatever might be ahead. A staff training programme was set up when managers recognised it was time not only to upgrade skills, but also to explore new ways of thinking and doing. I later realised that breaking the ice would have been much easier had the employer communicated this to the staff before the training began. But that’s a whole other subject.

“If it’s not broke don’t fix it”. That’s a familiar quote that has all but become a mantra in many businesses. In today’s world such thinking can lead to inertia. Okay, there are occasions when it can be useful to maintain systems just the way they are, but too much time in the comfort zone can cause you to zone out. With concern in recent years over the level of risk exposure in the financial sector, it’s no surprise that many businesses feel justified in playing it safe. But playing it safe can endanger progress.

There was a time, not too long ago, when a business would undergo major change followed by a long period of stability. The pattern would repeat after a number of years. In successful businesses these days, there are likely to be several changes taking place simultaneously with little or no gap between major change initiatives.

One of the points I remember from an intensive week-long manager’s training course some years back was the importance of flux. The course was “Managing Organisational Transformation.” The trainers explained that if you want to walk you can’t keep both feet on the ground at the same time. You are always in a state of transition if you are moving. Successful businesses adopt a similar model. While having one foot steady and grounded, they make sure the other foot is ready to lead off in the direction of the most favourable opportunity. Such enterprises, the trainers told us, are never static, always in transition they keep a close eye on trends and are primed to take advantage of a new wave and ride it.

Richard J. Leider, founder and a partner in The Inventive Group, says the core of the change process is listening and hearing. “Listening is absolutely essential to change” says Leider. That may explain why change is such a hit and miss undertaking for many organisations.

Listening is not an easy art to develop and if managers do listen, are they willing to actively encourage staff to speak up and contribute ideas for improvement?

Employees tend to be more productive when they feel involved in what’s going on and not just a cog in the machine. If they know their managers are open to new ideas, there’s a good chance the workforce will not just be following orders, but actively thinking about more effective, efficient ways of working. That has to be good for everyone, especially the customer.

However, employees often complain that original thinking is neither welcomed nor rewarded. If you question the system you are likely to be branded a troublemaker instead of an innovator. Discouraged from displaying a questioning attitude or developing critical thinking, employees are instead encouraged to maintain the status quo and not rock the boat. This may be particularly relevant in an organisation enjoying a period of relative success. Change is unwelcome as it may upset the formula.

But if you have been doing things one way for many years, that doesn’t mean you’ve been doing things the best way. Is it possible that your way could be made a little more efficient?

It’s often said that the biggest enemy of change is success. The more you think you know the less open you are to new information and ideas that could really take you to a new level. Dr. Robert Kriegel, one time athletic coach and author of “If it ain’t broke… break it”, says it’s sometimes useful to think like a beginner. “Experts tend to rely on yesterday’s solutions to solve today’s problems. Beginners don’t have such preconceived notions; they approach new situations with curiosity and open minds” says Kreigel.

Regardless of how far ahead we may think we are, it’s vital to keep our eyes open and welcome change when required, otherwise we may slip into a coma of false security as the competition glides past.

First published in Business Journal Magazine

By saying, “that’s just the way it is” – nothing changes

It’s quite appropriate to accept the things beyond your control and not get overly upset about them, but it’s something else entirely to resign yourself to situations because of fear or laziness.

Most circumstances that cause conflicts for human beings are created by human beings and therefore can be changed somehow. But you will wipe out the possibility for change if you convince yourself there’s nothing you can do because you believe that’s just how things are.

By realizing that there is something you can do, all sorts of exciting alternatives open up. You’re then in a position to take action and make things happen.

Many psychologists suggest we are the products of what we choose for ourselves and we each have the capacity to make healthy choices. This can be done if we change our mind-set to what many describe as “creative aliveness”.

If you can improve your attitude and expectations about yourself, circumstances will likely take a turn for the better. Instead of simply reacting, you develop the habit of taking the initiative and getting down to business.

Don’t let someone’s bad mood make you moody

cinemaI went to the movies recently. It was a public holiday and the young woman collecting tickets obviously didn’t want to be working that day. I said something to my wife about the service at the place and the young woman started to quarrel with me as though I had been talking to her.

It caught me off guard. I tried to keep it together and told her that what I said to my wife was my opinion and there was no need for her to get involved.

The young lady turned up the heat and the volume. I told her thanks for her excellent customer service and walked into the cinema.

As I sat down I was still upset at the way she behaved. In fact, I remained fuming for about ten minutes before I realised… “Wait, I’ve paid to see this show. Yet I’m sitting here and allowing the woman’s hang ups to spoil my enjoyment. That can’t work. It’s like I’m paying money to get upset!”

Was I really going to allow this stranger to raise my blood pressure, tighten my neck muscles and crease my forehead? No way. I would not allow her bad mood to make me moody. I decided that her frustration belonged to her, not to me.

By the way, it was a great movie.

How do you deal with the darkness?

Chatting with some friends recently one said, “Have you noticed these days the world is moving in two directions? The negativity or darkness seems to be increasing, while humanity’s thirst for peace, love and harmony, the positive, is also increasing.”

Another friend said, “Supposing if all those seeking peace, harmony and things positive could cooperate and work together. Supposing if all those tiny lights realise they are not alone; that they have power; what would happen to the darkness?”

We fell silent as we embraced that thought and considered our personal responses to those not so illuminating periods in life – the times we felt the darkness closing in and forgot the power of our own light.

Occasionally we may feel as though we are in a tunnel with no possible way out. But a tunnel, by its very nature, has two openings. Therefore, there must be at least two ways out. The end of the tunnel may be a long way off, but it will eventually come into view.

When we lose hope, we also lose sight of the tiny speck of light way off in the distance. Why not focus on that glimmer of light up ahead. Even though it may be barely visible, as you continue to move towards the dot it increases in size, becoming more real with each step we take.

The more light we see, the more fuel is added to the fires of faith and hope. Protect the flame. Don’t let anyone blow out your light of hope and enthusiasm.