Building Valuable Experience

“A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

We often think that learning takes place in a controlled environment like a classroom or an online course.  Here, lessons are orderly, information is dispersed, and an opportunity to apply the knowledge we’ve gained is provided.  While this is certainly one way to gain knowledge, the best learning and experience is usually gained when the wheels are coming off.

Don’t get me wrong, the base knowledge we gain on a topic from classroom instruction, or in other ideal conditions, is crucial in helping us develop an understanding of our topic of choice.  However, when we find ourselves having to apply this knowledge to solve a problem in an uncontrolled setting where conditions are far from ideal, that’s where experience is forged.  And that experience is valuable!

Consider the following scenarios:

  • Parenting a child through a challenging time or situation
  • Restoring a computer network outage that is keeping scores of people from working
  • Leading a family or team through an unexpected tragedy
  • Running a business during a global pandemic

Problems like these can easily cause us to feel like we’re in over our heads, which may be accurate. What we can do, is take the skills and knowledge we’ve gained to this point and focus it toward solving the problem we’re facing.  No, it’s never fun to be in “rough seas”, but if we can see past the storm and be confident in our abilities to apply what we have, we’ll likely come through with a greater depth of experience, and even wisdom, than we possessed before.

Be confident and apply what you’ve learned.

Making It Happen

For years, I had heard about the beautiful scenery at Waldo Lake in the Oregon Cascades.  I had never been there until Thursday, when wife and I finally decided to visit the lake and do some hiking.  It was a clear sunny day with temperatures in the mid-60s.  Perfect for hiking!  And with regard to the scenery, Waldo Lake did not disappoint.

Waldo Lake

There have been a lot of places I’ve heard about in the past that pique my interest and motivate me to want to visit them.  Waldo Lake reminded me that the only barrier that stands in the way of me actually visiting these places is my own lack of initiative to make it happen.

After visiting the lake, I wondered what took me so long to finally get up there, when the process to do so was so easy.  All I did to make that trip happen was to state to my wife, “Hey, let’s go hiking at Waldo Lake on Thursday.”  To which she replied, “That sounds good to me!”  Taking the initiative to pick a date was all I needed to do to make that happen.  How easy was that?! 

So often it seems like the barrier between us and an outcome we desire is simply deciding that were going to move toward that outcome.  And part of “deciding” includes setting a date and taking the actions to bring the desired outcome about.

Are there any places you’d like to go, things you’d like to do, or outcomes you’d like to see happen?  If so, check and see if possibly, the reason they haven’t happened yet it simply because you haven’t taken the initiative to make them happen.  If you find out that lack of initiative is the barrier, I’ve got good news!  You can squash that barrier by taking action to make it happen.

As my wife stated, “That sounds good to me!”

Think of Some Good Reasons

For the last several years I’ve been in the habit of exercising first thing every morning.  This is a much easier habit in the summer when it’s already light out when I wake up.  In the winter, however, the mornings are dark and rainy, which causes my mind to think of all sorts of reasons to skip the gym and stay in bed.

I never realized how good I am at presenting a compelling argument when I’m half asleep!

Fortunately, I’m even better at looking at all the good reasons to get out of bed and hit the gym, regardless of the conditions outside or how I may be feeling on the inside.

Isn’t it easy to come up with all sorts of seemingly good reasons (let’s call them excuses) to avoid doing what we know would be good for us to do?  It’s almost automatic.  The excuses leap from our minds with little effort.  And, if we listen too closely to them, we find ourselves likewise giving little to no effort toward those activities that could yield significant positive impacts in our lives.

So what can we do to combat the rapidly accumulating list of excuses that we use to hold ourselves back?  There must be a better way, right?  Fortunately, for us, the answer is, “Yes”!

Here’s how I fight excuses, but be warned, it takes work.

When the excuses tart flowing in your mind, realize the excuses for what they are, take control of your thinking, and come up with some good reasons to engage in the activity.

Here are some examples:

Activity that’s good for you that you’d like to do… Excuse not to… Good reason to engage…
Exercise daily It’s too dark, cold, and rainy. If I skip working out today I won’t feel as energetic as I will if I go to the gym.
Reading I’m too tired and I’d rather just watch TV. If I spend 30 minutes a day reading that’s 3.5 hours of reading per week!  I can get a lot of books read by doing that.
Eating healthy I’m too tired to cook.  I’ll just wing by <insert name of fast food restaurant>. If I eat healthy I likely won’t be so tired.  Plus I’ll be improving my health in the weeks, months years ahead!

 

The trajectory of our life and our personal development all starts with our thinking.  So what will you fuel your thinking with: excuses to hold back or good reasons to engage?

Leaving Them Better Than You Found Them

When it comes to leadership, one of my favorite people to read about is legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden.  Aside from his prowess at building championship caliber basketball teams, he seemed to be even more skilled at building championship caliber people.

If you want a great read on Coach Wooden’s teaching, check out his book, “The Essential Wooden”.  My favorite parts in this book are the recollections from his players about what they learned from Coach or how he impacted their lives.  The common thread that runs through most recollections I hear of Coach Wooden is how he left people better than he found them.

Coach Wooden inspires me, because I think that most people would like to have a similar impact in the lives of others.  I know I would.  And although most of us may never coach a Division I basketball program to multiple championships, we all have the capacity to be a positive influence to those around us.

Begin the habit of looking for opportunities to leave the people around you better than you found them.  This could be as simple as offering a smile or kind word to someone, or more involved like mentoring, advising, or providing a listening ear.

Whatever you have to offer, the opportunities to do so are abundant.  We only have to be willing to engage.

You Tell Me

I recently heard some colleagues taking about a potential new hire they had just interviewed.  During the conversation, one of the team members turned to their supervisor and asked, “So, are you going to hire this person?”  To which the supervisor replied, “You tell me.”

From a leadership standpoint, I loved this supervisor’s response.  In those 3 short words they conveyed to their team that:

  • This was a decision the team would make, not just the leader.
  • They valued the team’s input.
  • They trusted the team to know best whether someone would be a good fit.

As leaders, it’s important to seek input from those we lead when their insights can aid in the decision making process.  When we do, we not only help our organization make better decisions, we also increase the likelihood that those involved in the decision making process will buy in to the decision as well.

Different Perspectives

It’s easy to put a plan together when you’re the only person creating the plan.  As soon as you get another person involved in the planning, it gets even more difficult, because the other person has their own thoughts and beliefs about how the plan should look.  And you can be assured that their plan is not 100% like yours.

The larger the group, the more challenging it becomes to reach agreement because there are so many different ideas, beliefs, and perspectives that are shaping each person’s idea of what an ideal plan or strategy should look like.  This gives me an appreciation for the work required of a large group to come to an agreement.  And by “large group”, I’m referring to any group with greater than 1 person.

Being aware of differing ideas, beliefs, and perspectives in a team environment reminds me that just because someone has a different idea or plans than I do, doesn’t mean that they’re against my plan or ideas, or that they “just don’t get it”.  Rather, it reminds me that they likely have a perspective that I don’t or a belief that I don’t hold.  Whatever the case, they are bringing a proposal that aligns with how they see the problem, and also how they believe it should be solved.  And that’s good, because without their input, I would not have considered their perspective.

The next time you’re in a group of people that are trying to create a plan or make a decision, resist the urge to become frustrated when people don’t come to the same conclusions that you do.  Instead, see it as an opportunity to understand how another group or person might view the situation.  Who knows, you might even have your own perspective changed.

Take Before You Give

You can’t give blame until you take responsibility”  ~ Craig Groeschel; Pastor, Life.Church

No one likes looking foolish, stupid, or like a failure.  I think this is the primary reason people have a tendency to blame others or circumstances when something we’re responsible for doesn’t go as planned.

In an effort to avoid looking bad in front of others, we almost automatically seek to place the blame someplace, any place, other than on us.  The paradox is that when we always place blame instead of taking responsibility, we actually do look bad in front of others, which is the very thing we’re trying to avoid.

What if the next time something we’re in charge of goes sideways, instead of choosing to place blame, we choose instead to not only take responsibility for the situation, but for its resolution as well?

From a leadership standpoint, this is the right thing to do.  When we take responsibility for our results we are communicating to others that we care about the quality of our work, about our contribution, and that we can be counted on to follow through to a successful completion.

No one has ever looked foolish doing that.

Here’s Some Perspective

Earlier this week I was involved in a long-term vision planning session at our church. I love strategy sessions like this, because any strategy session I’ve ever been a part of, be it for work, church, or family, has yielded a number of differing perspectives and ideas from the people assembled.  Never once has everyone in a group shown up with the exact same perspective.  In fact, if that were to ever happen, I’d assume that the wrong people had been assembled for the task.

Different perspectives are crucial in setting direction and strategy, or for making decisions that will impact a larger group of people.  However, they can cause tension and frustration, which isn’t a bad thing.  Group members just need to understand these key points regarding peoples’ perspectives:

  • The perspectives of others are just a real and true to them as our perspectives are to us. As a result, we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss someone’s perspective simply because it doesn’t align with our own.
  • When we fail to consider the perspectives of others, we miss an opportunity to get a better understanding about how others within the larger group may be thinking. If on person has a particular perspective, it’s likely other do as well.
  • If we dismiss or ignore someone’s perspective in the decision making process, simply because it is different from ours, we can have a high degree of confidence that we will not be getting their buy-in to whatever decision is made.

We can learn a lot about people and groups of people when we listen with genuine interest to understand their perspective and where it comes from.  I think one of the highest honors we can pay someone is to listen to and seek to understand their perspective, even when we don’t agree with it at first.

The next time you are in a conversation where there are differing perspectives, don’t be too quick to dismiss the ones that don’t align with your own.  Instead, use the difference as an opportunity to gain some understanding as to where the other person is coming from. Not only will you possibly gain some new understanding, you’ll most likely be making a connection with a fellow human being as well.

Seven Tips to Keep from Losing Your Mind to Emotion

When emotion goes up, intelligence goes down.”  ~Mari Smith; Social Media Thought Leader

When I heard this quote from Mari Smith on the Entreleadership Podcast, I was instantly able to recall several accounts from my own life when I’ve been in this very situation.  I cringed, because, unfortunately, those have not been some of my finest moments!

What about you?  Have you ever been in a position where you feel the emotion rising, while at the same time your intelligence waning?  It’s not a good feeling.  Historically, I haven’t realized this was occurring until after the conversation or interaction where it occurred.  By then, it’s too late to change course because common sense and better judgement have already left the station.

So what can we do to keep from losing our minds when we notice our emotions starting to heat up?  Here are 7 suggestions to keep emotions from depleting our intelligence.

  1. Know the types of interactions that cause you to become emotionally charged so that you can either avoid them or be aware of the possibility of reacting emotionally.
  2. Know how you react physically when you’re emotionally charged. Do your hands get sweaty, your face get warm, or you ears get hot?  Knowing how you react can help you identify when you’re becoming emotionally charged.
  3. Determine in advance how you will respond when you feel yourself becoming emotionally charged. If we don’t know how we’ll respond in that moment, we’ll likely put ourselves on auto pilot and let emotions take over.  Usually not a good option.
  4. In the moment, take a few deep breaths. I know this sounds cliché, but it works.
  5. Put things in perspective. Ask yourself what’s at stake and determine if it’s really worth getting worked up for.
  6. Look for something positive like humor, a silver lining, or opportunities to connect with the other side on a human level.
  7. Decide not to get worked up.  This may sound hard, but we have far more control over our emotions than we realize.

There seems to be no shortage of things to spin us up and charge our emotions.  The good news is that this gives us a lot of opportunity to practice the tips above.

Being emotionally charged up and momentarily losing our intelligence does not help us to be at our best.  Decide today to be in charge of your emotions and not a follower of them.  That sounds good to me, because I can’t afford to lose any of the precious little intelligence I have!

Why it’s not Always Good to Have All the Answers

It’s nice to have the answer to a question or problem.  But what happens when we think we have all the answers to every question, and that our answers are better than everyone else’s?

Here are 5 dangers of thinking we have all the answers:

  1. We won’t gain new skills and experience. When we think we have all the answers, we aren’t open to trying new approaches to solving problems.  This keeps us from gaining new skills that come from new experiences.
  2. Our problem solving skills will not improve. If we already know the answer to every question, we won’t have opportunity to exercise our problem solving skills.  Instead, we’ll continue to simply rely on our own limited knowledge and miss the challenge of considering new methods to solve a problem.
  3. We won’t be able to collaborate with or leverage the knowledge of others. If think we know everything, we won’t seek assistance from others, or avail ourselves to the knowledge and experience they have.  This limits our exposure to new thoughts and ideas that we may have never heard or considered.
  4. We are not likely to attract or keep good thinkers on our teams. Good thinkers don’t want to be around people that have all the answers, because good thinkers like to think and share ideas. If we have all the answers, the good thinkers around us will go elsewhere; and take their good thinking with them.
  5. We’ll never create anything bigger than ourselves. If we rely only on what we know and our limited answers, we waste opportunities to collaborate with others in order to create something that is much bigger than ourselves.  How can we possibly create something bigger than ourselves if we only rely on our own limited knowledge?

Don’t get me wrong, its’ good to have answers to questions and problems, and when we have answers, we should share them with others.  However, I think it’s foolish to assume that we are possible of having ALL the answers to EVERY problem or question.

If, in the very rare case, we do indeed have all the answers to every question or problem we encounter, that is probably a good indication we need to step out of our comfort zone and do something else.