Lord, have mercy on us poor folks.

My Grandmother used to say that when I was a boy, and it made everyone laugh. I thought that was because Mema was not poor. Years later, she told me that yes, it was her clever tongue at work, but it held a deeper meaning that covered painful and difficult memories.

She’d been in a few tough spots. She lived through those two World Wars that sandwiched the Great Depression along with the rise of communism and the fall of decency (her words). Her first husband ran off and left her in the 30s, when divorce was not so normal. Her second husband, my grandfather, was a land speculator, meaning their financial life was feast or famine – he died on a down and left her with a house that she had to sell very quickly. Her eldest son was gay, her youngest (my Dad if that’s not obvious) was a rough sort who preferred gambling (he was also the coolest guy I’ve ever known if not the best role model for fatherhood). There were many joys in her life and many trials, which is like most of us, I guess.

So my grandmother had her apple cart upset more than once. When I asked her what she meant when she said, “Lord, have mercy on us poor folks,” she told me she once heard a sermon that stuck with her by either Billy Graham or Norman Vincent Peale. If you know about preachers, those two aren’t much alike, but for a 94-year-old woman to call them and nine or ten others out from memory, well, I still find that amazing.

Anyway, the sermon was based on Jesus’ words recorded in Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” She told me that many, many times she had felt poor in spirit, and that was why she called on God’s mercy. She also told me that God always came through, never once failing to answer that small prayer in a personal way.

Since I last wrote something I could publish, I have called on the Lord’s mercy more than once, and like Mema, I am in receipt every time. I’ve had a couple interviews and a promise of a couple more. Thanks for praying for provision. Keep it up, please!

In the kingdom of heaven, there is no want, no loneliness, no fear of the future. It’s the place where God’s great hand overwhelms all that is wrong and lacking in the kingdom of humanity. The place where we lace ’em up and hit it again with great joy alongside great humility. No malady left uncured. All tears wiped away. All sadness converted to joy. All pain redeemed. All doubts turned to irrelevant smoke. Nobody gets laid off or left out (except those who trudge stubbornly on in their personal hell of greed, arrogance, and rebellion, which is a subject for another day).

The kingdom of heaven is a perfectly positive place washed clean by the blood of the lamb, and you are most welcome to join it. Huh, I wonder if maybe Billy and Norman preached the same message.

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The sting of being laid off

I would try to say something witty but nothing comes to mind. I was laid off this morning.

Prayers are appreciated from those those of you pray, and if you do not pray, well, I hope you never get laid off anyway. It’s a shocking experience.

I guess that what’s bad about it is also what’s good about it. The process leaves one’s pride in flames.

If you have a lead, I’m open.

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4 reasons to coach now instead of waiting for a performance review

Imagine coming home tonight and finding out that your spouse and kids were giving you a performance review. Right there on the spot. The fam has been taking notes for a year, and today is the big day for you! Think of the fun topics:

  • Helping with homework
  • Mowing
  • Home maintenance
  • Bedroom stuff!
  • BATHROOM stuff!!
  • Housework
  • Financial record keeping
  • Church attendance without complaining!
  • And the super fun – getting along at the family reunion

Would you:

(A) Walk back out the door, come back in hoping you’d somehow passed through a space-time continuum.

(B) Leave and go to a bar and stay away until they came to their senses.

(C) “Be excited,” said no one, ever.

(D) Laugh and ask if it’s April Fool’s Day.

Seven of ten people refuse to complete the exercise. Two of ten say they left home and called a divorce attorney. One in ten was hospitalized while the doctors tried to get her medication right.

But that’s what we do at work. An entire industry exists to develop and sell evaluative instruments to gauge your work performance up to a year after you performed. It is operated by people who do not know you, nor do they objectively know the quality of your work much less the amount of energy you invest. This industry DOES NOT EXIST for marriages and families.

Your company hires them because they do not know what else to do. Your family does not hire them because common sense prevails at home more often than at work. (Wait, what? Really?) And why is that?

Perhaps, because at home we watch sports. Sports give instant coaching and feedback. So do functioning families. Dysfunctional families are a different matter not within the scope of this brief note. Want to enjoy work more?

4 reasons to coach now instead of waiting for a performance review

  1. Coaching now is behavior based. Right or wrong behaviors can be identified instead of mingled with several months of emotional soup.
  2. Coaching now is more objective. The boss sees what’s wrong, tells you what she expects. Nothing is perfectly objective, but doing it now, like they do in sports, gets us closer.
  3. Coaching now has more integrity. Am I really expected to believe that managers, peers, and direct reports take notes on what you did three months ago (or a year)? They don’t. Annual and quarterly reviews are based on what was observed the last few times they interacted with you. If either of you had just one bad experience right before the eval came around, watch out. There’s no way to solve for that one other than coaching in the present.
  4. Coaching now is more encouraging. After awhile, you know you may realize you’re not getting better in which case you can ask for a different seat on the bus before you’re fired. On the other hand, you’ll know pretty quickly if you are getting better and in line for a raise or promotion. Waiting three to twelve months for a bad review is disheartening. Getting it now – either way – is more encouraging.

What do want from your people? I’m guessing you want them to behave correctly, be evaluated fairly, do it now, for the process to have integrity, and to encourage people along the way. Am I close to right? Coach me now.

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3 ways to overcome emotional hard-wiring

More people lose their jobs due to emotional misadventures than to poor technical skills. Someone reads an email as disrespectful, and they fire back a hot answer. Burned. Another person hears their work criticized, feels gut-punched, and start plotting revenge. Backfire. Another one believes they’re the subject of gossip and starts an ill-placed rumor against an ally. Exposed.

The fortunate ones control their behavior before it gets out of hand. they never fire back, never unload, never monger rumors. Later, they look back realizing what they might have done to short-circuit their career. The not-so-lucky blow off steam and make a huge mess, realizing too late they messed up. Emotions catch all of us off-guard and why should they not?

Whenever our senses take something in, our emotions get first crack at processing that information. “Our brains are hard-wired to give emotions the upper hand.” (Bradberry and Greaves, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, 5). The problem is that our emotions are often wrong. They want us to fight or take flight, but with just a little time to engage our reason we make different (better) choices.

3 ways to overcome emotional hard-wiring

  1. Get enough sleep the night before. Rest and reason have been sleeping together for years.
  2. Get more personal. If it’s an email that upset you, respond with a phone call. If it’s a shouting match, respond with slow, calm speech. Start by pointing out areas of agreement or with something they do well–disarm your opponent with kindness.
  3. Try to get in the sender’s shoes. If the email seems mean-spirited, ask yourself what you might do if you thought as they think. What if your life was like their life? What if you had their responsibilities? What if there’s something negative in their life about which you know nothing? You might even call and ask them to give you some background to their thoughts. Not ammo to discredit them, just, “Hey, this email has me concerned. I want to understand it from your perspective. I want to make things right. Can you give me some more information on what went wrong?”

It may not get you completely free from emotional entanglements. It may be that the other guy is a complete jerk. But at least you’ll have time to let your rational brain go to work before your emotional brain goes crazy.

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Worry a little, but just a little

I am always encouraged by optimists. I am also hesitant to buy their claims.

I grew up with a step-father who sold Real Estate and a Dad who sold everything not requiring a license. My step-father always warned not to count on a deal “until it’s funded” meaning he was a big pessimist. Contrast that with my Dad who, in addition to being a professional gambler, always had a sales job or sales business. My Dad constantly bragged on this deal or that one, most of which never came through. One pessimist, one optimist.

The pessimist seemed to enjoy life very little. I never knew if we’d live another week in our house or have to sell it short. I hated the gloom and doom, but looking back, I guess I learned not to count unhatched chickens (I just wish there’d been a more pleasant methodology). That dose of realism has helped me work harder.

The optimist enjoyed life very much until he grew old and the broken promises haunted him. He was a pain to live with because the new cars, trips, and college tuition never came through. But I loved the optimism—even rainy days were sunny. Looking back, I learned to look forward and expect the best, which has allowed me to be happier.

Interestingly, the Bible teaches BOTH approaches, but it leans toward optimism because it counts on God. Yes, be an optimist! Have a positive outlook that expects God to keep his promises, but be careful what you bank on when it comes to your work. God never fails, but people often do. Proverbs is very clear about not talking up promises when the barn is empty. It’s also clear that being negative is like cancer in the bones! And who wants to be around someone who sneezes toxic negativity? Nobody!

The Wall Street Journal posted an article that drives home the science of worrying a little bit. Don’t fall under the spell of reading only the part with which you agree (a common issue for human brains). A mixed approach anticipates problems and enjoys every win.

For you optimists, I wish you all the best. I hope your dreams come true. For you pessimists, I hope none of what you fear happens.

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Learn to lead faster

What’s the best way to learn to lead something? You might think, as I did, that it has something to do with organized courses, goals, and lists of lists, but that is, of course, not true.

Instead, we have hope that the world is not becoming increasingly robotized. It turns out that drones (whether of mechanical or humanoid variety) are NOT taking over, and never will. God has hardwired us not for better checklists but for play. Experimentation aligns better with human design than does following established norms.

Better leadership is not the result of better goals and more efficient processes, nor does it stem from head-down compliance. Leadership comes from, well, farting around.

Yes, it’s true. I am so happy right this minute.

The most productive route to better leadership is by playing and experimenting like you did with childhood friends. Paint, chalk, water hoses, magnifying glasses, stolen eggs and hot sidewalks make better leaders than a book by the Lord of Toyota.

Play your way into better leadership. Ha! Who knew? Although I am not sure beer pong helps, according to this study from Harvard Business Review, it would help more than becoming an old snit who never has any fun.

Am I to infer, then, that the finest leadership school would send people outside, lock the door behind them, and command the neophytes to: “Stay outside and play until lunchtime”? (Meanwhile, this Socrates of young leaders would, as my sister-in-law reports, retreat to the quiet of her air conditioned kingdom and drink a Tab.)

Maybe this leadership stuff is easier than we think. Maybe we just need to go out and try some stuff? Maybe the best leadership development comes after we receive permission to experiment and clean up when something breaks.

Band-Aids are cheap. Y’all go play.

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Eating frogs

Zig Ziglar advised tackling unpleasant tasks first thing in the day. He likened them to eating a frog, saying something like, “If you have to eat a frog, you just don’t want to look at it very long.” His meaning was to do the thing you must do but least like, first and the rest of the day will be easier and more fun.

Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes.

Unpleasant conversation? Schedule it first. You do not want to stare that frog down all day. Unpleasant, unimportant task? Do it never. Unpleasant, important task? Do it first.

A friend of mine has a task that’s critical, but not the most natural thing for him to accomplish. It reminds me of when I have to do accounting tasks. I can do them, I’m glad to do them, and I’m really glad when they’re done. But accounting is not in my sweet spot. If I anticipate the thing, it grows more unpleasant. If I just eat that frog, it’s done.

So my friend decided to do his less pleasant task first. He said he noticed a difference just thinking about getting it done earlier. The day went better. He felt happier and happier again when it was done.

Eat that fat frog fast! (Say that three times.)

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