That stinks!

One of the most important things a leader can do is to say, “You’re right. That stinks.”

This morning, amidst the hubbub of our typical getting-the-day-started activities, our dog decided to defend our back yard from a skunk. The skunk won.

Overwhelmed by the intensity of the smell, my teenage daughter whined and moaned, saying, “It stinks!”  All I could do was agree, and say, “You’re right. It stinks.  We’ll do what we can to clear the air. But, for now, we just have to put up with it.”

What does this have to do with making work fun? Everything.

There is a management theory that states you should never allow those you lead to know that you disagree with a decision made at a higher level. I disagree with this wholeheartedly.

Have you ever worked for someone who refused to acknowledge that the current situation stinks? That something was just plain stupid?  I have. It’s annoying.

Admitting that you disagree does not mean you openly dissent or refuse to abide by that decision. It simply says, “I disagree.” Nothing more.

When a leader admits they are not happy about a decision or situation, it gives those they lead hope. Yes, hope.  Hope that at some time a better decision might be made. Hope that effort will be applied to changing the situation. Hope that given the right opportunity, your boss might try to influence a change in the situation. Hope that in the meantime, we can wait this out together.

As I sit here in my home office, this situation stinks. There’s nothing more I can do about it for now, but I have hope.

Attitude adjustment

Can attitude be taught?

It reminds me of an old joke …  How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb has to want to change.

All of the motivational speakers, tapes (remember tapes?), CDs, podcasts and off-site retreats in the world will not change an attitude that does not want to be changed.

But, if it is ready…

What is your attitude?  Is it healthy? Or is it holding you back?

At absolutely every point in my career where I felt stuck, stalled, unable to move forward – and later broke free – the breakthrough came about as a result of shifting my attitude.

Sometimes the shift was a minor adjustment, requiring only something as simple as a Post-it note stuck to my computer monitor as a reminder. Sometimes it required outside intervention and months of therapy.

If we are going to make work fun, we have to be willing to assess, acknowledge, and adjust our attitude.

What’s it going to take to adjust yours?


Attitude trumps aptitude

Which is more important to success, attitude or aptitude?

My experience suggests that attitude trumps everything else.

When I was a hiring manager, I often said that I hire for attitude and aptitude, then train for everything else.  My logic was that hard skills can be trained, but attitude is much more difficult to influence, and aptitude simply “is”.

In terms of what makes work fun, attitude is everything. It is your attitude that allows you to:

  • pick yourself up when you fail.
  • drive yourself to develop new skills.
  • push through difficulties to pursue excellence.
  • deal with the inevitable disappointments along the way.

Based on stories of those who have overcome amazing odds to pursue dreams and passions after being told, “You’ll never be able to do that.” I have come to believe that even aptitude can be developed with the right attitude.

What do you think?



Having a purpose matters

What is the purpose of your work? Does the work you are doing serve a higher calling? I would argue that all work serves a higher purpose. Sometimes it’s just more obvious than others.

In light of the 12th anniversary of 9/11, let me share this example.

In September of 2001, I was a low level executive at AOL. My title was Director of Network Operations and the teams I managed were responsible for running the data center networks for both CompuServe and Netscape.  (For those of you too young to remember, CompuServe was the pre-Internet Internet and Netscape was the original browser company. Go read your history e-books.)

The mission statement at AOL at that time read, ” To be as central to peoples’ lives as the telephone and television… and even more valuable.”  On September 11, 2001, we lived up to that mission.

I have a vivid memory of one of my staff calling out from his office that an airplane had crashed into the World Trade Center building in NYC. We all scoffed and made cracks about some stupid pilot, assuming it was a small single-engine type aircraft.  I walked down to the cafeteria where we had a TV playing CNN. It took several minutes for the reality of what had just happened to sink in. …  And then the second plane hit. … Another pause. … And then years of conditioning kicked in.

I had been with CompuServe (pre-AOL) since 1992 – a relative short-timer. For its members, CompuServe had become a primary source of news for major events. When major events broke, those of us in the operations area of the company were used to monitoring usage and shifting systems around to ensure we had enough capacity on the systems serving the big news stories. The bigger the tragedy, the more scrambling we would have to do to shift user load.

After seeing the news for myself, I knew this was going to be huge and we needed to be prepared for a flood of activity. My reaction was to go back to my team, give them the quick update of what we knew at that time, and get them focused on monitoring the systems.  For the rest of that day, we were heads down in our system monitors, watching, adjusting as needed, and keeping things running as smoothly as possible. The rush came and we rode through it.

It was several days later that we found out the true impact of the AOL service and its subsidiaries. If you recall, almost all normal communications within NYC were disrupted. Normal telephone lines were down. Cell phone service was largely out. The only thing left for so many people as a way to reach their friends and family was AOL, both email and IM (Instant Message).  Story after story started to crop up of people being so thankful for AOL as they connected to their loved ones and confirmed they were OK.

Frankly, most of us at the company had never before realized the intense value that our service provided to our users. After that event, there was no doubt of the value we provided. Suddenly, all that hard work, the long hours, the late night pages notifying us of system issues, they made sense. We were providing something of value. And each of us, in our own way, were adding something to that, making a contribution. We mattered.

On this somber day of remembrance, I encourage you to consider the value, the higher purpose, that your work provides to others. For some of you this will be easy. For others, you may need to dig a bit to find it. But, I assure you, it’s there.