Fly, Be Free

Much emphasis has been placed on employee retention. Is having a high employee retention rate really the best measure of a good people leader?

Fly, Be free!

As a parent, my primary goal is to prepare my kids to leave the nest and flourish on their own. Can we agree that this is a worthy goal?

If so, why do we struggle to have the same expectation in the workplace?

I have always viewed a large part of my role as a manager and people leader to be that of a coach. It is not enough simply to ensure that the assigned tasks are being completed in a satisfactory way. Anybody can look over the checklist and see that items have been ticked off. We should expect more. There should be constant growth.

That means assigning tasks in a way that encourages (or downright forces) people to keep learning. And that means assigning people tasks they have never done. The adage, “Watch one. Do one. Teach one.” comes to mind. We should be pushing our staff to constantly improve.

Eventually, that growth could exceed the needs and/or opportunities of an employee’s current position. And that means a change is warranted to support continued growth.

I say, “Hooray!”  That’s good news! Let’s celebrate that accomplishment.

Real leaders, to me, expect this of their people. They anticipate people moving on. In fact, they expect it. They build organizational structure and practices that actively support this. Turnover is cherished.

It’s time that we measure a leader’s effectiveness by the rate of staff leaving a department to go on and do bigger things.

Fly! Be free!


The Grass is Greener Under Your Feet

Ah, that eternal question. Is the grass really greener on the other side?

Grass Is Greener

My wife and I are about to get a taste of the empty nest. We’ll both tell you we are looking forward to it. It’s not permanent. Not yet. My youngest just graduated high school, so we have at least 3 more summers of someone living with us.

In the meantime, we are tempted to act now to downsize.

I can’t help it. I am tempted by “For Sale” signs. While driving down the road, I see that house, that property, and imagine myself living in it. I will often pull off the road and do a quick price check using an app on my phone. I’ll even take an occasional photo. It’s all part of the dreaming.

This has happened several times in the past week.  But, I’m trying to stop the madness. Because guess what? The grass right here is pretty darn nice.

When I really think through the process of moving, of starting over on a house, painting, decorating, and all the other stuff that comes with a new home, the urge to call a real estate agent passes quickly.

It’s not just the process of moving that I dread. It is losing what we have that I enjoy. Our back porch. Our home theater. My wood shop. My practice studio. Our location, which is convenient to so much of our lives outside the house as well as being right across the street from a large city park and a short walk to the library.

Move? Why would I want to do that?

Isn’t that how it works on the job as well? We talk with friends about their places of employment, we see news stories, we see ads online, and we start to dream of a change. That thought occurs to us that everything in that new place will be better.

And then we have a good day at the current job and realize that maybe this place isn’t so bad after all. Maybe we have simply lost touch with what we enjoy about this current place.

Sure, change can be good. And sometimes moving on from one employer to another is a good thing to do.

But, sometimes, it’s just a matter of looking around and truly appreciating what is. Sometimes a small change is all we need to be reinvigorated. Maybe a new position at the existing company, maybe a new project.

Take the time to look around and appreciate what is. Acknowledge all that is good. Reopen your eyes to the green grass that is already there, right beneath your feet.


Sometimes you won’t

Do you dream big dreams? Do you believe in yourself? Do you believe you can be the best, and top all the rest?  Good! Good for you.

It’s graduation season as I write this. At my daughter’s high school graduation ceremony, one of the speakers read from what has become a classic graduation gift – the Dr Seuss book, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Oh, The Places You'll Go
Oh, The Places You’ll Go

Here’s a snippet:

Wherever you fly, you’ll be best of the best.

Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.

And then comes the killer:

Except when you don’t

Because. sometimes you won’t.

During the graduation ceremony, the speaker chose to edit out all of these depressing portions of the story and read only those that sang of glory. The implication, of course, was that since these students went to this particular high school, they would never suffer disappointment. They would always reign above others. They would always win.

I found it disgusting. I wanted to stand and yell that she was missing the point. I was sickened by the reading of this edited sampling of what is a great book about life.

This is important. Despite our hopes and dreams, and even our best efforts, sometimes we won’t.  We won’t get that job. We won’t get that promotion. We won’t win the trophy. Sometimes, we just won’t.

And you know what? That’s OK!

Keep reading the book. There’s more!

Yes, you’ll be down. Yes, you’ll be sad and disappointed and lost.

Break out of the waiting place. Step up and take action. Make a new plan. Act on the plan. One small step today. Another small step tomorrow. And soon you’ll be moving again.

THAT is the lesson we can all learn from this book. Not that you are great and wonderful (you are) and nothing bad will ever happen to you (it will). No. Rather, that bad things will happen. Disappointment will happen. Yet, despite that, we can keep moving, we can continue to dream, we can continue to push toward new heights.

Your mountain is waiting.

So… get on your way!


* Quotes are from “Oh, The Places You’ll Go”, by Dr. Seuss


What’s the Question?

Got a minute?
Got a minute?

Which is more important, the question or the answer? I’m sure you’ve already guessed what I think, simply by the fact that I opened this post with a question. But, what do you think?

See? There I go again.

As I’ve mentioned previously on this blog, I am an engineer by training. Engineers are trained to seek answers, to create solutions. What I have found over the (many) years since graduation is that if you don’t understand the question, or if you don’t ask the right question in the first place, you can’t possibly provide the right answer.

Now, as an entertainer, I find myself consistently going back to the question. For example, a typical phone call for my services starts with, “What do you charge?” My answer is always, “Tell me about your event.”

The first question we need to answer is whether I am a good fit. Next we need to determine the level of effort that is going to go into the event.

As a business leader, I used to constantly coach my staff on this same issue. More often than not, internal customers would come to the team and ask things like, “How much will a new network switch cost?” It’s easy to answer that question. The problem is, that’s probably not the right question.  The customer has already jumped to a solution in their mind that might not be the right one. So, I would coach my staff to deflect the first question with a question. “Tell me what you are trying to accomplish.”

From a more philosophical point of view, I find the questions to be much more intriguing and interesting than the answers. Maybe that comes with getting older. Maybe it comes from consuming less caffeine. Whatever the reason, I find digging in and looking for the underlying “why” in a conversation to be significantly more fun and ultimately more fulfilling because, finally, we are starting to resolve the real issue, answering the real questions behind the question.

Next time you find yourself ready to pop out that quick answer to the question being asked, take a moment and consider whether the question being asked is the real issue. Perhaps answering the question with a question will provide a better answer.