How do you view your job description? Do you see it as a well-defined set of expectations to stay within? Or do you see it as a starting point?
Let me tell you a story…
There is an old trick that is done by many magicians, especially those who perform for kids, called, “The Magic Coloring Book”.
In this trick, the magician shows a children’s coloring book. The magician flips through the book, showing all pages are blank, with only the outline of the image yet to be colored in on each page. After some hand and wand waving, they then flip through the book showing that all of the pages have been magically colored in.
An acquaintance of mine, who is a talented and highly regarded magician, released a new version of this trick. As with all good magic trick marketing, he posted a video demonstration of how this looks to the audience.
In his presentation, he brings a couple kids on stage with him to help with the trick. He has them wave large prop crayons at the book. After this initial waving, he flips through the book showing that the pages have been colored in wild scribbles.
Horrors! They’ve made a mess of the coloring book! How dare they scribble! Let’s all laugh about that.
He then has them wave the crayons again, and POOF!, the pages are now colored neatly, with all markings contained within the lines of the pictures.
Isn’t that wonderful?
My reaction to this presentation was visceral. I was appalled that a fellow entertainer, especially one I hold in such high esteem, would criticize kids for coloring outside the lines. How can an artist criticize others for thinking beyond the confines of what society has dictated?
OK, so maybe I was overreacting just a bit.
Or, maybe not.
We are constantly being told to stay within the lines when we color, while at the same time being encouraged to, “think outside the box”.
And that brings us back to the job description.
How do you go about your job? Do you stay within the lines? Do you view the duties and expectations as outer limits?
What if we looked at our job description as a guideline, a starting point? What if we were willing to step outside the basic requirements that are listed on that HR document and do more?
I recently released a new video to the world. (Click on the image above to see it.) It was a challenging project. It took a heck of a lot of time. And it was incredibly fun to do.
By my best estimation, that under-4-minute video took me approximately 90 hours to produce over the course of 4 weeks. That’s a lot of time.
Why did I do it?
I got that question a lot from my friends who knew what I was doing.
Often my pithy answer to the question of “Why?” is, “Why not?”
Or its cousin, “Because I could”.
Neither of those is the correct answer in this case.
Why not? There were many reasons for why not. The foremost being the aspect of priorities. Devoting the time I did to this project meant NOT using that time to do other things that in many regards could be seen as being more important.
What about, “Because I could”?
This project stretched me in ways that made it clear that “Because I could” was not an accurate answer. Had I had cameras rolling during the early stages, the footage would have made for a laugh-out-loud blooper reel. (Maybe I’ll do that on the next one…)
Which brings us to the real reason and that was to answer the question, “Can I?“
I did not know if I could pull it off. I didn’t know if I could actually sing all of the voices. I didn’t know if I could accomplish the video recording and editing components of getting all of the characters to appear on the screen at the same time. I didn’t know whether I would have the courage to release it to the world once it was done.
Have you ever taken on a project or task just to find out whether you were capable of doing it? How did it go? What conclusion did you draw from the experience?
Sometimes when we push ourselves our attempts end up in flames – literally. If you enjoy challenging yourself in the kitchen, then you know what I mean.
If we are going to challenge ourselves, we have to be ready for the answer to the question, “Can I?”, to be, “No!” I have certainly had my share of “No!” answers.
Many times the answer is not a definitive, “No!”, but rather a more gentle, “Not yet.”
Regardless of the answer, the act of finding out, the process of challenging ourselves, is worth the time to explore. We learn a lot in the act of trying. Often we learn things we did not anticipate. Sometimes the end result is not what we originally set out to create and sometimes that result is better than what we imagined in the first place.
Is there something niggling in your brain waiting for you to discover the answer to, “Can I?” What is holding you back from finding out the answer?
Allow yourself the gift of doing it wrong. Afraid it’s going to go up in flames? Set out a fire extinguisher close by and give it a shot anyway.
Has anyone ever told you those platitudes in response to some great loss you have experienced? Do you find them as annoying as I do?
Sometimes stuff happens that just plain sucks. It never stops hurting. I don’t care how good the lemonade is.
I started my career as a software engineer. I worked hard to be the best software engineer I could be. I loved the work. I loved the challenge of crafting tight code to do really cool things. I loved pretty much everything about being a software engineer. It was like getting paid to solve puzzles. How cool is that?
And then, something happened.
My hands gave out. I won’t go into the details. They’re not important. Bottom line is, I typed too fast for too long and I was in pain. A lot of pain. Pain that drove me to see a slew of doctors in search of relief.
After more doctors than I can remember, the quest for a cure came to an end with this conversation with a highly regarded specialist:
Doctor: There’s nothing I can do for you. Me: How do I make it stop hurting? Doctor: Stop typing. Me: That’s what I do. That’s my job. Doctor: Get a new job.
Just like that. Simple. Matter of fact.
I was angry. But I also came to appreciate his clear statement of what needed to happen next.
So I did what the doctor suggested. I got a new job. And eventually, it stopped hurting. At least physically.
I was not happy about the need to make this change. There were many days and nights of asking, “Why did this happen?” and “Why me?”
Finally, though, my engineering training kicked in. It was clear that knowing the answers to those questions would not make a difference in where I went next. I could not undo the injury. Knowing why at this stage was pointless.
The only question that mattered was, “What now?”
I was extremely fortunate to work for a company that supported me through the transition. I was able to change jobs without changing companies. The change even opened up a whole new career path.
The company provided adaptive equipment that allowed me to do the much smaller amount of computer input needed in the new role. They changed door handles on restrooms for me because I was no longer able to grasp and turn a round doorknob without excruciating pain. They were amazing.
Despite this support, I was still frustrated.
It felt to me like I was living an extension to the old joke, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can’t teach, manage.”
(Side note: This old joke is not at all fair to teachers. Teachers rock!)
As a manager I had a much broader impact than I ever did as a software engineer.
Climbing the corporate ladder was certainly good for my income, too. My new career far exceeded anything I ever imagined.
You could say that lemonade was made. You might even argue that this was a reason that the injury happened.
But, you know what?
It still pains me that I had to stop being a software engineer. Even now, I long for the days of solving puzzles, writing code, creating cool things.
That ladder climbing career change also enabled me to do what I do now – run my own business, spreading joy and laughter wherever it is needed. What I do now has even broader impact than being a manager.
Again, you could argue that is a reason all of this happened.
That doesn’t stop me from feeling the pain of loss.
What bad stuff has happened in your life?
Have you been able to move forward in a new direction?
Can you see that it might even be a better direction?
In most cases, trying to figure out why the bad stuff happened is a fruitless exercise. “Why did this happen?” is the wrong question on which to focus.
What matters is, “What now?”
You don’t have to let go of the pain. It’s going to hurt. It might hurt for a very long time. The pain might never go away.
But you can move on. You can move forward.
Forget about making lemonade. Don’t waste your time trying to discern the reason.
In today’s rambling blog post, we’ll cover the following topics:
Leasing vs buying
Ongoing employee education
Stick with me. They’re all related.
Lease vs Buy
Do you lease your cars, or buy them outright? I’ve never been a fan of leasing. I tend to keep my cars a long time; 10 years is about average. I buy them new, take good care of them (mechanically, anyway), and drive them until they no longer serve my needs.
I don’t completely drive them into the ground, but they are clearly a used car by the time I replace them. I love not having a car payment. Leasing simply doesn’t make sense to me from a financial perspective.
How about your home? Do you prefer to rent or buy?
I much prefer to own my home.
Maybe you own a condo? Maybe when I no longer enjoy mowing the lawn this will be attractive to me.
For now, I prefer as much physical separation between my house and the neighbor’s as possible. I also like to change things in my house to suit my tastes, without needing to negotiate with a landlord for permission. And I like the idea that what I put into the house I will likely get back.
As an owner, I feel I have more to gain from ongoing maintenance and improvements. When I rented apartments, anything I spent on improvements felt like throwing my money away.
Even if you don’t follow professional golf, you’ve probably heard the name Phil Mickelson.
I live in Dublin, OH, a Columbus suburb. Dublin is the home of the annual Memorial Tournament, a regular stop on the PGA tour. As you can imagine, this annual event is the topic of much of the local news media during the weeks leading up to the event, through a final recap once it has ended.
One of my favorite “interest” pieces from years ago was about Phil Mickelson and his propensity to drive his rental cars through the car wash, usually every day. In the article, Phil said it makes him feel better to drive a clean car.
I’ve rented many cars in my travels. I have never once driven one through the car wash. I’m not even that fastidious with my own vehicles.
Rumors abound that Apple is moving to a model of streaming-only for music that it sells. According to these rumors, there will come a day when they will no longer allow you to download music, only stream it.
The idea, like Spotify, is that you don’t own the music. Rather, you pay for access to it. I’d call this leasing. If you stop paying, you lose access.
You’ve probably guessed that I am not a fan of this concept. While I enjoy listening to the music I’ve purchased on my phone, iPod, and other portable devices, I find comfort in knowing that the original CD is still available to me in a box buried in the basement.
There’s something about having the tangible media. Like many audiophiles of my generation, playing a record was a ritual involving meticulous care of the record, cleaning on every use, and careful storage.
Unlike many of my more persnickety music lovers, I eagerly embraced the transition from vinyl to CD. However, I am strongly resisting any effort to remove the ability to “own” a copy of the music I love.
I am warming to the idea of that copy being only in the digital domain, with no physical media to back it up. But, I do require a copy that I can manage. I am not OK with a leasing model that only provides access to the music, and that only works with an active Internet connection. Maybe someday.
Ongoing employee education
And now the fun part – relating all of that to work and ongoing employee education.
Do you lease or buy your employees?
(As an employee, how do you see yourself?)
As with a car, neither leased nor purchased vehicles are forever. Sure, some people drive their vehicles to the point where they have no useful life when they’re done with them. But, at some point, most vehicles need to be replaced.
Likewise, employees. Whether your employees leave to move on to other places, or retire, at some point that employee will no longer be there.
Most people I know tend to maintain their vehicles better if they purchase rather than lease them. Same goes for our homes. If we own it, we tend to take better care of the property.
If you lease your vehicle, do you still perform routine maintenance? I certainly hope so. Maybe you don’t worry so much about minor dings and scratches. But, surely you keep up with oil changes and new tires.
Most employers I have experience with do a far better job of training and providing ongoing education for their employees when they view them as “purchased” rather than “leased”.
In more typical business lingo:
Purchased = Full-time permanent. Long term.
Leased = Contractor. Consultant. Temporary. Short term.
Some employers I’ve encountered treat all their workers as if they are temporary, only guaranteed until the next paycheck. They rarely provide ongoing education that would move people ahead. They often resist doing even routine maintenance that would keep their employees’ skills at par.
Oddly enough, these same employers tend to be the ones who are baffled by high employee turnover. And they are the ones who struggle the most to find what they consider to be qualified employees.
Even if you view your employees as “rented”, do you drive them through the car wash on a regular basis?
My philosophy has always been to provide as much ongoing education as possible. I enjoy working with people who are up on their skills, engaged, pushing themselves and those around them. It’s more fun, like Phil driving a car that has been freshly washed.
Many of my corporate job peers have gotten upset when they made an investment in training, only to have that person leave for another opportunity. Certain employers I’ve worked for have suggested having employees repay the cost of education if they leave within some period of time after the training.
The reality is, changing jobs is a complicated equation.
It is the manager’s job to create an environment that is supportive yet challenging, that makes people want to stay. Ongoing education is simply one part of a supportive environment. It makes people better at their job. It makes them more fun to work with.
How do you treat your employees?
How does your employer treat you?
Rather than ask, “What if we invest money in employee training and they leave?”
As an entertainer, I am often asked that question.
My off-the-cuff answer? I have no idea. And I don’t care.
Let me explain. I don’t like numbers.
You might find that a bit odd, because I am an electrical engineer by training. The classic stereotype of an engineer is an introvert who loves numbers and hates people.
I hate numbers and love people.
For much of my career I worked in data center operations: specifically, network operations. If you think engineers love numbers, operations folks take that to a whole other level. They live by numbers. Especially people in network operations.
I was surrounded by people who loved numbers.
Our job was almost entirely about numbers. Yet, still, I didn’t care. I cared about the people.
Numbers are boring. People are fun.
When I went to meetings where I knew I’d be drilled about the numbers, I would take other people with me who could answer those questions.
Some of my higher-ups were OK with that. Others, not so much.
At least in that context, the numbers were relevant to our jobs.
Let’s say you are at the grocery store. You’ve filled your cart and you are ready to check out. Do you care how many people the cashier serves during their shift?
It might be an interesting side note. But, what do you really care about at that moment?
How quickly you are going to get through the line.
Are you going to make it out of the store and home before your ice cream starts to melt?
Will they put your bread on top of the bag, or bury it beneath heavy cans again like the last time?
The number of how many other people have gone through that particular checkout line is irrelevant to your personal experience when it is your turn.
When you go to a doctor, do you care how many patients he or she sees in a day? Again, you might consider that question while you are waiting. But, what do you care about?
Having the doctor’s total, dedicated, focused attention on you.
The only number that matters is the number ONE.
How many shows do you do in a year? It doesn’t matter.
The only show that matters is THIS ONE, right here, right now.
I also don’t care how many people are in the audience.
I care about the ONE person I can see who is having a good time. The ONE person who really needed to laugh.
That ONE person is why I am there.
Numbers can be important. I am glad there are people who care about numbers, love numbers, and deal with numbers.
For me, the most important number is the number ONE.
If someone told you their name was Jerry, would you insist on calling them Gary?
Probably not. And yet, that is exactly the scenario with the pronunciation of “GIF”. It is properly pronounced, “JIF”.
Before you click away, understand that this post is about a much deeper issue than the silly debate over a hard vs. soft G. Stick with me a moment. It will make sense in a few paragraphs.
But, first, back to GIF…
Knowing that GIF stands for “Graphics Interchange Format”, it is logical to presume that it is pronounced with a hard G sound. However, if you ask the inventor, Steve Wilhite, he will tell you in no uncertain terms that it is to be pronounced with the soft G.
That should be the end of the story. And yet, even knowing this, people still insist that it is pronounced with the hard G.
What is something about which you formed an opinion, based on your own first experience, only to find out later that you were wrong? Was it difficult for you to accept it?
A couple decades ago, long before the movies, my family read the Harry Potter books for the first time. My wife read them out loud to our kids. If you are familiar with these stories, then you know that one of the main characters is Hermione Granger. We had never heard that name before. We read it as, “Her Me Oh Nee”. We thought that was how it was pronounced. With every reading of the name out loud, we became more convinced that was the correct way to say it. When we saw the first movie in theaters, we were shocked to find that it was pronounced, “Her My Oh Nee”.
To us, this odd pronunciation was simply wrong. How could they do that? Don’t they know the right way to say it?
Can you relate? Have you had that experience?
What both of these examples have in common is PRECONCEPTION. We form an opinion that seems logical; one that can even be defended as being a reasonable conclusion to have drawn based on the evidence available at the time.
noun 1. a conception or opinion formed beforehand. 2. bias.
Which of you believes that the Earth is the center of the galaxy, that all of the other planets and stars rotate around the earth? Which of you believes that the earth is flat?
We laugh at these notions now, even scoff at those who would have believed such a preposterous thing. But, had it not been for the evidence presented by scientists who came before us, we could be among those who had it wrong.
First impressions, first beliefs, preconceptions, are extremely difficult to overcome. We might have to admit that we were wrong. Gasp!
What if, instead, we viewed it as being unaware? Does that soften the blow? We did not have all of the facts available at the time we formed our opinion. We were not wrong. We simply didn’t know any better.
The real problem comes when we hold to these preconceived beliefs even after being presented with information to the contrary.
We can have fun debating how “GIF” should be pronounced. But, we cannot debate how its creator intends for it to be pronounced. From a New York Times blog posting:
“The Oxford English Dictionary accepts both pronunciations,” Mr. Wilhite said. “They are wrong. It is a soft ‘G,’ pronounced ‘jif.’ End of story.”
What preconceived ideas do you cling to, even in the face of evidence to the contrary?
Actively question beliefs you hold to be true. Be willing to adapt when new evidence is presented.
Be kind to yourself. Chances are you weren’t wrong. You just didn’t know any better. However, once you’ve become educated, accept the truth and move forward.
How long does it take for you to forget what drove you crazy?
We have all had relationships that ended, sometimes badly, and yet we find ourselves strangely drawn back to that same relationship that caused us so much pain. Why is that?
Memory is a fickle thing.
A friend of mine used to say that she judged the seriousness of any given situation by how long it would take before she could find the humor in it. Thus was born our favorite saying when things are not going according to our plans, “How long until this is funny?”
Recently, I performed at a local outdoor festival. Being local, many people I know came out to see the show. Several were coworkers at one of the places I used to work when I had a day job.
Enough time has gone by since leaving that particular employer that most of my memories are good ones. I especially miss the people I used to work with on a daily basis. For me, it is always the people that I miss the most.
When my wife catches me speaking with fondness about this particular former employer, she is quick to point out that at the time I left, I was overflowing with frustration, constantly complaining about the environment, and generally difficult to live with as a result. She’s right, of course. (She usually is.)
It was great to catch up with my former coworkers at this recent event. In talking with them, it was fun to remember the people I used to work with and the parts of the job that made it a decent place to work. However, I was also reminded of the things that used to drive me crazy about the environment. Apparently, it hasn’t changed much.
In case any of you reading this know which organization I am talking about, it is important to understand that I bear no ill will to the organization itself. They do great work in the community and I am a happy customer of the organization. But, just because you like to shop at Walmart, it doesn’t mean you would be happy working there. Meanwhile, some people love working there. It fits their style. Some people simply tolerate it. So it is with this former employer of mine. As I’ve said throughout this blog, it is all about fit.
How do you remember your former employers? Which ones drove you crazy at the time, but now you look back on with fondness, perhaps even wishing you could go back?
What if we could do that in the moment?
What if we could approach our current job as if we were looking back upon it in the future? Which parts would we choose to remember?
What if we could overlook the parts that annoy us now, the aspects that we will wipe from our memory over time, and focus on the good parts, the parts that in the future we will look back on with fondness?
How would that change the way we approach our work each day?
Enjoy the good parts. Tolerate the not so good parts. And, as always, “Thank you for shopping at Walmart.”
Have you ever been late for something important? Really late. So late that the people who were counting on you to be there are calling you in a panic, wondering where you are?
Been there. Done that. It happens.
It doesn’t matter what caused it. Once you’re late, nothing you say can undo the fact that you are late. Yes, you should apologize. Yes, you should say you’re sorry – and mean it.
But, after you’ve said it, the most important thing is to move forward. Put the past in the past and get on with whatever it is that you were supposed to be doing in the most expeditious way possible.
This was brought home to me again this past weekend. On Sunday, I had a big event. Things did not go according to plan. Let me tell you the story.
[I should pause here and point out that every event I work is a big event. It doesn’t matter if it’s 20 people or 2000. To the people who planned it and the people who are there, it is a big event. So I treat it that way. When you hear me say “it was a big event”, don’t be overly impressed. It might be my neighbor’s birthday party. Having said that, this story is about a bigger than average event.]
This particular event took place in a high school auditorium. If you’ve ever been involved in the technical side of theater, you know that there are components that require special skills and knowledge. Some things are safety issues, e.g. raising and lowering curtains, screens and other things in the fly space. Most theaters have rules about who is allowed to operate those mechanisms, for very good reasons. Then there are the lighting and sound consoles. While there are similarities, every installation has its own quirks that require specialized knowledge to properly and safely operate that equipment. Most theaters have these locked down, either by controlling physical access to the equipment, or through passwords, or both.
There were many complicating aspects with this particular event. The vast majority of events I work, it’s just me. I am a one-person roadie handling transport, setup, performance, and teardown. This particular event was complex enough on my end to enlist the help of a 3-person crew.
Because there were so many pieces to this event, and having a crew, I had a 4-page document with a detailed timeline and all of the steps that needed to happen at what time in order to make the show happen. For several weeks leading up to the event, I had exchanged a number of emails with the lead teacher (we’ll call him Bob) in charge of the technical side of the school’s theater. Everything seemed to be in order, ready for the big day.
It was going to be a tight schedule to make it all happen. The show was scheduled to start at 3:00. Doors to the auditorium were to open at 2:30. We couldn’t get into the building until 1:00. That didn’t leave a whole lot of wiggle room.
We arrived as planned, got into the school at 1:00 as planned, and started our setup. By 1:30, I noticed Bob had not yet arrived. No worries, I told myself, I’m sure he’ll be here soon. We had this all covered in our emails. When it got to be 2:00 and he still wasn’t there, I raised the flag with my client. Without Bob, we would not be able to pull off the event.
(If it had come down to it, I would have figured out a way to do some kind of performance. It just wouldn’t have been the one we had planned.)
My client started the phone tree and I went back to my checklist, jumping ahead, doing things a bit out of order, covering as much as I could to be ready to go back and catch up when (if) Bob arrived.
By 2:30, Bob still had not arrived.
It was at this point that I was exceedingly grateful for my crew, who are all friends of mine. They helped keep me centered, focused, and breathing steadily. (Thanks, guys!)
One of the added complexities of this show was that I had a 20-minute pre-show video. It is a fun introductory piece, a show before the show, full of little hints as to the show that is about to happen. It’s not really possible to cut it short. It needs to run in its entirety, because it sets up some things that happen later in the show. In order to start the show on time at 3:00, this video needed to start at 2:40.
Bob arrived at 2:41.
Let me state for the record that Bob is a super nice guy. He was clearly embarrassed that he was late. I hold no grudge against him. How could I? I’ve been there. I’ve been the guy others were counting on who wasn’t where he was supposed to be at the appointed time. I get it. These things happen.
It really doesn’t matter why he was late. Why is not important. I’ll say that again: Why is not important.
What is important is what you do when you get there. Bob nailed it. He jumped into action the minute he arrived.
We got the pre-show video started at approximately 2:47. Only 7 minutes late. Not bad, considering the circumstances.
Thanks to our numerous emails leading up to the event, Bob had the lights preprogrammed and ready to go. He just had to push the right buttons.
It was a bit awkward, but we then did my sound check on top of the pre-show video. Rather than go through the character voices I would typically do in my sound check, I simply spoke to the audience about live theater. This is what happens. Things don’t always go according to plan. You run with it. Usually when you arrive at a show, all of this stuff has already been taken care of. Today you get to see what it looks like behind the scenes. Thank you for your patience. Get ready to have some fun. The show will be starting soon. Excuse me while I go finish getting ready. End of sound check.
How would you have reacted in this situation? Whether you relate more to Bob, or those waiting for him, what’s your typical response when things go wrong?
Too often we find ourselves getting stuck in the “why” of something gone wrong. It is so easy to get lost in the injustice of it all. Who did that? Why did they do that? How could they do that?
To which I say, “Who cares?”
It happened. Move on. Eyes front. We have a show to do. Let’s get this rolling.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage…
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
That’s great. It’s a nice starting point. It’s a good concept for how we should treat other people.
Here’s the problem: We forget to apply it to the person in the mirror.
How do you talk to yourself? If you spoke to other people the way you speak to yourself, would have have any friends?
I am a member of Toastmasters. Maybe you’ve heard of it. It is best known as a place to learn to speak in public. It is much more than that, but that’s enough for now.
At a typical Toastmasters meeting, a number of people will stand and give a prepared speech. For each of these speakers, another person takes notes and provides an evaluation with the goal of providing the speaker helpful ideas on how to improve.
Being an evaluator is just as important as being a speaker. One of the concepts we are taught is the sandwich technique. When giving an evaluation, start with something positive (something the speaker did right and should continue doing), then something that could be improved, then end with another positive.
This same sandwich technique is often used in annual evaluations at work. Managers are typically taught to start and end with positive reinforcement, while delivering the areas where improvement is needed in between these positives.
While the sandwich technique is a good model, a more important aspect when providing feedback is to focus on the action or behavior rather than the person. Telling someone, “That thing you did was really stupid,” is far better than saying, “You are stupid.”
And yet, how do we tend to talk to ourselves? Rarely do we use the sandwich technique on ourselves. Worse, we tend to go straight to attacking the person (our self) instead of the action. “I am so stupid!”
That brings me to the Nedlog RuleTM. If you haven’t figured it out yet, “nedlog” is “golden” spelled backward. If you looked at the word “golden” in the mirror you’d see “nedlog”.
The Nedlog RuleTM:
“Do unto yourself as you would do unto others.”
Show yourself some love. Treat yourself with the same respect that you show to others.
Have you ever wondered whether Johnny Appleseed went back to see what grew from the seeds he planted?
We’ve all heard the stories of Johnny Appleseed. Folklore has it that he spread seeds everywhere he went. Some stories say he created meticulous nurseries. Others suggest he strewed seeds randomly as he traveled along.
Seed planting is a powerful metaphor for leadership. Leaders are planting seeds constantly, whether they are aware of it or not. Sometimes the seeds are carefully planted with a specific outcome in mind. Sometimes it’s more like a person carrying a heavy burlap sack of seeds on their shoulder; the bag has a small hole in one corner; seeds are falling randomly as the person travels along their way.
In my career as a leader, there have been many times when I set out to plant seeds on purpose, to create a meticulous nursery. I had specific goals in mind for what I wanted to spring forth from the seeds I planted.
What I have found over the years is that the seeds that randomly fell from the sack were the ones that had the most impact.
We’ve all heard the saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” This is especially true when it comes to leadership.
No matter what we say or how fancy the animated graphics are on that PowerPoint presentation we use at our all-staff gathering, what we DO, how we BEHAVE, on a regular basis is what people will remember. Those are the seeds that will take root and grow.
Every once in a while, I hear from someone with whom I previously worked. They’ll say something to me that starts with, “You always said…”, or “You once told me…” and my initial reaction is, “I did?”
I enjoy these encounters, especially when what they took away was something that has been beneficial to them and/or others. Human nature being what it is, I tend to hear more of the positive stories than negative.
I recently received this text from a friend with whom I used to work:
I received the 1st quarter leadership award last week from our CEO. My team nominated me. Seems I’m making a difference in folks’ lives and careers. Sharing this not to boast but to let you know what a great mentor you are. Thank you.
I’d like to take credit for planting those particular seeds on purpose. But, I can’t, really. All I can do is turn around, realize that the sack I am carrying has a hole in it, and notice that some of what is falling has taken root to become something beautiful.
To be sure, there are things that have fallen out of my sack that did not grow into such a heartwarming result. I am sure there are people who could tell you about the weeds they have had to pull. For now, I will enjoy the good plants.
As a leader, you are always planting seeds. What’s falling out of your sack?