What did you walk away with from your last annual performance review?
Or, for those of you who do what I do for a living, what do you remember from the comment cards at your last event where you spoke or entertained?
Here’s my bet: You forgot all about the great comments, the compliments, and you are obsessively focused on that one negative comment.
In the annual review it is that one thing your boss gives you to work on going forward.
In the realm of the feedback cards, it is that one negative comment. It is the one score of 2 in a sea of 5’s.
Why do we give so much power to the naysayers? Why do we not give equal ranking to those who love us?
I am certainly not immune to this. Why else would I be writing about it?
I am still stinging from the feedback from one particular performance in recent memory. There were well over 500 people in the audience. All I saw from the stage were smiling faces. There was much laughter. The applause was loud and long. After the show there was a long line of people for the meet & greet waiting for an autograph and photo opportunity.
And then it happened.
While I was packing up, the organizer shared with me that she had received “a few complaints”. I take this seriously. So, I pressed her for details. I encouraged her to share direct comments with me and to encourage people who were displeased to email me directly.
In the end, it was hundreds of people who were thrilled by the event, eager to find an opportunity to see the show again. And 3 people who were not. Three.
You know where my mind spent all of its time over the next several weeks. Not the 500+ who are new (and renewed) fans. No. Those three.
Why do we do this to ourselves?
What are you holding back from trying out of fear of even a single negative comment?
That. That right there. THAT is the true crime.
You have something amazing to share with the world. YOU.
I don’t know what it is. But, I’ll bet that you do.
And I’ll bet you’re afraid. Afraid someone might laugh at you. Afraid someone will say something negative.
So you continue to hold back, keeping your fantastic gifts to yourself.
I vow to continue to fight this battle. Won’t you join me?
Let’s do this together. Let’s agree that we will share our gifts with the world. We will put ourselves out there. Give what we have to those who appreciate them. And let go of the need for a perfect scorecard.
Have you ever said to yourself, “It doesn’t matter, it’s just … (fill in the blank)” ?
I perform at a wide range of events. In the past year alone I performed at a private party with 20 people, corporate events with hundreds, and a 2000 seat theater with huge projection screens (see photo above).
As you would expect, the budget for each of these events was significantly different. A friend of mine, a fellow entertainer, recently asked me, “What do you do differently?”
The answer? Nothing.
That’s not a complete answer. Sure, there are differences. They’re different audiences with different tastes. I custom tailor every show to the specific event. And, different levels of events require different amounts of behind the scenes efforts leading up to them, which is where most of the differentiation happens.
But, my overall commitment to the event? My delivery in the moment? The same.
It wasn’t always this way. I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that.
I used to segment the events based on the fee. The most visible aspect to this segmentation was in what I would wear for the performance. I went from casual pants and shirt, to dress pants with dress shirt, to jacket. In my mind a script played out, “Well, for that much, you don’t get the suit,” as if the client would notice or care. Worse, I delivered a different level of performance.
My friend was incredulous. “Seriously? You do the same show?”
I totally get where he was coming from. We have this sense of fairness. How can it be OK to deliver the same product for a client who pays $X as the one who pays $10X ? How is that fair?
That is a valid and interesting question. But, it is not what I am primarily writing about.
Without going too far down this rabbit hole, consider the pilots flying a commercial airline. Economy tickets and first-class business tickets are priced vastly differently. Both will get you from point A to point B. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to fly first-class, you know the experience can be quite different. But, from the pilots’ perspective, all passengers are the same once the cockpit doors are closed. They do they’re job the same way, regardless of how much each individual passenger paid for their ticket.
The real point I am heading toward here is not the pay, or issue of fairness to the client, but rather our own attitude as we approach the task that is ahead of us.
What I have discovered is that it is better for ME to deliver my best possible performance each and every time, regardless of the previously agreed to paycheck. I am the worker in the field from the parable. Sometimes I am the one who went out first thing in the morning to work the whole day. Sometimes I am the one who was standing around idle until 5 in the afternoon.
When I show up at the end of the day and collect my pay with gratitude, having done what was agreed to up front, I am happier.
Naturally, by extension, it is better for the audience when I deliver the best performance I am capable of delivering. Ultimately, that is what it is all about.
When I mentally delivered a different product, begrudgingly holding back at events I knew were not paying as much, it affected ME. I became resentful. I’m sure that resentment showed through in the performance.
When I released that, separating the money from the event, and put all of my energy into delivering the best possible performance for that audience, feeling blessed to have the opportunity to share the gift of laughter with those people at that moment, it filled me with joy and gratitude to be able to do what I do for a living. I know for a fact that that joy shows through in the performance. It is the most frequent comment I hear after a show. “You look like you are having so much fun!” And I am. Every time.
The other interesting thing that I have discovered is that it is actually MORE work for me to deliver a lesser performance.
Have you ever experienced that? Have you ever noticed how much effort it takes to complain about a task and NOT do it, where simply doing the thing would have been so much easier?
How do you go about your daily work? Are there tasks that you begrudge having to do? Are there aspects of your job, or you life, where you feel resentment? Perhaps you feel that the task is below you, or you think, “I’m not being paid enough to do that.”
Catch yourself when you feel that resentment welling up inside. Change your thinking. Not for the benefit of whoever is asking you to do the task, but for yourself.
Act from a point of gratitude.
Is this a task at work that you dislike? Try being grateful for the big picture. You have a job. You’re being paid. It beats sitting in the unemployment line.
Is this a household chore you dread? Again, look at the bigger picture. You have a house.
There is a saying in the entertainment world, “There are no small gigs, only small performers.”
Treat every gig like a big one. Treat every audience like they deserve the best performance of your life.
It is mid-December as I write this. A season of giving. A time when many are making last-minute mad-dash scrambles to the shopping Mecca of their choice (including online retailers), trying to find just the right gift to show their loved ones how much they love them.
Is that what it takes?
Allow me to suggest an alternative.
When is the last time you sat down with your spouse, your child, your parent, or even a close friend, and gave them your full, undivided attention? No checking your watch. No glancing at your mobile device. Total, focused, connection with the person sitting across from you.
How long can you go? 5 minutes? 10? An hour?
For many of us, we can barely last as long as we can hold our breath under water. 30-45 seconds. 60 seconds tops.
There is much chatter in the media and among our friends about the frenetic pace of our world today. Everything is moving so fast!
What is your threshold of attention?
As we celebrate the end of another year of busy-ness, I challenge you to make time for those you love. Be wholly and completely present. Enjoy the time together. Put aside worries for what is happening next. Tomorrow will come, whether we stress about it or not.
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.
I don’t mean the regular everyday disappointments, like finding that somebody took the last cup of coffee, or mounted the toilet paper the wrong direction. No. Something that was a really – big – deal.
Mine happened last week. I won’t bore you with the details. Like many of our greatest disappointments, what is a big deal to us often seems trivial to someone else.
Don’t you just hate it when, while you are wallowing in the injustice of it all, someone else hears your tale of woe and points out the insignificance of it in the big picture of life? Yeah. So, I won’t delve into the specifics of this particular issue.
However, I will share that it was a big deal. To me. At the time. Perhaps later we can share with each other the specifics of what last sent us into a pit of personal despair and laugh about how out of proportion our respective reactions were. For now, let us enjoy the pain of that moment in the same way we enjoy picking at a scab and watching with fascination the renewed oozing of blood from the wound.
How long did it take for you to get over your disappointment? How many hours, days, weeks did you spend literally or figuratively lying on the floor thrashing about, pounding the carpet with your fists? How many people had to hear your tale of woe as you dumped your raw feelings of anger and disbelief upon anyone who provided the slightest opening to do so?
Ah, good times.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss psychiatrist, is credited with defining the 5 stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Known as the Kübler-Ross Model, these 5 stages define the progression of emotional states typical of someone who is terminally ill, and also those who are dealing with the loss of a loved one.
What is disappointment? Is it not a sense of great loss? The loss of an idea. The loss of a goal. The loss of a desired outcome. The heartbreak of not getting what we wanted. Deep disappointment hits us in ways similar to grief.
In my biggest times of disappointment, I have definitely experienced Anger and Depression. Denial usually presents itself as disbelief. Bargaining typically plays out as a desire to refute, debate, and argue the decision. Eventually, though, I reach a state of Acceptance. I’m not happy about it, but I accept it. (Well, except for that toilet paper thing. It really needs to come over the top.)
I hope that you are able to reach that point of acceptance in your disappointments.
What differentiates disappointment from grief is what comes after we have reached the state of acceptance.
Do we give up on the goal? Or, do we dig in with renewed determination, learning from the experience?
Sometimes what we fail to achieve is a once in a lifetime opportunity. There is no second chance. Most times that is not the case. Sure, if you are an Olympic athlete, you might have to wait another 4 years for your next shot at the gold medal. And maybe you can’t be the first to achieve whatever it was you were targeting. But, so what? You can still go for it.
Maybe that specific job for which you thought you were the perfect match won’t be posted again at that one company until the person who got it instead of you leaves. There are other jobs and other companies.
In my case, the goal I did not achieve can be applied for once per year. The next window of opportunity for submission is not until next January. My intention? To start now in planning and preparation to make my application undeniable.
There are those (I’ve been guilty of it myself) who would suggest that even if you don’t attain the desired goal, even if you don’t win the race, or get the trophy, you are a better person for having gone through the process.
I am not a “winning is everything” kind of person. But, when I was a kid playing little league baseball, our coach only took us out for ice cream when we won. And only those who hit a home run got a banana split. It was a great reward for practicing and playing hard. If we didn’t win, we moped and dragged our baseball mitts on our way home. Then we showed up with fresh determination at the next practice.
Allow yourself the time to grieve. Go through however many of the 5 steps you need. Once you’ve reached the “A” for acceptance in the Kübler-Ross Model, add another “A”. Action.
Reset your focus. Determine your next step. Chart a new course. Try again.
Do not allow the disappointment of a single misstep to be the end of the climb.
What brings you joy? What holds you back from experiencing it?
Most of us have participated in some form of an exercise designed to help us let go of a deeply held fear or concern. One method that many people have experienced is to write the fear or concern onto a piece of paper and then throw that paper into a fire, allowing the flames to symbolically consume whatever it was that was written on the paper.
Several weeks ago, during lent, I attended an appropriately somber church service on Maundy Thursday. After the service, I made my way through a series of stations for further reflection. At one of these stations, people were encouraged to write a concern onto a Post-It note and stick it to the cross, leaving it there as a way of releasing it and letting go of that concern.
As I sat there, pondering what to write, I glanced up and saw a note someone else had left. It said, “There is no joy.”
Those words struck me deeply.
I think a lot about joy. Joy is my purpose. Joy is at the heart of this blog. Joy drives nearly everything that I do.
At its core, the whole “Work Should Be Fun” concept is about joy.
I can understand not feeling happy. I can understand feeling sadness. I can understand many things. But, I can’t contemplate a life without joy.
Joy runs deep. Even in sadness, anger, or frustration, there can be joy.
To me, sadness is not the opposite of joy. Sad is the opposite of happy. Both are surface level sensations of the moment. They come and go.
Joy is eternal. It is deeply rooted. I find joy and hope to be more closely linked than joy and happiness.
The absence of hope is despair. So, for someone to say, “There is no joy,” says to me that they feel utter despair. They lack hope.
Without hope, we might as well sit down and give up. Hope keeps us going, even when things look bleak.
Joy and hope are inextricably connected.
Do you see the joy around you? It is everywhere. It is especially visible in this season of springtime. Take a moment to look around and see it. Then find a way to share it with others.
Take a moment to connect with another person. Walk down the hall, into the next cubicle, or talk with the person at the cash register. Share a few words. Smile. See the beauty that is all around. For just a moment, ignore the trash in the roadside ditch, look beyond the dirty dishes piling up in the sink, look away from the pile of unread emails in your inbox.
Have you ever asked that question? Did you get the answer you were hoping to hear?
Here are a few scenarios:
You just served a meal that you spent a week researching and 4 hours preparing.
You finally opened up to a friend about a new direction for your life that you have been nervous to share with anyone.
You shared a new logo for your company that is fresh from the graphic designer.
After weeks of preparing in private, you delivered a final test run of your presentation to a friend or trusted colleague 2 days before the big event at which you are to deliver it.
When you ask that question, what are you really seeking? Most of us, when we ask that question, are seeking affirmation. We want to hear, “That was great!” Or, “I loved it!”
Sometimes we are looking for feedback on a specific aspect. Was there too much salt? Do you like this color in the logo? That photo on slide 23, was it too much?
What we often get is something we didn’t expect. Our friends and family, in an effort to be helpful, often take this opportunity to offer feedback on some aspect of what you shared that is outside of what we needed to hear at that moment. Or, they express something in general terms, where what we needed to hear were the specifics of what made them think that.
The result is that we feel crushed. Deflated. Hurt. Maybe even angry.
We think: How could they be so insensitive? Why do they always go for the jugular? See, this is why I don’t ask for feedback. All I get is negativity.
Soliciting and receiving feedback is a skill. It takes practice to develop. You might even call it an art.
If you are not getting the feedback you are looking for, it might not be the thing that you are soliciting feedback about that is the problem. It might simply be that you are asking for it in the wrong way.
Of course, sometimes what we just shared really did suck. But, I’m not talking about those times. I’m not too concerned about those instances because I trust that each of us, inside, knows when that is the case.
We’re all familiar with the dreaded question, “Do these pants make me look fat?” We can laugh about it, but that’s actually a great question. It is specific as to the feedback being sought. It is not a general question, such as, “What do you think of my outfit?” It is specific about one article: the pants. And it is not generic in the request, such as, “Do you like these pants?” No. It is clear that the one thing the person asking is concerned about is whether those pants, specifically, make them look fat.
My advice when soliciting feedback is to be specific in what you ask. Be clear to the person about what would be most helpful to you.
Instead of, “What do you think?”, ask something specific. Here are a few examples:
For that meal: How was the spice level? Too hot? Not hot enough?
For that new direction in your life: Knowing me as you do, what is the biggest aspect of this that surprises you?
The new logo: Does this make you want to know more, or run away?
The presentation: Did the images help you connect with what I was saying? Which ones worked best? Which ones did not?
If we do find ourselves asking the question, “What do you think?”, probe deeper into the response. If the answer is, “I hated it.”, ask, “Why?” Go for the specifics. You might have served a meal that contained a lot of cooked carrots. I can’t stand cooked carrots. Everything else about it was great. But, that one detail set me off. My response to the question of, “Did you like it?” would have likely been a simple, “No.” Don’t be offended. Dig deeper. Find out why.
The same goes if the response is, “I loved it!” Why? What about it, specifically, did you most enjoy?
Then, with that information in hand, you can decide what, if anything, you are going to do with it. Maybe you love cooked carrots and the group of people you are planning to serve that same meal to next week also love cooked carrots. Go with it. Just don’t invite me.
A key component of soliciting feedback is to remember that each person’s opinion is simply one data point. That one person might not even be a good representative of the intended audience for whatever it is we have solicited the feedback.
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?
Here’s one I heard when I worked at OhioHealth: Watch one, Do one, Teach one.
The person who taught me this phrase explained that this philosophy was engrained in her as a nurse. To fully learn a new procedure, you watch it being done, you do it yourself, and then you teach it to someone else.
That last step is critical. It is what separates common practitioners of any craft from the masters. It is where most of us stop short.
Think about it. If you are going to teach something, there is a level of expectation that you know the material. It forces us to raise our game. We must have the confidence in our skills if we are to teach others.
I believe that is why so few of us teach; we lack the confidence in our own skills or knowledge. That is a shame. There are many people with much to give, who hide behind a cloak of fear.
A clear benefit to teaching others is that we learn more ourselves. One of my friends in college taught classes at another school. He was not the smartest person in our own classrooms. But, he was a good teacher. His own struggles as a student helped him as a teacher because he could relate to his students’ challenges. He shared with me how much he was learning by teaching. He also shared his joy in receiving high marks from his students.
You don’t have to be a master of the material to teach. Some of my most memorable teachers in school were those who, rather than spewing forth their vast knowledge from on high, invited us to join them in their own journey of exploration on the subject. Those shared explorations were far more interesting than sitting through boring lectures.
Now it’s your turn.
Watch one. Do one. Teach one.
(Side note: I take this concept of teaching seriously. I now offer one-on-one coaching for speakers and entertainers who want to better connect with their audiences. If you want your time in front of others to be more powerful, give me a call.)
What image do you convey when you walk into a room? If you were able to watch yourself enter a meeting where you are in charge, what would you see?
I confess, I am a Justin Timberlake fan. But, even if you do not have the kind of JT bromance that I do, there is something to learn from his performance during halftime at this year’s Superbowl.
As always, there were critics who called the show “lame”, “mediocre”, and even “boring”. These critics were not watching JT’s face.
I challenge you to watch it again. This time watch through a different lens. Maybe even turn the sound off. Focus on his face. Here’s a direct link: https://youtu.be/2z3EUY1aXdY
Do you see it? Unbridled confidence, without a trace of arrogance.
When I watch JT perform, whether it is this halftime show, or the Netflix special of a previous concert, or perhaps someday actually attending a concert in person, what I most admire and feel drawn to is that absolute confidence that he belongs on that stage.
Coupled with that confidence is an air of welcoming you, the viewer, to come along for the ride. There is a sense of, “Hey, let’s have some fun together.”
Some performers display confidence, but there is also an air of arrogance about it. It’s more exclusionary. It’s more like, “I deserve to be here. I’m better than you. Watch me. Aren’t I great?”
This same attitude plays out in places beyond the stage. Think about how your boss, or others up the executive chain, walk into a meeting room. Do they treat you like a stereotypical Catholic School teacher, telling you to sit down and shut up? Or are they like JT – clearly in charge of the situation, but inviting you to be an active participant?
How do YOU behave in this situation? When you are the one in charge, do you lord it over people? Or do you maintain order while inviting participation?
Exude confidence. But, in the words of Han Solo, “That’s great kid. Don’t get cocky.”