Play the Fool

When was the last time you sat in the dunk tank, challenged your staff to a jousting match, or jumped onto a Velcro wall?  How long has it been since you encouraged others to laugh – at you?

As I write this, it is April Fool’s Day. When is the last time you willingly played the fool?

If you are a boss, a leader of people, this is an important skill that seems to be lacking from most management courses.

In my work as an entertainer, I’ve seen all kinds of environments. The single biggest differentiating factor I have observed is the attitude of the boss. I have observed an incredibly consistent correlation between a workforce that is eager to go back to work the next day, people who enjoy their jobs, and the willingness of the boss to laugh at himself (or herself).

If you’ve ever seen my show, you know that I end with the PeoplePuppets routine. This is where I bring two people on stage and turn them into ventriloquist puppets. It is always a huge hit.

For corporate events, I prefer to use the boss and one other person. The people who hire me know this. Sometimes, the event organizers will specifically ask me NOT to use the boss. These same clients make it a point to ask that I not pick on the boss in any way during the show.  Other clients are exactly the opposite. They give me all kinds of insider information about the boss to use as fodder for comedy and encourage me to use as much of it as possible.

Even without this direct input from the event organizers, it is amazing how obvious the culture of the organization is to an outsider (like myself) attending a company function. When the boss is a fun-loving individual who is able to laugh at himself, the rest of the attendees tend to have a lot more fun. Even more, they speak about their work in an excited, engaged way.

When the boss is a no-nonsense, never let their guard down, must keep up appearances at all times type of person, these events tend to be stiff, formal (regardless of dress code), and obligatory. You’d be amazed at some of the comments I have overheard from staff in the restroom, or walking by small groups.

The other casual observation I have made is that, especially for small businesses, the companies with the fun-loving bosses are growing like crazy, barely able to keep up with their success. Meanwhile, for those with the stern, don’t you ever make me look foolish bosses, the success levels have been significantly less consistent.

Play the fool. Be the first to go into the dunk tank. Lead by example that Work Should Be Fun!

 

Fire hose, Squirt guns or Tides?

Which do you prefer? Fire hose, squirt guns or tides?

You’ve heard the term, “Drinking from the firehose.” Some work environments are like this. There are only two modes: on and off. You tend to work on a small number of projects at a time. When they start, they start hard and fast. Each project is significant on its own. They have a clear beginning and end. When you complete a project, there is a tangible relief.

Other environments are more like what I refer to as being drowned by a million squirt guns. It’s a constant deluge from lots of different sources. Any one of these sources is minor. But, you add them all together and you feel like you are drowning. You can finish one or two, or even ten or twenty, but there are still so many others vying for your time that there is no relief, ever.

Still other environments are more tidal in nature. They are somewhat predictable. They ebb and flow. Projects have slow starts and slow endings. At their peak, the projects are all-consuming and you may feel like you are under water. After the project ends, there is a lull and you get to catch your breath. You may even become bored. But, you know another wave is coming.

Different people prefer different models. No one model is better. However, it is important to match the working styles of the staff to the environment.

As an employer, be sure you understand which model describes your environment and seek to hire staff who fit. Also, consider whether this is the model you desire. If not, what can you do to address it?

As a job seeker, know which of these models you prefer and ask questions in the interview process to identify the environment you are considering. If it’s not your preferred model, can you adapt?

Fire hose, squirt guns, or tides? You decide.

 

Find your WHY

Why do you do what you do?

Before you answer, consider this:  If you stopped doing it, who would care?

The first answer most of us give to the “why” question is all about us. To get paid. Because I enjoy it. Yada, yada, yada.  Me, me, me.

The second question forces us to put what we do in terms of our customers, those who receive the benefit of the output of our work.

Most of us, when thinking about our jobs, think solely in terms of ourselves – what’s in it for us. How much we get paid, what benefits we receive, vacation time, how this prepares us for the next step in our careers, etc.

Amazing things happen when we flip this around, when we train ourselves to think in terms of what others receive by virtue of the work that we do.  I have first hand experience with this transition in thinking. It has a powerful impact on how I go about my work. It causes a very real attitude shift. And there are times when I need to be reminded.

Sometimes it is difficult to realize the true benefits provided by our work. That’s where the second question really helps. If you stopped doing what you do, who would notice? Who would care?

Still having trouble? Listen to your customers.

After a recent performance, a gentleman came up to me and said, “Never stop doing what you do.” I told him I had no intention of quitting. He persisted. He said, “We all need to laugh. We don’t get to do it enough. You made me laugh. Never stop doing this.”

On those days when the business aspects of doing what I do get me down and feel like a chore, it helps to remember that people need what I do. This is not about me. This is about giving what I have been put here to give.

Why are you here? Who needs you to do whatever it is that you do?

Find your WHY, and never stop doing it.

 

Positive acknowledgement

Have you ever experienced a delayed flight due to an issue with the aircraft? If you’ve spent any time at all traveling by air, chances are good that the answer is, “yes.”

One of the delays I experienced was for a problem with the landing gear indicator lights. It turns out that airplanes have indicator lights to tell the pilot that the landing gear is down and locked, ready for landing. I hadn’t been aware of that before.  And it got me thinking.

Most of us are familiar with the lights on car dashboards. Car dashboard lights indicate a problem. They are warning lights. The expected behavior is for all lights to be off.

Airplanes are different. Cockpit dashboards are full of positive indicator lights. What you want to see here are lights that are all on.

In my experience, most of us operate under the car dashboard model when providing feedback to others. We only signal when there is a problem.

Meanwhile, most of us have a pilot’s mind set in our desire for feedback from others. We crave positive acknowledgement. Not praise, necessarily, simply acknowledgement that we are headed in the right direction.

It’s amazing how much impact simple positive acknowledgement can have on a relationship, especially when done consistently.

It doesn’t take much. A simple, “Thank you.”  A little head nod.  Maybe a quick, “Exactly what I was looking for.”

But, it does require effort. We have been trained by our cars to speak up only when there is a problem. Don’t wait until it’s time to turn on the check engine light.  Train yourself to acknowledge the landing gear is down and locked. All systems, “GO.”

 

Do one thing

Ever have one of those days when you just can’t seem to get things started? You sit there feeling overwhelmed by the mental to-do list. And yet, for some reason, you can’t move. You feel stuck. Paralyzed.

Here’s a thought. Do one thing. Just one thing. Anything.

Pick off the smallest, easiest item on your to-do list and act on it. Keep it small. Keep it light. Allow yourself to do it poorly. It doesn’t matter. The key is to do it.

Done? Good. Take a brief moment to congratulate yourself.

Now pick the next item. Act on it.

Feels good, doesn’t it?  You’re moving. Momentum is building. Ride it. Enjoy it. Keep going.

Before you know it, you’re back in full swing and moving ahead. All it took was that one small step of picking one item and doing it.

What will you do now to get things moving? Do it.

 

Talk to the hand

Do you allow people to knock you down? Do you allow the words of others to derail you from your dreams?

Practice this phrase: Talk to the hand.

As a ventriloquist, I talk to the hand on a regular basis. But, that’s not what I’m talking about here.

I’m talking about walking away from destructive situations.

Is somebody saying something hurtful to you? Walk away. Pick up your toys and leave. You don’t need to make a fuss. Just stand up, gather your things, and walk away.

Why don’t we do this more often? Why do we stick around in situations that make us uncomfortable? Learn to walk away.

Being uncomfortable can be a good thing. It is often through discomfort that we grow. That’s not the kind of discomfort I am talking about.

There is good pain – the kind that helps us develop and grow.

And there is bad pain – the kind that tears us down.

Our job is to recognize the difference. And when it is the bad kind, take action. Raise the arm out straight, hand pointing upward. Refuse to listen any longer.  Walk away.

Talk to the hand.

New skills take time

Ever get frustrated while trying to do something new? Yeah, me too.

Give yourself a break. It takes time.

One of my favorite parts of the movie “The Matrix” is how they download new skills to their brains. Need to fly a military helicopter? No problem! Just wait 10 seconds for the program to load. Jujitsu? Done.

Oh, if only it were that easy.

I think most of us can accept this concept when it is a physical skill. Sports are a good example. Most of us realize that it will take time for our bodies to develop the muscle memory required to swing a baseball bat, or a golf club, or a tennis racket.

But, when it comes to developing new mental skills or instituting behavioral changes, we somehow expect ourselves to be transformed overnight.

Just like learning to play a musical instrument, or a new sport, it takes time for our minds and our bodies to form the muscles and muscle memory to execute the fundamentals. Likewise, practice and repetition are the keys to ingraining these new skills.

So, keep practicing. Measure your progress. And give yourself the necessary time.

Don’t work for a jerk

Have you ever worked for a jerk?

I can honestly say that I have never reported directly to a jerk boss. I have, however, reported to a boss who reported to a jerk. And I have certainly been around enough jerks in a managerial role and had to deal with the fallout of their behavior.

Life is too short to work for a jerk. Refuse to go there.

I have long maintained that any job interview should be a two-way conversation. When interviewing for a job, remember to ask questions and determine whether the role and the environment are good fits for you.

An individual cannot be fully successful in a role where they are unable to get along with their direct boss. Sure, you might be able to get the job done. But, you will never reach your potential with an idiot holding you back.

If you find yourself working for a jerk, quit. Don’t hesitate. Walk away.

Trust me on this: You will never correct a jerk boss’ behavior. You can choose to tolerate it, or you can move on.

It doesn’t necessarily require quitting the company. But, act quickly. Find a way to report to someone else.

A word of caution… Before you jump, take a look in the mirror and make sure the jerk is not staring back at you.

 

Surprise!

How often do you find yourself being surprised at work? And how often are those surprises happy surprises?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Unless they are guaranteed to be happy surprises, surprises are best avoided in the work place. And let’s face it, most surprises in the work place are not happy ones.

The same thing goes for the way we treat our customers. Here’s one example.

About a month ago, I joined a gym. This gym uses boxing as the basis for their group workouts. We don’t actually punch each other, we just hit the heavy bags. But, we still wrap our hands and don boxing gloves. When I joined, they told me gloves were provided. Sure enough, there was a wall rack full of loaner gloves available. Until last week.

Me: “Excuse me. Where are the gloves?”

Staff person: “Oh, we aren’t providing those any more.”

Surprise!

I have no issue with the gym discontinuing loaner gloves. I’m not happy about it, but I understand their decision, which they explained was primarily for sanitary reasons.  However, I have a huge issue with simply walking in one day and finding all of the gloves gone. Especially since it’s two weeks before Christmas. Hello, Santa?

How much more effort would have been required to provide 2-3 weeks advance notice while continuing business as usual? A simple sign near the loaner gloves would have been plenty.  More importantly, how much happier would the members have been with some level of up front notification?

Note that I am not suggesting that we should seek approval from those who will be impacted by pending changes. Only that we should inform those who will be impacted.

Consider this as you make changes in your business, both to your customers, and your fellow workers. A simple heads-up notification with a brief explanation of the logic behind a pending change will do wonders.

Let’s keep work fun.

Invite inspection

My first job was in a small, family-owned bicycle shop.  I learned many lessons in that job that have stayed with me through the years. One of those lessons was that everyone makes mistakes. The trick is to minimize their impact by catching them before they cause a problem.

At the bike shop, we did this by having a second person inspect every bike before it left the rack. Even the owner and his first mate (I can think of no better way to describe his role) would call each other over to inspect their work.

There was no shame in having the second person adjust a screw here, or tighten a nut there. It was simply part of the job.

Later, as a software engineer, I learned the value of code reviews. The most intense code reviews involved a group of people inspecting your software, line by line, and providing helpful suggestions on ways to improve it during a code review meeting. It wasn’t just about finding mistakes (bugs), but about helping you improve as a developer. We all came out of these sessions better at our jobs.

Again, there was no shame associated with the number of bugs or suggested improvements identified. It was accepted as part of the company culture.

Yes, these inspections took time. Yes, they involved someone looking over your shoulder to inspect your work. And yes, they were worth it. Every time.

How is your work culture? Are you working as a team to produce a better product? Are you inviting inspection of your work? Or are you rushing through your day, hoping you don’t make mistakes, and hoping even more that nobody will discover them?

Invite inspection and open yourself to the feedback.