Mediocrity begins with Me

We’ve all heard it, “There is no ‘I’ in team.”

But, guess what?  “Mediocrity” begins with “me.”

We may not accept mediocrity from ourselves. We may hold ourselves to high standards. We may work hard to be the best we can be at whatever it is we are doing.

But, if we accept mediocrity from those around us, especially those we lead, we are allowing mediocrity to spread. Not just allowing it, but fostering it.  Feeding it.  Nurturing it.

If we accept “good enough” from those around us, our combined effort has no chance of becoming any more than mediocre.

I don’t know about you, but I refuse to be mediocre. Mediocre is not fun. And if we agree that we won’t accept mediocrity from ourselves, we must accept our role in boosting the performance of those around us.

Stop accepting mediocrity. Right now. Halt its spread.  Refuse to accept it.  From yourself, or from others.

 

Some people won’t get it

Do you often find yourself saying, “They just don’t get it”?  Yeah. Me, too.

I am an avid reader of my daily horoscope.  Today’s was tied directly to the “Work Should Be Fun!” mantra.

Leo: You have an instinct to be playful even in work-oriented situations. Not everyone will understand how this makes things better. That is why your process is best kept private. Let them see the results and wonder how you got them.

(Printed in the Columbus Dispatch, October 22, 2013)

Perfect. Except for that part about keeping it private. After all, that’s why I started this blog.

The bottom line is, enjoying our work leads to higher levels of productivity. One way of bringing more enjoyment to our work is to maintain a playful attitude. (There’s that attitude thing again…)

When you see me with that silly smirk on my face in the middle of a long, boring meeting, don’t worry.  It’s just me thinking playful thoughts. And keeping them to myself.

 

It’s never too late

Ever find yourself pining away for some dream you once had? Do you wish you had taken action on that dream?

It’s not too late.

Here’s an article from the Huffington Post about 13 people you may have heard of who made a significant change in their careers.

OK, sure, so those are famous people. And, by and large, they went from some staid job to a crazy creative job.

Here’s another one. Johnny LeHane, a guy I once worked with at AOL. He left his steady job there to run WAKA – The World Adult Kickball Association.  He’s still at it. And last I checked, loving it.

But, does it always have to be leaving a steady job to do something that sounds crazy to the rest of the working world?

No.

I had another friend who started his working career as an opera singer in the Metropolitan Opera. Yes, that one. To do what? Become a doctor. Which he did. In his early 40’s.

I’m sure you can come up with numerous other examples of people you know and have read about who took a major turn in their careers to do something completely different.

What’s your dream?  It’s not too late.

 

Don’t be a fun-suck

Have you ever witnessed the derailing of an attempt to improve morale?

Many years ago, I was working for a particular corporation during a time of deeply sagging employee morale.  We’ve all been there. The specifics of why morale was lagging are not really important. Just know that it was pervasive and evident to all levels of the organization.

One Tuesday morning, we came to work to find signs posted throughout the building announcing that there would be a “Hawaiian shirt day” on that Friday for no other reason than to have a moment of fun and lighten the mood. Word spread quickly. Interest was piqued. What was this? A moment of fun? Cool.

It didn’t last long.

Later that same day there was an official email memo from the VP of HR making it clear that this was an unsanctioned event and that we were expected to adhere to the dress code, despite the signs.

Any doubt why there was a lack of enthusiasm in the halls?

I still bristle at the memory of this incident. Here was a grass-roots effort to boost employee morale, and it would cost the company nothing. How much easier it would have been for executive leadership to simply allow this moment of levity to brighten the day. Or, even to take credit for this idea that was clearly needed.

In my family, we have a term for this behavior. We call it being a “fun-suck.”  There are three types of people: those who add fun to any situation, those who simply go along for the ride, and those who actively suck the fun out.

Don’t be a fun-suck.

 

The power of “yet”

How many things are on your, “I don’t know how to do that” list?  How about your, “I am not successful at…” list?

Here’s a tip.  Take that same phrase, and add the word “yet” to the end.

I am not making the kind of money I want to make – yet.

I did not get that promotion – yet.

My calendar is not full – yet.

I’m not good at making sales calls – yet.

The power of this simple word is that it leaves open the opportunity for a change in the situation. It drives home the fact that you might simply not know how to accomplish the desired objective – yet. It reinforces the idea that you may still get what it is that you seek. It provides encouragement to continue to push forward in pursuit of your goals.

What have you not accomplished – yet?

Entrepreneur or Employee? Why not both?

Can we call ourselves entrepreneurs and still work for a corporation?

It depends on our attitude.

First, a few definitions (source: Merriam-Webster online dictionary) –

Entrepreneur:  “A person who starts a business and is willing to risk loss in order to make money.”

Employee: “A person who works for another person or for a company for wages or a salary.”Employer: “one who employs”

Employ: “to use or get the services of (someone) to do a particular job.”

What strikes me in these definitions is that the classic employer/employee relationship is one of “use.”  As an employee, we agree to be used by the employer to meet their objectives, to do the job they have defined. The balance of power is strongly weighted in favor of the employer.

But, what if we change our attitude and view ourselves as entrepreneurs?

Another definition –

customer: “Someone who buys goods or services from a business.”

See where this is going?

If we view ourselves as being individual business owners, entrepreneurs, then the relationship changes. We cease to view the company as our employer. Instead, we view the company as our customer.

Viewing the company as the primary customer of our individual business shifts the balance of power and makes it a much more balanced equation.

For me, making work fun has a lot to do with a sense of control and being responsible for my own future. I am happiest when I feel that the rewards will be commensurate with the effort I expend. Having that entrepreneurial mindset, even when working for a company, allows me to feel a stronger sense of ownership and control over my future.

Why do more people not view it this way? There is a key word in the definition of entrepreneur – risk. Most of us are not willing to take the risk. We want to play it safe. We want a guaranteed paycheck.

Sorry, you can’t have it both ways.

To truly embody the entrepreneurial mindset as an employee, you must take risks, risks that could mean the loss of a customer (employer). You must have the confidence that you can find another customer who is interested in the product/service that you have to offer – the product of you.

Are you an entrepreneur or an employee?  It’s all in your attitude.

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.