Good news: You’re probably not a loser
Most people aren’t losers. Losers cause problems, have frequent breakdowns, lash out and are easy to write off. Losers behave in ways that are unacceptable. You can’t keep your job if you’re a loser because showing up late every day is unacceptable behavior. So most of us do what is acceptable, or to put it another way, ‘what is permissible’. Permissible is fine because it’s better than unacceptable, but the problem with permissible is that it’s usually not beneficial.
Permissible vs. Beneficial
It’s easy to settle for permissible because that’s what most people do. Permissible is normal; it’s also the lowest common denominator of acceptable behavior. Leaders are never concerned with what is merely permissible. Leaders ask, “What is most beneficial?”
It’s permissible to show up at work right on time; it’s beneficial to be early (and sometimes stay late). It’s permissible to watch TV; it’s beneficial to read a book. You won’t go to jail for using a credit card, but there are many more benefits to paying cash. While it’s certainly permissible to complain when you have a legitimate excuse, has anyone ever thanked you for doing it? Probably not. This is why we always see an inverse correlation between leaders and complainers.
Why do we settle for permissible?
We settle because we fear awkward. It’s awkward when your friends come over and ask “Hey, how come you don’t have a TV?”. It’s awkward when you tell your coworkers you’re not going out because you have to get up early and go to the gym. We settle for permissible to avoid awkward situations. Most people would prefer to be the social chameleon. Blending in is comfortable. The fear of awkward keeps us from embracing the most beneficial behavior.
The leaders I know and respect are obsessed with growing the gap between what is permissible and what is beneficial. Leaders push past the fear of awkward to accomplish the very best. Anyone who leads the room in sales will tell you that it’s awkward to be rejected dozens of times each day, but that it’s the only way to close a deal. On every team you will see an enormous gap between the behaviors of the second string and those of the starting line up (even though everyone is wearing the same jersey). The biggest difference between the guys on the field and the ones on the bench is their familiarity with awkward experiences like pain, sacrifice, failure and rejection. This is what makes them leaders.
What area of life do you find it challenging to grow the gap between permissible and beneficial behavior?
I’m training for a 1/2 Ironman…
I logged 7 miles before the treadmill timed out. I suppose there’s legislation that requires fitness equipment to limit the amount of time one spends becoming fit. This particular treadmill had a governor set to shut the machine down after 60 minutes. I still had 4 miles to cover so I reset the machine, changed my iPod playlist over to ‘Songs for Suffering’, and drudged on.
The air was warm; I was drenched in sweat from head to toe. The lactic acid built up in my legs from a long week of training was arguing with my will to finish strong, and the determined fire that burned in my eyes when I started was quickly fading into a desperate grimace.
After a quarter mile into the new segment of my run, I was joined by a fellow weekend warrior who took his place on the treadmill next to mine. We made eye contact, he nodded, then glanced down at what appeared to be a measly ‘total distance’ reading on my monitor and flippantly commented:
“Wow. Didn’t take you much to work up a sweat, did it?”
After internalizing a few comments I wanted to make in return, I acted like my iPod was turned up too loud to hear him and just kept running. “If he only knew…”, I thought.
As I settled in to finish my run I began to wonder, “How many times have I done the same thing to other people?” Not in the gym, but in life. I tend to criticize others without knowing everything they’ve been through. Too often I focus on what has yet to be achieved instead of applauding people for the valiant efforts they’ve already made. It’s tempting to hold people accountable to standards that are only achievable within the limited context of what we see.
I’m learning there is always more to the story.
There wasn’t a seventh grader in the world who wasn’t scared of Mr. Garcia. If our memories are crystallized in direct proportion to our fear, then I must have been especially afraid the day I walked into his classroom for the first time. I remember every poster on the wall, the layout of the room, the notes on the chalk board. I can almost smell the pencil shavings that seemed helplessly out of place below the broken, wall mount pencil sharpener in the back of the room. I sat next to Rachel Wilson. She was scared too.
Mr. Garcia’s reputation preceded him. Not only was he our math teacher, but he was the Jr. High principle, and a marine to boot. I remember crying when I went home that night because Mr. Garcia told me that I would need a red pen for his class, and all I had was a red pencil. His persona just seemed to carry an intimidating amount of weight. There are many things I remember about Mr. Garcia, but one thing I will never forget is the speech he gave that first day of class to a room full of budding, naive seventh graders. He told us to listen very closely, because over the next hour he was going to give us everything we needed to know about how to succeed in the seventh grade. He went on to give a series of speeches, well, actually it was all one speech, just rehashed about 40 times. This was the message:
Students! Know where you are going. Have what you need. Be on time.
If you can do this, you’re going to be just fine.
Not just for seventh graders
Looking back now, I realize that Mr. Garcia was actually a very caring and compassionate man. I suppose it is possible for a seventh grader to over dramatize the appropriate level of fear to experience when meeting a new math teacher. Little did I know the nugget of advice Mr. Garcia gave me that day would become one of the most useful tools in my journey through life. This mantra is simple enough for a seventh grader to understand. Be in your seat when the bell rings isn’t really that complicated. However, it’s amazing how many grown ups still haven’t ingested these simple truths into their approach to life.
- Know where you’re going. You have to know where you’re going before you can get there. I’ve always set goals. I haven’t always hit them, but as long as I can remember I’ve set them in each area of my life. I’m certain that if I skipped this step, I would have very few accomplishments to show for it. If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll still end up somewhere – you just won’t be the one driving.
- Have what you need. Knowledge is everywhere for the taking. In our world today, there are no excuse for being unprepared. Telling the teacher you left your book in the locker might not have been that detrimental in the seventh grade, but you don’t get many second chances on legitimate opportunities when your 34 years old.
- Be on time. Not just on time for work each day. On time for life. Wayne Gretzky spoke of his strategy to skate to where the puck was going to be, instead of where it is. When opportunity arises, it’s too late to prepare. In other words, you better know how long the walk is to the next class down the hall before you stop to chat with your friends.
Take a look at anyone who is consistently struggling to move forward in life, and chances are they’re missing the mark on at least one of these key pillars. I’m thankful for the Mr. Garcias in my life who took the time to mentor me, and teach me life lessons before I even understood what they were. We can never fully appreciate the sacrifices people like this make, so that we can become something more than we ever would have on our own.
Yesterday Jack Groot and his wife came by the office for an impromptu visit. Jack owns JP’s Coffee & Espresso Bar in Holland, MI, and he’s a huge Dave Ramsey fan. I visited with Jack a few months back about our EntreLeadership Master Series event, and I mentioned to him that if he’s ever in the Nashville area, I’d love to show him around the place.
Well, Jack decided to take me up on the offer. He sent me an email yesterday morning saying he’s in town and he asked if they could swing by for a tour.
I’d like to say that I replied immediately saying “Sure! Stop by whenever it’s convenient for you today…I’ll make the time.”
I didn’t do this. I waited. I stalled, semi-unconsciously hoping that I could divert the inconvenience, and still somehow save face with Jack.
I accidentally listened to the resistance. My lizard brain (selfish & scared) told me that I was too busy:
Daniel, you don’t have time. They’ll understand. They probably knew it was a long shot anyway being so last minute and all. You have obligations. This is one of the busiest weeks of your whole year right before your really big, important, complicated event. You have plenty of legitimate excuses, so just tell them that you hope to catch them next time.
See, that’s the only thing the lizard brain offers:
- Reasons to not
- Places to hide
I decided to punch the lizard brain in the face:
“I’m making this way to complicated”, I thought. “These guys are here all the way from Michigan! Who am I to tell them I don’t have time for a short tour?” I adjusted my schedule, and arranged to host Jack and his wife.
I used to give tours more often, but now our company is big enough that we have official ‘tour people’ so I haven’t given one in a while.
But, at one o’clock I met Jack and his wife in the lobby, and what started out as another task on my list for the day, quickly became an energizing experience for me. As I told the stories about everything we’re doing around here, my emotions caught up with my brain, and I felt a new sense of pride in my work. This is my team. These are the guys I fight with. Here is what we do, and here is why it matters. For a solid 45 minutes I found myself selling 2 strangers on why our company is awesome.
Connection happens in person
I sit at a desk with a keyboard and a phone most of the time. So there’s something magical about face to face connection with your customers. I’m really glad I decided to make time for my new friends. Are they going to buy my product now? I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter.
What does matter is that I got to spend quality time engaging two other fabulous human beings who have their own story to tell. I can’t put a price on the time spent with them, and I wouldn’t sell it if I could.
Can I suggest something? Give tours!
Make your people give tours. Tell the story. Whatever this means in your company, find out a way to show people what you’re doing. It doesn’t’ matter if you have 2 people or 200, if you work in an office building or on a construction site, if you work in accounting or in sales:
Just tell the story, and don’t ever assume they know what you’re doing.
Doing this will keep you connected to the mission like nothing else can.
My new goal:
Give a tour at least once a month. I’m going to make time to show people around the office whether it ties in with a deal I’m working or not. It does something for me that is too valuable to miss out on.
How do tours work at your place? What do they look like? What do people tend to comment on when you give them? I’d love to hear about it!
Seth Godin recently challenged me to give up television altogether because there are so many other things better than TV.
I was already on the verge of doing this, but his post on this idea gave me the gumption to go ahead and pull the plug. So we called the satellite company and cut it off. All the way off…no basic cable, no major network channels. Zero TV in the house.
And I’m still breathing
Not only has life gone on without TV, it has improved. A lot. I discovered that I was spending more time watching TV than I would have cared to admit. I suppose most people talk about TV consumption the same way they talk about debt: “I don’t have any debt…just a car loan and a few credit cards.”
Since we cut off the TV:
- My wife and have have had more conversations
- I have read more non-fiction literature than I ever have in my life
- I took my daughter on an impromptu walk to the creek
- I sat on my porch and watched the cars go by
- I bought a high end stereo system, and gave my iTunes playlists a makeover
It’s changing me. It’s making me better.
Give up TV for the month of April. After the big dance is over on Monday night just unplug the TV. You don’t have to cancel it altogether, and if you hate it after a month, then just turn it back on…at least you’ll be able to say you tried it, and it wasn’t for you.
- The weather is getting nice
- College basketball is over
- Major networks are starting to air reruns
- There’s so many great things to do with your time
If you’re in:
Leave a comment on this post. Commit. You’re going to be tempted to read this and think – I don’t have to comment to do this…I’ll just do it on my own. No you won’t. You have to tell someone. If you don’t comment here, then at least tell someone you know that you’re doing it. Knowing they’ll ask you about it later will keep you committed to your goal.
I’ll check in and ask you to report occasionally on how it’s going. I already heard one great story from Chris Mefford about his kids playing together more and having meaningful conversations after he recently cut off the TV. Dino Evangelista told me his family has been TV free for a year, and it’s the best thing he’s ever done.
I want to hear about all the great stuff you’re doing instead of TV.
Invite some friends…start a movement!
Retweet this, email it, talk it up! Let’s put together a case study of how much meaningful productivity is increased for one month when a bunch of change agents get together and take action on a simple challenge: Pull The Plug.
Already TV Free? Leave an encouraging comment for someone who’s not sure they’re ready to take on the challenge.
For you golf enthusiats…I guess this is cheating a little bit. But it’s not technically TV, and it still falls in line with being an intentional consumer. At least you won’t be tempted to leave it on all night when it’s over.
I’m sure I just lost some points with the wives who made their husbands get on board with this. Sorry. At least it’s over in 3 days.
This is my email signature:
A lot of people ask me why I write ‘Serving You’ instead of Sincerely, All The Best, Thanks, or any other ‘normal’ valediction.
This particular complementary close reminds me that these Latin words are penned inside the front cover of my journal:
Inservio Deus. Inservio Populus. Prosequor Integritas.
Serve God. Serve people. Pursue integrity.
This is my goal. If I can focus on these three things, then everything else in my life is just a smaller supporting part of this focus. I am not naturally inclined to serve. I actually tend to be quite selfish. My actions rarely reflect the intentions of this goal…that’s why it’s a goal. It pushes me out of my comfort zone.
When I write an email and read the phrase ‘Serving You’, I see it with a question mark on the end:
- Am I really serving them?
- Should I rephrase something?
- Should I save this as a draft and send it tomorrow (or not at all)?
- Is THAT word really necessary?
- Should I add some courtesy phrases and put a little more thought into this? Maybe even ask how their day is going?
I tend to fire off emails with a healthy dose of cynicism, laziness and a general lack of service. If I’m not careful they just become a task that needs to be eliminated from my inbox. This little reminder pops in front of my eyes 50 – 100 times a day, and each time it challenges me to lean away from my self centered perspective and back toward my goal of living a life of service.
I have not arrived
There are plenty of times I hit the send button prematurely without processing through all of this in my mind, but since I started including this line in my signature, I’ve seen my character slowly shift toward a spirit of humility. Not to say that this technique itself has caused the change; it’s certainly not a magic formula. I just find that reminding myself daily of how I want to live helps me to focus on the goal.
What tricks do you use to remind yourself of your goals? Different things work for different people…I’d love to hear any techniques you find to be helpful!
If you had to bet your life on it, which commentator would you want to teach you how to throw a football?
Answer: None of them! They don’t throw footballs for a living, they comment.
To get the best advice on throwing a football I want to get on the field with Peyton Manning or Drew Brees. They have thrown thousands of passes under pressure and they are PLAYING in the Super Bowl.
Who are you listening to?
There are thousands of commentators in our lives. We often give them too much credit because they’re loud, marketed, and have lots of compelling data.
We tend to put to much credit on the ‘what’ before the ‘who’.
Be aware of WHO wrote the book or blog you’re reading. Pay attention to WHO is teaching the event you attend. Be careful of WHO’s opinion you adopt as your own. Whether it’s business advice, spiritual mentoring or lessons on how to be a great father, I want to learn from the guys who are on the field when the game clock starts.
This is what I love the most about Dave Ramsey’s EntreLeadership event. Dave is teaching from experience. This is rare as far as training events go.
Linchpin goes on sale today!
‘Linchpin’ will be the business buzz word for the next decade
This is hands down my favorite Seth Godin book. Linchpin is for everyone! Seriously, everyone. At least everyone who believes they have something to contribute to their world. This one isn’t just for marketers, business leaders or ‘tribe-builders’ – not just for sales people or business owners either.
Read this book and become a linchpin. Become indispensable.
What is your gift?
Godin explains that inside each of us live ideas and dreams that we seldom verbalize, much less act on. These dreams can be a tremendous gift that we offer our world, but more commonly they simply die before they are ever born. A linchpin has a responsibility to deliver the gift, and to work diligently to ensure that the gift is valuable.
Giving ≠ Weak
I should clarify that this ‘gift to the world’ idea isn’t just a touchy-feely theory involving holding hands around the campfire while singing We Are The World, and becoming the proverbial doormat to society. The gift we give is the essence of our value to our company, our family, our church, our friends and our tribe. The gift is what makes us marketable and noteworthy.
If we are masters of giving our gift then we become a linchpin; a person of such great influence that the organization can’t do without us. Linchpins can name their price. Linchpins have options. Linchpins have fun.
The excuses are gone
Factory workers 100 years ago had a difficult time defining their gift, much less giving it. Push this button. Pull this lever. Grease this part. Repeat. In today’s world the factory model doesn’t work. Company policy manuals no longer cut it. Nothing extraordinary is produced by legislation of policy. You no longer have to be a cog in the wheel…you can be a linchpin (even if you technically work in a factory).
Godin points out how the world we live in today no longer offers legitimate excuses for falling short of linchpin status. The obstacles have not been eliminated, but the excuses have. The obstacles are what allow us to become remarkable. When we push through the obstacles we get to a place that far less people dare to venture…but it’s a place of influence and unprecedented glory.
Ideas are not enough
Godin explains that a linchpin in the truest form is an artist. Whether you wait tables, sell pharmaceuticals or run a day care, it’s your ‘art’ that defines you and sets you apart from the pack. Ideas about art are not enough. Value is added when art is experienced by people who are not the artist.
Ideas are easy. However, ideas that ship are rare. We all observe, read, wonder, and innovate…at least in our mind.
The gift, the art, does not become valuable until it ships. Until the check is collected. Until you hit publish on your blog post. Until the patrons at your restaurant eat, drink and applaud. The tools for art production are all around us. We don’t need more tools; we need more artists! In Linchpin, Godin gives us a map to ensure that our art actually ships and that value is delivered to the market.
Leave the factory
If your art is stuck in your head, or if you want to galvanize your gift then buy this book! Most people will not read this book. Most people will stay in the factory, and live in the fear that they might not have a gift to offer. Most people are wrong. You are not most people.
Get a free copy!
My friend, Mike Hyatt, is giving away 112 copies of this book today on his blog. I’ve already given away 4 copies and I’ll definitely be ordering a couple more cases.
From the best selling authors of Made to Stick, Chip Heath & Dan Heath have done it again. This book is slated to launch February 16th, 2010, and I have been asked to help promote it. I have no doubt this will be another best seller. I’ve been given 25 galley copies of ‘Switch’, and have been asked to get them in the hands of ‘change agents’ between now and the launch date.
Here’s how to get your free copy:
- Leave a comment on this post about why you want to read this book
- I will select my 25 favorite comments (You don’t get to know the secret formula of selection. All I can tell you is to show some passion, be creative and have fun with it. It also won’t hurt your odds if you retweet, repost or otherwise share the info. Remember you’re a ‘change agent’ – so you’re helping promote this too.)
- Once you comment, you need to email me your mailing address: firstname.lastname@example.org
- If I select you to be one of the 25 recipients of this book, your copy will be mailed out on Monday, 1/18
- By posting a comment here you are agreeing to (if I select you):
- Read the book in it’s entirety between now and 2/16 (265 pages)
- Post a reply to the review post I make on this blog on 2/16 (you’ll get an email reminder)
- Post your own review on any consumer retail site like Amazon or Barnes & Nobel.
It’s a great read…
You don’t want to miss this opportunity to have the info first! I can already tell you that my review will be a positive one, but I’m not going to spoil it for you yet.
I’ll spend more time looking at this than anyone else
That was my thought yesterday as I meticulously wrapped a Christmas present for my wife. I ran some quick estimates and figured out that while it took me about 8 minutes to wrap the gift, it would probably only take my wife about 10 seconds to unwrap it. Then, the wrapping paper that I so carefully cut, taped and folded will be tossed on the floor, and all of her attention will rightfully shift toward the present inside. If my estimates are accurate, the ‘prep to open ratio’ is about 48:1.
Why even wrap it then?
The answer is an obvious one to those who have ever dabbled in the art of gift-giving. I could even make a reasonable case that wrapping the gift is what actually defines it as a gift (at least in the husband-giving-to-wife scenario). The point? Presentation is EVERYTHING.
What’s your gift?
You have something to offer. You get up each day and go into the world with an opportunity to influence others, to leave your mark, to offer a gift. Maybe some things you do are similar to the things I do:
- Make presentations or give speeches
- Answer phones
- Blog, Tweet, Engage
- Make sales calls
- Create value by listening first
- Ask for help
- Impact the outcome of meetings
Whether or not these actions translate into a valuable gift depends on how much I prepare, read, practice and pray about them. If I do these things without ample focus and preparation then I’m not giving a gift…I’m just doing my J-O-B. (not good)
It’s only a gift when it’s wrapped
And wrapping takes time. It takes more time than anyone else will spend thinking about your little project or business idea. A fantastic 10 minute presentation could take 5 hours of your time, and you’ll be lucky if your audience actually gives you 5 minutes of their attention.
So why bother? Why bother putting in so much more effort than what people will notice and applaud? Because your gift keeps on giving. Your preparation sharpens your saw and causes you to become more valuable. You read a book to learn a concept that helps you navigate through your situation, but the knowledge gained stays with you beyond your immediate needs. You spend hours preparing for a meeting, but your efforts pay dividends as the participants absorb your ideas and begin to act on them. If you give a 10 minute speech to 100 people, are you not actually influencing 1,000 minutes?
A gift that is valuable will be amplified upon it’s delivery…BUT it’s only a gift when it’s wrapped.
…and any action that is not a gift is just noise.
I believe it’s worth it
It’s worth taking 48 times longer. It matters that I read more, listen more and practice more. Excellence does not occur naturally. I believe that taking the time to wrap our gift is what allows the world to receive the value we offer. I believe that when we take the time to prepare and focus on our contribution, the biggest gift is actually to ourselves, because the preparation changes who we are.
Next year we all have a chance to give more and thus become more. You can start wrapping your gift over the next few days by thinking about your goals for 2010. Then prepare, practice & pray…and when you’re done, put them in writing so you can look at your gift, and so you can remind yourself why it matters that we spend the painstakingly tedious time to wrap.