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Let’s get to it

I recently took on a new role leading marketing and communications for our company. It involves bringing together people from about eight different teams today into a single unit. In the early stages of that process I kept saying “I’m anxious to get to it” or “I can’t wait to start my real job”. It’s been a few months and we finally put our senior leadership team together and guess what they are saying? Yep. They tell me “I can’t wait to get to it“. Or “I just want to start, you know, on it“.

So just what is “it” that we were trying to get to? And why the heck were we trying so hard to get there?

Well, the “it” is performing our marketing and communications functions on a daily basis, as intended by the mandate given us. We’re excited about “it” because we have a grand mission and vision (A manifesto! Read all about it here http://accidentalexec.com/2010/12/18/risking-a-manifesto/) and a great new team. Well, we think we’re going to have a great new team but they aren’t fully in place yet. And that’s preventing us from getting to “it“. Or is it?

Isn’t the “it” we’re supposed to be doing is managing a world-class marketing and communications team and isn’t that precisely what we are doing? Even if we don’t think we’re doing “it“. When I reflected on the original conundrum of wanting to get to “it” I quickly realized the more I denied I was already doing “it“, the less of “it” I was doing. I know, it’s enough to make your head spin.

We think the “it” is supposed to represent some kind of final, end state where we are all together, singing Kumbaya, doing whatever it is we are supposed to be doing, off to Shangri-La we go.  Yeah. Nonsense. For two reasons. One, there is never an end state without change. We’re constantly evolving. Constantly changing. Constantly testing the limits of who we are and what we do. Constantly looking for efficiencies. Constantly looking to be better. There is no “it“. At least not as a destination, because “it” does not exist. “It” is a process. And that leads into the second reason. We’re like an Olympic sprinter who just wants to run for the gold medal without doing any other work. No training. No prep. No game plan. No equipment. Not even a passport or a travel reservation. Some how, some way, we’re just going to magically show up and run. And then win the gold medal. Yeah. Sure we are.

It” is a process. “It” is not a destination. Therefore we are doing “it“. We are managing a world-class marketing and communications team. We’re back at training camp, getting ready for the Olympics which is some time away. We have to train. We have to prep. We have to game plan. We have to get the right team together. We have to get every logistic right. We need equipment.

I get what the new leadership team is telling me. They are eager to start the process of winning. But as I remind them, that process has already started. “It doesn’t begin the day you show up for the big event. “It” is starting now. You can’t lose sight of that. You can’t lose sight of your purpose. You must focus on it always. If the purpose is to “win”, then what does winning take? Showing up and running? For an Olympic sprinter that is 10 seconds or less of what “it” takes. In the four years prior to that it takes roughly 126 million seconds of preparation time. 126 million seconds of preparation time for a 10 second race that will be decided by hundredths of a second. That’s what separates heroes from zeroes. And all you want to do is show up and race? With no prep? No training?

Okay, go for “it“. Let me know how that works out.

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I predict …

It’s my least favourite time of year. Prediction time. As in “I predict a relapse for Lindsay Lohan” or “I predict a wedding for Cher” or “I predict the stock market is going to rise” or “I predict the stock market is going to fall”. Really? Wow. What great insights. It must be tough predicting things that most likely have a chance of eventually happening.

I am certain if you live in a major media centre, no matter where you live in the world, in the last few days or the next few days you will wake up and find a blog, newspaper article, magazine article, tweet, TV show or a guy standing on a corner telling you exactly how markets are going to end up in 2011. That’s my prediction.

So what? So who cares? Well, I know a thing or two about personal finance as I work for a major financial services company in North America and one of the things I know is when someone says “The market is going to crash”, they are right. I also know if they said “The market is going to take off”, they are also right.  I also know when someone who sounds really smart (and they do sound really smart because they are really smart) makes a very bold prediction many people may be prone to acting on that advice. Now this is a great thing if the advice turns out right. It’s a horrible thing if the advice turns out wrong.

I mention this because every now and then I clip articles at the start  of the year that make bold predictions. It’s fun to go back and see how wrong they were. Okay, they are some times right and not always wrong. But they are often wrong and I think they are likely more wrong then they are right. So what were people saying last year? Here’s a good headline “S&P to plunge 40% next year”.  Ha, ha. That’s a great one. Guess what the S&P 500 did? Yeah, it went up. No, it did! Not down like the prediction said. Up. Like the prediction didn’t say. Up by 15.06% and that excludes the dividend return which would add another 1% to 2%.

Here’s another one. “Brace yourselves for the next wave of the bear market”. It was published on February 1, 2010 in a Canadian newspaper. Want to know when the Canadian market reached it’s low for the year? If you guessed later that week you are right! Yep. Sure enough. Just four days later, on February 5, the Canadian stock market reached its in-year low of 10,990.41. It finished the year at 13,443.22. That’s up 22.3%. The same article quoted a guy who said his conservative estimate for the market was to decline 50% to 60%. That was his conservative estimate!

So here’s the problem. These headlines are often gratuitous. They are designed to grab people’s attention. They quote people who are smart and rich. So you and I think “Wow, if these people are smart and rich, then they must really know what the heck they are talking about” and we take their advice. Well, we don’t really take their advice because if you read the articles carefully, they never really give any. But advice is inferred, isn’t it? If someone really smart and really rich says “The stock market is going to decline by 50%!” what are you going to do? Probably not invest in it! Heck, you may even short the market. If you shorted the market when it went up you lost money. If you simply stayed on the sidelines you didn’t lose money but you lost out on the recovery.

So what are the headlines saying this year? Yeah, you guessed it. Optimism is the new king. Lots and lots of headlines that are saying markets are great, it’s a good time to buy, yada, yada. Sigh. Is it? Is it really a good time to buy? After a two year recovery from one of the most calamitous market events of our time? Really?

Listen, I have no idea what markets will do but I am pretty sure of this. If you act on the headlines, you are gambling and not investing. You want to be an investor? Then be drop dead boring. That’s right. Be boring. It might not make you rich but it won’t make you poor. I’m boring. I pay myself first. It means I set aside money every month for my future before I spend the rest on today. I increase that amount every January 1. I invest in a portfolio that matches my tolerance for risk. I then ignore it. I don’t spend beyond my capacity and don’t carry excessive debt (I have some, like I said, I’m not rich). I have life and disability insurance in case something goes horribly wrong. I have some money in cash in case of emergencies, and there always are some. I can survive the loss of my job.  B-O-R-I-N-G! Yeah, I know. Boring as all can be. But I’m not broke and doubt I ever will be. I’m not a gambler. I don’t care what markets are going to do or not going to do. And I certainly don’t gather my insights from some guy’s blog. Yeah, that was meant to be sarcastically ironic.

I’ll leave you with this insight into an alleged con trick. Back in the 1980’s, when I first entered this business, I heard of a con that went something like this. Guy sends out 50,000 letters. Half say “market is going to go up this week” the other half say “the market is going to go down this week”. Market goes up. He then sends 25,000 letters out to the people who received the optimistic letter. Does the same thing. Half get a letter saying market will go down, half get a letter saying market goes up. Market goes down. Now he sends a letter to the 12,500 people who got a letter saying market was going down. Keeps doing the trick until someone starts believing he is the smartest guy in the world. They send him money. Sometimes lots of it. He skips town.

I predict someone will get caught by someone else’s prediction. I can pretty much take that one to the bank. This year, why not play it a little safer and ignore the predictions. Be boring. It doesn’t make for great cocktail party chatter but at least you should still be able to afford to go to them.

Body, spirit and mind

When you think “financial services executive” (I’m one of those) I am sure you think greying fat guy, chomping on a cigar, drinking a martini and wearing a three piece suit; your prototypical cliched, snorfing at the pig trough kind of guy. Well, I hate to tell you, other than some grey, okay a fair bit of grey coming in by the day and a little excess weight (but not a lot and quickly coming under control), I’m not that guy. Well, other than being a guy I guess.

My job, like many, has tremendous demands and significant pressure. It doesn’t just require me to stay on top of industry, leadership, finance and other issues, it also requires me to stay in good physical, mental and spiritual shape. I can’t imagine trying to do my job without an active wellness plan and I encourage others to do the same.

What is a wellness plan? It’s a plan to, ah, address, you know, wellness? A wellness plan addresses in a concrete way how you will keep yourself in physical shape, how you will fine tune your mental capacity and how you will restore your spirit.

A physical fitness plan is key partly because my job won’t provide many opportunities to stay in shape. I don’t have a physically demanding job, unless lifting 100 page documents counts. Furthermore, some of what comes with the job, such as travel, are counter-productive to staying in shape. Being in good shape helps address the stress of the role and keeps me focused and sharper. So what does my physical wellness plan look like? I try to formally work out four times a week for starters. Thirty to fifty minutes of cardio plus some weight training. Every now and then I will do a few stretches, push-ups, sit-ups and assorted lunges. In the summer I golf. In the winter, not so much! We do have a beagle and we take her for short walks but a balky back (the dogs, not ours) keeps us from walking her more. When I can, I take the stairs. I also watch what I eat with a focus on fruits, vegetables and proteins. Okay, I lied about that last part. I am supposed to eat a lot of that but funny enough, whenever I reach for a carrot somehow it ends up being a potato chip. I try and watch my sodium and carbs, try very hard not to eat sweets (but fail at times) and do everything I can to avoid buffets (when I am travelling there are a lot of buffets!). I also take Omega 3 supplements every day. The Omega 3’s are really great. They are the size of a Smart Car and when you burp you get a nice fishy aftertaste. It’s wonderful trying to be healthy.

My mental wellness plan is focused on sharpening my mental acuity and keeping negative energy from pervading my life. At the core of that plan are reading, knowledge management techniques (such as speed reading) and games and puzzles. Blogging counts in that too! Reading is a critical part of my role and I find myself reading a lot about personal finance, leadership, marketing, workplace collaboration, business strategy and so forth. My personal reading favours satire, personal empowerment, sports and history and biographies. I love to do Suduko, brain teasers, puzzles and other games including spending time with my daughter bashing zombie brains on Left For Dead. What? An executive doing normal stuff like playing video games? Yeah, we do that kind of stuff. It’s not all sitting around meeting tables drinking cognac. In fact I’ve never sat around a meeting table drinking cognac.

Keeping the negative energy out of my life is a little tougher. It involves some very difficult choices, at least at first. We all have people in our lives who just suck the life energy out of you. They are figurative vampires. I do everything I can to make as little room for them in my life as possible. I don’t want to hear their whining, carping and pissing and moaning. They find the negative in everything and the positive in nothing. They are wasting the precious gift of life and trying to steal from mine. They don’t know how to lift themselves out of the morass they find themselves in so they do everything they can to bring you down with them. Beyond that, part of removing negative energy is building positive energy. In my life that means working hard to build positive relationships in my life with my spouse, my daughter, my family, my friends and my co-workers. It’s not always easy but it is always worthwhile.

My spiritual plan is all about centring myself. It’s easy to get ahead of yourself and let yourself believe you are responsible for how and where you have landed in life. Too easy. A sense of entitlement can easily creep in to your life if you let it. I love sports but the one thing that drives me nuts about sports is listening to athletes talk about the lack of respect they feel they get. This usually comes out when they are negotiating for a new contract. You know; the ones that pay them millions of dollars a year. I don’t begrudge someone the opportunity to earn millions of dollars a year but you think they could be a little more grateful and humble. But I understand how people can quickly lose perspective. When you reach a certain level of “success” (in quotation marks because success in this sense is a specific external measure of achievement that many people may equate with success), you can become surrounded by people who are all too willing to support an exaggerated sense of yourself. You can also easily lose perspective. You forget what it is like not to earn a million dollars a year (no, I don’t earn a million dollars a year! It’s just an example), so when someone else starts earning more you think “hey, why are they getting more” as opposed to “hey, this is an insane amount of money they are paying me and I am grateful for the opportunity”. So I work hard to keep myself centred. Which really isn’t that hard because I fall down enough I gain daily reminders that I’m not all that hot. Besides, I have an exceptional support system at home – my wife and daughter. When I became SVP my wife turned to my daughter during dinner and said “Do you know what SVP stands for? Sarcastic vindictive prick”. And then they both laughed and laughed and laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And I did too. It was the perfect response at the perfect time. I loved that moment.

What I don’t do is take it all for granted. I’ve been given a wonderful life and an incredible opportunity, for myself, for my family, for my friends, for my community. I need to be in good shape, if not great shape, to keep delivering the value I know I can deliver. The moment I don’t take time to exercise my body, my mind and my spirit is the moment I have wasted the gift. I can’t do that. I won’t do that.

So back to the treadmill it is. Hold the potato chips and grab a fistful of carrots and celery. We’re going to sharpen the body, the mind and the spirit like never before.

Risking a manifesto

One of the first things I did after taking on a new executive assignment was to create a manifesto. It’s like a mission/vision statement, but with a little more insight, depth and life. It is a story of what my vision is for the team, what it is meant to do and how it is meant to do it.

I used to resist the idea of having a particular mission/vision statement for our team; not because I didn’t believe in them, more because I wasn’t sure a departmental unit should have a mission/vision that was separate from what the entirety of the organization was trying to achieve. Even before taking on the new assignment I began to realize how wrong this view was. Team members were looking for a compelling reason to come to work. They didn’t just want a job; they wanted a raison d’être. A purpose. A calling. As the leader of the team it was up to me to provide it.

You might think providing a vision somehow collides with the tenets of team empowerment. That thought certainly ran through my mind, especially as people asked me what my vision was. My vision? For starters, “my vision” was to have a true team dynamic where people felt challenged, respected and empowered. How was it possible for them to do that if I dictated to them how that would happen through a vision?  I have come to realize three things about establishing a vision: 1) you can’t create a compelling vision without it connecting to something extremely powerful, 2) people want, and need, someone to lead and 3) the vision doesn’t dictate, it frees people to do what they are uniquely able to do.

As I developed my vision for the team I thought about all of the input we had received as an organization as to what we can do differently and better. I thought about all of the people who desperately wanted to be connected to something grander than we were offering. I thought about all the people who were eager to help, if only they could be connected to something important. I thought about the hopes and dreams of our team and the clients they served. And that’s when it struck me. The vision was the reflection of what I called “one thousand voices”. The vision wasn’t mine and mine alone. The vision was merely a reflection of the collective vision of hundreds, thousands, even millions of people. This is what makes it so powerful; it sings to the hearts and minds of many. People see in it what they long to see in it. It’s not mine; it is theirs. I simply give it a voice.

It took me some time to fully embrace the manifesto was mine to give and sponsor. I certainly understood I was “the boss”. I had an office, I had the title and there was my name at the top of the organizational chart for the team I was in. What I didn’t understand was I was also the leader; the person everyone would willingly follow because that person had the drive, energy, empathy, compassion, courage, will and yes, vision, to lead. Ironically, I had a strong desire to be a leader like that but was never sure I had it in me. As I worked with my coach I began to realize I was one of the few people who didn’t know I had it in me. Most people around me understood it was there and were even acknowledging it, but I wasn’t paying attention. As I slowly let go of being “the boss”, I quickly became “the leader” and the more I became the leader the more I realized people, including other leaders, needed and wanted leadership.

By denying them leadership I was denying them their opportunity to fully express the gifts they had. Their talent was suppressed by my inability to grasp it needed an environment in which to grow. By refusing to step in and lead, I let their gifts flounder because our team lacked focus, clarity and purpose. As I began to develop a crisper vision for the team, people started to focus their talents to achieve greater results. They were given an opportunity to grow, develop and contribute in a way that was meaningful to them.

This post is called “risking a manifesto”. As mentioned, this is a different way to express a mission and vision. Mission/vision statements are often not much more than a few lines long. Our manifesto is two pages long. It is a story of what we are all about as a team, what we will accomplish and how we will go about accomplishing it. Our team is still new but already people are repeating key elements of the manifesto back to me. They share with me, and others, how they see themselves in the manifesto. They tell me how much more connected they are to their work. They tell me how much more connected they are to our clients. Their reaction to the manifesto amazes and humbles me. It has emboldened me to strengthen my leadership skills as I recognize how much stronger I need to be. These are great people and I am fortunate to be amongst them. I can’t, and won’t, let them down.

The use of the word “risking” is purposeful as the manifesto dares us to be great. A manifesto isn’t the reflection of some achievable goal; some “nice to have” moment. It is a bold statement of greatness; of stretching ourselves to see just how far we can go. That’s frightening and exhilarating at the same time. It’s right there as well, in black and white. Heck, we even did it in colour in what is called a “word cloud”; a pictorial representation of the words of the manifesto. I have read it, over and over again, to our team. I talk about it all the time. I ask people to keep us all accountable to it. I dare myself to live up to it. It’s possible we won’t. It’s possible I won’t. It doesn’t matter. In the immortal words of Yoda, “there is no try, there is only do”. So we risk a manifesto because anything less is less. And less simply won’t do. We must try for something better.

I have a vision. I dare to share it with others. Do you? Will you?

Repeat after me …

As location, location, location is to real estate, repeat, repeat, repeat is to the marketing and communications business. If you want your message heard, if you truly want it understood, you have to repeat it. Over and over and over again.

It’s a simple principle but it’s often violated and I think the reason is marketing and communications professionals become too familiar with their message as they are developing it. This causes them to be over-confident in what it represents, leading to a belief the message will be easily understood by everyone. What they forget is they likely have been exposed to the message dozens, if not hundreds, of times over many weeks and months. By the time they are ready to go live they’ve been so exposed to the message they are already living it, forgetting the audience has never heard, seen or experienced it.

When we’ve been exposed to a message repeatedly we begin to believe everyone understands it the way we do. It causes us to be cavalier with the core principle of repeat, repeat, repeat. We believe once is enough, twice is plenty and three times is too many when twenty times would do. You want a message heard? Say it twenty times over. Repeat it until the recipient indicates it has been understood.

To be clear, I’m not strictly speaking about effective frequency; a marketing theory regarding the number of touches your brand has to have with a consumer before they make a purchase decision. I’m talking about a general communications principle of requiring multiple touches before someone deeply understands the message you are trying to give. This applies to everything you are trying to communicate from what your brand stands for to what you, as an executive leader, stand for. If you have a particular goal you want your team to reach you have to tell them what that goal is, over and over and over. If you have a particular vision for your company you have to communicate that vision, over and over and over. If you have a particular key message you want intermediaries to understand (and repeat to others), you have to train them over and over and over.

If what you have to say is important to say once, then say it twice. And then again. You’ll know the message has become embedded when you hear it being repeated back to you without prompting. For example, one of the goals for my team is for people to be “T-shaped”; it means to be focused on collaboration with others, to work with others in an unified manner and to partner with others to reach a common goal. I put the message in a manifesto, I shared that message in staff meetings, I talked about it in one-on-ones, I included it in emails and I talked about it in the hallways. I know people are getting the message because I have people who physically demonstrate to me they are T-shaped as they hold out their arms to their sides when they see me, they tell me they are T-shaped in emails they send to me and they repeat the words in meetings I am at. Even though this message is getting across I still am talking about being T-shaped and likely always will. Why? Because if it was important enough to say once, it is important enough to say again. And again, and again, and again.

Location, location, location. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Simple rules with lasting and powerful effects.

A mentor is good, a coach is even better

As I started looking to improve my leadership capabilities I did what most of you likely would do and found a mentor. And I had a good one. He was a very senior executive within our organization, well respected and someone I could talk easily with. I learned a lot through that relationship but it was missing one key ingredient;  the freedom to hold me completely accountable for everything I said and did. It’s not that we didn’t discuss some interesting things, but the relationship was cordial and strictly professional. It missed an edge I felt was needed to knock me out of my old habits and into some new ones. I needed a swift kick to my behind and no mentor was going to be able to give that to me. I needed something else. I needed someone else. A coach maybe?

I had no idea how to go about getting a coach, not that it seemed to matter much because life often has a way of delivering to you exactly what you need at exactly the right time. As a frequent traveler I’m often in airports and I was in the airport of a former hometown when a woman asked me if I knew where the luggage would arrive (she would later tell me I looked like the most confident person in the baggage area). I told her where the baggage would arrive and went back to standing there, confidently (or so I was told). And that would normally be the end of the story because I’m normally not that chatty when I travel. I’m usually all business. I know where I am going and I focus on getting there. There’s no time for chitchat, nor any point. But for whatever reason, on this occasion, I felt the need to change that. And so I asked her what she was doing in this particular city and what she did for a living. She responded she was an executive coach. You can see where this is going, can’t you?

About six weeks later I hired her to be my coach. Five years later she’s still my coach, although I have additional coaching and mentoring relationships to augment the one I have with her. She’s my primary coach and always will be. I trust her and she knows me. She’s unafraid of telling me the truth (sometimes I wish she would be a little bit afraid!) and she pulls no punches.

If you’re at all looking to break through to another level in your professional life I would recommend a coach. A coach can provide an outside perspective, someone who can more readily gauge where you need help and even more importantly where you don’t. They can act independently of any consequences to you. It’s an unique relationship in that regard. I could fire my coach and walk away if I was unhappy or not ready to take her advice. Could I fire my mentor? Ah, no, although he could fire me. That’s why that relationship could only go so far. I could reveal to my coach every dirt, nasty, silly little secret and thought. She didn’t care. And she could respond with the most compelling and pointed observation. I didn’t care. The truth was allowed to come out in a coaching relationship. A coach provided safety and security along with wisdom, guidance and counsel.

Hiring her wasn’t an easy choice. It was a huge sum of money to me at the time. With my wife’s support we made it work, postponing a few “nice to haves” here and there. We needed to make some choices but we’re both glad we made them as the return on investment has been beyond our wildest expectations. Looking back, it seems almost foolhardy we ever considered doing anything but hiring her.

The bigger cost was emotional and even physical. I would feel beaten up, curling up into a fetal position, sucking my thumb, sobbing uncontrollably, occasionally wetting my pants. And that was before the sessions! I would book my coaching sessions with her at the end of the day because I was whipped after each one of them. I could barely function. I used to joke I could pay for all the coaching I needed by charging admission to the sessions as I was sure my co-workers would enjoy the regular beat down I was taking. Those early days, weeks and months were hard but as the foundation for success began to be laid, it became easier and easier. It was not unlike rebuilding a golf swing. The first few times you try a new swing it is terribly awkward. Everything feels out of sync, painful even. But as the new swing thoughts settle in, new habits form, and everything becomes a little easier. And subsequent adjustments are a lot easier to make.

Continuing with the golf theme, when people asked me why I had a coach I would often say “Tiger Woods has a coach”. That was an excellent answer until Tiger Woods rammed his SUV into a fire hydrant. But then I realized something. That’s when he needed a coach the most. And when he was ready he picked the most intriguing coach of them all – Sean Foley – a guy known for his holistic approach to coaching. Tiger’s previous coaches tried to make him a better golfer whereas Sean Foley believes you become a better golfer only after you have become a better person. My coach is a holistic coach. She didn’t set out to make me a better executive. She set out to make me a better person, someone living to his full potential. If that meant becoming a better executive, so be it. It did in my case, but I’m even happier with the person I have become. One day I will walk away from my executive position and I will walk straight into the ongoing challenge and joy of being the person I am, pursuing the limits of what I am all about.

So get a coach. Heck, get a mentor too. But definitely get a coach. And if you want a world class one, hire Tracy Quinton of Quinton International Group. If you want to be a world class leader running a world class organization you need her. Even if you think you don’t.

What’s in your toolkit?

I was the accidental executive, stumbling and bumbling along, largely managing on sheer will peppered with a lot of good fortune, until I developed a toolkit. Yes, I do call it that. A toolkit. It’s a great big bag of tools of the trade to help me lead a sophisticated team to compelling results. My toolkit helps me to achieve more, in less time and with less effort than I was ever able to accomplish without it.

Much like a carpenter, my toolkit has a variety of tools. I can use the same tool to create very different outcomes or I can generate the same outcome using very different tools. My toolkit supplies me with everything I need to create the outcomes I want, while providing me with the flexibility in how to accomplish them.

Could you imagine trying to build a house without tools of any kind? Wouldn’t you conclude you couldn’t? I dare say it would be impossible. Could you imagine trying to build a house with a limited set of tools? I’m sure you could build a basic structure and it might even be inhabitable but it would not likely be an inspirational masterpiece. Furthermore, a master craftsman would not likely be proud of the result, no matter what he or she accomplished; it simply would not be good enough. Truly inspirational works happen when you marry a craftsman with the appropriate tools. A craftsman without tools and tools without a craftsman can create equally dissatisfying results.

The tools I use are useless without some form of knowledge and experience to use them. All of the tools require practice to master and some of the tools require an advanced knowledge to even attempt. Some of the tools can be used straight out of the box, with little guidance or instruction, while others require considerable forethought and even assembly.

I know, I know. Enough of the analogy already. You get it. So what are the tools, how do I use them and what results do I create from them? There are too many to list and adequately describe in a single post. I will post about many of them. Yes, you can say that’s cheap; saving topics for future posts to make you come back over and over again. Well, that’s why it’s a blog and not a novel or resource guide, however I can give you a sense for what I mean by “tools”. One example would be “reframing”, which is apt given the carpentry analogy (I actually just picked that tool out of the air and only realized as I wrote it the alignment it had with the analogy. In a real time dialogue you would have been mightily impressed! Or not.)

Reframing is a tool I use to turn a potentially difficult situation, conversation or interaction into a positive one where I can derive real benefit or energy from. For example, a few years back I had to have what I thought would be a very difficult conversation with a person I struggled to like, respect or trust in any way. Our meeting was outside of the office and as I walked to the meeting I could feel anger towards this individual and then anxiety regarding the meeting as I hashed through in my mind what I surely felt would be the direction of the conversation (in my mind it was closer to an all-out screaming match). I stopped myself and said “You are not going there to argue. You are going there to demonstrate to yourself you have the skills to manage a complex conversation with a difficult individual” (I know. The “difficult individual” was as much me as it was him. But that’s a post for another day. Yeah. You’ll have to come back). I instantly felt a calmness and serenity come over me. I was immediately more focused. The conversation playing in my head stopped and turned into a visual of me being professional and cordial. My heart stopped racing. My mind stopped wandering.

Sure enough, while the topic remained difficult the conversation itself went smoothly. He understood the concerns I had and the direction we needed to move in. He accepted the changes he needed to make. And yes, I accepted more readily the ones I had to make. Okay, I’m being a bit misleading here. It would be far more correct to say I was open to them in the first place. We began and ended the conversation as professionals and gentlemen. It was one of the most difficult but productive conversations I have ever had and all because I reframed the moment from one I didn’t want to have to an outcome I had complete ownership of and interest in. I turned it around. I reframed it.

Reframing is a tool you can use in practically every situation and it is extremely easy to use. Rather than see the difficulty in a situation, you reframe it to see the joy. In some ways you are looking for the silver lining, but in advance, not in arrears. It’s a tool that says “what’s the positive I know I can generate out of this situation” as opposed to “what is the negative I think is going to happen”.

The more I use this particular tool the better I get at using it. One I had comfortably used it enough times I was then able to coach others to use it. I now see many of them coach even more people. From one craftsman to another.

So, what’s in your toolkit?