As we open the New Year, 2017, I find myself both thankful yet yearning for more, especially more for my family, friends and colleagues. I’m blessed to have a three-time, three different cancer survivor for a wife – blessed that Robin is here, but also blessed on the impact her fight, her struggles and her victories have had on our children’s lives, those she’s coached and helped give hope and of course myself. Every time I’ve felt beaten down, tired, had enough, want to just stop, I look at Robin and realize she never stopped. For 2017, as with every New Year, I find I’ve learned a few solid lessons that help me both professionally and in life.
Impact Others, Impact Yourself
The best way, to impact yourself positively is to impact others the same way. While short term gain or tenuous gain can be had by shear force of will, action or physicality, long term, high quality gain, improvement and status derives from simply improving others. While not perfect by any means, I’ve found so far that a few of those I’ve tried to honestly help are always there when I need help, guidance and support. We all only have a few true friends in life, but you’ll have more being positive than by being negative. We all get angered, we all get despondent or even enraged (for me it’s usually about a bad Red Sox relief pitcher…). For myself, I just think of my wife and context, perspective suddenly comes into view. Impact others positively – impact yourself the same.
Listen More, Always More
I don’t know anyone on this earth who does not like to talk about themselves and their ideas, views, thought and opinions. Helping people, helping yourself means gaining information, data and then developing insights followed by ideas and then taking action, often through advice or some physical action or a decision. You need to listen to do that no differently than you need to observe meticulously to do a great experiment.
I’ve found a strange ally here – a silly one even – but it’s built my skills here. When I’m on a conference call, Webex or a simple phone call, I always stay on mute as much as I can. It forces me to aware and make a conscious decision – should I speak. I’ve caught myself more than once making a pointless point – and then realizing I was thankfully on mute. I’ve learned to listen better – it’s what I try to work on the most and I’m better for it as are those I’m trying help and to work with.
I now find myself talking to myself more – asking if I really need to say anything, if my comments, my words will have meaning, a positive impact and a furtherance of objectives. When you suddenly relax and realize “Hey, I can just sit here and soak it all in, get the data, gain the insights”, the real benefits of listening and listening more, listening well become more than apparent.
Ask Questions…A Lot of Questions
I find now that when I do talk, rather than make a point or an insight, it’s often far better to simply ask a question, to be Socratic. That’s the listening more, listening better part. The mantra of the 3-year old dominates – why, why, why? Asking for clarification, posing an example or scenario and asking for their insights and opinions, getting to the deeper and more spidered out why’s are where the better advice, opinion and insights from you will come from.
Questions – there are never enough good questions – and importantly never any stupid ones. This here is critical and something I’m told by my wife that I can improve upon. Once you allow the any question is OK, the defense mechanisms, the judgments can be removed. One can say almost anything and ask back almost anything. Get those permissions out of the way up front.
Let those questions flow back and forth always.
Watch More, Do More
It’s not just about listening or asking a million questions, it’s about pure observation. I may make the Big Data folks upset here, but data is cold, often presumptive in the insights real people make from it, even if you have all of the AI in the world. Watching something, watching how it’s really done, what that person you are trying to help really is doing, may not be seeing, that after a hundred observations you suddenly notice the real key matters most.
A second lesson here? Do it yourself, don’t just watch it. Time after time, I find the best design firms, the best companies put themselves in the user’s place and hang where they are, where they live and do. For personal life, it’s no different. Put yourself in the position of those you are trying to help. I’ve whined often about why my wife finds the retail set up part of her business so hard. I gave advice and she’s say, you guessed it, “Shut up Adam”. Then when she was ill at one time and I had to do a tear down of an event 100% myself I suddenly (after about 30 seconds) said “How on earth does she do this, sometimes ten days in a row or more?” Walk in someone else’s shoes for a mile.
The same at work. In your career, move around to all of the varied functions – know sales, know manufacturing, know supply, know marketing, know finance –n experience it, feel it, even if for a shirt time. Empathy – it’s a wonderful thing. Those nasty guys in the x department – suddenly they are clearly understood. I once had a bunch of salespeople when I was running supply chain and manufacturing for a piece of business always do rush orders of railcars for isocyanate resins when they really did not need to. I’d explain how hard, how expensive it was and they’d say “the customer wants it now”. Well, first after talking to the customers, they liked the help, but mostly it was not a rush. I made a decision then – I had every salesperson spend three days loading railcars – a day of training, the heavy hazmat suits, everything. Rush orders went down 80%.
Provide Honest Insight, Not Insulting Commentary
We’ve all seen people doing crazy stuff in our minds. Our spouse, our friends, our colleagues – our boss. Our customers! When has it ever worked to say “I can’t believe what your doing, What’s wrong with you”? Socratic insights and recommendations often provided work far better. “What if you tried this? Have you ever considered that? What’s the target here?”. It’s that question thing again. You may know the answer but better those you are trying to help come to that conclusion themselves – or maybe an even better one.
On the other hand, don’t lie or hold back unless it’s truly delicate. Letting other fail or encounter unnecessary, significant grief simply because you said nothing is not nice. Experiential learning through abject failure, especially for teenagers, is not the norm we should strive for. Learning by doing with coaching with routine, normal failures is another thing entirely (something many safe space American Millennials could use versus free trophies, no hard work, no homework or often even grades).
Simple advice – but good advice I’ve found.
Always Leave a Positive Feeling Behind
The corollary to the latter? Always try to leave a positive feeling behind in every encounter you have – something, anything. No matter how bad the news, unless truly inconsolable, do your best to be positive in the close.
I always like to say in business generally “After our work or conversation here, my objective is to leave you better off for having spoken to me or my colleagues. When we are done, I’m going to ask if indeed we have done that and what in your mind could have been better or what you liked best”. Its a bit literal, but it works most of the time. Even when I coached baseball, I’d often start with a young man exactly that way – here’s what we are going to work on, why and you tell me if you think it worked, helped and how did I do as a coach”.
Versus sugar coating just to do it, providing inspiration differs. Inspiring others often means attaching the effort, the conversation to a greater goal or cause – the idea that if this works, if we get better, if we find a new idea, if we execute, here’s the impact to said goal or cause.
It’s simple but it works.
Wherever possible, make other’s laugh, feel joy, feel happiness. Nothing is more positively infectious than sheer joy from having fun, from seeing others improve progress and see it and love it. I’ve known no one who felt more joy than in helping others succeed.
Give Your Time
Doing all above can be just a routine part of your life, but it can be so much more. It’s time – giving quality time – to those who truly need it, who are not expecting it – where you can make the most difference of all. From tutoring, to coaching, to mentoring, to teaching, to raising money and resources for a cause, spend 10% or more of your time helping those not so connected to you. The lives that you transform can give they and you more joy and satisfaction than I’ve certainly ever imagined.
A Meaningful Life
For me, a life that matters impacts others positively and in a way that has a butterfly effect. Kindness begets kindness, joy begets joy.
Asking questions, listening, watching and then actually doing more, giving positive but honest feedback, means those around you by example will likely do more of the same themselves. Be positive, inspire, give joy – laugh and watch other do the same. Most importantly, for some amount of time, do all of this for those not connected to you. It’s here that one may find the biggest joys and satisfaction.
All of this sends a message about you, who you are and what you stand for – how you get things done and why. You are setting an example. These are principles and whether it’s for yourself or a grand corporate strategic architecture, it’s those communicated principles that lead to winning and indeed represents real leadership.
So for your career, your business, your family – live a meaningful life.