Category - Lessonslearned

30.04 20160

Being Constructive

"At the beginning of the day you started with a pile of boards. At the end of the day through the work of your own hands and by working as a team you have benches that people can use." My comments were to a group of youth who took a Saturday out of their lives to help my son build garden benches for a community garden for his Eagle Scout project. There were no professional builders in the group but a lot of willingness and effort. At the end, all of the boys were invested in making the benches a reality. This is what happens when people focus outside themselves and work for positive outcomes with guidance and support. That is being constructive. It is empowering, and it moves the world forward to build things rather than tear down. As an adult, too many times I witness the desire to tear down or take away something that exists from someone else. We believe that there is not enough to go around, or that we should be critical of ourselves or others before someone else is critical of us. These are defensive and destructive behaviors and do not add to the world. It is only through building and building up that we can move the world forward to a better place. This is what I love about the scouting program. It teaches youth how to be constructive even during challenges. What is needed to set up an environment where people build instead of tear down? It takes the internal motivation of all people present to focus on a good outcome. It takes people who step outside of their own interests to see the greater good. It takes believing in yourself and those around you. As adult leaders in the world, here are some take aways that we can learn from this youth leadership experience... 1. Set up the environment for success -offer up front training to promote confidence and lean out work flows to try to prevent extra movement of people and supplies to lessen the chance of conflicts and to improve productivity. 2. Be willing to adjust your plan due to availability of people and problems with supplies. Have a plan but adjust it to the current circumstances. Not all people will be available when planned...not all supplies will be ideal. 3. Answer questions and guide through experience and expertise but don't let your own expertise prevent you from using other people's lessons learned or team members' ingenuity. 4. Remove roadblocks for the teams-- as a leader your primary goal is to observe and assist ...don't do the work as this slows the learnings and slows the process since you have only one person working verses many, but don't be afraid to step in and assist when things go awry. Good leaders always help out their teams. It is one of the great joys in life to build and be constructive ...offering knowledge and skills to the world's benefit. I write this to you out of the same desire I had for those boys working on the project. It is a genuine desire to see you succeed in the good that you are trying to do in the world.

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27.11 20130


Have you ever been lost in the woods?  It is a scary feeling.  There is a sense of being overwhelmed and then panic sets in.  Finally, an unexplainable calm takes over as you begin to summon  all of the rationality, knowledge and keen observation of the present situation that you can manage. As kids, my brother, cousins and I loved to hike to a cave with ancient drawings on the walls that was located deep in the woods.  On one occasion, we decided to go it alone without adult guidance. After we made it to the cave and as we started to leave, there was a dispute about the right way to go home. I decided to follow my cousin who was local to the area.  My older brother advised against this and took my cousin's younger brother with him.  As it turns out, my cousin really didn't know the way home ...she was over confident, and it was not long before she began to panic.  I, knowing nothing of the area nor hiking, had to calm her.  I had gotten "in deep"  by choosing the wrong leadership.  I began leading her against the stream's current as I remembered something about the way we walked in. After a while, we came upon a group of hunters but decided that it was not safe to approach strangers alone in the woods.  We finally came to a road and heard voices calling us.  My brother, who was very familiar with the area because he had spent time hunting,  had gone to get our family, and they were searching the woods for us. How do you reverse a negative situation when you have followed the wrong guidance or leadership?   How do you avoid asking for help from a dangerous source? Many other life circumstances are like being lost in the woods.  The instructions we must follow are the same ...stop the panic and remain calm, observe closely, and proceed forward leaving a trail to prevent circling, tiring and getting nowhere. When in business you are lost in the woods...let a sense of calm take over, use your knowledge that you have accumulated over the course of your career and develop a keen sense of observation of the present situation. Take very deliberate steps, slowly proceeding forward with caution.  Don't take an easy out that may lead to more trouble...most importantly, be careful of who you trust to lead you out of the woods. At Thanksgiving, I am thankful for those who come  looking for me when I get lost in the woods.  Let's all be thankful for the people who support us and help us in times when we have trusted the wrong people and made bad decisions.  Let lessons learned guide future action.

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02.01 20130

A Cup of Kindness

The end of a year makes us reflective of the past and brings hopeful thoughts for the future.  Hearing Robert Burn’s poem “Auld Lang Syne” represents to many people an act of catharsis, allowing them to release themselves from the past, but the poem also offers an alternative solution to forgetting the past…  “Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind”, or should we “take a cup of kindness yet” and toast the auld lang syne?” Many people celebrate the New Year with the tradition of forming New Year’s resolutions.  New Year’s resolutions are used as a way to try to rid ourselves of bad habits…we swear to move past them and never think of them again, but this always is harder than it sounds.  Often a New Year’s resolution doesn’t make it to February…why?  I believe it is because we start the year saying to ourselves what we should not repeat, what we should not do; instead, we should find what is right in our world and vow to continue with that…dwell on the good memories and make more of them. Someone in my life used to talk a great deal about the interesting concept of negative target acquisition.  The concept of negative target acquisition is used to teach people to fly.  The concept speaks of when you focus on the obstacles, then you are more likely to hit them…you should focus on the path not the obstacle.  When you fly towards a tree, if you say to yourself “don’t hit the tree, don’t hit the tree,” then subconsciously you stir towards the tree instead of away from it because it is what is occupying your mind.  Rather, you should say to yourself “lift up and fly to the blue sky, fly to the blue sky,” then your focus immediately shifts to what it takes to be successful.  Dwelling on what is right puts us in the position to aim for limitless possibilities. In the Agile business world, the process of New Year catharsis happens every two weeks.  Retrospectives are an important ceremony in the Agile environment, where at the end of a sprint of work, the team stops to reflect on what went wrong and what went right, both the positives and the negatives.  To be agile means to be adept at change.  Agility requires constant reflection and adjustment, but retrospectives can become like our New Year’s resolutions…just a tradition with little hope of meaningful change.  The ceremony can become a tool to beat ourselves up about things we would like to change but quickly give up.  I believe we should use this time of retrospection to give equal weight to what we are doing right, to focus on the blue sky and to continue on a path moving upward.  We should focus on what went right in the past two weeks and continue that, but this time with even more momentum.  Let’s use retrospectives to move to places that we have never been, instead of ruminating on what is not useful. When we point out specific items we are doing right, then we can focus on repeating them.  To be effective we must look for ways to retain the positive of what we are doing and instill it as a part of the character of our group.  If we solely focus on the negative…not eating those extra calories or not sitting on the coach instead of exercising…we quickly lose our resolve and go back to our old way of being.  To be real, we must focus on what we are doing right and reinforce it within our group, so that we no longer experience negative target acquisition. Both in our personal lives and in business, we will be most successful when we open the door to let out the old and the bad, but primarily focus on keeping the good and building upon it, while letting in the new.  Let’s toast what was good and resolve to keep it with us to guide us to a better future.  Top of mind is what to do right, not what was done wrong.  Take a cup of kindness for what was right.  Celebrate the positive and resolve to continue with it.  Join me in resolving to fly up toward the blue sky.  Let’s place our focus on staying the positive path. Cheers!    

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03.07 20120

Turn Your Light On

If you could think of several characteristics of the ideal work environment, one that realizes the unlimited potential of its employees, what would the characteristics be?  In today’s competitive business environment, it takes innovation and creativity to be successful.  Innovation and creativity happen in an organization where members are bold and fearless, taking risks in an atmosphere of trust.  Would you be surprised if I told you that this environment of unlimited potential and success only could be created through failure? It is not that failure should be promoted, but rather it is that people should know what to do with failure and how to turn failures into successes.  The best project leaders understand that failures are unavoidable.  The difference between organizational success and ultimate failure lies in the approach we take to “set-backs.” I recently read the book, The 12 Pillars of Project Excellence, by Adil Dalal.  In his book, Dalal discusses the subject of learning from failures. In today’s corporate world, we often see failure as the opposite of success.  In projects, failure is not meeting scope, time, cost, quality, resource or risk baselines. Depending upon the organizational culture and the criticality of the project, a failure may be tolerated or lead to termination of an individual. According to Dalal, there are three project failures:  system failure (organizational issues), process failure (methods issues), and human failure (human error issues).  Most project managers focus on human failure because it is the quickest and easiest way to deal with problems; however, investigating and “nailing a target” are not enough.  We must learn lessons from our mistakes so that we never repeat them if we are to move closer toward success.  Focusing only on human error has serious implications for organizational culture and success of organizations. Dalal points out that with a human error approach when a failure occurs, a man-hunt is conducted for “who caused it,” and the focus is placed on punishment of the guilty and a quick-fix for the problem.  The “heads-will-roll” approach means that failures are generally reported to the project manager only after they occur and after damage has been done.  This approach leads to a culture of fear, distrust, and risk aversion, reducing creativity and innovation.  Team members blame each other and finger-point.  Team cohesiveness is impacted and performance problems occur due to a culture of negative attitude.  Team members become hesitant to take risks, fearing the ramifications.  The same failures happen again and again because the team and organization do not learn from mistakes. Dalal remarks that great leaders and innovators see failure differently.  The best project leaders use failure as an opportunity to address root causes of the system, creating desire to understand so the whole organization can avoid similar results in the future.  They understand the human error often results from process or systems errors.  They focus on root-cause analysis to use failures as learning opportunity for the team and the organization.  They utilize problem solving through scientific methods, helping employees increase confidence in proactive problem solving.  They create an “open-learning” culture, promoting creativity and innovation.  They turn the stigma of failure into opportunity. Dalal begins the “Learn from Failures” chapter of his book with a story about Thomas Edison.  Thomas Edison attempted to find a filament for the incandescent light bulb almost 1800 times before he succeeded.  Along the way, he was questioned about his lack of success, and he replied that he had gotten lots of results; he knew a thousand things that would not work.  His perspective made the difference; he gained knowledge from failure that eventually led him to unprecedented success.  Edison survived “failure” because he did not label it as such, but rather as a step toward achieving ultimate success.  We need to follow Edison’s example and “turn the light on” in our organizations by creating an environment where members learn from failure and use it as stepping stone to success.

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