Character Creates Opportunity® – Time: Wednesday, November 26, 2013

As we continue to build and strengthen our character, an important aspect is to acknowledge the importance of time in the choices we make.  There are two areas of time that we will review in today’s blog.

(1)    Time is an essential and limited resource.

“All my possessions for a moment of time.” Queen Elizabeth on her deathbed in 1603.

If we have lived long enough, we have all experienced the clarity that comes with an end of life experience for someone we love and respect.  We have no desire to call our stock broker, check our smartphone for a work email, the latest sports score, or any news on Facebook.  In those closing moments, the priorities of life get simple and clear.  We remain focused on family, friends, and shared experiences with those we love.

As we continue to build and strengthen our character, our gift of time will be used wisely when we make the most effective choices on how we spend it.  There are plenty of time management tools available to assist in guiding our choices (I particularly like The Eisenhower Method developed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower that was then popularized by Stephen Covey in his book, First Things First). “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important” is a common phrase used in discussions about setting priorities.  We should use whatever tool or technique is helpful, but the principle is to create greater capacity for important activities by intentionally working to minimize or eliminate unimportant activities.

When we make more effective choices, we can maximize our gift of time.  In the process, we will continue to build and strengthen our character when we spend time on those activities that are important, but not urgent.  Things like developing short and long term goals, making specific plans to achieve those goals, spending time with loved ones, exercise, rest, etc. are all important ways to spend our time, but are often not urgent in our day to day mix of activities.  Spending our time jumping from one urgent issue to the next, then attempting to “catch our breath” in various activities like watching television or surfing of the internet, will bring about moments of weakness in our character and will result in us making poor choices in the way we treat others and strain the relationships of those we care about most.  We own the choice of how we spend our time and our Character Creates Opportunity® to maximize the gift of time.

(2)    Time is a great counselor.

Wisdom comes with time, experience, and learning.   School-age problems that seemed insurmountable as teenagers seem so trivial in our adult years.  “Make or break” challenges in the early years of marriage seem minor as the decades of married life pass.  Early struggles in parenting seem to become manageable as younger children pass through those same stages where we lost our patience with the first born of the family.

However, the reality is that some feel-good “secret tip for successful relationships” from a so-called expert cannot quickly dissipate that horrible feeling in our stomach or anxiousness in our mind when a relationship is recently strained. It is quite often that only the passage of time affords us the best perspective and insight into handling the problem in a more caring and understanding way.  Through the passage of time, we can develop greater patience, improved understanding, and appreciation for other points of view.

We can make effective choices to build and strengthen our character and gain wisdom faster by ensuring we remain teachable, choosing to learn from our experiences, and observe and learn from others.  In addition, when we make the critical choice to not quit on difficult relationships, we enable time to act as a great counselor in healing a strained relationship.

Time is a precious gift.  Our Character Creates Opportunity® to make effective choices in using it wisely.

Character Creates Opportunity® – The Call Home: Tuesday, November 19, 2013

My comments last week were around the opportunity we have to show people that they “matter” by just being a better listener and giving someone our full and undivided attention.  When we focus on listening to others we send the signal that they matter and we meet them at a clear point of need.  I received a few emails and phone calls about last week’s post and I wanted to follow-up with some additional information.

As we enter the holiday season and most likely visiting with family, I thought it would be helpful to share another opportunity to build and strengthen our character by providing support and encouragement to those closest to us during these upcoming holiday gatherings.

In preparation for a meeting with a potential client, I was reviewing information about some specific actions organizations can take to sustain a high level of engagement and motivation among its workforce.  The information reinforced some learnings I had from leading teams over the years.  However, the real insight was not in reminding me of actions to take to maintain employee engagement, the real insight was in what employees do in response to the programs.

Throughout my career, we instituted a variety of reward and recognition programs to keep teams engaged and motivated to deliver results.  Many of the programs involved some perks like company-wide recognition ceremonies, cash bonuses, trips to warm destinations, gifts of various kinds, etc.  After receiving the awards, I was always surprised to find the one common thread through almost all employees who received some type of special recognition.  Many called to tell a spouse or close friend about the award which amounted to something like a “high-five” moment of celebration.  However, the common response that just about everyone had, regardless of whether they were 25 or 45, was that they all “called home” to tell their mother or father about the award.  These calls amounted to much more than a “high-five” moment of celebration and the reason behind the call goes much deeper.

In my research on human behavior and my experience with numerous award winners, there has always been a consistent theme that individuals desire to turn to those who gave them the “gift of a good start”1 and tell them that it paid off and they “turned out ok.”  Many times, awards are the catalyst for an individual to make that call and meet that need.  This need to show the person who gave us our start does not end with the 5 year old who gets a gold star on his drawing and proudly displays it to mom and dad.  There is a strong desire for adults, both young and old, to reconnect with parents who were their original source of character and in some way describe that they “turned out ok.”  However, the truth is that without some specific reason or proactive step, most remain silent and the need goes unfulfilled.

With this finding so clear in our human psychology, I would recommend that this holiday season, amidst all the food, shopping, and football, that we, as parents of grown children or young adults, exercise some empathy, not wait for some special occasion, and proactively tell them that they “turned out ok” and they are demonstrating the “right stuff” to make it in this world.  The reality is that they probably need to hear it as our world is short on encouraging comments and they may never build up the courage to bring it to our attention.  Even if they are falling short in a few areas (as we all do), find some positives and tell them.  We all feel better when we hear something like that from a loved one.

Our Character Creates Opportunity® to build and strengthen relationships through our decision to empathize with others and take action to meet their needs.

Do you have a comment about “calling home?”  If you would like to leave a comment, please do so below.

1 – “gift of a good start.”  General Colin Powell. TED Talk, January 2013.

Character Creates Opportunity – The Decision to Listen: Wednesday, November 13, 2013

One of the strongest human needs, after the basics of food, clothing, and shelter, is the realization that we actually matter to someone or some cause.  The need to matter is one of the reasons the theme song from the 1980s hit TV series Cheers can still be recalled by so many people.  A place where “everybody knows your name” clearly touched on the need for all of us to be in a place where we mattered and people appreciated our presence.

A key area to strengthen our character and have a positive impact on others is to meet this basic human need of people to feel they matter.

In the workplace, there are many ways we demonstrate that people matter like reward and recognition programs, group announcements, and one on one meetings.  On the home front, there are many times we make family members feel they matter through birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and awards for doing well in sports or academics.  All of these opportunities are very helpful to meet that basic human need of people to feel they matter.

We invest a significant amount of time and effort in putting together these more formal opportunities to show people they matter.  However, we often overlook the most valuable, consistently available opportunity to demonstrate that someone really matters.  The opportunity comes when we build and strengthen our character through our decision to listen to others.  Listening, with the intent of truly understanding another person, is an immediate, fairly simple way to show someone they matter.

So what gets in our way?  There are often two major obstacles that we need to overcome as we build and strengthen our character to listen and demonstrate to people that they matter.

(1) We need to control our desire to quickly respond, make our point, show how much we know, or organize our “brilliant” response.   We need to overcome the desire to respond and focus purely on listening to the other person.  As the saying goes, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. “  Focusing first on listening and not responding can go a long way in showing people that they matter and that you care about them.

(2) In today’s “always on” world on instant communication, we need to be mindful of the negative impact the sound of an incoming email, text, alert, and phone message have on our ability to be in the moment listening to someone else.  How many times have we glanced down at our smartphone or been distracted by the “buzz” when talking to our spouse, our children, a coworker, an employee, or a customer?  That action immediately sends a signal that the other person does not matter as much as the incoming text, email, or Facebook update.

In my own personal experience, I am extremely vigilant when sitting with a customer to either silence my phone or shut it off completely to ensure the customer knows I am “all in” with the deal being discussed and focused on listening first. However, I hate to admit it, how many times I let the buzz of a text message or email distract me from a conversation with my wife, my children, or close friend.  The obvious misalignment in my actions, and maybe yours too, calls for a strong reinforcement of the fact that no human accomplishment like closing the “big deal”, landing that big promotion, or accomplishing some great personal goal, will ever compensate for a failure at home.  Our failure to overcome the two major obstacles above, especially at home with those we love, amounts to small fractures in the foundation of our families which can cause major challenges down the road.  When we focus on listening to others we send the signal that they matter and we meet them at a clear point of need.

Our Character Creates Opportunity® to build and strengthen relationships through our personal decision to listen with the intent to understand.

What has helped you become a better listener?  If you would like to leave a comment, please do so below.

Character Creates Opportunity – The Acceptance Principle Part II: Wednesday, November 6, 2013

In follow-up to Monday’s blog on the first step of The Acceptance Principle, possessing the courage to Accept Reality when looking at our world as it continues to grow in complexity, intensity, and uncertainty, today’s comments will focus on the second step in The Acceptance Principle:  Accept Responsibility.

At Harvest Time Partners, we developed resources around the framework of The Acceptance Principle to support and encourage individuals taking a more effective step in addressing the realities of our world and continuing to move forward on their path to personal growth and accomplishment.

The second step in The Acceptance Principle is to Accept Responsibility for our response to the various situations and circumstances we face in today’s world.  There are numerous examples around us of individuals playing the “blame game” when outcomes fall short of expectations.  Poor performance in school is often blamed on the teacher or the classroom environment.  Poor performance in the workplace is often blamed on a poor boss or the demands of the workplace. Struggling relationships in families are often blamed on “the other person” to avoid the acceptance of responsibility.  Numerous examples of steroid use in professional sports are often blamed on the pressures to compete.  During the early days of the financial crisis in 2008-2009, there was not a single individual or organization that accepted responsibility for their part in causing the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.  Recent examples of teachers correcting student test scores to ensure classroom averages remained competitive to gain government funding were rationalized based on the pressure to keep funding intact and maintain the status quo in some school districts.

The consistent behavior of making excuses when things don’t turn out the way we want weakens us as individuals and weakens the very fabric of our society.  With respect to personal growth and accomplishment, when we fall into the trap of blaming our shortcomings on others or our environment, we quickly position ourselves as a victim and momentum builds to continue to underperform in the future.

Many times, there are very legitimate reasons and obstacles that hinder our ability to reach our potential or accomplish some specific goal.  There are “bad bosses” in the workplace, poor teachers in the classroom, “difficult” family members we have to deal with, and there are extremely heavy pressures to remain competitive on the athletic field and in the business world.  However, when we move beyond just the acknowledgement of those obstacles to blaming those obstacles for the choices we make and outcome that results, we quickly move to the position of a victim.  That choice limits our potential, shackles us to our situation, and prevents us from rising above and overcoming.

Even though there have been numerous examples of excuse making over the last decade, there are a few examples in recent history to guide us in a more effective way to deal with the pressures of life and the outcomes we deliver.  Victor E. Frankl was a psychiatrist and a Jew who was imprisoned in the death camps of Nazi Germany during World War II.  He suffered immense torture and also witnessed the death of many of his closest relatives.  Through a tremendous demonstration of self-awareness and discipline, Frankl began to think and then act on what he described as “the last of the human freedoms” in his book Man’s Search For Meaning.  The prison guards could take away a great many freedoms, but Frankl refused to let them take his freedom to choose his response to his difficult situation.  He made the decision to transcend his environment, hope and plan for his eventual release, and he became an inspiration to those around him.  Frankl acted on his freedom to choose and accepted responsibility for his decisions and actions despite some very difficult circumstances.  In a similar demonstration of personal responsibility, Mahatma Gandhi, during the height of one of his most challenging situations, encouraged his supporters by declaring, “They cannot take away our self-respect, if we do not give it to them.”

Our decision to Accept Responsibility for our decisions and actions in all situations enables us to break-free from a victim mindset and puts us on a clear path to personal growth and accomplishment.  As Frankl described the freedom to choose our response as “the last of all human freedoms,” we should consider our decision to Accept Responsibility for our response as the critical next step in our journey for personal growth and accomplishment.

At Harvest Time Partners, we continue the development of material to support and encourage individuals applying the two steps of The Acceptance Principle (Accept Reality and Accept Responsibility).   We look forward to incorporating your feedback and comments as we continue to move this concept forward into the lives of individuals and organizations.

If you would like to leave a comment, please do so below.

Character Creates Opportunity – The Acceptance Principle – Part I: Monday, November 4, 2013

In the journey to build and strengthen our character, it is important that we possess the courage to face the reality of our world.  In this two part blog post, we will address a key principle that is essential to our continued personal growth and development.

There is a strong tendency in human behavior to try and avoid the difficult realities of our world by sticking our heads “in the sand” or continual delay until it is impossible to avoid the reality.  At Harvest Time Partners, we have developed resources around a concept called The Acceptance Principle to support and encourage individuals taking a more effective step in addressing the realities of our world and continuing to move forward on their path to personal growth and accomplishment.  We will address the first step of The Acceptance Principle in Part I of this blog and address the second step in Part II.

Our world continues to grow in complexity, intensity and uncertainty.  There is no denying the massive changes we see in our global marketplace with technology advances and shifts to more efficient means of production and manufacturing.  In addition, in our local markets, the rise of large retailers have established significant barriers to small “mom and pop” stores effectively competing on any sustainable basis.  In our homes, the rise of our “connected” world has created the environment for massive “disconnect” among families as online chatter has replaced critical face to face discussions in the home.  The rapid and steady use of violence in support of extreme ideologies has turned our once peaceful schools, shopping malls, and recreation areas into places of worry and concern.

The first step in The Acceptance Principle is to possess the courage to Accept Reality when looking at our world.  Our world is no longer simple and predictable.  There have been brief periods in our history when many could describe their world as being stable and predictable, like a good episode of Leave It to Beaver or The Brady Bunch.  However, it is time we all Accept Reality that there is no possibility of turning back to a simple and steady lifestyle.  The rate and pace of change in our personal and professional lives, and our world at large will only continue to increase.

Vice Admiral James Stockdale, one of the most-highly decorated officers in the history of the U.S. Navy and a survivor of over 7 years in a North Vietnamese prison camp, was interviewed by Jim Collins for his book, Good to Great.  When asked how he survived all those years of torture and abuse, Stockdale described two key elements: (1) Never losing faith that you will prevail in the end and (2) Maintaining the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality.  Collins termed this the “Stockdale Paradox” in his book.  Although the vast majority of us will never face the challenges that Admiral Stockdale did, the wisdom he gained through that experience can help all of us as we prepare to face the reality our constantly changing world.

Once we make a decision to Accept Reality when looking at our world as it continues to grow in complexity, intensity, and uncertainty, then we can begin to transcend the challenges of a constantly changing world and make continual progress on our path to personal growth and accomplishment.  We will discuss the second step in The Acceptance Principle on our next blog post.

If you would like to leave a comment, please do so below.