“I’m 54 Years Old, And I’m Not Going To Change!”

Sometimes, when I’m engaged in conversation with someone, they’ll say something like:

You know what?  No way.  I’m 54 years old, and I’m not going to change!  I’m sorry, it’s just not going to happen.

When confronted with such a response, I don’t know what to say.  I usually just end up looking at the person, scrunching my eyebrows and scratching my head.

Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever said this in conversation, which is why it confuses me.  (If you know me personally, please point out if I’m wrong …)

When I was in my early twenties, I took this response as a put-down (as in: listen you little twerp, I’m far wiser than you; what you’re asking me to do is stupid…), but now that I’m in my 30’s and much more mature (come on, I’m joking), I’m even more confused.

I’m confused because I find myself changing.all.the.freakin’.time.  I don’t think I’m unique in that way.  I see people changing all around me.  Aren’t you changing, too?

As I reflect on this response, I’m left with an observation and two questions:

  • Observation: I think I typically hear this response from people older than me
  • Question: In general, what do people really mean by this?  What are they trying to tell me?
  • Question: Twenty years from now, will I also say this?

What I believe to be true is that I’m 34 years old, and I’m definitely going to change.

What do you think? If you have any insight, or if you’re uttered these words yourself, please share your thoughts.

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How To Work A Room Like Joe Biden

One area this blog explores is the subtle things successful people do differently than the rest. (When I speak of success, I mean achievement in any field, and by any measure — doesn’t just mean financial success.)

Have you ever watched a politician or high-power executive work a room, and wonder what these “successful” people say (or do) differently than you?

A case-study is Joe Biden, who many say is extremely personable, and great at making people quickly feel comfortable. I can’t comment from personal experience what methods he uses to accomplish this, but I came across a video of Joe working the room at last week’s Senate swearing in ceremony, which gives some insight into his tactics.  (By the way, I’m equally interested in how Reagan worked a room, so please don’t read anything into the subject of this commentary.)

Here are a few things I notice about how he works a room: Read more of this post

Colin Powell’s 4 Rules For Getting To The Point

Colin Powell's 4 Rules For Getting To The Point

Colin Powell: Lots of leadership lessons and tactics

In line with yesterday’s post about handling problems as a leader, I thought it appropriate to share how Colin Powell instructed his staff to bring him problems.  Being a retired four-star general in the United States Army, and having served as the 65th U.S. Secretary of State (under President George W. Bush) from 2001 to 2005, Mr. Powell definitely knows a thing or two about running organizations at scale and getting the best from those around you.

In his new book “It Worked For Me: In Life and Leadership“, Colin shares some simple rules for getting to the point when raising a problem:

  • First, tell me what you know.  He advises asking your team to give you the facts of the situation, as objectively as possible.  He doesn’t want personal interpretation.  He’ll often probe to see how the facts were obtained to ensure that the data are as accurate as possible.
  • Second, tell me what you don’t know.  As important as communicating the known facts, Colin advises asking for clarity around what is unknown.  If you have the right people in the right positions, they’ll most likely realize what they don’t know.  Colin feels that getting people to articulate these things is as important as getting the facts.  The unknowns give way to follow-up actions to obtain that information (if possible).
  • Then, tell me what you think.  This is where the person is asked to add their interpretation of the data, provide insight based on experience, and/or anything else they think is relevant given the situation.  This is where he allows people to use the facts to build an argument, or offer an opinion.
  • And remember: Always distinguish one from the other.  Colin suggests that it is imperative to ensure that you are clear in asking that people provide you information and clearly distinguish which type of information they’re giving.  If they’re telling you what they think, don’t allow them to misconstrue that as a representation of the facts.

I think #4, while subtle, is brilliant and essential.  Especially when situations are stressful, I notice that people tend to add color to a situation by incorporating their personal perspectives, which in some cases is wrong or biased.  I know I do the same and wrestle with trying to keep these things separate in my own head; perhaps it is human nature to immediately draw conclusions (did I just jump to a conclusion there?).

What do you think of Colin Powell’s 4 Rules?  Do you think they are helpful in communicating information and getting to the point?

Do You Measure Your We-We?

The next time you’re talking with someone in a position of authority or responsibility, try this: Count the number of times they say “we” or “us” — versus “me”, “my” or “I”.

For example, imagine you work at a company that makes gizmos. You’ve worked hard with a group of people to create the gizmo, and someone in a leadership position relates a story about meeting with a potential Client and says: “I want them to see the value of my product.

Oh really, it’s your product?

Or, are they more inclusive, and instead say something like: “We want to show them the value we can provide.

I would argue that in certain situations, leaders who use words that are inclusive (like “we” or “our”) resonate more strongly with the people around them than those who make things about themselves.

Personally, I am put off by a person who makes it all about them.  I’m sure this is much more about me and my issues than them and their words, but I often wonder how people would respond to their leaders if more inclusive words are used.  I’m sure there are studies that have looked at this.

So the next time you’re thinking about how to communicate to your team (or listening to someone in leadership), consider measuring your (or their) we-we factor (not wee-wee, come on kids!), and see if you notice any difference when inclusive words are used.

What do you think? Are you turned off by people who make things about themselves? Does it make any difference in how you feel?  Or, are people like me just too sensitive?

How To Expose Yourself In The Workplace — And Not Be a Creep

A few years ago, I realized that nearly all of the things that irritate me about my interactions with other people are a result of my own lack of communication.

Here’s what I mean: In any given situation where you feel disappointed, angry, or frustrated at an outcome you’re experiencing with someone, have you stopped to think about why it is you’re feeling this way?

What first comes to mind may be helpful — but if you continue asking yourself “why” after the first thought/reason (and repeat this process a few times), you may come to a more refined understanding of what’s driving your discomfort.

What I came to realize is that in my interactions with others, I was becoming upset — or feeling let down — because I operate from a set of viewpoints that are fully to known to me, but completely unknown to the person I’m working with.  From one perspective, these viewpoints are all I know, and because they’ve been with me for 30+ years, I somehow feel others know these things about me too.

But of course that’s silly and nearly impossible.  They’re not mind-readers!

Once I realized this, I decided to write out these viewpoints in a simple list (particular to the work environment), and share/discuss them with everyone around me.  I make it a point to do this with new hires.

It takes some vulnerability — and I’ve often received very surprised looks when I do this, especially during an interview or first day on the job — but I think that this exercise has helped me give the other person a frame of reference for why I behave, respond, and think the way I do.

My hope is that this makes it a tiny bit easier for us to do great work together.  And through leading in vulnerability, I also seek to give them a platform to feel comfortable with me.

If you’re interested, here’s my list, which I call “This is Dave”.

What do you think? Have you ever stopped to think about what’s on your list?  What are some of those things?  Would exposing these things be scary — or liberating?

Success Factors No One Talks About: How The # of Yucky Convos You’re Willing to Have Is Strangely Correlated w/Your Success

In order to move forward, whether it be your organization, your project team, or even a personal relationship, I’ve found that it takes leaning into uncomfortable, yucky conversations to really take steps forward.

You know the types of conversations I’m talking about, right? The ones you dread. The ones that keep you up at night. The ones you’d rather fast-forward through and not have to live through in real-time. But what I have found time and time again, is that when we’re willing to lean into those uncomfortable conversations … we end up obtaining real progress.

And when we realize that forcing ourselves through these conversations is directly correlated with our success, great things can happen.

Progress that changes the quality of our life. Progress that improves the ability you have to get things done, like make better software, strengthen your relationship with a business partner, or improve your marriage. The alternative is ugly. Not having these conversations can make you miserable, as they can suck up enormous amounts of brain energy if left unaddressed. Not to mention the stories we create in our minds about the other person and their motives!

Here’s what I’ve found helpful in getting myself geared up for (and having) these types of conversations:

  • Have talking points.  Write them down, think about their order, and if you’re disciplined, use some mental imagery to imagine yourself delivering them.  Work through the most extreme and uncomfortable situations in your head.  The act of playing scenarios out in your head in advance can do amazing things.
  • During the conversation, have an outlet for that nervous, yucky energy.  Have you felt this?  Sometimes during a meeting it’s just plain awkward.  I’ve found that it is good to have a release of this tension, but it’s usually not socially appropriate to punch a wall.  Instead, here’s a tip: curl your toes tightly in your shoe.  No one can see you do it, but I’ve found that it helps release that energy.  You look calm on the surface, but inside that shoe it’s another story!
  • Put your conversation in perspective.  For example, talking to that team member about how they’re not meeting your expectations — is it really that bad?  Sometimes I’ll imagine a much more difficult scenario.  What if I were a doctor, having to tell a mother that her child has passed?  In view of that type of conversation, my fears will sometimes subside.

What about you: have you noticed that when you’re willing to have uncomfortable conversations, you actually move forward?  Have you noticed that people who seem to make stuff happen are the ones who don’t seem to mind having yucky conversations?

(Or maybe they do mind, but are just curling their toes!)

How We Use Daily Stand-ups To Improve Communication

On a drive back from Fresno, my friend and fellow Mika board member, Jeff Tanner, described how he implemented Patrick Lencioni’s method for daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly sessions to align his leadership team.

I’m fascinated by organizational methods for improving performance, and so I listened intently as he described the process.  I couldn’t wait to visit our local Barnes and Noble to read Lencioni’s books (they’re short, written like short stories).  You’ve probably seem them numerous times in the business section of your bookstore.

At MindFire, we’ve been using daily stand-ups as a core part of our engineering culture for about two years (watch an example here).  It is by far one of my favorite times of the work day, as it gives me the opportunity to hear (in a succinct fashion) what everyone accomplished the prior day, and what they intend to do that day.  Everyone gives Twitter-like bursts of information in the following format:

  • What they accomplished the prior day (not a lot of details, just the bullet-point summary)
  • What they intended to accomplish that day
  • Whether they have any “blocks”, i.e., impediments in the way of achieving their stated objectives

We’ve found that it is helpful to stand up (keeps everyone brief and avoids verbal diarrhea), and set a timer for 12 minutes.  We start promptly at 9:00 AM, and if you’re late, we require one push-up for everyone minute past 9.  Keeps things lively!

At the end of the session, everyone is aware of what their teammates are working on, and we’re able to make quick course adjustments based on the day’s activities.

Have you implemented daily stand-ups in your organization?  If so, have they helped your organization?  If not, what keeps you from trying?

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