Keep Rowing

Keep Rowing“Business is like a man rowing a boat upstream. He has no choice; he must go ahead or he will go back.”

~ Lewis E. Pierson

Not only is that statement true about business, it is also true about life. Anyone who does not accept that as fact, has to believe that there is some kind of alternative. The only real alternative is to “go with the flow” and drift along wherever the current takes you.

Any Dream about Floating through Life Will Turn Out to be a Nightmare

I have spent a lifetime watching people attempt to drift through life and through work, expending the least possible amount of effort necessary to put food on the table or to keep a job. I am amazed at how successful some of them have appeared to be along the way. By “successful” I mean achieving their daily goal of just getting by. Most of them, however, end up finding that life is a lot like the Niagara River. Doing just enough to get by, ends up putting them in a desperate situation of rigorous rowing to prevent passing over the precipice and crashing to the rocks below.

People who venture out into that river in real life end up paddling much harder than they would have had they done much further upstream. Without help, they soon discover that all the rowing and paddling in the world will not help them once they are past a certain point. To compound matters, that certain point is usually a lot further upstream than they had reckoned.

Understand that the Goal is always Upstream

Not every business that fails does so because the owner did not accept the concept of hard work. Not everyone on welfare is there because of a lack of desire to work. Sadly, however, though not all, there are many who are where they are simply because “life is too hard” or they didn’t like their job. I know some of them, so you probably do too.

Objectives are always reached by applied effort. It is a rare thing in life when the flow takes you where you really want to go. If that were the case, paddle wheelers wouldn’t have paddles and Fulton’s folly would have been that there was no need to use steam to power a boat.

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Becoming Courageous

Becoming CourageousCourage is not something we hear much about. And that is a shame.

The world by and large, and America in particular, seems to have lost touch with the concept of courage. In its place, we have substituted heroism. Even more, we have become worshippers of heroism. Young people worship fictional heroes from Superman to Spiderman. We seldom hear those names spoken by children without special emphasis, as in: SPIDERMAN!

It’s fair to say that adults like heroes too – real life heroes, like wounded warriors who have sacrificed physical and mental wholeness and even life itself for duty, honor and country. But isn’t it ironic that the men we called heroes usually do not think of themselves that way. They often remark that they are not heroes, but rather, just ordinary people who did what anyone else would do.

May I submit to you that they are more correct than we are? And may I further submit that, if we saw them as they see themselves, we would not fall into the trap of hero worship.

I remember Neil Armstrong for two reasons. First, and most obvious, for being the first man to walk on the surface of the moon. Second, and more important, for shunning the hero worship that was heaped upon him for the rest of his life. He knew that he was not a hero and certainly not the hero we wanted him to be. But he was courageous. Just like most of those men who we try to make into heroes.

Courage happens when ordinary people rise above their fears.

It took courage to sit on top of a Saturn V rocket and hurtle through space with two other men in a 10’ 7” x 12’ 10” capsule. It took courage to descend to the surface of the moon, never really knowing if they would make it back. Armstrong and the others would have been fools if they were not afraid. But they became courageous when they determined to overcome their fears, regardless of the outcome.

Courage happens when ordinary people rise above their fears to protect and preserve others who can’t.

This is why veterans of our armed forces do not consider themselves heroes. All they did was to rise above their fears to protect and preserve others who can’t. Only a person with delusions of grandeur would not be afraid of something when they are in harm’s way. That’s how super heroes are portrayed, and that’s why there are no real heroes. But there are real men and women of courage – men and woman who have learned to rise above their fears, especially when doing so will protect and preserve others can’t, whether the “can’t” means the inability to protect and preserve themselves or if it means the inability to rise above their own fears.

Life is hard. Sometimes it is frightening. Nearly everyone has to deal with the fear of failure, but only those who are willing to face that fear and rise above it ever succeed. It takes courage to accept the risks and the challenges of life and to exercise a willingness to risk everything for the sake of others. Courage may be needed at home or on the job just as much as it might be needed on a battlefield. It all depends upon the fear.

I have a fear of heights, so it took a large dose of courage for me to ride in a trolley across the bridge at Royal Gorge near Canon City, CO, nearly 1,000 feet above the Arkansas River. My feeling of relief when I reach the other side was severely tempered when I realized that I had to make the return trip. In my exhilaration at making it safely across the 1,270 wooden planks, I had said, “I will never ride across that bridge again.” So, I walked back, facing renewed fear every time my foot stepped over a gap to the next plank.

I still have a fear of heights, but on that day, on that bridge I found the courage I needed to make it. I doubt that what I did actually benefitted anyone else, but it remains one of my most vivid memories of courage in the face of fear.

Fear will stop you if you let it. You don’t need to be a super hero. All you need is the courage to rise above your fear.

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The Key to Becoming More Successful

The Key to Becoming More SuccessfulThe problem with success is that people define it differently. In our blog post, “Is Success Measured by What We Accomplish in Life?” we defined success, not as what we have accomplished in life, but as what we have accomplished compared to what we could have.

Now that we know what success really looks like, it is important that we know how to get there. (For more about getting from where we are to where we ought to be, see “The Paradigm of ‘Is’es and ‘Oughts.’”)

Truly successful men, like Lee Iacocca (Chrysler) or Jack Welch (GE), agree that leadership is always a factor of success. However, the paradox, to which these men also agree, is that success is not about becoming a leader, it is about being a servant, regardless of where we are when we measure our success properly. The reason that their assessment is accurate is that it is based on the Biblical principle of having a servant’s heart.

The key to becoming more successful is found in the Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 25. In fact, it is stated twice. “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!

The principle is that our job is always to do the few, simple tasks that we have been assigned, and to do them well. Leadership is not something that is gained. It is something that is given. It is not something attained. It is something that is assigned.

In business, it is our job to be a paid servant to help our master succeed. That is our primary purpose – not the advancement of our own career. Advancement is a reward for doing a few things well. A true servant never seeks a promotion. In fact, he is always surprised.


Don’t Throw the Key Away

This is typically the point where careers take a wrong turn. A sense of accomplishment sets in, and it becomes a point of pride. We tend to forget that the advancement was a gift and that our responsibilities have become greater. This is not the time to forget what got us here. Now it is not only serve our master, but it is also to be the servant to those under our authority. To serve our boss, we keep on doing what we have been doing. We do what we are assigned to do. The only difference is that, with more to do, we usually are given additional resources, often human resources.

We become a servant to them by helping them learn how to do their assigned work effectively. The more we help them to be successful, the more we help our boss become more successful. We can never afford, at any level, to stop being a servant or to stop doing our job well. That is the key to becoming more successful without the usual stress, frustration, disappointment or envy.

I referred to Jack Welch earlier. He said, “When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” That’s what being a servant is about: Helping others. The truth is that being a servant is not only the key to greater success, it is also the most pleasant path to it: “Come and share your master’s happiness.”

You entire work experience will become exponentially more satisfying once you pick up the key and use it every day.

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The Paradigm of “Is”es and “Ought”s

The Paradigm of “Is”es and “Ought”sI learned a long time ago that one of the greatest frustrations in life is how people respond to “The Paradigm of “Is”es and “Ought”s.” But, before I continue, I apologize for the grammatical errors that must inevitably accompany the explanation of this paradigm.

The paradigm comes into play at any time when you realize that where you is is not where you ought to be.

This can be even more problematic if you and your spouse are driving and you find yourself at a dead end on an unnamed road instead of at your intended destination. This is especially true if your spouse has told you more than once that you had made a wrong turn. You have arrived at where you is, but it isn’t where you ought to be.

Now the problem becomes: If you is where you is, and where you is is not where you ought to be, what is it that you must do to get from where you is to where you ought to be?

By now you should be getting the idea. But the foregoing is just an illustration of the frustration that can arise out your being where you is when being where you is is not where you ought to be.

The paradigm often comes into play at work (get it?) when an employee is not where he ought to be on a projects. According to the milestones and Key Performance Indicators, where he is is not where he ought to be. This is a corollary of success is not measured by what you achieved, but by what you have achieved compared to what you should have achieved. In other words, even when where you is appears to be successful, if you aren’t where you ought to be, wherever it is is not an indicator of success. It may, in fact, be a sign that where you is is in trouble.

The correct approach to resolve this paradigm in a serious business model is to implement a gap analysis. The first thing that gap analysis does is to ensure that you know where you ought to be. If you don’t know where you ought to be, you is no longer in trouble. You is in BIG trouble.

The next thing the gap analysis does is to figure where you really is. Having determined where you is, that information is used to determine how to get from where you is to where you ought to be. With that knowledge in hand, the objective then becomes eliminating the gap.

One of the things I like about performing a gap analysis is that it focuses on defining the problem. Once the problem is adequately defined, an appropriate solution can be determined and implemented.

Another thing I like is that it does not focus on the person or the reason for where you is not being where you ought to be. Why you is where you is is subordinate to getting from where you is to where you ought to be. Why you got to where you is is important only to the extent that you don’t repeat the same mistake(s) again. The overriding issue is to determine the direction for how to get where you ought to be. If you keep ending up somewhere other than where you ought to be, then the “why” becomes important and requires corrective action to keep the same mistake from recurring.

People who do not understand the paradigm of “Is”es and “Ought”s are destined to deal with both short-term and long-term frustration, either as a boss or as an employee. But it also applies to life at home and in every possible venue. Understanding “Is”es and “Ought”s simply makes life easier. At least it ought to.

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It’s Never Right to Do Wrong in Order to Get a Chance to Do Right

It’s Never Right to Do Wrong in Order to Get a Chance to Do RightThis is a follow-up to my earlier post, “When Doing the Right Thing Is the Wrong Thing,” published on January 3, 2015.

I want to expand on that concept. In that post I proposed that “the right thing” is not defined by the desired result. That is, there is nothing that is right about a plan to rob a business. Granted, in order to pull it off successfully, there are, as with anything else “right steps” to take in order to achieve the objective. But that does not make those steps things that are inherently right. In fact, morally speaking, each of those steps are wrong within the scope and context of the objective.

For instance, let’s assume that the robber doesn’t want to hurt anyone. That’s a good thing in and of itself, but once it is a part of the overall plan to do wrong, it is by nature a part of the bigger wrong.

Now, let’s turn that argument around. Let’s say that the reason for robbing the business is because the robber is unemployed, deep in debt, about to be evicted and cannot provide for his family. The question becomes, “Is it right to rob a business to provide for his family?” Some people may want to say that it’s okay, because they don’t know what they would do if they were in the same situation. If that is the case, those people have a broken moral compass.

What if the question was, “Is it right to rob business to pay off his debts?” Those without clear moral direction – without the ability to clearly distinguish right from wrong – may be inclined to answer the two questions differently, even though they are the same. You see, the question is really, “Is it right to rob?” The answer is “No, it is not.”

It’s that simple.

But every day, all around the world, people rob others, justifying their actions on excuses like, “They’ll never know” or “They’ll never miss it” or “It’s not a big deal.” Cashiers steal money from registers because they believe that they need the money more than the business does. Repairmen charge for things they don’t do so that they can make more money. People shoplift so that they don’t have to spend money on items they want – or to sell those items for other purpose. Employees steal from employers. Employers steal from employees, suppliers and customers using all sorts of schemes.

I think I have made my point, so let’s return to the title, which is a quote from the late Dr. Bob Jones, Sr. “It’s never right to do wrong in order to get a chance to do right.”

Right and wrong are not defined by our circumstances, but whether we do what is right or what is wrong defines who we are.

It may require some changes in your perspective and your actions, but “Do right. Do right until the stars fall.”

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“Birds of a feather flock together, making it very easy for hunters.”

“Birds of a feather flock together, making it very easy for hunters.”Do you know about the American Passenger Pigeon?  In 1871 it was estimated that there were over 136 million breeding adults in only one section of Wisconsin!  But, by  the 1890s they numbered only in the dozens  – in the whole country.  At one time considered a nuisance, they were hunted literally into extinction!

Now, you may wonder what any of this “bird talk” has to do with business?  The answer really is quite simple:  When you are at work it is important you choose who you spend your time with very carefully.  You see, whether you like the old adage, “Birds of a feather flock together” or not, it is pretty much true.  As a result, when you get a new job, you may want to consider the type of folks you will want to align yourself with.  Some of the characteristics they will exhibit include, but are not limited to:

  • They are virtually always busy, able to find something to do themselves without having to be told.
  • They make suggestions at meetings, even if those suggestions are not always followed up on.
  • They are positive and upbeat.

By the same token, there are some people you may want to spend less time with, and their characteristics include:

  • Seem to spend a lot of time at the water cooler, or other “social gathering” places.
  • Have a tendency to complain a lot, without ever offering any solutions to the issues they are complaining about.
  • Tend to be the last people to arrive and the first people to leave.
  • Never volunteer to help or mentor others.

With downsizing an ever present concern/consideration, making sure that you are “flocking” with the right “birds” may want to be one of your top priorities!!!!

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“If you DON’T live in a glass house is it okay to throw stones?”

If you DON’T live in a glass house is it okay to throw stones?I’m sure you all know the old adage, “He who lives in a glass house shouldn’t throw stones.”  The idea being, of course, unless you are totally above reproach and therefore “safe” from attack yourself, you shouldn’t say anything about others.  Slightly paraphrased from what Jesus tells us in THE NEW TESTAMENT, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone,” this more or less pretty much gives us the idea that we need to “watch our tongue.”  Obviously good advice, why, then, do so many people ignore it?

I think one of the main reasons this is true is because in 21st Century America there are a multitude of people who don’t realize that they are not perfect!  We are so close to “situational ethics” that we have become drastically close to destruction because of everyone’s adherence to the Machiavellian concept, “the end justifies the means.”  With a dramatic push to ignore the morals reflected in the Bible, we teeter on the very edge of Moral Anarchy.  With all of this influencing us, we, as a society, have come to believe that we can verbally violate anyone we choose to without any fear of consequences.

What we need to realize is that words, often thrown out with little or no concern as to the effect they will have on people, can be devastating.  Like a gun shoots a bullet and can’t take it back, so often our tongues throw out a salvo of destructive claims and accusations that some poor soul can never recover from.  And, this can be especially destructive in a business environment.  All too often, when accusations are leveled at us we are “guilty until proven innocent.”  Lies, and even innuendos, can destroy our reputation and in many cases our careers.

What is the point of all of this?  Well, it is a less than subtle admonishment to remind readers that we need to “think before we speak.”  Now, unfortunately, we are never going to convince some people to be careful of what they say.  However, we can be careful of what we hear and, at the very least, be careful of what we repeat!  Gossip and negative innuendos are only as effective as those of us who hear them allow them to be!  Whether you live in a glass house or not, if someone is throwing stones at others the least you can do is not pick them up and throw them again!!!

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When Doing the Right Thing Is the Wrong Thing

When Doing the Right Thing Is the Wrong ThingBack in the 1980’s, I worked for a company that promoted “Doing the Right Thing” as its slogan. The power of that message was overwhelming several decades ago, not as much as I would suppose that it would be today. People were longing to be associated with anyone or any entity that had an apparent desire to do the right thing. New customers, employees and suppliers were banging on the doors, wanting to be a part of this movement.

It didn’t hurt that, at the time, the company was just beginning to break through and was becoming recognized for its potential to become an industry leader. People figured that the company’s success so far was the result of doing the right thing, and they reasoned that doing the right thing would continue to produce similar, positive results. Having been a part of the company at this nascent stage, I witnessed first-hand the power of the attraction of “doing the right thing.” But I also learned that “doing the right thing” was not always the right thing to do. It all depends on what you mean when you say it.

I come from a background of, “Say what you mean and mean what you say.” That’s what I was taught, so, like so many others, I assumed that everyone was taught the same. I forgot to take deception into account.

What does it mean to “do the right thing?”

It sounds virtuous, doesn’t it? That’s what attracted so many to this company ethic. We all want to be around people who are committed to doing the right thing. But, “the right thing” does not necessarily equal the virtuous thing. And therein, as William Shakespeare once said, lies the rub.

The slogan, “Do the Right Thing,” was cleverly crafted to BE the right thing to attract those new customers, employees and suppliers. It created a sense of partnership and loyalty that was, and still is, uncommon. But it was entirely one-sided, and defined entirely by the inner circle that ran the company. Let me illustrate.

In the second quarter of the 20th century, there was “a problem” in Europe. Adolph Hitler rose to prominence with a promise of “a final solution.” He had a plan to solve the problem. His plan was immoral, inhuman, and insane, but – and please bear with me here – he did “all the right things” to make it happen.

I use that illustration to gain your attention. Your ethics are defined by your goal. If your goal is pure, then “doing the right thing” means exactly what we first imagine it to mean. If you goal is nefarious, you still must do the right things to accomplish your goal.

Over a period of time, people began to realize that it was never the company’s goal to do the right thing. The company’s goal was dominance, and they were committed to doing all the right things necessary to accomplish that goal. And part of the right things that needed to be done was deceiving people into cooperating with them. They succeeded. As a result, while the inner circle prospered, others’ lives were destroyed by the power of deception.

Let me offer an example. In the company’s early days, it struck an exclusive supply agreement with a young manufacturing company halfway around the world. For two decades, that partnership seemed unbreakable. What people thought they were witnessing was a commitment to loyalty, which would seem like a commitment to the right thing. But, what was going on behind the scenes had nothing to do with loyalty at all. It was all about reaching the company goal of dominance. The two worked together for two decades to develop and introduce new electronic components to be distributed worldwide.

Then, one day, the relationship was over when my former company introduced its new line of identical products – manufactured by subsidiary company, based on the designs of the loyal manufacturer. The goal was never to partner. The goal was to develop a product line that they, themselves would control. But, getting from nothing to having a complete product line was a huge leap. The “right thing” for them was to use someone else to get them to their goal, then cut the cord and become the loyal supplier’s competitor.

Lesson learned: Be wise. Be discerning. Deception is not accomplished through direct opposition. We can believe deception simply because it sounds like the right thing. We need to understand that “doing the right thing” is not necessarily a moral standard for some people. It is simply doing what they need to do to get what they want.

Let’s stick to the highest moral and ethical standards and motives, so that what we are doing is not deceptive, but is, in fact, the right thing.

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The Value of What You Have in Your Hand Is Determined by What You Do With It

The Value of What You Have in Your Hand Is Determined by What You Do With ItThe following is a true story.

A long time ago, in a land far away, a man who had once been a scholar, an eloquent speaker, a military hero and a high-ranking government official, had retired at the age of 40, married, and was working his father-in-law’s ranch, for what he had expected would be the rest of his life. After another 40 years on the ranch, little did he realize that his plans were about to change.

You see, Moses had an epiphany. No, it was more than that. It was an encounter with God. And Moses found out that God had different plans for him. God told Moses that he needed to use him to be a leader again. Moses wasn’t all that excited about God’s plans, so he did his best to convince Him that he was not equipped to do the job.

During their conversation, which, by the way, would be the first of many that they would have, God asked Moses a number of questions. One of those questions was, “What is that in your hand?” Moses replied, “A-Rod.” No. Wait. I think that’s a typo that spellcheck didn’t catch. He didn’t have a Yankee Hall of Famer. He had “a rod.”

What Moses was really saying was, “Nothing. Just a stick. I can’t lead people with a stick.” Was he about to be surprised! Even after God demonstrated what could be done with the stick, Moses tried to make excuses for why he couldn’t do what God wanted him to do. Yet, in the not-to-distant future Moses would raise that same stick high above his head and, when he did, the Red Sea parted and the people of Israel walked across the sea, as if on dry land, until they all safely reached the other side and Moses lowered the rod and the waters returned.

In fact, battles that were impossible to win were, nonetheless, won when Moses held that stick in the air.

What’s the point?

I meet people all of the time who, for instance, have a computer, but who either don’t use it or who use it solely for entertainment. When challenged to do something productive with it, they say, “I can’t do that. I don’t know how.” When given the opportunity to be taught how to be productive, the truth begins to come out in the form of, “I really don’t want to know.”

Perhaps you know someone like that. One of the reasons that some people, some businesses, and even some churches never reach their full potential is that they refuse to look at what they have in their hand and discover how it can be used to expand their knowledge, to help their business processes become more efficient or to effect growth in their ministry.

No one can afford to miss the power of what is in their hand. I doesn’t matter who or where you are. There is something in your hand or within your reach that can be used to benefit others and to glorify God.

Don’t look at what is in your hand and say, “It’s just a stick.” Look at it and ask yourself, “How can I make the world a better place with for what I have in my hand?” Whatever you have has been given to you for a purpose. Find that purpose, and do it.

(Right now you are using the internet. Have you discovered yet, how you can leverage its power for you, your business or your church? We can help you progress from potential to powerful. Give us a call. We are here to help.)

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Old Age is like Basketball, just because you Dribble a Little Doesn’t Mean the Game is Over

Old Age is like Basketball, just because you Dribble a Little Doesn’t Mean the Game is OverIf you are not already aware of this, Old Age comes with a lot of indignities.  However, while some of them are “real,” many more of them are assigned to those who are considered “seniors,” often by people who are still “wet behind the ears.”  Not only is this presumptuous on the part of those who make these unfounded assumptions, it can be really detrimental to the companies both groups work for!

Somewhere along the line, probably starting with the Baby Boomers, this nation got the askewed idea that “youth” is the key to success! Maybe it is because of this nation’s pre-occupation with sports, where once the body slows down people are moved aside to make room for the next young hero.  The thing is, when it comes to most businesses, physical prowess is of little consequence.

So, why is the western culture so quick to abandon the wisdom of everyone over fifty?   Why do we want to ignore their experience?  Why do we want to shun their ideas as old fashioned?  Why do we think that a newly graduated MBA has more to offer than someone who has been in the business for three or four decades?  Unfortunately, I’m not sure why.  However, I am sure of this – – we are voluntarily “throwing away” one of our greatest assets at our disposal – – our seasoned veterans of the business world.

There is another view, a much more cynical one, but one which, nonetheless, might garner a lot of support:  The business world we now exist in has discovered that you can hire young, inexperienced employees for far less than their mature, experienced counterparts.  While this is very exciting to the 25 year-old work force, it quickly backfires on them – – in about twenty years.  The thing is, when you are twenty-five, twenty years seems like an eternity away.  That explains why the “youth movement” has no problem with this arrangement, but what about those in charge of this practice?

The answer, I fear, is somewhat disheartening:  Corporate America has come to think that sacrificing long range success for an immediately improved “bottom line” is the way to go.  As a result, we end up with companies who promote “one way” loyalty, and don’t even bat an eye when it’s time to “axe” employees who have been with them for years and years and, quite frankly, have made them as successful as they are.

So, as you work with those who might be two, or even three, times your own age, remember that while they might be a little slower to the water fountain than you, they still might be able to help you understand the real keys to success, not only in the business world – – but in life!

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