Archive for the ‘relationships’ Category

A friend of mine recently received feedback anonymously. The feedback raised some questions my friend wanted to ask. The problem with anonymous feedback is that when you receive it, you don’t know the perspective of the person who gave it. You don’t know what factors influence that feedback. And you can’t ask questions to understand specifically what caused that person to give that sort of feedback. This is true whether the feedback is positive or negative.

When you choose to give feedback, it’s best if you can give it in person. If nothing else, attach your name and contact information. If you care enough to give feedback, care enough to be willing to be engaged in a conversation about it. For those of us who seek to improve, having that conversation is crucial, and details often matter. Looking at it from the other side, I have found that those conversations can be more informative for me than for the person I offered a comment to. It’s an opportunity for both people to grow.

However, if you leave the comment anonymously, that conversation never has a chance to happen. Neither side can grow from it. Therefore, if you choose to leave feedback, do so prepared for that conversation and attach your name.

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“I’m not going to change. He/She has to take me just the way I am.”

I heard this from a friend who is adamant about not changing for anyone. This friend would potentially give up a relationship where both people have invested much time and energy. When my friend said it, I became sad. Somehow my friend has bought the lie that you can have a fulfilling relationship and never change at all. 

Yes, every relationship leaves us changed. The change might be minute. We might not recognize that a change has taken place. However, we are changed. My friend recognizes that and that isn’t the sort of change being referred to in the “no change” declaration. My friend was referring to intentional change: change you seek after to be more compatible for the relationship. 

After 20 years of marriage, one thing I can say I have learned is that I must be continually changing. My wife deserves for me to be a better husband. That means improving myself. When I look at where I should be and where I am, I shudder. I am surprised my wife puts up with me. However, when I compare where I am to where I started, I am even more surprised that we have made it this far. I love my wife. I want to be that better husband. Thus, I desire to change. 

If you’re in a serious relationship, it is implied that you care about the other person. If you’re in a dating or marriage relationship, one would expect that you would want what is best for the other person. Eventually that comes back to looking at yourself. After all, if you want the best for them, doesn’t that also mean the best partner? And that’s where change comes in. Moreover, that’s where a desire for change should be. None of us will ever be all that we can be for the other person. That should never stop us from trying to make progress in that direction.

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Humility is too often treated as a bad word, especially in the professional sphere. It shouldn’t be. Here’s an example from my career where humility would have served me well:

Everyone in my group looked at me sternly. We had been given a simple logistics problem to solve during Air Force Field Training and I was being obstinate. 

I was trying to absorb every detail and build a solution for every occurrence of the problem. The mathematician side of me had taken over. Others around me didn’t understand what I was trying to do. They didn’t love math like I did. I was the only math/hard science/engineering major on the team. I believed this is why they didn’t care about an elegant solution. As a result, I was getting angry and upset at them. In turn, they were getting angry and upset at me. The tension in the room was extremely high. I was the root cause. I knew I was responsible for the tension, but I believed my teammates needed to listen to what I was saying and come along to my way of thinking.

Then one of my teammates said something to the effect of, “Let’s start with an point in time and see how things work out. That gives us a starting point, we can adjust, and check our work.”

The rest of the team agreed. Silently, I fumed. The problem consisted of a set of multiple equations. Solving them required a technique from Algebra I. The issue was there were six or seven equations and I needed a bit more time to solve them. Why couldn’t they wait?

They proceeded with the starting point method. Their first stab got them within 30 minutes of the time they had to meet. They backed up an hour, recalculated, and received a satisfactory answer to the problem we were given. I had gotten through four of the equations. The rest of my team felt we were done. Internally, I screamed. We weren’t done, because I hadn’t solved the equations. However, based on the problem we were given, we were done. We had solved the issue. 

At the time, I didn’t understand I was wrong. It was only during the de-brief about fifteen minutes later that I realized how my arrogance prevented me from understanding what my teammates were trying to do. I thought they were going down the wrong direction. It didn’t occur to me as we were in the middle of the exercise that I could be the one in the wrong. Arrogance can be blinding.

Humility in that situation would have meant I started with the belief that my teammates might understand the problem in a way I didn’t. Humility in that situation would have meant I would have listened first to what they were trying to accomplish and compared it with what I knew. After all, I could have been wrong (and I was). Humility in that situation would have meant that I didn’t care about who came up with the key way to solve the problem, just so long as the team solved it successfully. 

Humility isn’t thinking less of your own abilities. Humility, especially in a team setting, consists of:

  • Believing that your teammates bring something to the discussion/problem.
  • Choosing to listen first to what your teammates are proposing.
  • Checking what they say with what you know to verify you understand what needs to be done. 
  • Putting aside personal desires to be the hero.
  • Believing that you could be the one who is wrong if there’s a conflict.

A lot of these don’t come natural to us. That’s why we need to work on each facet of humility. All of them together make us the best possible teammate, gives our team the best possible chance to succeed, but improvement on any facet improves us as teammates and improves the team. If we want to be better teammates, we must embrace humility.

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I wrote yesterday about two businesses, one which was attracting a lot of customers, the other which wasn’t, and how the second business had put unnecessary barriers in front of its customers.

However, the tale of the two businesses, BusinessA (the one doing great) and BusinessB (the one struggling), isn’t just about barriers. There are two other things that I’ve noted that separate the two. The first of these is attitude.

When you walk into BusinessA, everyone is warm and friendly. Everyone is enthusiastic. Since both businesses work with children, having that type of atmosphere is important. BusinessA embraces it. The instructors are positive, encouraging, and seek to motivate the students who come through the door. The office staff are integral to making you feel at home. There is also a sense of investment among everyone there, to include the parents and the students themselves. Everyone in BusinessA makes a point of talking with the parents. If a student is not acting as a parent would expect, even outside of the activities, the student heres about it from the owner on down. However, the students quickly see that the folks in BusinessA are invested in their long-term success. You walk into BusinessA and you want to be a part of whatever it is they are doing.

With BusinessB, you have a colder, more formal professionalism. While the instructors are positive, comments come less often. It seems like there’s a semi-rigorous “assessment” of any new student who joins. It feels very much like you’re taking a test. The office staff is probably as good at with BusinessA, but unfortunately, it doesn’t feel like a team effort. It takes staying with BusinessB to learn how competent the instructors are with respect to the core skills they are teaching.

The differing attitudes of the two businesses definitely has an impact on their ability to attract and retain customers. What’s your attitude like? When your customer comes around needing your help, are you open and welcoming or are you colder? Worse, are you scowling and resentful?

The second thing that is different between the two businesses is the appearance of the facilities and the personnel. Both businesses teach a set of skills that require a lot of movement. Both have sufficient space to get the job done, but there are several big differences between the businesses:

  • BusinessA has high ceilings, giving a greater sense of openness.
  • BusinessA has much better lighting; brightness boosts the spirits and helps one feel safe.
  • BusinessB has a clutter around the edges of their spaces, making those spaces feel more closed in than the spaces in BusinessA.
  • BusinessA is meticulous about cleanliness, neatness, and organization. BusinessB is a clean facility, but BusinessA takes it to where you feel like you can eat off the floors.

It’s easy to dismiss appearance and say, “Appearance shouldn’t matter. Substance should.” If the world and people were perfect, perhaps we could function with this conclusion. But the reality is that we can’t.

How is your appearance? Appearance isn’t just about how you dress, for instance. It’s about any interaction between you and your customer. For instance, if you run a website, is it built such that it’s pleasing to your customer’s eyes? When you write emails, how do they come across? Think about all the ways you interface with your customer and consider how you appear.

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Testament to hardships unwelcome but never forgottenI loved the book, The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin. I even reviewed it here. However, as I’ve thought through key events in my life, I realized that there was little happiness at the time of those that changed me the most.

The Citadel‘s knob year (first year, the plebe year) was not a happy experience. It was certainly a life changing one. USAF Field Training was not a happy experience, especially as I survived all but the first day of camp with a severely damaged left shoulder that would cause numerous problems my junior year at The Citadel. Being unemployed as I looked for a youth pastor position and then went back to IT was not a happy experience. Neither was worrying over the potential health issues of my first daughter or the loss of the twins due to Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome.

I think Sebastian has it right here when he says to chase meaning, not happiness. Let me just dwell on my first year at The Citadel. Here are some of the things I learned:

  • Most of my limitations are in my head.
  • I do need others in order to succeed.
  • I want others around me for both tough times and terrific ones.
  • There is a right and wrong way to lead in every situation.
  • Sometimes I have to shut up and carry out orders. It’s what’s best for the situation.
  • Never settle for anything less than excellence.

Sure, I could have read these in a book or watched an educational video on them. In fact, I had. However, living through the experience of a plebe year, much of which can be described as anything other than “happy,” taught me a ton. It drove these points home. Had I not gone through knob year, I wouldn’t have understood these points like I do now. Most of the lessons I didn’t appreciate until years later. Looking back, I’m glad I went. Back then, I knew what I was getting into. Had I chosen the “happiness route,” the path that would have led to the greatest happiness in the short term, I likely wouldn’t have learned these things, or I would have learned them much later and much more painfully.

Think back over the times of your life. What has shaped and molded you the most: the happy times or the hard ones? If we are always pursuing happiness, we won’t grow. I would dare say that we will become less happier. This gets to what Mrs. Rubin says when she revises her definition of happiness to equate happiness with growth. Too often we equate happiness with pleasure. Therefore, the pursuit of happiness is the pursuit of pleasure. However, I don’t think that leads to lasting happiness. I know it doesn’t for me. And so I say, thinking of happiness as a synonym for pleasure, “Happiness is overrated.”

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algunos de mis moldes de siliconaA hand-crafted gift has always meant more to me than a store bought one. I love that the other person took the time to make something for me. In today’s day and age, it’s easy to jump on to Amazon and order something in just a few minutes. You don’t even have to brave Black Friday or the mall during Christmas time. Don’t get me wrong. If someone takes the time to get me a gift, I appreciate it. However, it always hit me harder when I know someone made a gift rather than bought one.

Last Christmas we went with this approach towards family and friends. For most of the folks we know, the only things they suffer from are “First World Problems.” The last thing most of them need or want is more stuff. So we made sweet treats and we made soap.

The treats everyone understands. Chocolate covered pretzels, cookies, cake, etc., are usually a hit during the holiday season. We made a lot of what we wanted to give out and then split them up and “wrapped” them to give to our loved ones and friends.

Soap is where folks usually raise an eyebrow. Soap is wonderful. If you have a microwave, it’s easy to melt the glycerin soap. Then it’s a matter of adding color and scent and pouring into the appropriate molds. It’s not a hard activity, but it does take some time. You can get some wonderful results. I was experimenting last week and came up with some choices that I think I will use for our gifts this year. For instance, a wonderful combination of eucalyptus and peppermint/spearmint makes a nice “wake me up” soap bar for those who shower in the morning. A spicy apple fragrance is great for washing hands. You lift the bar closer to your face as you soap up and it makes that routine activity a pleasant diversion in your day.

The other nice thing about making crafts to give away for Christmas is you can find something in your budget and skill set. For instance, one year the children wanted to make a birdhouse for their grandmother who collects them. I’m not much of a painter and I don’t have wood working tools. However, the local craft store had some easy to apply pastel acrylic paints and a pre-built birdhouse. The children picked out wooden shapes like hearts and the like that they wanted to glue to the birdhouse. For that year, it was a nice gift. We could have spent more to decorate. I’ve seen decorative birdhouses that have around $200 in decorations attached. And I’ve simple simple ones with just a splash of color and the hand prints of the children on them.

As you consider the holidays this year, think about what you might be able to do yourself. It doesn’t have to be stuff. It could be a well-cooked meal. It could be  small, intimate party. The key is to focus on the relationships and building on them. Sure, a big screen TV or a new washer is nice, but they are just things.

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super hero high fiveI’ve worked my way through Leadership Coaching by Tony Stoltzfus. One of the things he recommends when a client achieves a major accomplishment is to offer encouragement and praise. He warns against generic statements because they lose their effectiveness quickly. For instance, how motivating is this?

Great job! You’re awesome!

The first time and two it’ll probably provide a boost. However, if that’s all your coach every says, eventually you’ll begin to doubt the sincerity of said coach. This also holds true when we’re interacting with co-workers, subordinates, and family, especially children. His recommendation is the G.U.E.S.S. approach:

  • Genuine: You mean it.
  • Unequivocal: It’s all praise. There’s no back-handed insult in what you say. There’s also no sarcasm.
  • Energizing: You should match the enthusiasm and energy of the person you’re praising.
  • Specific: Your praise should focus on something they did well or something important that they accomplished.
  • Substantiative: You are saying something important about the person.

Consider the following two examples which I could have given my daughter at her recent karate belt test:

That was pretty good, girl. It’s about time you knocked another belt off.


You did an awesome job! Your focus during the belt test meant you did a magnificent job on your forms. Plus, your karate yells were clear and well-timed. This shows how hard you prepared!

Yes, the second response is longer, but that’s not what makes it better. I gave very specific examples of what she did well. I tied it back to her as a person. My language matched her passion at the end of her belt test. Finally, there wasn’t a put down hidden in the praise. Those qualities are what the praise better and more likely to encourage and inspire.

You don’t have to follow the G.U.E.S.S. model perfectly when you give your praise. However, at least try to make it specific and tie it to the individual in question. Generic praise becomes ineffective quickly. If we are going to take the time to praise, let us do so in a way that energizes and motivates the person we are praising.

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20120427-222928.jpgMy oldest daughter just passed her latest belt test at American karate. This picture is of her, her instructor, and her two black belt brothers. The bigger one is my oldest son, whom I wrote about earlier. There are 4 levels of students at this studio:

  • Beginning students – white suits
  • Intermediate students – black suits
  • Advanced students – red suits
  • Black belts

My oldest daughter was at the first belt of the black suits. She was testing for her “stripe.” However, when it came time to do the forms (kata), the instructor put her front and center. He had her demonstrate each form before the others attempted it, even though there were higher belts also testing. Why her? The instructor knew she knew every form and that her technique was proper for each one, well above her current belt level. Needless to say, she performed marvelously.

If the instructor had gone purely on belts, she would never have been called on. This isn’t the first time she has been called up to demonstrate for students above her belt rank. It is a regular thing with her. She knows how to do what is needed. She can lead others in those things. Her movements are sharp and precise and her voice is loud and clear. Even though she is young, she has developed the skills to lead her peers, even if she doesn’t have the highest belt. Quite simply, she doesn’t need a title to lead.

Neither do you. If you have to have a title in order to lead, that isn’t leadership. Leadership is setting the example, being disciplined, understanding the needs, finding a way to get those needs met, and accomplishing what needs to be done. None of this requires a title.

That is what my daughter does at karate. She is quite advanced for her belt. She only has two forms left to know based on what is on the black belt test. She had already begun learning the fighting combinations she must master for her black belt. It will be years before she has the experience and maturity to earn a shot at that black belt, but that doesn’t stop her now. She has an advantage. She lives under the same roof as two black belts. She makes use of that advantage. She had prepared herself to be out front. Her brothers actively help her as she needs it, but she is still the one that takes the initiative.

You have advantages, too. There are things that set you apart from others. The key is to find out how to use those advantages to help yourself, your team, and your organization. Also, you have the ability to gain experience and skills to lead others. Some of your advantages may open the doors for that, just like they do for my daughter. Real leaders (those who actually lead) are invaluable. It does require more of you. It likely will cause you discomfort. My daughter was put on the spot in front of every student testing along with their parents and friends. She didnt let the discomfort stop her. Neither should you.

One last thing: leading is helping people move in the correct direction. It isn’t abusing them. It isn’t doing all the work. And it certainly isn’t flaunting anything. The point of leadership is to motivate people to get things done. Therefore, don’t overstep things and don’t get arrogant and cocky. If you do things right, people will follow you because they trust you. That’s what you are looking for. However, you have to earn that trust by treating others right. That is an integral part of leadership, too.

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networking by Angelo de MarcoI’m sitting in my local VMware User Group meeting and it is the first time I’ve done so. The meeting is free, lunch is provided, and I will learn about some “new” technologies or get updates on older ones. But those aren’t the main reasons I’m here. I’m here because it is an opportunity to get out and meet some folks who aren’t primarily database oriented but who are still in information technology (IT).

I’m a big believer in keeping a wide range of skills. It gives one more options for moving around in the job space, opens up possibilities in case one loses his or her job, and with respect to IT generally should make one more able to troubleshoot complex issues that cross traditional boundaries. Even if you disagree with this perspective, realize that having relationships with folks in a variety of fields is invaluable. This gives you the ability to reach out to someone who knows a particular area better than you do when you need help. It also opens doors for career advancement or change as who you know is typically more important than what you know.

In the Microsoft community there are a lot of code camps and SQL Saturdays. I’m now seeing conferences for PowerShell and SharePoint, too. Another set of resources are user groups, most of which are free and allow you to interact with your peers. If you aren’t Microsoft centric or even if you aren’t in information technology, chances are there are free networking opportunities in your field or in related ones. It may require a bit more searching, but it is certainly worth it.

While a lot of learning is often available at these opportunities, don’t focus just on learning. Make it a point to network, even if it is uncomfortable. One reason to have these events is to bring people together. While you aren’t paying anything, so it isn’t a situation where you are worried about getting your money’s worth, you do want to get your time’s worth.

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This picture is of my oldest son and it was taken a few months ago. As you can see by the cake, he turned 14. If you figure that I only have him until he turns 18, that means less than 4 years remain before he starts life on his own, whether that be college or some trade. That isn’t a whole lot of time.

Andy Leonard (blog | twitter) and I have talked at length about how fast our children are growing up. He tracks the number of weekends he has left with his son and there just doesn’t seem to be enough. We want our children to grow up and find their own paths, but at the same time we wish they could remain small forever. The former will happen. The latter is not a possibility. Time is constantly ticking. Once a moment has passed, it is gone.
As you work to improve your lot in this world, never lose sight of what is important. Never forget who is important. It is sometimes a real struggle to keep them the priority, but remember that we don’t get “do-overs” with respect to how we spent our time.

Are your currently spending your time in a way that shows what you want your priorities to be? If not, what can you do about it, starting today, to change things? What long term changes do you need to make in your life to spend time the right way? What is the first step in each of those changes? What can you do right now? These are important questions we should be asking ourselves constantly. After all, time is slowly passing away, never to be repeated. Let’s make the most of it with the people who matter most to us.

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