Which Geeks Are You Serving?

There is a resurgence of the vinyl record. And of course it makes no sense in terms of listening to music. There are now far more efficient means of filling your ears than ever before. And even audiophiles have a hard time agreeing upon the “best” medium. And alas, some of the upward trend is just a fad which will likely wane. But go to any serious record shop and watch what’s going on and it’s obvious… people who like records like going deeper. They like diving into the details of the craftsmanship, the history, the oddness, the weird and sometimes even offensive nature of the record...and its wrapper. And they like the conversation that ensues...about which pressing is best, whether a remastered reissue is better than the original, etc.

The new attraction to vinyl records has very little to do with music. It has much more to do with the conversation you get to have with other like minded people about what’s behind the music, the album art and the process of getting it on the disc. It enables people to be geeks.

Everyone wants to be a geek about something. Which ones are you serving?

Despite

There’s the strategy of using online mediums (and maybe offline ones) to be found, to become popular and successful, hoping your work resonates with enough people.

Then there’s a strategy of doing remarkable work for specific people knowing it will delight them, perhaps enough to share it with others…online or off.

Doing work to fuel social media is way different than doing work despite social media. Choose wisely.

Be Thankful You Have a Job

…said the coal miner's wife.

Times have changed…thankfully. Now we know we don’t have to settle for just any job. Now we know we don’t need to put up with a culture we don’t deserve. Now we know working hard doesn’t need to be dangerous.

And now we know we should be thankful we get to choose the work we want to do and with whom we want to do it. Please don’t settle for anything less.

What Will You Teach?

There’s an abundance of teaching the hard skills…calculus, spreadsheets, present value analysis, vocabulary, coding and so on. On the flip side there’s not nearly enough effort put into the essential skills of leading, engagement, empathy, collaboration, persuasion, generosity, kindness and respect.

Successful people have mastered the people skills as well as the technical ones. In the world of ever increasing connectivity, the separator, the reason they are so effective as leaders of change is due to their competency in working with other people, their ability to engage, persuade and connect. It’s no longer just because they have the highest engineering IQ.

Everyone is a teacher at some point. What will you choose to teach? And most importantly, what do you need to learn to teach it?

Slack

Changing something for the better requires thought. It’s rarely achieved by chance or an impulsive reaction. And thought requires time and focus. Both of which are hard to get if you're busy all the time. So the key to creating something, to affect something or someone in a meaningful way is to make time for it…to create some slack. This shouldn’t be treated as a by product or something to happen after your important work is completed. On the contrary, this is part of the important work…a big part.

Too much time on your hands leads to waste. Not enough curtails creativity. In between there’s a sweet spot. Time to focus, time to think, time to choose. If you’re in the business of leading, of making change and being responsible for decisions and not just sorting or pulling levers, you need slack. It’s big part of your job. Please go make some.

Professionalism and Learning

Professionalism isn’t about getting paid. It’s about who the work is for, changing things for the better and keeping a promise to show up.

An amateur is building experience, honing the craft…a practicing student. It’s mainly for themselves. Professionalism begins when the choice is made to perform the work for someone else's benefit. And then making a promise to show up with their best work.

Choosing to lead, to manage, to teach someone else as a professional comes with great responsibility. It requires your best performance…every time. It requires vigor but also patience. It requires experience but also empathy. And most of all it requires a dedication to leveling up as a leader…a commitment to keep learning the craft of leadership. And understanding that it’s a lifelong journey.

Choosing to learn might be the professional’s most important decision. Because without it, nothing would change. And that would be a shame.

What is Authority For?

  • To enable improvement

  • To give people a chance

  • To stand behind them

  • To take responsibility

  • To allow people to learn

  • To allow people to try

  • To allow people to fail

  • To allow people to build

  • To allow people to take risks

Authority should be used to ensure a positive, change seeking, respectful culture is developed.

Too often though, authority is misused…mainly because it’s misunderstood.

  • To standardize (for efficiency)

  • To limit change (for efficiency)

  • To create fear (of people losing their job, or lowering their status)

  • To veto decisions

  • To enforce rules

  • To make things cheaper

  • To be correct

  • To be the one that gets to choose

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Choose wisely.

Accidental Change

In the early days of driving we didn’t take drinks with us in cars. We had drinks…and we had cars. But they didn’t work well together. The business of driving a car required virtually all of our faculties. And the ride was such that taking any unsealed liquid was a pants stain waiting to happen. Interestingly we didn’t seek to develop automatic transmissions, power windows and smoother suspensions to make it easier to drink in cars. But those unrelated advancements did change that outcome. Cupholders exist because of changes in comfort, and having a free hand…which were the result of longer trips and so on.

Change isn’t just direct..if we do this, we get that. There’s a lot of bumping into other things along the way. Study almost any innovation and it’s likely a series of unrelated causes led to the outcome. Not just one planned path. 

Curiosity, desire and action lead to change…maybe even the outcome we were seeking. But maybe something even better…something we could have never imagined. The good stuff doesn’t always come from a plan. Accidents happen…and sometimes they are good. Please go create some.

Skill and Expertise

One of the requirements of being indispensable is acquiring skills. Skills don’t come naturally…they’re achieved. They are the product of curiosity, the desire to make change and an abundance of practice…try, fail, adjust, retry. 

Hard skills like making espresso, piloting an airplane and woodworking will get you noticed. But increasingly (mainly because hard skills are easier to come by) it’s the soft skills, the art, the emotional part of the work that’s seen. Songwriting is a skill. But without the emotional labor of putting it into the world it’s not likely to make much of an impact. The daring work of performing for someone is scarce…yet the stage is available for all of us, everyday.

Everyone should be an expert in something…is more true now than ever before. The opportunity to level up and be remarkable has never been better. It’s a matter of choice…first to lean in…then to pick where to go. Choose wisely…but please just choose to go somewhere.

The Importance of A vs. The

I want to be A (insert job here) is way different than saying I want to be The (insert same job here).

The rules, standards, compensation and the story of A job are made by someone else. The value of The job or The work one will do is established by the person building it…because it’s specific, it’s unique. And it defines the standard.

Of course, being specific about your work and making a promise about how you do it, comes with a downside. You are on the hook for it…completely accountable. There’s no one else to blame when it doesn’t work. But it’s a risk worth taking if you’re building a legacy of meaningful change.

Why be just another one, when you can be the only one.

We deserve more The and less A. Please choose wisely.

The Profession of Leveling Up

Almost everyone wants to level up. They want to move forward, raise their status, perhaps earn more money and feel successful. But almost everyone treats leveling up as a hobby…something to squeeze in when time permits. And who can blame them. School taught us to dislike learning (which is required to level up)…mainly because it was mandatory and boring.  And in life after school there’s too much that just gets in the way…jobs, significant others, kids, bosses, mortgages, fun, rest and on and on. As a result, forward progress is significantly slowed, unless it’s something compulsory tied to survival.

The first step then to improve forward motion (if that’s what one seeks) is to recategorize and reprioritize leveling up and the requisite learning that goes with it. It must be changed from a hobby into a profession. This requires discipline and probably some entertainment cutting. But it must be done if any real progress is going to be made. Take running a marathon as an example. A non-runner can’t become a marathon runner (one who completes a marathon) without a disciplined and structured approach to the required training. It just won’t happen if it’s haphazard. So a serious quest results in hiring a coach who demands a schedule so that training is turned into a job. And the job gets done. Or no marathon.

Learning, practicing and training…the things needed to level up need a plan, just like a business needs a plan. Goals need to be set, purpose established (who’s it for?, what’s it for?) strategy and tactics developed. And then we need to clock in, every day, just like we do for our job. We need to develop the habit of learning just like the habit of working…because learning is work.  And we need to treat it like our life depends on it…because it probably does…at least for the life we seek.

I'm Lucky Enough...

to be able to do this work…is much different than saying I’m lucky to be able to do this work here, in this place with these people.

Being unsatisfied with the work is an individual problem. A problem that is solvable mainly by the person doing it. Leveling up is a product of a person’s desire to learn and then consistently showing up as their best self…both things they control. But creating excitement about showing up (to do the work) is a group problem…one solved by leaders who care enough about a positive culture to focus and invest in it. A positive culture which celebrates and rewards each person’s contribution to group purpose is a very powerful motivator, even for those doing the so called menial work.

Trying to solve an employee's dissatisfaction with their chosen profession is often futile. It’s far more impactful to spend time on the environment they plug into…and the legacy they can build from it.

Where Are You Going?

The single most important thing to understand in the hiring interview. Understanding a person’s dreams, goals, passions and the actions they are taking to get there gives us great insight about their character and core values. And learning how the goals have changed over time gives us a clue about their persistence in the face of adversity. If we can learn the truth about their quest and their path of forward motion, what’s been left behind is far less important.

Leader Goals

Almost everyone sets goals at the beginning of the year…it’s what we’re conditioned to do. And it’s not a bad thing. Goals are good...they give us measurable targets which support our purpose.

Management goals are the most popular with key targets including profitability, employee turnover, sales volume and the like. Personal goals revolving around health, weight loss, spending more time with kids and life balance often make the list. 

But what about leaders? Leaders have a different responsibility…they’re accountable for leading others to make change. Specifically, leaders…

Seek change...because they are unsatisfied with the status quo. They envision a better future and are bold enough to take responsibility and leap.

Teach...because creating a culture and a future other people want and then leading them there is more effective and long-lasting than commanding an outcome. Teach vs. Tell.

Learn...because it’s the prerequisite to teaching and making change. Learning indicates forward motion and a desire to make positive change happen. But when combined with empathy and openness to new ideas, it’s the most important choice we can make. Nothing would change if no one learned.

The appropriate leadership goals then begin with these questions…answer wisely, be specific and be accountable.

  1. What will you learn?

  1. What will you teach?

  1. What change will you make?

Consideration Pause

One of the most underused options in decision making. How will this action affect others? How will the change, the idea, what is being said and how it’s being said change the culture? Does it align with the core values and support the purpose?

Unless there’s physical danger, it’s worth pausing for a moment…to be considerate on purpose. Great leaders know when to take time to reflect.

Experience and Leadership

Experience is required to create meaningful change.  It’s what gives us insight and relatively predictable outcomes. And it’s really helpful with the experimentation necessary to build anything new.  It’s also essential in the development of new leaders…the next generation of change makers. Without the valuable insight of an experienced leader, people are left solely to trial and error. And it really slows things down both for the work they produce and in their own development.

Experience then is best used to serve others…to lead, teach, guide, inspire and to help them get things done. It’s a shame it’s so often misused as a self-serving status tool…simply to tell someone what to do. 

It’s best to use experience to teach…and to be a hero for others. That’s the legacy we deserve.

When Should You Do Your Best Work?

Today (and every day) we can choose to give our best performance…or not. It doesn’t matter what falls in the way, what someone says or does unexpectedly or anything else that happens that’s out of our control. These roadblocks don’t change anything about our posture…unless we allow them. Every time we face a roadblock, what happens if we ratchet up our best selves even more? What happens if we lean in with more positive action and leadership? What happens if we become even more generous? 

The beauty is we know the unexpected is coming. So we can choose what to do with it…in advance. When running a marathon the first time, every mile is new. And when the “wall” comes we’re not sure what to do. But the next time, we know when the real pain is going to appear…when our best self self needs to show up even more.

It’s not nearly as hard to do your best when everything goes as planned. But it’s extremely important to continue to choose to do so when they don’t.

Choose wisely.