Archive | June, 2016

How to Leave a Lasting Legacy: Three Powerful Questions

In 1888, Alfred Nobel had the most shocking experience of his life.

He read his own obituary.

Apparently, Alfred’s brother, Ludwig, was the one who had died, but a French newspaper mistakenly thought it was Alfred and published his obituary instead. A prominent armaments manufacturer, Alfred had amassed a fortune after he invented dynamite. However, he was shocked to read that, in describing his life, the newspaper named Alfred the “merchant of death” in attributing the destruction and dismemberment of hundreds of thousands of men to his invention.

After reading his own obituary, Alfred was stunned into action at the thought of the horrific legacy he would one day leave behind. Resolving to, in essence, rewrite his life story, he decided to leave the majority of his considerable fortune to create what became known as the Nobel Prizes, awards for those who “confer the greatest benefit on mankind,” as stated in his will. Today, the Nobel Prizes are the highest honor that can be attained in literature, medicine, science, chemistry, and, the most famous of all Nobel Prizes, peace.

In retrospect, Nobel’s unpleasant experience reading his own obituary turned out to be the greatest blessing of his life, propelling him to action and creating a legacy that, 128 years later, continues to challenge and inspire generations of great minds.

Think about that: Consider how this unfortunate mistake by a newspaper turned into an amazing blessing.

Now think about yourself: If you could write your own highlight reel for your life, where would you begin? What would you emphasize? How would you envision the rest of your life in terms of meaningful accomplishment?

Months ago, I ran across an excellent podcast episode on legacy by author and marketing expert Lewis Howes called The School of Greatness. He proposed asking yourself three provocative questions in considering your own legacy:

1) What am I creating with my life? What am I currently creating? What do I want to create? Are they aligned? If not, why not?
2) Who am I impacting by my way of being and how am I impacting them? As Howes asserted in his podcast, if your life’s vision doesn’t go beyond you, you’re living a shallow life. Look at most of history’s greatest people and you’ll notice that their work is like fertile seeds planted into the lives of countless others, continuing to bear fruit generations after they left the earth.
3) How will the world be different because I was here? If you are perfectly happy with maintaining the status quo in your life, chances are you won’t leave much of a legacy. But what if you could identify a noble cause that energized you–something bigger than yourself that inspired you to rely on God, work closely with others and require more of yourself than you imagined?

I love questions like these because they push you to examine your deepest assumptions about your life. And as you prepare to celebrate the upcoming 4th of July holiday weekend, I encourage you to take some time to think these through. Chances are, none of us will ever get the chance to read our own obituary in the local paper, but we all have the chance to, like Alfred Nobel, ensure that we leave something of value behind when we’re gone.

by Trent Yarnell | unsplash

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Four Keys to Making Better Decisions — Part 2

In my last post, I shared the fascinating insights of authors Chip and Dan Heath in their recent book, Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work. Beginning with the surprising revelation of our society’s dismal record of decision making, the authors unveil four primary obstacles that tend to keep us from making consistently wise choices. They are:

via kaboompics | pexels.com

1) Narrow Framing – We often consider only one or two alternatives among many.
2) Confirmation Bias – We allow our own “echo chambers” to blind us to only those options that serve our interests.
3) Short Term Emotion – Our feelings can easily impair our perspective, leading to regret later on.
4) Overconfidence – Like Harry Warner’s (of Warner Bros Studios) famous statement at the prospect of talking films, “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?”, we sometimes fail to consider the possibility of being wrong.

For each of these decision-making fallacies, there’s a corresponding antidote.

Antidote #1: Widen Your Options

Rev. Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield, General Secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, describes the tendency of parishioners who seek his advice to present extremely narrow decision dilemmas: Is this the person God wants me to marry? Should I take the job I’ve been offered in another part of the country? Should I become a priest? Often, they are surprised at Fr. Bransfield’s response as he challenges them to think more broadly:

“There’s a myth that there’s only one thing that God wants you to do… Actually, there are 18 things that God would be very happy if you chose. You’re not cornered into becoming a priest or not. You’re not cornered into marrying this woman or not. There are 6 billion people in the world. You’re telling me that God looked at you and said, ‘There is only one thing you can do in your life — I know it and you have to guess it or else?’ Could it be that you are putting your own constraints on God?”

Fr. Bransfield’s advice challenges the first villain of decision making, narrow framing, by broadening your perspective to consider more options.

I recall some close friends of mine struggling to decide whether to buy a boat or not. With school aged children, they were looking to spend fun, memory-making weekends as a family, but found themselves paralyzed by narrow framing, unable to move forward with the decision or not. This is a classic example of the constraining nature of “whether or not” decisions, as if boating is the only option for memory-making family fun. Instead of asking, “Should we buy a boat or not?” trying asking, “What else could we do with the same time and money?” A camper or motor home? Perhaps a time share at a resort? A back yard sports court or swimming pool?

Often, being trapped in a narrow frame can be hard to recognize, but one of the best warning signs is paying attention to “whether or not” decisions.

Can you recall any decisions in your past in which you got stuck in a narrow frame? How did it work out for you? What might have you done differently if you had widened your options?

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Four Keys to Making Better Decisions — Part 1

We are the products of our decisions. From big ones like marriage and career path to smaller everyday choices like what you eat and drink, our decisions inform the substance, impact, and quality of our lives.

As important as they are, what has been surprising to me is, as a society, how poor we are at making good decisions. As Chip and Dan Heath, in their fascinating book, Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, remind us:

“If you study the kinds of decisions people make and the outcomes of those decisions, you’ll find that humanity does not have an impressive track record. Career choices, for instance, are often abandoned or regretted. An American Bar Association survey found that 44% of lawyers would recommend that a young person not pursue a career in law. A study of 20,000 executive searches found that 40% of senior level hires are pushed out, fail, or quit within 18 months. More than half of teachers quit their jobs within four years.

Business decisions are frequently flawed. One study of corporate mergers and acquisitions–some of the highest stakes decisions executives make–showed that 83% failed to create any value for shareholders. On a personal front, we’re not much better. People don’t save enough for retirement. Young people start relationships with people who are bad for them. Middle aged people let work interfere with their family lives. The elderly wonder why they didn’t take more time to smell the roses when they were younger.”

by Justin Luebke | stocksnap.io

Why, with so much technology, generational wisdom, and other resources at our disposal, do we struggle to make good decisions? Surprisingly, as the Heath brothers so clearly unpack in their book, making the right choices has little to do with analysis (we’re pretty good at the data) and lots to do with process (the way we approach decisions). Specifically, the authors reveal four consistent obstacles to sound decision making:

1) Narrow Framing. One of the major regrets in my life is the sloppy way I approached college selection during my senior year in high school. My parents were almost completely uninvolved (hard to imagine today, but pretty common back then) and I had no sense of urgency or appreciation of the weight of my decision. So other than applying to Princeton University as a long shot (I didn’t get in), my only other consideration was a small liberal arts college 150 miles from my home that had recruited me to play football. I had never heard of the college, and after one weekend visit during the winter, I committed without investigating any other colleges. And although I had a generally positive experience in both academics and sports, after more than 35 years, I still regret that I never considered the numerous other options available to me.

My experience is an example of narrow framing, which is the tendency to define our choices in binary terms: “Should I do this, or should I not?” Like my college selection, narrow framing virtually ignores all the other alternatives that may exist. The authors cite one study that showed that having just one more option lowered the failure rate of “yes or no” decisions by almost 50%.

2) Confirmation Bias. As the Heath brothers put it, “Our normal habit in life is to develop a quick belief about a situation and then seek out information that bolsters our belief.” You see it everywhere, in sports (what one side slams as a “horrible call” the other views as completely obvious), politics, business, even entertainment. Do you remember the TV show “American Idol” when, early in the season, contestants had to audition in front of the judges? Many of these unfortunate young people had been told their entire lives by their parents how talented they were only to be crushed when Simon Cowell told them the hard truth that they were tone deaf. As rational as we think we are, when we want something to be true, people will focus exclusively on the information that supports their intentions and ignore the rest, no matter how compelling. We all do this!

3) Short Term Emotion. Growing up in car sales, I was trained to harness the power of emotion in getting customers to make a buying decision before leaving the dealership. From the excitement of the test drive to the allure of the new car smell, good salespeople understand that people buy on emotion first, then justify with logic. The same is true in political campaigns, charity appeals–anything that involves persuasion and creating desire. But all too often, when the excitement wears off, disappointment and regret set in. (Which is why, 20 years ago, we instituted a 5-Day money back guarantee in our auto dealerships.)

4) Overconfidence. Sometimes, our predictions about how things will turn out leave no room for error. In the book, the authors tell the story of the Beatle’s first audition for Decca Records in 1962. After seeing the band perform more than fifteen songs, Decca’s lead talent scout wrote to Beatle’s manager Brian Epstein, “We don”t like your boys’ sound. Groups are out; four piece groups with guitars… are finished.” Talk about a bad decision! I wonder if that talent scout still had a job when the Beatles’ very first single went platinum less than two years later. As the authors put it, “The future has an uncanny ability to surprise. We can’t shine a spotlight on areas when we don’t know they exist.”

Each of these four pitfalls of decision making have little to do with accurate data or sound analysis. Instead, the key to making better decisions is having a system: a consistent process for approaching choices, big and small. In my next post, I will share the author’s four-step process that, while not guaranteeing you’ll be right every time, will drastically improve your chances.

How would you rate your success at making good decisions? What’s the best and worst decision you’ve made in your life? Which one of these four decision pitfalls resonates the most with you?

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Tommy Gibbs’ Top 40 Leadership Traits

For this week’s post, I’d like to share Tommy Gibbs‘ Top 40 Leadership Traits. Tommy is a former NCAA college basketball referee, a highly respected automotive consultant, leadership trainer, and friend — and one of my favorite sources of leadership guidance.

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Leadership 101 — Review Time: Top 40 by Tommy Gibbs

Below are 40 fundamental traits of a good leader. These are traits that everyone should seek to emulate regardless of their position on the totem pole.

There are 3 ways you can use them:

1. Evaluate yourself — how’d you do?

2. Evaluate the person above you — your supervisor, department head, team leader, dealer, GM, person in charge, etc.

3. Have someone you work closely with or someone you supervise evaluate you.

If you do all three, you’ll become a better leader.

My Top 40 Leadership Traits

1. Leaders have pep in their step
2. Leaders are disciplined
3. Leaders arrive early, stay late
4. Leaders have a sense of humor
5. Leaders are consistent
6. Leaders follow the golden rule
7. Leaders don’t put themselves above others
8. Leaders don’t show favoritism by hanging out with subordinates
9. Leaders can be counted on
10. Leaders answer their own phone (Sometimes you have to leave the dealership)
11. Leaders return phone and email messages promptly
12. Leaders dress the part
13. Leaders show respect for others regardless of position or social status
14. Leaders say thank you…a lot
15. Leaders cut to the chase and get to the point
16. Leaders listen because they know others have great ideas too
17. Leaders use the word “We” vs. the word “I”
18. Leaders pull others up not put them down
19. Leaders don’t work in fear of their job; they coach people “up” to take their job
20. Leaders do what they say they are going to do when they say they are going to do it
21. Leaders pick up after themselves…and others
22. Leaders know what they know and they know what they don’t know
23. Leaders take the blame when something fails and they give others credit when it works
24. Leaders communicate then communicate some more
25. Leaders help establish vision and direction
26. Leaders remove obstacles to production, not create them
27. Leaders attack a problem now, rather than letting grow it into a cancer
28. Leaders seek ways to simplify not complicate
29. Leaders seek knowledge; they learn, then they coach others
30. Leaders make the tough decisions now, not later
31. Leaders don’t tolerate a fearful workplace
32. Leaders are enthusiastic
33. Leaders set the accountability standard
34. Leaders have controllable passion
35. Leader detest the statement, “We’ve always done it that way.”
36. Leaders accept mistakes as a part of progress
37. Leaders see a problem as an opportunity to “fix it”
38. Leaders guard the processes but recognize when they are not working
39. Leaders are optimistic realists
40. Leaders lead from the front and they push from the rear

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