How could a tender shoot burst out of solid concrete? It actually didn’t. But if we find ourselves in a difficult situation, it teaches us three valuable lessons.
First, bloom where we are planted.
Can you imagine the shoot moaning, “How I wish I were planted in a lush field instead”? Of course, it can’t do that. But it still kept on growing. It had to. That’s how botany works.
If you can improve your situation, then by all means do so. But if you can’t for now, then the best response is to accept your circumstances and keep on growing. Decide never to curl up and die. Instead, strive to make the best of what is happening to you. That’s how life works.
Second, grow through the cracks.
A closer look shows that the concrete block had some fissures packed with dirt. Somehow a seed found its way into the dirt and germinated. Drawn to the sunlight, the shoot eventually peeked out of the crack and pushed its leaves outward.
You may be in a hard place, but there may be cracks of opportunity. Look for those cracks, then dig in and start growing. For example, your boss made a passing mention about a chronic problem in the organization. Begin tinkering with the solution. Or you see a possible improvement in the business process. While it may be a sliver of change, the benefits may accrue handsomely over time. Who knows where that small start will lead you to?
Third, the harder the place, the more beautiful the sight.
The photo is real. I was making my rounds at work when the shoot stopped me in my tracks. It seemed to be in an act of defiance: even on a piece of rock, I will flourish! The message took my breath away.
I know someone who had a falling out with his boss. So the boss dumped him in Corporate Siberia. For two shameful years, he was stuck to his desk with nothing much to do. His peers felt sorry for him whenever they passed by. Yet he did not whine, play politics, and most of all, resign.
But whatever ad hoc tasks he was given, he gave them his very best. He got the last laugh, however, when that boss retired. The new boss liked his attitude and gave him new assignments. Like the shoot, his career blossomed. He reaped the respect and admiration of his colleagues.
Conclusion. Look at the photo again and see yourself in the shoot. Success is more about who you are rather than where you are. Bloom where you are.
Grow through the cracks of opportunity. And look forward to become a sight to behold.
It’s not necessarily true that people are an organization's greatest assets. If that were true, the organization with the biggest head count would automatically win.
Your real assets are people who know how to solve problems… and solve them better than your competitors!
When you think about it, practically every business issue is a problem to be solved. It can be about hiring talent, increasing sales, maximizing cash flow, reducing defects, or leading innovation.
Usually, the problem-solver is the executive, the manager, the technology supplier, or the consultant.
But what if everyone in that organization pitches in?
What if the machine operator, the lobby receptionist, or the accounting clerk can see the problem with fresh eyes and offer solutions that no one has thought of before? Instead of people doing the same old thing or, worse, saying something can’t be done, they are saying
“We can do it. Here’s how…”
Early when I took over my first plant, I had this maintenance technician who came to me and said, “Sir Nelson, we have a problem in Machine X”. Then he described the problem, paused, and waited for me to give him the answer from Mount Sinai.
Instead, I replied, “So?”
I think he was a bit taken aback. As he kept on explaining, I kept pushing back with “So?” At some point, he ran out of words about the problem and began drifting to solutions. “Maybe, Sir, we should try out…”
I asked him, “That’s a good idea. What else can we do?” As the technician expressed his ideas, I kept encouraging him with “What else?” until I am satisfied. Finally, I patted him on the shoulder and said, “Good! Go ahead!”
After that first encounter, whenever that technician came to me with a problem, he also brought along recommendations.
Guess what? Five years later, he has been promoted to Production Head. When an operator went to him with a technical problem, he replied “So what do you think can be done?”
Hmmm… sounds familiar.
If I were to solve every problem at the plant, I would quickly burn out. And that’s assuming I have all the answers! But you don’t need to have all the answers. You need to know where to find the best answers.
I believe that most people have great ideas just waiting to come out. Therefore, an often overlooked role of the leader is to help his followers come up with solutions better than his.
Within an industry, it is likely that the players make commodity products, have access to roughly the same technology, and beat each other on price and promotions. If you are one of those players, you will want to be different, innovative, or cost-efficient. In today’s red-ocean environment, a can-do workforce is your true competitive advantage.
In the end, it’s about having people to solve problems, rather than solving them all by yourself. Now that’s a solution worth pursuing!
Note: This article is excerpted from my signature module Creating a Problem-Solving Culture, which seeks to empower both leaders and followers tap their reservoir of creativity and wisdom. For queries, please feel free to message me.
Photo by Olav Ahrens Røtne on Unsplash
Remember Frozen? Time was when people were belting Let It Go, be it off-key videoke or professional cover. But I would disagree with Queen Elsa. There are things we really can’t let go.
Take our past, for instance. Motivational speakers and counselors would tell us to “let go” of what we don’t like about our personal histories.
Has someone hurt us? Let it go.
Are we regretting over a certain career choice? Let it go.
Did we lose our shirt because the pandemic ruined our business? Let it go.
But we really cannot let them go, because our present flows from our past. We are where we are now due to a complex flux of choice and circumstances. We cannot escape cause and effect. Unless we have a time machine and start over, the past won’t let us go.
We still wince from the hurt.
We’re still unhappy at work.
We’re still broke.
So what do we do? Let me suggest three steps.
1. Make peace with your yesterday.
Since we can’t let go of our past, we will have to live with our past. The real question is how? With blessing or bitterness? With gratitude or grumbling? With redemption or regret?
In my book Regret No More, I teach that we make a peace pact with ourselves. Think of it as being at war with guilt, anxiety, or sorrow. The irony is that we raise these enemies within ourselves, for example, the inner critic. We declare a cessation of hostilities. We may even write down a literal treaty, if we want to.
The next time we sense the enemy creeping back, we hold up the treaty and tell the negative emotion “Hold it right there. This says you will stop.” Then imagine the enemy, shamed, slinking away.
2. Become a better person today.
We are not the same people we were five, ten, or twenty years ago. That’s because life continues to shape our personalities, perceptions and priorities. Ideally, we grow in love and wisdom as the years roll by. Yes, that includes the past.
Therefore, leverage the past for your maturity.
Did the hurt deepen your empathy?
Has the career mistake revealed what you really want in life?
Will the failed business train you how to bounce back?
There are priceless lessons that can be learned only through the college of hard knocks. Don’t waste the tuition.
3. Create an exciting tomorrow.
We cannot change what happened before. But we can decide what happens next. So take the best pieces of your past and match them with the opportunities of the present.
The hurt can open doors to unparalleled service.
The career mistake may be a detour that leads you to your true calling.
The failed venture will remind you that purpose is more important than profit.
It is not really true that January 1st is New Year’s Day. Every morning heralds the next 365 days of your life. As we would do with the literal January 1st, be brimming with hope.
Dream again. Dream big. Take the calculated risk. Explore the untrodden path. Forge strong relationships. In so doing, you have made the past your friend.
You really cannot let it go. But you have successfully lived with it.
God bless you.
This article was first published on LinkedIn in two parts. Connect with me for the latest articles.
He could have lost me as a customer. But instead, he won me over as a follower.
Kyle (not his real name) was offering training videos which I can watch on-line for a modest fee. So I gave one a try and enjoyed the learning… until the video kept on buffering in the middle. It remained stuck half-way no matter how many times I refreshed my device.
I told him of my frustration through private messaging. From the seen icon, I knew he read my complaint. He could have ignored me. Worse, he could have blamed my device or internet connection. Instead, he did something I never thought he would. He gave me a link through which I can download that video… free!
If Kyle were to offer me another product, would I buy from him again? You bet! That’s because Kyle did not see me as a peso sign, but as a person. He took his mission to help seriously. In short, he cared.
The paradigm is that, in selling, don’t look for customers. Create followers who will buy from you even when there is a better deal elsewhere. Here are three principles to do just that.
Don’t: Expect loyalty.
Do: Earn loyalty.
When I was in sales and marketing, I used to tell my people: "It’s easy to get the first sale. The challenge is to get the repeat order."
Loyalty is rarely bestowed upon you when your product or service is at par with your competitors. That’s why the passive order-taker will usually resort to gimmicks such as discounts and promos. The superior tactic is to do something pro-active and unexpected that touches the customer’s heart. Create an emotional bond with your client that your competitor will find hard to dislodge.
Don’t: Keep your customers waiting.
Do: Keep your followers raving.
A seen zone is a kill zone for future business. What if Kyle had seen my PM’s complaint and ignored it? I would have lost all appetite to buy from him again. But when he gave me that link, that was a WOW! moment for me.
It wasn’t about the video. It was about trust. He took a risk that I won’t spread that video around and hurt his future sales. I won’t, of course, but I felt honored which I will happily reciprocate by buying from him again.
Don’t: Think one-time.
Do: Think big-picture.
Imagine again had Kyle thought like these:
Conversely, that downloadable video was a modest investment that not only rewarded him with my wholehearted testimonial, but my interested peers as well.
With buyers bombarded by all sorts of offers and deals through digital channels, you need to stand out. When you do something wonderful and unexpected, you will make them ask you “What else do you have?”
This article was first published on LinkedIn. Connect with me for the latest articles.
Photo by Sebastian Hermann, Unsplash
No good deed ever goes unpunished. I chewed on that bitter irony as I had to deal with an irresponsible employee.
On a Thursday morning, I chaired a department meeting and, knowing that it will spill over to our lunch break, ordered plated meals for everyone. That employee was assigned for night shift duty, so he wasn’t in the meeting. But I included him in the order, anyway. After the meeting concluded, I asked his colleagues to pack his meal and give it to him later that evening.
Friday morning gave me a rude awakening. That employee shut down a piece of equipment that caused about four hours of downtime in our operations. The reasons are too lengthy to share here, but his act was inexcusably reckless. Yes, it was that same employee to whom I showed kindness through that packed meal.
I always believe that if you treat your people well, they will respond in kind. I am not so naïve that there won’t be any laggard, resister, or even saboteur. I had my share of people letting me down, but never in the form of a work stoppage equivalent to almost a million pesos in opportunity costs. Until now.
I never rant in Facebook, except maybe about a terrible movie. But in my disappointment, I posted a “feeling sad” emoji and the cryptic words “Why do I even bother?”
Comments from my Facebook friends poured in. I appreciated the queries of concern: “Are you all right?” “What happened?” “What’s wrong?” I liked one fellow’s attempt to psychoanalyze me: “Because you care.” I received a good share of virtual hugs. I was touched by those who reached out via Private Messenger, offering help and their shoulders to cry on. (I rarely cry, by the way.)
Then I realized the answer. Why do I even bother? Because there are people who bothered to reach out to me. Yes, that one person had shaken my faith in human nature. But one community reminded me that compassion and service still reign supreme in the grand scheme of things.
As of this writing, that employee is facing disciplinary action that can lead to summary dismissal. No, I will not give him a second chance. I will let due process take its course. Mercy has its place, but not if it will expose our operations to further harm, not to mention the morale of my crew.
But yes, I will still bother to show kindness and appreciation. In that Facebook post, I was at the receiving end. The elation is so indescribable that the only way to express it is to pay it forward.
So let’s continue to be a community. Let’s bother.
This article has been published on LinkedIn. Do check it out on LinkedIn and let me know what you think.
Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash
Nobody wants to be under an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ). But it doesn’t mean that there’s nothing you can do about it. As we are about to enter Week 2, here are three tips to keep making the most out of it.
First, write down your goals.
While I am one of the blessed who work from home and still draw a paycheck (my heart goes out to the no-work, no-pay people), I expect to have more free time. Consider that I don’t have to drive to work and back home, a daily task that usually lops off three to four hours of my waking time.
As I write this, I am looking at a mini-white board where I wrote down what I want to accomplish. They include book writing, training projects and personal development. This does not mean that I don’t have recreation during ECQ. After spending a day well, I reward myself by reading a comic book.
Remember, if a goal is not written down, it does not exist. Goals that remain floating between your two ears are notorious for being forgotten. I prop up my white board on my home desk so I can decide what to tackle for a particular day and alert myself where I am slacking off.
Second, develop value-adding habits.
A wise business owner knows that when he goes through a low season, he invests in training rather than skimp on it. This is to take advantage of the downtime by instilling his people with sharper skills and attitude. Then, when business picks up again, his team is stronger than ever.
You are always in business. It so happens that the product is YOU. Therefore, like that owner, invest time, effort and perhaps money to acquire habits that you know will vastly improve your work performance. When you improve yourself, you increase your value.
It is said that it takes 14 or 21 days to build a habit. Coincidentally, that is about how long this ECQ will last. So why not leverage this period when we are less frenzied or distracted to acquire those habits? Do them daily until they become automatic when things go back to normal. You know you have successfully established a habit when you feel queasy if you had spent a day skipping that routine.
Value-adding habits would include:
Third, tackle one-time, big-time projects.
I certainly don’t want a sickening feeling that once the ECQ is over, I have little to show for it. I am sure that you don’t like that, either. So bring out your bucket list. If you don’t have a bucket list, now is also a good time to write one. Of course, there are obvious constraints. For example, now is hardly the time to go backpacking across Europe.
So prioritize the items you can do at home. Then take out your calendar and block off chunks of time to do what you’ve always been dreaming of doing.
Do you want to:
Quarantine gives us the gift of downtime. Use this gift wisely. Write down, review and implement your goals. Do incremental steps geared towards improving your value. Indulge in special projects that will give you a sense of fulfillment.
Once this is over, we will emerge stronger, happier and more productive than before.
Photo by Ryan Mendoza on Unsplash
Boredom happens when we lose our appetite for things that used to energize us such as a job or a relationship. Strangely, we can be bored even while we are busy.
Overcoming boredom is more of a process, a journey, an inner transformation. It is a golden opportunity to find out what we really value.
Most people suppose that the opposite of boredom is excitement. Personally, I have discovered that the opposite of boredom is meaning. There are people who don’t mind difficulties and drudgery as long as they know that they are making a difference in the world.
Imagine two bakers. One complains, “I do the same thing day in and day out. Buying yeast, kneading dough, operating this oven. What’s the point of it all?”
The other relishes each working day and says, “I get to feed the world. I get to help a child create memories of the yummy sandwich only his mom can make. I get to encourage family members to bond around a good breakfast.”
The second baker sees meaning beyond the physical stuff of yeast, dough and oven. Because of that, he is hardly bored.
You may be doing something repetitious, perhaps even menial. But look for meaning in whatever you do. Happiness is a by-product of a meaningful life. Pursue happiness and it will elude you.
But pursue meaning and, in due time, boredom will give way to joy!
Photo by Tonny Tran on Unsplash
Hungry years can actually save us from accumulating stuff, which, in turn, demand much time, expense and effort to maintain. More importantly, we can stop focusing on things and start cherishing relationships.
Hungry years also remind us of God’s faithful provision. One day, I chanced upon a Czech proverb that stuck in my mind: “The God who gives us teeth will also give us bread.”
God may cause us to hunger, but He will not allow us to die of hunger. Indeed, He had brought the Israelites to utterly depend on Him for their very survival.
God is not a sadist who dangles a bone before a chained dog, never letting the dog to get the bone. Rather, God responded to their hunger by giving them manna, day after unfailing day for forty years.
Hungry years are just as valuable as the satisfied years. In due time, God put an end to the Israelite’s wandering and brought them to the Promised Land, the land flowing with milk and honey.
If God wills, someday He will usher us into the “Promised Land” He has in store for us. There, we will no longer wrestle with tight budgets and gnawing need.
But until then, there are treasures to be gathered, lessons to be learned. Trusting in God’s matchless goodness, we embrace the hungry years as the necessary shadow for what promises to be magnificent portrait.
Photo by Kat Yukawa on Unsplash
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