The most important word

The Scout Law

A Scout Is:

  • Trustworthy
  • Loyal
  • Helpful
  • Friendly
  • Courteous
  • Kind
  • Obedient
  • Cheerful
  • Thrifty
  • Brave
  • Clean
  • Reverent

Several years ago I asked my scouts which one of these words is most important.  Hands flew up, “Reverent!” several shouted.  I told them no.  Then one-by-one they guessed at each of them.  Frustrated, they finally said they gave up.

The most important word is “IS”.  It doesn’t say a scout tries to be trustworthy, or is sometimes loyal.  It doesn’t say that you are reverent on Sundays and friendly to those that you like.  It simply says that he “is”.  And that’s an important distinction, and why I think it’s the most important word.

Why I Left Corporate IT

Well, the easy answer would be to say that my position was eliminated (i.e. I was laid off), and I never looked back.  But the reality is, I stayed around corporate IT for a few years after that.  It wasn’t until a few years ago that I began getting more involved in the business-side of the business, and less involved with traditional IT.  I worked with operations, engineering, support, and most notably, sales.

The transition wasn’t easy and many of my IT friends wonder what I’m doing.  I’ve even had people say “you are a hard guy to figure out”.  Yeah, I guess I am.

The problem I see with most traditional IT shops (but not all of the individuals, this is an over-generalization), is that most of them look at all problems through their particular lens.  For example, if you are a BI guy, then the solution to every problem is a report or dashboard.  If you are a C# developer, then everything can be solved with some code.  If you are a Unified Communications Engineer, then every problem can be solved with better communication tools.

This isn’t a new phenomenon.  20 years ago, Cobol programmers and DB2 DBAs looked at the world through their own lenses as well.  You see, if the only tool in your bag is a hammer, the solution to every problem looks like a nail.

I was fortunate enough in my early career to learn the business side of the equation. A leader I worked with taught me that IT exists to serve the business, not the other way around.  Once I discovered that, my perspective on business and technology changed forever.

Now when I see a business problem (or opportunity), I approach it with an open mind.  I love finding ways to apply technology to solve the issue.  But I’m not stuck on one approach or one technology.  If IT would learn to do that, I believe they would be much more relevant in businesses today.  And maybe they wouldn’t think I was so strange!!  What do you think?

Imagination is More Important Than Knowledge

I saw this little plaque in a store in Washington DC a while ago.  It said “Imagination is More Important Than Knowledge”.  I took a picture of it with my phone, but sadly that went swimming in the gulf a while back (another story).  But the quote stayed with me.

We live in a “pro-knowledge” society.  We emphasize knowledge.  We want our kids to go to college.  And not just any college, we want them to go to the best school possible.  And it doesn’t stop there.  We emphasize learning on our jobs and send our employees to a variety of technical and business classes.  All in part of infusing them with “knowledge”.

On the other hand, we often stifle creativity.  We force kids to master standardized tests.  We remove or reduce arts from education.  We take the creative air out of so many things that we do.

Now this may sound like some wacky, left-wing. touchy-feely liberal thinking.  But those of you that know me know that I am far from that.  As I’ve spent the past few years outside of traditional corporate bureaucracy and worked in a small business, I’ve grown to understand the overwhelming power of creativity.

Whether it is coming up with a creative solution to inexpensively resolve a network problem, deal with an employee or resource challenge, or invent the next big thing that will transform your business, creativity is key.

Steve Jobs didn’t create the iPhone and the iPad because of “knowledge”.  He, and every other innovator of our day took their knowledge and took it to an entirely different level because of creativity.

Adapt or Die

I had the opportunity this weekend to spend time with three missionary families.  Each of these families serve God in unique ways in different areas of the world.  Each faces their own specific challenges and have adapted their ministry model to best fit the situation they are in.

One serves an impoverished inner-city where drugs and poverty have led to a corrupt crime-riddled culture.  Divorce rates are very high and fathers have held very little accountability to their wives and children.  Their mission approach is to focus on supporting men and women in small groups.  By increasing accountability, they have seen a dramatic improvement in the families they minister to.

Another mission team servers an impoverished rural nation.  They face many of the same cultural challenges (drugs, teenage pregnancies and split families).  However, in their situation the families are often struggling to meet their minimum daily needs.  These missionaries focus on meeting their most basic needs first, then teaching them the gospel.

The third team works in a domestic mission area where the people they minister to have become very disenfranchised by the church.  They have a synical view of Christianity and the baggage that comes along with it.  They are having to show them what authentic Christianity is all about.

What do these missionaries all have in common?  They have come to the realization that mission work is not a one-size-fits-all solution.  Each have adapted their approach to meet the needs of the people they minister to.  By meeting their specific needs, they are opening many more doors than if they followed a textbook method of mission work.

The lesson for us is that whatever your mission – whether work, church or any other organization – you need to adapt to the needs of those you are trying to reach.  Whether that is customers or consituents, the old adage “adapt or die” rings true.

What a difference a year makes

Last year at this time I was at the beginning of a new stage of my career.  After an unexpected layoff and the first time not being employeed in nearly a quarter-century, I found myself in an unfamiliar place. 

I had spent my entire career working in IT shops of large corporations.  Three Fortune 500 companies had been my place of employment over 24 years.  Now I found myself in a company that was smaller than the departments I had been in.  Everything about this job was different.  The type of work, the type of company, the type of boss, the type of people, the type of office…. you name it, it was new to me.

I decided that I was going to go into it full bore, roll the dice, and just see what happened.  What I found was a job that has given me more fulfilment, more fun, and more excitement than anything I experienced in the corporate world. 

What has made this so much fun?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • The ability to trace my actions straight to the bottom line of the company.
  • The ability to make decisions without multiple levels of review, oversight and second-guessing.
  • The ability to get out of the box and be creative, harnassing the entrepreneur in each of us.
  • The ability to step out of your comfort zone and lead in various capacities (my role has expanded beyond IT into almost every aspect of the business).

Bottom line, I believe the fundamental thing that has made this job enjoyable is the ability to make a difference!  I’ve heard before that the number one thing employees want from their employers is appreciation.  No greater apprecation can be found than to believe you make a difference in an organization.

My encouragement for anyone going through an unexpected job change is to keep your eyes open.  You never know where your next opportunity will come from.  And no matter how different it may feel to you, it may end up leading to the most fun you’ve had (on the job) in a long time!   Good luck and God Bless!

Real leaders don’t take the easy way out

If you know me at all, you probably know that I am an avid supporter of Boy Scouts.  I’ve been part of the scouting movement almost my whole life.  I’m an Eagle Scout and the father of an Eagle Scout.  A couple of years ago, after serving as Scoutmaster of a troop I launched, I decided to step down from the day-to-day interaction of serving at the troop level and try to find another way to help scouts.  I ended up serving as our district’s advancement chairman.  In this role, I interact with scouts on a regular basis who are working on becoming Eagle Scouts themselves.  It’s a very rewarding role, but not one without it’s frustrations.

One thing that frustrates me to no end, is when a scout comes to me with an idea for an Eagle Scout Leadership Service Project, that is clearly not up to the standards we have set.  Let me explain.  The project (or ESLSP) is like the “capstone” course of your college program.  It’s that opportunity for a young man to take all the leadership skills he has developed over the years and apply them in a very real, meaningful way, by providing service to his community.  There is no set number of hours that he must fulfill, only that he must demonstrate leadership.  There are a number of parameters that further define what is allowed and not.

So, here’s where the frustration comes in.  On a rare occasion I’ll have a young man come in with an idea that’s just “good enough”.  On the surface it meets the criteria, but it doesn’t really do anything to challenge him.  It’s quite obvious when you talk to him that he’s just trying to get by.  In fact, I’ve had a few boys actually tell me that this is what they were doing.  (I guess you can say “at least their honest”.)

Unfortunately, what I see in these boys (albeit a small subset of the onesI work with), is something that’s all to common in society and the workplace today.  People look for just “good enough”.  Good enough to meet the customer requirements.  Good enough to pass the minimum standard.  Good enough to make the minimum return on investment.  Good enough to finish on time, but not ahead of time.

Do you see that as much as I do?  I’m sure you do.  It’s very frustrating whether it’s on the job or in other environment. 

Real leaders don’t do this.  Real leadership involves taking on a challenge and delivering “above and beyond”.  I’m not looking for leaders that can meet expectations.  I’m looking for leaders that will blow away expectations. 

The world is full of people willing to get by.  If you want to make a different – on the job, in your family, in your church or other organization, take the mantle of leadership and don’t look for the easy way out.  Challenge yourself and those around you to blow away expectations and deliver far more than what’s expected.  That’s what real leaders do.

Dealing with Fear? We all need a little love….

This is the third post regarding this topic.  Using the 1 Corinthians model of “what’s important in life”, I’ve learned to apply those concepts to dealing with the fears that life brings us. 

Fear is closely related to worry.  “Worry is a cycle of inefficient thoughts whirling around a center of fear.  Worry doesn’t empty tomorrow of sorrow, it empties today of its strength”, according to Corrie Ten Boom, Holocaust Survivor

When you are dealing with fear, such as that caused by the loss of a job, you have to recognize that one of the most important things you need is a loving, supportive group of family and friends. 

Trying to get through tough times on your own is the worst of all approaches.  It’s really common for those of us of the “male persuasion” to try to muscle up and take things on “like a man” and suffer through the tough times.  But the truth is, we all need support.

But beware, it’s difficult to build this support system when you are in the frays of dealing with a problem.  Therefore, it’s important to build this before you face the need.  And, since you never know when you are going to hit a rocky spot, you need to begin now! 

The key to building your support system is to build your personal and professional network.  Fortunately, there are many tools today to help you do this.  Social networking tools, like Linked In and Facebook, are great ways to help build a record of your network.  But remember that it doesn’t stop at the keyboard.  A true network is comprised of both in-person and virtual relationships.

Last year when I was out of work, I made it a personal goal to network with at least two people per week on an individual basis.  I also tried to attend at least two networking functions per week.  Add that to the online networking I was doing, and I was building a network that not only helped get me through the rough times, but many of whom are still part of my network today.

So, my advice to everyone is to cultivate and grow your personal network.  There’s no better time than today.  Then, when you need them, they’ll be there.

Dealing with Worry? Hope, Hope, Hurray!

In my last post I talked about the need to have faith to get through the challenges in life.  Worries and fear are inevitable, but how we deal with them is entirely up to us.

Using the 1 Corinthians 13 model, I am proposing an age-old solution for getting through the rough spots.  After you have faith, the next item in the recipe is hope.  In the Old Testament, Jeremiah was faced with some pretty tough times.  How did he survive?  He turned his eyes on God, he kept the faith, and he held fast to hope.  He wrote “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him”.

Hope is a wonderful tool.  Hope springs eternal, we say.  Hope is all about having an optimistic attitude.  You don’t have to be a Christian to have hope.  We can all hope for a better job, a better lifestyle, or for even that perfect someone to come along.

When we’re facing tough times, faith is the first thing you need.  You need to find something to believe in.  That’s your rock.  That’s what you hold on to.  But once you have that established, you need to turn your thoughts to the future.

Imagine a better place, a better way, a better job.  Having hope is all about picturing yourself where you want to be, not where you are.

If you do this, you’ll find yourself thinking about yourself in that situation.  In this way you are positioning yourself in your mind for that better situation.  It’s a great way to get your mindset right for that new job or opportunity. 

So, have a little faith, and then hope, hope hurray.