United Airlines’ Trust Problem

United Airlines Logo Meme

United Airlines does more than break guitars (see this story from 2009 for background). They can break the spirit of passengers, too. A United passenger flying from Chicago to Louisville on Sunday was randomly selected to be asked to leave the plane. He was one of four passengers asked to leave to accommodate United employees who needed to get to Louisville. The passenger refused and eventually police dragged him from the plane. Video of the horrific incident has garnered millions of views. Public outrage against United has been overwhelming, both for the actions to remove the passenger as well as the lame responses of United CEO Oscar Munoz in the aftermath.

The last thing needed is another armchair quarterback piece about what United Airlines, the police, or the passenger did wrong or could have done differently. I am confident enough of those pieces already exist. So, what is left to talk about? How about where United Airlines goes from here. Its stock took a beating early in the week as video went viral of how United treated a passenger in response to a problem it created by overbooking the flight. United Airlines’ market value dropped by $800 million due to negative publicity from the incident. That number is not insignificant, but it may be the least of United’s worries.

What a Brand Really Is

Marketers become enamored with the identity aspects of branding—name, logo, color scheme—and lose sight that customers are not interested in any of that. My friend Colby Jubenville likes to say that “brands are promises delivered in experiences.” I love that definition of a brand. The meaning (promises) and value (experiences) are what matter to buyers. Brands waste a lot of effort and audience’s time talking about themselves. You’re great, we get it. Now, tell us what is in it for us to do business with you.

The promises and experience the flying public takes away from the passenger being dragged from the plane will not sell many seats… at least not on United flights. I am sure United Airlines has thousands of committed, professional employees. Unfortunately, their work is now tarnished by colossal missteps in handling the situation as it unfolded and spinning it after the fact. United must engage in some soul-searching and articulate exactly what its promises are to customers.

It Comes Down to Trust

Expensive branding and marketing campaigns can be stripped down to an essential question: Do customers trust us? We are funny creatures in that we prefer to do business with companies that we like and trust. In a personal relationship, inability to trust another person is grounds for ending the relationship. We approach business relationships no differently. Choice exists for many products and services we buy. We do not have to put up with shoddy service or inferior product quality. Ironically, airlines might be one industry that is an exception. Consolidation has reduced competition and customer choice. Thus, you might be forced to fly United even if in principle you would rather not do business with the company.

As I see it, United Airlines has a major trust problem it must address. There is no reason to doubt United can execute on promises related to safely transporting passengers. However, seeds of doubt have been planted as to whether United can do the right thing when it comes to taking care of customers. United can be the safest air carrier in the world, but if customers do not have confidence that the company will do the right things it will not matter. Any corrective action taken by United Airlines must have restoring trust in the brand at the forefront.

Change the Plan, Not the Destination

Notes and notebook

Are you a planner, someone who loves coming up with detailed instructions for completing a project or goal? Plans are essential maps that give direction to reaching a desired destination. Without a map (plan), you might reach where you want to go. However, it will be a trip full of uncertainty, and you might end up somewhere other than the intended endpoint.

Plans are essential for goal achievement. Whether you want to lose 10 pounds or run a marathon, you must have a method for getting to the desired outcome. The problem is we can become discouraged when things do not go according to plan. Before you know it, the weight loss goal has been abandoned or we decide to leave marathon running to others. We let flawed plans dictate a change in goals.

This week, reflect on progress toward goals you have set. If you are not moving toward the goal, the problem could be the plan in place. If the plan is not working, rethink the plan before tossing the goal.

If the plan doesn't work, change the plan but never the goal. - Anonymous

The Plan is the Problem…

Lack of progress toward achieving a goal can be discouraging. You see a path to reach a goal, make a plan for goal achievement, but like a nightmare road trip you never arrive. More times than not, the reason for failure to arrive resides in the plan. Possible shortcomings of the plan include:

  • Unrealistic time frame. We underestimate the amount of time needed to effect change or complete tasks needed to reach a goal.
  • Lack of knowledge. A plan might be doomed to fail because of not enough information or experience to craft an effective plan. If you want to start a business but have no experience, your launch plan could be incapable of getting your business idea off the ground.
  • Lack of support. A plan can be sabotaged by others who are less interested in your goals. They may even want you to fail because success would put you ahead of them.

Or It Could Be the Goal

I embrace the spirit of the idea “change the plan but never the goal,” but it could be a situation where avoiding “never” or “always” applies. It is possible that the goal is the problem. If your goal is actually more like a dream, no plan will help you. The commitment to learn, grow, and even fail is probably not there. Other possibilities for a misguided goal could be:

  • It is someone else’s goal. As a college professor, I have encountered many students over the years who selected a major based on their parents’ desires. It is hard to be effective (or happy) when you are pursuing an outcome someone else wants to reach. You have to own a goal to engage in meaningful pursuit of it.
  • It does not align with passion. Your goal might arise from a fantasy-like vision. The idea of writing a book or vision of being an entrepreneur are fun to imagine. The work and rejection involved in those pursuits—not so much. Certain aspects of pursuing a goal can be a turn-off, particularly when you do not have a strong emotional attachment to the goal.
  • It is the wrong goal. You must acknowledge this possibility. Repeated failure or setbacks could be a sign that you are chasing the wrong thing. For example, if you fail a real estate agent exam once you might benefit from changing your plan. Do you need to study more? Use different prep materials? Meet with a mentor? But, if you fail the exam several times it could mean you are not meant to be a real estate agent.

Not So Fast

It would be naive to always stick with a goal no matter what. Sometimes, goal abandonment or revision is necessary. What this week’s One to Grow On quote encourages us to do is not give up on a goal too quickly. We owe it to ourselves to first determine if changing the plan will overcome a setback in pursuing a goal. While giving up or changing goals can seem like the practical thing to do, it can be the wrong thing to do.

A final thought on adapting plans. A mentor can be invaluable in discerning if the reason you are falling short in goal achievement is the plan or the goal itself. You owe it to yourself to get outside perspective.

Time: A Nonrenewable Resource

hourglass

Wow! Look at the calendar. First quarter 2017 has come and gone. In what might seem like a blink of an eye, we will be toasting the arrival of 2018. How are you faring in making progress toward goals or resolutions you set three months ago? Do you feel like you are moving forward or treading water? Lack of progress toward achieving a goal can be frustrating, but it is not something over which we should beat up ourselves. However, failing to manage time is a shortcoming for which we must hold ourselves accountable.

This week, reflect on how you spend your day. Time is a precious resource, one that cannot be extended. Everyone gets the same 24 hours. Benjamin Franklin observed that lost time is just that—lost. Accomplishing more entails becoming a better steward of our precious time resources.

Lost time is never found again.

Where Does Time Go?

Are you proactively managing how you spend time? I often hear the lament “I don’t have time to…” nearly everything under the sun. The missed opportunities include not being able to:

  • exercise
  • read or study
  • nurture relationships
  • do chores or housework
  • get enough rest
  • pray or worship
  • enjoy a hobby

There is a lot we cannot do, at least according to our own version of events.

The activities listed above represent some of the things you want to do or in some cases, must do in the course of a day. Yet, we know all of the “want to” and even some “must do” things do not get crossed off our To Do list. Who or what gets in the way?

  • Ourselves. We are our own worst enemy and main culprit for stealing time. At an extreme, we fail to prioritize how we spend time and wander through the day with no self-discipline. An even worse outcome is that we know how to set priorities, but we do not follow through on the plan. The result is similar in that we fall short of what we are capable of accomplishing.
  • Others. Demands are placed upon us by children, parents, bosses, friends, all of the people important to us. We can manage impositions by saying “no” to requests that compete with existing obligations, that option is not always possible. We must carve out time to serve others.

Resource Management

Effectiveness and time management go hand-in-hand. My ability to get things done is highly correlated with being intentional about how I spend the day. I perform best when I manage time resources at macro and micro levels.

  • Macro. Set goals. I could stop there, but goals are invaluable for giving direction to how I spend time. Goals represent destinations I wish to reach. That information is a starting point for plotting how to get there.
  • Micro. I break down goals into weekly and daily activities to do in pursuit of them. I spend time on Fridays planning the next week. Similarly, I do not want to start a day without a To Do list in hand. Beginning the day by waking up and saying “now what?” is not ideal. Many productivity tools are available; check this list of five such tools. I use Toodledo to keep projects and required tasks organized. It does not matter what you use as long as you have a system in place.

Take Charge

We do not always have control over how we spend time, but we can minimize time controlling us by committing to control that precious nonrenewable resource that is time. Q1 2017 may be gone, but now is the time to head off regret of lost time in Q2 and beyond.

Image credit: Flickr- giulia gasparro, Creative Commons license

Becoming Known the Key to Personal Branding Success

Known book cover

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be famous (assuming you are not already famous)? Celebrities and their lifestyles fascinate us. I once saw a “person on the street” interview in which a teenage girl said her career goal was “to be famous like Paris Hilton.” Fame has become a career path, apparently.

You may have no desire to become famous like Paris Hilton, but you can aspire to be something even more important: known. That idea is at the heart of the latest book by social media marketing expert Mark Schaefer. His sixth book is Known: The Handbook for Building and Unleashing Your Personal Brand in the Digital Age. Schaefer knows a thing or two about being known. He is recognized, err known, as an authority on blogging, content marketing, and social media marketing. His {grow} blog has legions of followers, and his podcast “The Marketing Companion” (co-hosted with Tom Webster) is billed as “the most entertaining marketing podcast”—and delivers on that claim.

A Fix for Bad Personal Branding

You can find a lot written about personal branding… and a lot of it is crap. Oh, you can find plenty of blog posts sharing the five or seven steps to building your personal brand. The problem is the task of building a brand is such a monumental task it cannot be tackled in a 600 word blog post.

Another shortcoming of most works on the topic of personal branding is that they are heavy on what you should do but light on how to do it. In Known, Schaefer overcomes both of these limitations. The book has the needed depth to walk anyone through the process of positioning and communicating your brand. Moreover, application exercises throughout the book enable you to gain personal brand clarity.

Becoming Known

Known is the culmination of extensive research and interviews with people who are where those of us reading the book aim to reach: being known. Schaefer distills his research into becoming known by identifying four critical factors.

  1. Finding your place (what it is you want to do and can do consistently)
  2. Finding your space (an “uncontested niche” to be differentiated)
  3. Finding your fuel (creating content in an “open space that reflects your interests and personality)
  4. Creating an actionable audience (activating responses through engagement, networking, and influence).

Schaefer’s presentation is so effective, it is tempting to say “it’s that simple.” OK, becoming known is not as easy as 1,2, 3, 4. It is hard work and requires persistence, themes that appear regularly throughout the book. But, the blend of concepts, how to, and case studies of people who have succeeded in communicating their personal brand’s value indeed make Known a personal branding handbook.

Best of the Best

So what are my takeaways from Known? Here is the list:

  • Be wary of following your passion. It is advice espoused by many personal branding and career experts. Instead, Schaefer advocates focusing on a “sustainable interest” that can connect your brand to the well-being of others.
  • While you seek to stake out an uncontested niche (i.e., your space), you do not have to be the first person there. First-mover advantage can be just that, an advantage. However, history reminds that being first does not equal being the greatest (think Atari video games and Commodore PCs).
  • Content is the fuel to become known. People may come to know you, but it will happen because they know your content, first.
  • Never publish content that can be created by someone else. Lack of distinctive content puts one on a fast track to anonymity.
  • Audience is the fire created by fuel (content). It is not enough to create great content. An audience must be aware of it, relate to it, and accept it.

Now What?

A drawback to many business books is that it is difficult to maintain momentum from ideas taken from a book. If that happens after reading Known, it will be our own fault. Why? The key to being known is consistency. Managing the four areas of your brand (place, space, fuel, and audience) is an ongoing concern. Consistency is a must. It will not come from a book, blog, conference, or other person. It’s our turn to become known.

Allow Fear to Motivate, not Dominate

winner's medal

March is one of my favorite months of the year. Yes, warmer temperatures and later sunsets signal that summer is around the corner. But, there is something else that excites me about March: the NCAA basketball tournament. March Madness has become a fixture in American popular culture. Fan frenzy spills over into restaurants, bars, and yes, even workplaces. The games offer inspiring storylines about teams, players, and coaches. And, the games themselves are high caliber basketball contested by teams all seeking to be crowned national champion.

The all-out effort given by the teams competing in the NCAA basketball tournament comes to mind when reading the quote below from Robert Kiyosaki, an author best known for his book Rich Dad, Poor Dad.

The 68 teams selected for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament should fear losing. Why? The reality is that 67 of the 68 teams will be classified as losers. They will fall short of the ultimate goal of being national champions. Only one team (Gonzaga, North Carolina, Oregon, or South Carolina), will leave the basketball court on April 3 knowing the excitement of winning this year’s tournament. Yet, watching games over the last 13 days it is clear to me that teams have not feared losing, regardless of their opponent.

Play Now, Lose Later

Teams in the NCAA tournament have impressed me with their determination and refusal to give up no matter the score or situation. As a fan watching games on TV, it is easy to sit on the couch and proclaim “game over” when one team takes a seemingly insurmountable lead. Both teams know a loss means their season is over, yet maximum energy is expended from start to finish. They cannot be bothered right now about the prospect of losing. They play the game with maximum effort. If they win, the thrill of winning is experienced. If they lose, a  sense of “let’s cross that bridge when we get there” is the mindset observed among the teams.

Fear: Healthy and Harmful

Robert Kiyosaki’s quote encourages us to not let fear rule in our pursuit of success. A certain amount of fear can be used to your advantage. The teams in the NCAA basketball tournament know that one loss spells the end of the season regardless of how well they play or how successful the season has been up to that point. Fear of losing can create urgency to perform at peak levels and do so now.

Fear can also be debilitating. It can rob us of the joy found in doing everyday activities, negatively impact performance, and even change our outlook toward probability of success. No one sets out to sabotage themselves by letting fear get in the way of accomplishment. Yet, it happens regularly, and we become our own worst enemy.

Find Joy, Respect Fear

I am grateful for Robert Kiyosaki’s thoughts on balancing the joy of winning with the prospect of losing. Going forward, I want to emulate the intensity and focus shown by teams in the NCAA basketball tournament. They all have played to win, not played to avoid losing. All but one team will lose in the end, but their chase for a championship is not overshadowed by fears about losing. Besides, you do not get to the NCAA basketball tournament without having had your fair share of success. Teams have already felt the joy of winning by making it to the Big Dance.

Listen for Complaints instead of Eliminating Them

 

listen
Image credit: Ky-Flikr (Creative Commons license)

Constructive criticism can be a two-edged sword. On one hand, feedback received can make us aware of weaknesses or shortcomings we do not recognize. Taking corrective action enables us to improve, potentially benefiting both ourselves and the people we serve. On the other hand, criticism can sting. We are not always comfortable hearing about our failings or how we are not performing to expectations. We have to remind ourselves that when criticism is directed at us we can use it in a positive way.

Social media gives businesses the greatest listening tool since the shopkeeper’s own ears. Interacting with customers on social media enables a business to get a better read (literally) on what customers are thinking. In turn, social media enables immediate response to them. So, why would a business not want to take advantage of the platform afforded customers through social networking sites?

Stifle Yourself—No

An interesting case of how to deal with customer feedback for a business is reacting to customer reviews. Many people will go online to post a review in extreme cases. They either had a wonderful experience or a dreadful one. Who doesn’t love positive feedback from glowing reviews? It validates the company’s efforts to serve customers. More importantly, the positive word-of-mouth can impact others’ decisions to do business with you.

Negative reviews can have the opposite effect. Depending on the nature of the complaint and emotions of the reviewer, a negative review can be hurtful to the feelings of employees involved and to the business. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could make negative reviews go away? You can’t, so don’t try.

My middle son received a first-hand lesson in how businesses should not approach user reviews. He ended a lease with an apartment complex because he was going to study abroad for a semester. As he neared the end of his stay, he posted reviews about his experience with the apartment complex. He posted candid reviews based on his experiences in 16 months as a resident.

To their credit, a representative from the apartment complex responded, inviting my son to contact the office. The public move to acknowledge the complaint and reach out to the complainer is good social media practice. Apartment complex management seem to practice it consistently based on a cursory look at reviews (positive and negative).

The line a business cannot cross is attempting to stifle customers’ free speech. The practice is not only unethical, but it is now illegal. The Consumer Review Fairness Act passed last December protects consumers making truthful reviews about businesses. “Truthful” is the key word. Businesses are vulnerable to unfounded statements and claims. They, too, need protections from people who act maliciously by posting false negative reviews.

Don’t Do This

Bottom line for businesses is you cannot shut down free speech in the form of unfavorable customer reviews. A statement like the following sent to my son in a lease termination agreement does not work.

“The Resident Parties agree that neither of them will directly or indirectly, in any capacity or manner, make, express, transmit, speak, write, verbalize or otherwise communicate in any way (or cause, further; assist solicit, encourage, support or participate in any of the foregoing), any remark, comment, message, information, declaration, communication or other statement of any kind, whether verbal, in writing, electronically transferred or otherwise, that might reasonably be construed to be derogatory or critical of, or negative toward, the Landlord. To the extent that any such comment has previously been published to any social media site or otherwise communicated, the Resident Parties agree to immediately remove such reference and take all reasonable actions to ensure that such comment has been permanently removed from such social media site or otherwise.”

Nice try to silence customers; unfortunately it is against federal law.

Listen and Learn

Consumers’ rights to make truthful comments and reviews about businesses have been affirmed by the Consumer Review Fairness Act. It is pointless to fight it. So, how should your business respond when negative reviews pop up (notice it is a matter of when, not if)?

An excellent resource to learn more about how to deal with customer feedback on social media is Hug Your Haters by Jay Baer. A major point Baer makes in the book is “answering complaints increases customer advocacy across all customer service channels” (emphasis added). That outcome is dependent on people having the freedom to make complaints, of course. In short, complaints may begin due to a perceived failure in the customer’s mind but can have a happy ending for both the customer and the business.

Listening Rules

The best communicators without exception excel at listening. Great brands ascend to that status because the people served believe the brand cares about them. Valuing customers and others by listening to their opinions, complaints, and yes, even their rants has a payoff. You cannot build a relationship without two-way communication. Listening is at the core of the brand-customer interaction. Commit to listening and even if the thought of silencing negative voices sounds appealing, forget it.

Learn to Live with “No”

No

The old saying that there are only two things certain in life—death and taxes—should be modified. A third certainty we can expect is rejection. Our world can be turned upside down by a single word: “no.” Thankfully, rejection usually does not inflict emotional pain like death or financial pain like taxes. But, rejection can damage our ego and dent our spirit. Sometimes, rejection stings for only a few minutes, then we move on. Other times, disappointment and anger affect us for years.

Rejection may be a fact of life, but how we deal with rejection can make the difference between bouncing back or getting stuck. This week’s One to Grow On quote from Steve Jobs serves to explain why rejection occurred. Rejection can do less harm to our outlook if we frame a “no” response in a way that maintains proper perspective. Think of Jobs’ statement as a variation of the infamous breakup line “it’s not you, it’s me.” It is less a matter of your shortcomings and more about issues residing with the other person.

Why We Hear “No”

It is a fair reaction to question yourself when rejection happens. Did you say something wrong? Did you offend the other person? What could you have done differently to change the outcome? We can ask these questions and more after the fact. They are part instructional, part therapeutic. You may have a gnawing feeling inside that you could have done something to reach a different outcome. These thoughts are normal, but they will not yield an answer on how the situation could have had a more desirable ending.

When your idea or business proposition is rejected, the root problem is usually traceable to the other person. Some possible reasons for rejection attributable to the other person include:

  • “I don’t care.” The other person is often satisfied with status quo. Your idea would be new in their lives, something with which they can live without having or doing.
  • “I am afraid.” You can be rejected because you rattle cages. The other person is uncomfortable because they know you are right. They need what you are offering, but they are worried about the change they would have to adapt to by accepting your idea.
  • “I am weak.” I doubt anyone would ever cite this reason for rejecting you or your offer, but it could be an underlying problem. They cannot imagine themselves deserving and enjoying the benefits your idea delivers. It is for someone else but surely not them. Their problems run much deeper than anything you said or did.
  • I don’t like you.” I admit it; I was wrong. One reason you hear “no” is personal; the other person does not like you. You are too young (or old), too attractive (or unattractive), too friendly (or aloof), too something for their tastes. Just as a brand like Starbucks does not appeal to all consumers, your personal brand will not resonate with everyone you meet. That fact alone makes rejection normal.

Your Answer to “No”

So how do you respond to rejection? Our comeback to “no” can validate the other person’s beliefs or strengthen our resolve to stay the course. Let’s embrace the latter, shall we? If “no” doesn’t mean I can’t do it, what must I do to take the focus off the rejection? Here are three possible responses.

  • Prove them wrong. Rejection can be a powerful motivator to show someone they were wrong about you or your idea. At the beginning of my academic career, I was passed over for a position at my alma mater. The rejection crushed me at the time, but it also pushed me to become a more productive researcher. I no longer felt the need to prove them wrong once  I realized I could “do my thing” in other places and with other people.
  • Reframe the message. Rejection is not due to an inadequacy about you. The rejection is a perceived lack of need based on information available to the other person. Address this problem by ensuring your message focuses on what is in it for them. People buy ideas because they will make their life better in some way. Some people will still reject an idea positioned as good for them. Others you are losing now could be reached with a clearer answer to the question “what’s in it for me?”
  • Empathize, not sympathize. When people oppose or reject you, do not automatically dismiss them. Understand where they are coming from (empathize), but do not accept their beliefs as your own (sympathize). Who knows—an empathetic response could win them over. At the very least, you maintain beliefs in your idea and can agree to disagree about its utility to them.

A Matter of When

You will be rejected (perhaps even a lot). Rather than playing it safe and avoiding situations in which rejection is possible, understand that a “no” is not about you. More importantly, it is not a verdict against your idea. Rather, it can be a signal to look for opportunity elsewhere.

Become a Master Biscuit Maker

2014 Bojangles Master Biscuit Maker Challenge winner Travis Squire (bojangles.com)

A serving tray liner at a Bojangles restaurant was the last place I expected to get a personal branding lesson. But, I have come to realize that learning is possible in the most unlikely situations. On a recent breakfast visit to Bojangles with my youngest son, my chicken biscuit came with a side of personal branding. More specifically, the tray liner featured winners of the company’s biscuit making competition. At first, I thought the “competition” was a witty means of persuading diners how delicious Bojangles biscuits can be. I quickly realized it was no joke; there are skilled employees practicing the craft of biscuit making at Bojangles.

A Master Biscuit Maker- Really?

The information on the tray liner about the Master Biscuit Maker Challenge intrigued me, so I researched it further. First, the name Master Biscuit Maker is not just something made up for a contest. Bojangles certifies employees as Master Biscuit Makers. The process includes passing a written exam about the company’s 48-step biscuit making process. Second, certified Master Biscuit Makers compete at the store, area, and regional level for a chance to go to company headquarters in Charlotte for the finals. The 2016 competition included 17 finalists representing  a mix of corporate owned and franchise locations. Each finalist received $250 while vying for a grand prize of $2500. Two grand prize winners included one employee one from company stores and one from franchise stores.

Perhaps I am too easily impressed, but the concept of a Master Biscuit Maker kept crossing my mind in the days after my breakfast visit to Bojangles. Could it be envy? After all, my definition of achievement when it comes to biscuit making is successfully popping open a can of biscuits. No, I don’t think it is envy that attracts me to this story. I think it is awesome that Bojangles elevated the process of biscuit making to something akin to a craft. The significance of biscuit making in Bojangles’ brand experience is reinforced by the Master Biscuit Makers certification program.

Working on Skill Set

A takeaway from learning about the Bojangles Master Biscuit Maker Challenge is that skill development is indispensable to personal branding. One of my favorite sayings is “you can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig.” This idea applies to personal branding, too. No amount of tweets, blog posts, or slick web pages can conceal an under-developed skill set. Skills are central to your personal brand Makeup. They are at the heart of your “product” offering.

In the book Me: How to Sell Who You Are, What You Do, and Why You Matter to the World, Colby Jubenville and I devote a chapter to skill set development. A blend of hard skills (i.e., measurable competencies or knowledge) and soft skills (indirectly measurable abilities like critical thinking and communication) are essential to differentiate your brand. Bojangles Master Biscuit Makers invest in strengthening their hard skills by elevating biscuit making from task to craft.

Do the Work

A Chinese proverb says “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now.” When it comes to enhancing the skill set of your personal brand, it could be argued that the best time to develop expertise has passed. The good news is that the next best time is now, followed by tomorrow, and the day after, and so on. Too many people aspire to be the pro or expert. They forget to plan for the 10,000 hour rule that Malcolm Gladwell discusses in his book Outliers. To be among the best in your field requires work… a lot of work. Consistent practice and repetition is where you build your “muscles” in the skill or job you have chosen.

A fierce commitment to skill development can have another positive impact beyond getting better at what you do: It can fan the flames of passion. Despite all of the calls to “follow your passion,” you are more likely to experience a passion awakening by becoming better at what you do. You can be energized by successes, recognition, and especially realization that you are creating value for others.

I am impressed by the commitment and ability shown by Bojangles Master Biscuit Makers. Their story illustrates you do not have to be in a high profile environment to perform at a high level. The kitchen of a quick service restaurant might seem like an unlikely place to find people sharpening skills, but that is exactly what is going on. Bojangles biscuits taste even better knowing the commitment of the company to the skill of biscuit making.

Choose Your Focus or It Will be Chosen for You

hourglass

Time is the great equalizer. For all of the variation existing in resources such as education, experience, and income, the one resource that you cannot multiply is available time. We all have 24 hours in a day with which to accomplish how much (or how little) we want to do. Moreover, time has the upper hand in our lives as we do not know when time will be called and life on earth is over. Time is clearly a precious yet finite resource. Time scarcity makes choices about how we focus our attention and thoughts all the more important.

The One to Grow On quote this week is simple, but it is a message that I often need to be reminded to follow. It is a call to make a priority of people and situations that are truly important and recognize the rest for what they are—less important.

I came across this quote at a time when some of my co-workers were hurting. They did not tell me they were hurting, but they did not have to say a word. Setbacks occurred in projects in which they were heavily invested. They had a right to be disappointed, frustrated, and even angry. It saddened me to see them dejected. It also saddened me to see them stewing in so much negative energy for situations that do not matter much in the big picture.

Recognize the Distractions

It is not too difficult to become ensnared with issues and situations that do not matter much in the long run. We do not set out to do let small matters rob us of growth opportunities, yet that is exactly what can happen. We fixate on small things that do not go as we want, dragging us down to the point it impairs our ability to work on big things. You can cite many explanations for succumbing to these distractions:

  • You want to do right. If you have strong beliefs about how an issue or project should be handled, you may feel led to get involved to do something about it. But, if the outcome does not go your way the personal investment you made can feel like a loss.
  • You want to win. Sometimes, our competitive spirit overcomes us, and we take on a non-priority project or issue because we seek the satisfaction of being on the “right” side of the outcome.
  • You forget there is more than one way. Becoming sidetracked with matters that are not related to your true priorities can occur because we think we have the best solution. You may have the best solution, but is it an issue worth your investment, or will someone else’s solution suffice?
  • You welcome the distraction. If you regularly become distracted by low priority issues and projects, are you seeking them out as diversions? Shifting your focus to tackle a project that is low priority might feel good to you. Perhaps you justify the diversion by convincing yourself it must be handled… by you. The unintended effect can be you spread yourself too thin, causing more important projects to suffer.

Goals = Focus

How can we avoid falling into a dark hole of anger and discontent when something does not go our way? Set goals. Priorities are established when goals are in place. They give focus to how to spend your time, attention, and even your money. Pursuing those outcomes that will contribute to your growth leaves little room for distractions in the form of unimportant issues to creep in to your life.

In the book Me: How to Sell Who You Are, What You Do, and Why You Matter to the World, Colby Jubenville and I devote a chapter to setting goals. The practice of personal branding is pointless without having clearly defined outcomes. In Me, we urge setting goals for different life parts. We are not one-dimensional beings, and your goals should reflect your varied interests. The life parts for which goals can be set include:

  • Career
  • Relationships
  • Wellness
  • Spiritual
  • Financial
  • “Bucket list”

When you set goals for multiple life parts, you set priorities for what is important to you and in turn, demands your focus. You will be too busy to be dragged down by the minutiae of low priority or non-priority matters.

Short Indeed

We are wired for accomplishment. The thrill of achievement is one of the greatest feelings we experience. Realizing achievement and success in the right areas can be easier said than done. Resolve to focus on what matters most and let go of what doesn’t. Life is short, and time is limited. Decide what your priorities will be and enjoy the journey of pursuing goals.

Your Outlook Determines Your Outcome

starry sky

When our oldest son, Chris, was seven years old, he played on a baseball team… a bad baseball team. I know, at that age it should be all about having fun. Parents were not having much fun, though, as the team struggled to improve. The low point of the season was a 19-0 blowout loss. I dreaded the ride home- how would I console my child who had just been on the wrong end of a resounding defeat?

The game is memorable because of something Chris blurted out from the back seat. He exclaimed “that was a great game!” My wife and I looked at each other wondering what game he was talking about. It couldn’t have been the one he just played! Yet, in his mind it was a great game. He never explained why he felt that way, but I am glad he did. Chris’s outlook determined the outcome of the game in terms of its impact on him. Others were keeping score, but he felt a different outcome because of a different view of what made for a great game.

Oscar Wilde quote

Life in the Gutter

I often think of that lopsided defeat Chris’s baseball team experienced and his refreshing take on the outcome. Chris’s outlook is echoed in the words of playwright and poet Oscar Wilde. We are all in the gutter, perhaps not all the time, but we face adversity and setbacks that place us in that gutter. Sometimes, we wonder if it is possible to get up and out of the gutter- a lost job, failed relationship, or unsuccessful business venture- and some people take up residence there.

It is helpful to realize that falling into the gutter is normal and is not a matter of your life being jinxed. They say two things in life are certain: death and taxes. We should add a third thing to the list because adversity will land your doorstep. There is nothing akin to an ad blocker or do-not-call list to keep adversity out of your life. You will take up residence in the gutter. The frequency of visits and length of stay will depend largely on your outlook toward the situation.

Gutter Talk

What is the deciding factor in how things turn out when you find yourself in the gutter of adversity? Your outlook on the situation. As much as you might want to blame a boss, a bully, or the government for your woes, none of them will pull you out of the gutter. No one else has more at stake for you to bounce back than you.

The gutter can be a slimy, unpleasant place. I want out as soon as I realize I’m there. The content of your self-talk can be the difference between looking at the stars or getting acclimated to your surroundings in the gutter. I find three reminders helpful to help pull me out of the gutter:

  1. Being in the gutter is normal. I would be more concerned about someone if they told me they had never faced adversity or felt like they were in the gutter. If you never find yourself in the gutter, you are not trying hard enough!
  2. I’ve been here before. Since being in the gutter is normal, you should expect to find yourself there from time to time. It is an acknowledgement that is easier to make the older and more experienced you are. You can recall setbacks and remember you were able to overcome them.
  3. I have control over when I get out. This point can be the hardest to accept. And, it can also be the hardest to implement. Realizing adversity is normal and that you have felt it before takes self-awareness. Buying in to the idea you have control over managing the effects of the adversity you face is more challenging. Unfortunately, in extreme cases some people refuse to believe they have control. Someone or something wants to keep them down; trying to fight it is futile.

Embrace the Gutter

The words of Oscar Wilde will come to mind anytime I find myself in the gutter of adversity. Being there is not uncommon, but I have an opportunity to craft a unique response to the adversity. It will not only free me, but the response to adversity will shape my personal brand story. While I don’t seek out chances to wallow in the gutter, I will not be fearful when it happens, either. Open your eyes, look up toward the stars, and see the possibilities beyond the adversity.