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July 2013

Add Some Grit to Your Diet

No I did not say "grits". And this is NOT another rant about Paula Dean. :)

I said grit--"The perseverance and passion for long term goals." Or the "abrasive particles or granules that facilitate grinding."

I think both are needed. A persistent attitude that pushes you to practice and to improve. And friction of reality along the way to keep you focused.

So grit plus grit equals success. Grit squared. GRIT

The path to success is a grinding process of honing, of shaping, of refining your skills knowledge and abilities. Without the friction of reality and the dogged persistence.

Grit 1

Deliberate practice, operationally defined as studying and memorizing words while alone, better predicted performance in the National Spelling Bee than being quizzed by others or reading for pleasure. Rated as the most effortful and least enjoyable type of preparation activity, deliberate practice was increasingly favored over being quizzed as spellers accumulated competition experience. 

Deliberate Practice Spells Success:
Why Grittier Competitors Triumph at the
National Spelling Bee Anglea Lee Duckworth et al

 

This grit comes from your heart your commitment to pushing the rock up the hill and understanding the purpose. It is the alignment of your heart and your work. You know when you are out of alignment. You know when you start packing your bag at 4:50pm everyday. You also know when you are energized and exhausted at the same time. This grit can not be purchased. It is acquired and reinforced through your wholehearted engagement. This grit emerges from the work to extract the beauty and meaning from your efforts. 

Does not necessarily or exclusively come from your day job. But you have to exercise and grow your grit muscles. You can get your grit on in your volunteer life, at your church, at your kid's school. Where is your grit and how can you make a bigger part of your life?

Grit 2

One of the most influential ways to re-activate your grit is to dive into the need. When you see how your product and service is used. When you talk to the people who need your solution. When you feel the emotional connection people make to your work, it reconnects you with purpose. "Ahhh, that's why I do this."

Make time to visit your "customers", hear their stories, see their faces, and re-immerse yourself in mission. 

This is grit that wakes you up from the monotony of your routine and your habits. This is the grit with friction that afflicts the comfortable.

It is a virtuous cycle of grit begets grit. To get grit you give grit. 

Got Grit? 

Thanks for reading. John

 


Gluten-Free Alumni Network

I recently attended an informal and delightful gathering of my former colleagues from my previous life as an alumni director at UCLA. It had been about 15 years since we had all seen each other. I learned early in each of my careers: seek out the influencers, the leaders, and the potential mentors in the industry. Connect with the people who will facilitate your education in that field. Alumni work was no different. I found a group of remarkable mentors. These gentlemen continue to be industry thought leaders and helped me define my life beyond my stint in alumni work.

Eustace Theodore at Yale: He taught the importance of understanding your institution's history. He characterized alumni work as continuing a great conversation.

Steve Grafton at Michigan: He taught me that nice guys do finish first. And how to honor traditions and evolve beyond them.

Bill Stone at Stanford: Bill mentored me in many ways, but the value of the words we use to articulate mission may be the most lesson. He also told me, “never have people who make less than you on your compensation committee.” :)

Doug Dibbert at North Carolina: Generously shared his wisdom with me. He humbled me to enjoy the journey more than my career aspirations. Sage advice.

Photo
Doug, me, Steve, Bill and Eustace

 

We ended up meeting up at Roy’s Restaurant in San Francisco where Bill’s wife Debbie Duncan joined us. I opened the menu and saw that they had a gluten free menu. We have recently come to expect this offering as we have become hyper aware of food allergies and celiac in particular. This menu triggered a conversation about Debbie’s gluten allergies, and the precision or the lack thereof, with these “gluten-free” offerings. She warned us that relying on the special menu needs to be accompanied with instructions to the kitchen to insure a more gluten free meal. For those with an intolerance for wheat, gluten can be dangerous.

This reminded us of a story about Bill and Debbie’s daughter Molly. Molly has endured gluten allergies her entire life.

Gluten freeMore than 20 years ago, when celiac and gluten were not in our vocabulary, Bill was commiserating with me about the fate of his daughter Molly. Molly was very sick, not able to eat and was dangerously losing weight. He was a bit emotional, and I could tell that he feared the worse. He asked for my help.

The week before I was at a picnic with some UCLA alumni and a couple of parents were talking about their daughter and how she was not able to eat and lost a lot of weight. They found out that she had “a wheat intolerance”. Once they removed wheat products from her diet she gained weight and was back to normal. I saw her little daughter running around the park as proof of what seemed like a minor miracle to these parents. Never heard of anything like it before.

Back to my distressing conversation with Bill about his “emaciated” daughter Molly. I said, “Bill, I heard about this ailment of “wheat intolerance” over the weekend. I am just repeating what I heard but it sounds strangely like what Molly has.” Bill was desperate to give the stumped Stanford Medical Center team any new leads. “I am going to tell them to check it out.”

Long story short, it was “wheat intolerance”. Today, Molly is a “perfectly healthy” 23 year old.

Debbie turned to me during our dinner, “You saved her life.”

Soon after Molly’s diagnosis, Debbie wrote a MY TURN column in Newsweek entitled, “What’s wrong with my baby?” This was one of the beginnings of the awareness of celiac and the seriousness of gluten allergies. She later wrote a best selling book to help siblings cope with an ailing brother or sister--When Molly was in the Hospital: A Book for Brothers and Sisters of Hospitalized Children.

I did what any friend would do. Tried to help with anything I had—even a bit of well-timed hearsay.

The lesson for me is to speak up and share what I know. Lead by helping people. Connect prople to other experts. Don’t pre-judge what you know or what others know. As Debbie pointedly described in her column, it was hard to believe that the battery of tests conducted at Stanford did not uncover the allergy.

My little water drop of seemingly innocuous advice was one of the many influences to push Debbie to write and help thousands of others---perhaps thousands of Mollys. Ocean drop

I am constantly reminded how much people help me with insights and “obvious” advice. How I try to help others with the same. Very little is universally understood and most people are unaware of where they need help.

I am constantly amazed when people write me or mention words I said that made a difference to them.

When your network asks for help you respond. You give and give generously without expectation.

Say what you are thinking, don’t hesitate. Yes, try to package it in a way that is digestible and palatable. But share what you know and what you see. This is how we help each other.

It could save or change a life. One thing is certain, it will change yours.

Thanks for reading. John


Do You See You? The Meta-Mindful-Mentoring Method

Do we see and hear ourselves? Do we know how we come off? Other people do. But how do we gather, curate, and ultimately utilize these insights and observations to improve?

Heidi Grant Halvorson, author HBR blogger recently wrote:

“If you want to be more successful — at anything — than you are right now, you need to know yourself and your skills. And when you fall short of your goals, you need to know why. This should be no problem; after all, who knows you better than you do?

If we are going to ever improve, we need solid evidence about where we went wrong. Unfortunately, that's the kind of evidence that usually doesn't make it to our consciousness, making self-diagnosis practically impossible. And your own ratings of your personality traits are NOT well correlated with the impressions of other people (who know you well).”

We need help getting the right answers. This is not a DIY exercise. Self awareness

That's why I have 360 degree evaluations everywhere I have led teams. That's why I am such a big advocate of mentoring. You need to actively seek, receive and digest, honest and constructive feedback on a regular basis.  To get an accurate picture of you and the you, you want to be. You have to learn how to see and hear yourself.

It is almost impossible to see yourself, hear yourself, and understand yourself-by yourself. 

The challenge is we get into a mode of talking and behaving  where we are say and do comfortable things or phrases that don’t connect us to the real world at that moment. We are not present and self-aware. Our concentration and focus drifts so easily.

  • I just saw a new and very young magician at the Magic Castle. Her sleight of hand was fantastic, but her verbal routine was stilted, memorized and robotic. She was not feeling the audience she was going through her lines. For example, there was an audience member who was verbally reacting to almost everything the magician said. But the magician ignored him, instead of using him as a foil or engaging him. Technically her magic was terrific. But how does she get feedback? Who tells her how she did? With a little more experience, maybe a few video tapings, and some feedback will free her to see herself and be herself.
  • I interviewed this guy and he was well spoken. Told his story well. Answered my questions confidently but without any emotion or personality. What do I mean? Without revealing himself. There were a number of micro clues about his family, his volunteer work, and his passions, that I was collecting during the conversation. So near the end of the interview, I asked, “What don’t I know about you?” He stared me down for a mini eternity in silence and said, “I think we are good.” Whoa! Now here is someone not able to adlib, veer from the script, improvise, and get real. Here is someone who is not comfortable in his own skin and not very self-aware. His script was excellent but his engagement was horrible. I knew things about him he was not going to share with me! I always look for self-awareness and self-reflection in people I meet.
  • I have an employee who complained how unfair it is to provide the 360 degree reviews for staff outside his dept. "I really don't know what she does. I mean I work with her from time to time but I am in no position to evaluate her." I said to him, "Do you ever review restaurants, and their service on Yelp? Do you recognize good service at a store? I know you are observant and you can make quick accurate judgments and you are telling me you can't review and evaluate one of your colleagues that you worked with for a year? Hmmmmmm" 

Each of us comes to very fast conclusions from the things we observe, experience and encounter. We assign values, preferences, and judgments to OTHERS. We rarely turn this amazing power on ourselves.

Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you're mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and  experiencing that moment. You hear yourself talk. You see yourself act. You  think about the way you think. Mindful

Emotional Intelligence EQ is simply put: “.. the ability to monitor one's and others feelings/emotions and understand them to guide your behavior and actions.” Daniel Goleman 

 According to Goleman there are 5 emotional competencies:

  1. Self-awareness (Knowledge of one’s preferences and intuitions)
  2. Self-regulation (Management of one’s states and impulses)
  3. Motivation (Awareness of your emotional tendencies that guide goal attainment)
  4. Empathy (Awareness of others feelings and needs)
  5. Social Skills (Skill in inducing desirable behavior in others)

I am really focusing on #1, #4 and #5. How does the way you come off genuinely represent you, the needs of others and results in something desirable?

Many sources out there to develop your EQ, your mindfulness. Meditation helps many. I like this post on Overcoming the Obstacles to Mindfulness.  

Once self-aware you develop empathy for others and your ability to lead your life and persuade others increases.

I See You. Do You See You? If we are more mindful and share these thoughts we can start to see ourselves. When we see ourselves we engage others in authentic ways that reflect the time, the moment, the feelings of the others. Your EQ is high. That’s when you make a connection. Not just a transaction for goods and services, but you connect. That’s when networking and mentoring pay off. When you reveal yourself and reveal the needs of others. Then we help each other see our truths, our true selves.

Thanks for reading. John

 


Bonsai and the Elephant

BonsaiI have always admired bonsai as a living piece of art. The idea that you could miniaturize a tree was amazing to me. I visited bonsai gardens as a child and remember seeing a forest of cypress that were under 18 inches tall.

But when I heard Professor Yunus discuss Bonsai People, I started to think about the ways we miniaturize people's potential and their dreams. How we limit our own potential and dreams. How we bonsai others and ourselves. 

As Professor Yunus says, we do build pots around many people. Pots of stereotypes.  Pots of indifference. Pots of our lowered expectations. The poor lack the base or space to grow.

Sometimes well intentioned people try to "help" others by making their goals "more realistic". The parent who tells his daughter not to become an artist because there is no money in it. The college counselor who told me I was not university material. 

These are all root trimming activities. Ways of clipping the potential of another. 

THE STORY OF THE ELEPHANT   The elephant is the strongest animal in the kingdom. But it is very strange  the way circus trainers keep the elephants tied up. Wrapped around the leg of the little baby elephant will be a great big chain; but wrapped around the leg of the huge adult elephant will be a little flimsy rope. The elephant trainer will tell you that after a few months of straining against a big chain, the baby elephant will finally give up. After that, the trainer can replace the big strong chain with a weak little rope, and the elephant never knows the difference. Even thought the adult elephant could snap the rope with one mighty tug of his foot, he never even tries. Why? Because the long months of struggling against the chain have conditioned and convinced him to believe that it's impossible!

What imaginary rope or pot limits your thinking and your pursuit of what you can be?

Some people really believe that "somebody else" will free them from their self imposed bondage. Yes, it does take mentors, colleagues, coaches, sponsors and teachers to show you options, paths and opportunities to break free from the circus trainer and bonsai gardener. You do need a network or truth tellers to give you real feedback. But you have to be open to it.

When the student is ready the teacher appears.  Buddha

Do we maintain the pots we are planted in? Are others to blame for the pot we are in?  Yes society, your DNA and your environment contribute greatly to your pot. But what are you going to do about it? 

Love it or leave it?

Break out or break through? Elephant rope

Stop complaining about the pot or rope the supposedly holding you back. Take control of your career and your life.

Met this kid who grew up in the hood and will graduate from a prestigious private school. He convinced his parents that he needed more education. He got people to support him morally and financially. He is passionate about his future and difference he will make. Hard to count the pots he has broken and grown out of. He wanted more, pursued it, got some help and now can taste it. Nobody will ever miniaturize his dreams again.

In the same week met with a former colleague who has everything. She is well educated has money in the bank and many options. But she is stuck. Her pot has thick and high walls that she imagines. No vision for her future. No desire to improve. Just hoping to get "more". More opportunities and more responsibilities. I gave her advice but it slid off of her teflon coating. She does not want to make an effort to change. She is going to wait for the "right" time. Wow. Easy to predict that she will get root rot and her pot will continue to stunt her growth. A self made bonsai.

There will never be a better time than right now. I don't mean quit your job today, but to take serious and continuous steps to break free from the little rope that has conditioned you to stay put. Not even the proverbial golden handcuffs, but paper handcuffs that are forged from your fears. Your fear of your own potential.

The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.  Michelangelo

As I have said many times big difference between ambitious and ambition. Wanting "more" is way different than going after "more". 

More will not usually come looking for you. And if it does you have to be ready. 

Bonsai are the most cared for, pampered, plants in the world. They are so dependent on this care that they will not succeed without it. Maybe you really like where you are, then stop talking about a different future. Enjoy what you have.  

So either stay in your pot and become a beautiful groomed bonsai. Or get your Shawshank on!

Most people can become bonsai. Great seeds that yearn for the light but find that their pot is comfortable and ultimately restricts their mobility. 

We have an obligation to help others break free of their constraints to grow. And to not miniaturize other people's dreams.

Thanks for reading. John