How my “Perspective” continues to evolve

Life experiences have the biggest impact on my perspective

For years, I have heard others talk about their life journey, or they will ask, “What is your story?” I have never felt like I had an answer, and to this day I feel like my story is evolving. In 2016, my wife, Danielle, and I were able to attend a weekend couples retreat in Colorado called “A Weekend to Remember” with facilitators Dan & Julie Brenton.

The Brenton’s teachings resonated deeply within me. Dan spoke about our past experiences and how they “mark us.” I think about that comment a lot — how do past experiences mark me? Past experiences then shape my future perspective.

Now, as I engage with others, I see how experiences can and DO shape our lives. The problem is, not every experience is one that we want to share our lives. We all have had horrible experiences that we never wish to share publicly. How many people have stories that we can’t, or wouldn’t want to imagine?

Unfortunately, too many!

It took awhile after heart surgery for me to be able to tell everyone about what I had just experienced. Not because I was ashamed that it happened to me but that I couldn’t believe that a 32-year-old could be having open heart surgery. It took TIME to process the event, TIME to get through the pain and rehab issues, and TIME to then realize how truly thankful and blessed I was to have been able to “fix” the problem after having four strokes.

I wanted to share my story so that others would know that during our lives, “bad things do happen.” I wanted my thoughts and feelings to come across in a way that may give hope to others. When I was suffering from anxiety, depression and my health issues, it was the support and hope from others that kept me going. Now, I wanted to give back; I guess you could say pay it forward?

The more I shared my story; the more others started opening up to me with their accounts. I realized that I was going through life talking and not listening. The practice of opening up, being authentic and transparent, made me more aware of others life journey and what has “marked” them.

Continuing to shape my perspective with respect to Time

It won’t all get done today, and I have to be ok with that. I remember so clearly as I walked out of the Hospital with my wife on Sat Apr 13, 2010. 

Coming out of this crazy experience I wanted to get everything done now. I had my first look at death coming to the realization there might not be a tomorrow! I had always been driven, but this experience led me to believe everything needed to get done “today.”

My wife, on the other hand, had an entirely different take. Her perception was life just flashed before our eyes; we need to slow down. We need embrace this time and cherish what we do have.

My impatience and anxiety were more than both of us could handle. I wanted to get back to work as fast as possible and push through any issues that stood in our way. She helped me realize that we need to embrace today and it is a gift. Over the years, I would say we meet in the middle and balance each other. I am thankful for her partnership and support!

 

Looking at life through a macro lens

Every day I seem to overestimate what I can do, just ask my wife. However, when I look back on the year, I am completely amazed at how much we accomplished.

I want to look at the yearly scenario more and not get bothered by the days where boxes go unchecked. AGAIN, losing grandparents, the loss of my nephew, my surgery – – have all given me a greater respect for appreciating each day.

“It is not the years in your life but the life in your years that count” ~Adlai Stevenson

For me, challenging times are when I step back and look at the bigger picture. The last thing I want is a hardship, but many times there are valuable lessons and relationships that come from these!  Yes, we are told to see the bigger picture all the time. For me, I have to be intentional about this process, or small things become my focus. I continue to remember the significant rocks and try not to stumble on the gravel.

Learning to live for the journey and not the destination

I love to cross things off the list. Life is not always like that; it is similar to my faith walk. I continue to learn, grow and move toward a deeper understanding every day. But there is no THERE…

Someone once told me, we are not “journey” people; we are “destination” people. I had never really thought about it before but so many times that is how I live. My perspective is about the destination, but life happens in the margins, and the steps in getting to the destination are just as important.

 

 

In summary, how has my perspective evolved?

The more experiences I encounter, the more my perspective evolves. Some positive, some negative, but I can choose how I respond based on my life perspective. I need to slow down, look at the bigger picture and remember that each day is a gift and sometimes the daily journey is just as important as when we arrive at the finish line.

 

This is how our family can make every step count.

What would I tell my high school FFA self?

This April I was given the opportunity to go back to Colorado to my FFA chapter as their guest speaker for the annual FFA Banquet.  What memories it brought back as I both prepared for the talk and then as the opening ceremonies began.  I heard a young lady recite the Creed with such passion!  To hear the members’ talk of preparing to go to the state competitions reminded me of the hard work these students are going through and the “life lessons” they are about to encounter.

Because this invitation to speak was literally so close to “home”,  I decided I would take the time to write a series of blog posts as an alumnus, who now has a little different perspective on the value of FFA in my life.  When I attended that exact same banquet in 1993, I thought about trophies, awards, and elected offices.  

20 years later I now see how developing soft skills such as public speaking, making critical decisions and trying new things out of my comfort zone were so beneficial!  These life lessons are what I am so thankful for today even though it has taken so many years to fully appreciate.  

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My first Podcast with Tim Hammerich!

I Recently sat down with Tim Hammerich on the Future of Ag Podcast, cool experience!

I recently had the chance to meet Tim Hammerich at AFA (Agriculture Future of America).  We share an interest in Podcasting and he invited me on the show.  It was a lot of fun and the episode is filled with new ideas, tactics, and anecdotes that will both entertain and inspire anyone interested in the future of agriculture.  Hope you enjoy it!

Check out the Future of Ag Podcast and my friend Tim Hammerich ->  Here!

podcast

 

Leadership Strategies in today’s workplace

“Leadership strategies I appreciate and that have allowed me to do my best work.”

Recently I was asked about effective leadership strategies in today’s workplace.  Initially, I was going to describe my goals and objectives in my team leadership experiences.  Upon further reflection, I decided I would structure this post to be, “Leadership strategies I appreciate and that have allowed me to do my best work.”

While I am technically GenX, many times I end up translating for both the Boomer generation and the GenY/Millennial generation.  For example, I enjoy sharing with Boomers how HootSuite can turn 99% of Twitter chatter into meaningful customer insights.  Or sharing with a Millennial that they need to put down the phone and go shake the hand of their customer and engage in conversation.

Some of the best leaders I have worked with/for seem to embody many of the same characteristics which will be described throughout this post.  In my nearly 20-year career, the leadership First Break all the Rulesexamples I reference most are based on the book, “First, Break All The Rules” by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman written in 1999.  This book outlines a list of questions to ask team members leading them to high-performance engagement:

  • Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work?
  • At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
  • In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  • Does someone at work seem to care about me as a person?
  • Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
  • At work, does my opinion seem to count?
  • Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?
  • Are my co-workers are committed to doing quality work?
  • Do I have a friend at work?
  • In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
  • In the last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

 

I have simplified this to three favorite 3 questions I like to ask team members:

  • Are you learning and growing?
  • Are you having fun?
  • Are you leaving the company/role better today than you found it yesterday?

Using these ideas as a beginning framework, below are 13 ways I believe I can be a better leader in today’s workplace.  While these are principles I am personally working on through my leadership style, I thought it might be helpful to share with others. 

DIY (Do it yourself) first. Don’t delegate something you don’t understand – The clearer we can be on project goals and requirements, the better the outcome.  I am reminded of a CRM redesign DIYproject in which it was imperative I understood the system inside and out before asking a team member to lead the redesign.  My role turned from doer to collaborator.  I found that while the result of the project was not exactly how I initially envisioned it, the combined project was higher quality.  Had I said, “go build a new CRM system” and I hadn’t ever used it, I wouldn’t know how to lead the next iteration of the project.

teamworkRally a team versus a cause – Anytime we can get a team rallied around an initiative and work together, the faster we get results.  The reality is that sometimes the relationship is more important than the outcome.  Years ago, while at a small AgTech startup, we had an idea to text out grain bids when the markets rallied.  As soon as we sent the first message out, the phone lines lit up!  The team came together, executed outside of our job descriptions and everyone pitched in to take phone calls and talk to the customer.  We received hundreds of calls in the first hour.  From the CEO to the most introverted software developer, we all turned to customer support in those hectic days because we were cause-driven, not job description-driven.

Work smarter, not harder – In today’s work environment, it is important to spend time on the front end developing a strategy to focus on important things, rather than just doing “stuff” to stay busy.  I remember 1am nights at the .com office early in my career.  I would work in circles doing “stuff” that ended up being irrelevant, but because I was at the office, I thought I was contributing.  My goal years later is to focus on one or two relevant tasks per day and to do those well.  Quality over quantity is now my goal.

Be present – Being accessible to answer quick questions can speed up project work.  This presence also supports ideas referenced earlier from “First, Break All The Rules,” such as encouraging development, monitoring nonverbal communication and building relationships outside the project.

Be intentional with communication styles – There are many times when one email turns into 40 emails that could have been addressed with a five-minute phone call.  We must always ask, “Whatslack vs phone is the right tool for a specific message?” and “How quickly does the message need to be delivered?”  Is this a phone call, a slack message, text or email?  While there is no exact science to “tool selection,” we start to learn which method is most effective for the message recipient.

My “Boomer” style comes out when I receive an IM (Instant Message).  For years, I have fought the urge to just call up the software engineer when he/she sends me an IM.  I would rather give my entire thought process to the engineer verbally, but I realize that is not what he/she WANTS or needs.  The engineer is in the zone and desires quick, concise feedback.  My phone call would only hinder the flow.

Meetings vs Stand-ups – For whatever reason, when a meeting is scheduled, the default time is one hour (thank you Microsoft Outlook?).  We are all conditioned to this 1-hour mentality and then Parkinson’s law takes effect: “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”  Realizing this is a generalization, there are times when more frequent shorter sessions can be more effective.

work smart

Tools have and will continue to evolve – Selection of the correct tool can make all the difference to a team and project.  A recent work example illustrates this point.  The decision was made to move from Microsoft Project to an online tool called Wrike.  Both tools organize projects and timelines, but one is web-based and offers real-time updates while the other is a traditional software install and harder to collaborate in real-time.  Taking the time to select a tool that all team members can engage with is key to today’s communication.

 

Office Design/Setup – There are times when working with groups on software development or projects it is more effective to be located in an open space.  Obviously, this isn’t effective or realistic for all situations, but I have witnessed an open floor plan with many white/scrum boards leading to open communication and higher quality work.  Much of today’s work is agile in nature requiring quick interactions and iterations.  Offices and walls can slow down this type of work.

On the other hand, when I do sit in a bullpen, there are times when I need to lock myself up and think.  In these situations, we must know what type of environment works best for the work that is most important, which leads to my next principle.

Work isn’t just done in an office – Everyday our world gets more virtual.  Team members work from home, customers are mobile and we continually adapt to a more global workforce.  From this standpoint, tools such as Zoom, GoToMeeting, Join.Me, Google Hangouts, or Skype require skills that every team member must possess.  I personally find team member engagement and communication quality increase dramatically when communication moves beyond a conference call to include a screen share and additional visual elements.

9to5Work is no longer just 9 to 5 –  God bless Dolly Parton, but most of us no longer have a 9 to 5 gig.  For example, I do my best and most creative thinking early in the morning.  I subscribe to many of the philosophies of Jeff Sanders’ “5am Miracle” podcast and start my morning with deep thinking and writing.  By the time I get to the office around 8am, I have my day planned and my strategic thinking completed so I can move into execution mode.

Embrace the outside passions of team members – In one of my more recent teams, a couple of team members and I engaged in Fitbit challenges together.  These are weekly challenges in which the objective is to get the most activity steps.  This was a fun and healthy exercise and it brought us together with a common interest beyond the project.  This type of engagement is a great way to build morale and longevity in the project/company.

Be trustologyauthentic in workplace relationships – On Monday mornings, how many times do we all fall back on the “how was your weekend?” question???   That is fine, but if we truly want team members to know that we care about them as people, we must be willing to be vulnerable and talk beyond the kid’s soccer game and the weather.  Trust is difficult and can be complicated among teams.  I am currently studying the book, “Trustology,” written by my friend and colleague, Richard Fagerlin.

Seek to be a lifelong learner – Finally, I have learned from my mentors and leaders that the best leaders keep learning.  You are never there…there is no “There”.  Every day we must read more books, listen to new podcasts and continually open our minds to new ideas.

 

Einstein

 

Back to the Books

about a year ago, I moved back to reading books in hard-copy vs kindle

I have always enjoyed reading different kinds of books.  When I got my iPad, I moved to the Kindle format but it was never the same.  I am a digital person and try to “avoid paper”  but the idea of not being able to take notes and highlight effectively has led me back to reading hard copy books.  I find I get more from reading actual books and will probably implement a hybrid iPad and paper book reading style.  All, that being said, I put an order in for my next round of books and here is what I plan to dig into:

2016-07-16 07 -3

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“The Obstacle is the Way”

10 key learnings

Since 1998, my career has mainly consisted of joining companies that are a start-up in nature and immature in the product acceptance curve. I have been so blessed to work through the productization and commercialization of ideas with amazing mentors and leaders; I can now see how they do much of what is described below. Typically, we hear about the successes/wins, but since there are so many stories of challenges/obstacles I wanted to share some thoughts on this subject.

Recently, I was given the book “The Obstacle is the Way” by Ryan Holiday. This is an excellent book for people dealing with a business/industry challenge or is thinking about big ideas. It helped me process and formalize my strategic thinking. Here are my top 10 takeaways from the book:

1. Turn obstacles into launchpads/ how to deal with hardship. (Page 3)

As I read this section, I was reminded that “the harder the idea, the bigger the opportunity!” The book gives concrete examples from John D. Rockefeller, Thomas Edison, and Ulysses Grant to name a few.

Working in a traditional industry, Agriculture, and introducing new solutions I find there are many reasons new ideas are not quickly adopted. When we turn those ideas/obstacles into launchpads, it completely reframes the situation.  That is one approach I have taken over the last 18 years.

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