Character Counts For Something, Right?

“Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

John Wooden   as quoted in How to Be Like Coach Wooden: Life Lessons from Basketball’s Greatest Leader (2006) pg. 5

I hate getting wisdom from athletic coaches.

As  a boy, I was rather non-athletic and I lived in a rural area where most boys were “real” boys who enjoyed hunting and fishing, were rugged and strong, and enjoyed the heck out of team sports.

Since I was “none of the above”, I felt a little out of place.   A little time in the Army cured me of the delusion that I could not become stronger and more rugged and a long period of running 5Ks, 10Ks, and longer races did help me see myself as somewhat athletic.   

But that’s not the point of this post.

Wooden points out a great reality:   You control your character, but you do not control your reputation.

Reputation is in the mind, but not yours

Your reputation is in the minds of other people.  You can influence, you can manipulate, you can campaign, you can try to trick, but ultimately those other brains still function independently of you.

Good thing to keep in mind about a great many life issues.

Character is all in your head

Character is built on what you think, what you say, and what you do … all of which are in your span of control.

Character is visible to other people, at least in part, so your overt behaviors may influence how someone else regards you.  Just remember you cannot control that regard, only influence it.

Character ultimately has more to do with how you view yourself and your world.

   Character really is all in your head.

Trying hard to remember this one because it’s important in the Heartland ….


Try, Try, Try Again …

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Thomas A. Edison note:  Commonly attributed to Edison and certainly in-line with his tone and things he often spoke about.

First , Edison’s statement is one of great optimism

Many people view failure as … well, as failure.  Failure is a negative state, a loss, a set-back, a “fail” in the current culture.   

Our society tends to idolize winners and ignore or even castigate losers.  For proof, see most advertising. 

Optimism, especially in the face of failure, might be seen as either a total disregard for reality or a sign of inner strength.  It can be either, depending on the person.

Second, Edison is a phenomenal failure

Based on Malcolm Gladwell‘s idea in Outliers that we need to do something for 10, 000 hours to become a “phenom” or expert at it, Edison is apparently a phenom on failing:)

Just because you do something a whole bunch does not always make you what you do.

You are more than what you do.  You are more than what others see.  Only you knows the completeness of you.

Third, the value of failing is only as high as what you do with your failure.

Edison used what he learned from all those failures to continue to learn and to seek new ways that worked better than before.  

Maybe Edward Deming got his concepts from examples like Edison, who appears to personify continuous improvement.

Bottom Line:

As leaders, managers, or just someone trying to make a difference, we should develop the ability to persist.  Take the mistakes and the setback as learning experiences, and not personal disasters.

If you can create a culture where failure is not just tolerated, but viewed as a learning strategy, you will do well.

Learning tons of stuff from all the failures I’ve had in the Heartland ….


Of Stupidity and Genius …

“The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits.”

Albert Einstein  As quoted in And I Quote (2003) pg. 146

Sometimes our thoughtful and intelligent approaches put barriers in front of  us that the less thoughtful do not see.

How and when could either of these be positive?

Limits are good things when they help keep us focused, safe,and using our energy in effective ways.

Not having limits is good when you need to create, vision, and innovate.

How and when could either of these be negative?

Limits are “limiting” when they blind us to possibilities and keep us locked into known or traditional ways of approaching issues and changes.

Not having limits gives us so many options that sometimes we stop in our tracks and cannot move forward, simply because we cannot focus enough to choose a specific direction.

Maybe it all depends on what you want to do …

Checking my limits and deciding whether to honor them or ignore them in the Heartland ….


Professional Is As Professional Does …

“What A Professional!”

“Professional” has multiple meanings in our culture. 

When you use the term, you might be referring to:

1)  A doctor or a lawyer ~ including both medical and non-medical doctors.

2)  A member of the college-educated workforce in general. All those MBAs, MFAs, MAs, MSs, MATs, BSs, BAs, and BSEs.  Did I leave anyone out?

3)  A “lady of the night” or “courtesan” for those of gentler sensibilities. 

4)  Someone who is really skilled at a particular trade or service, especially if a license or certificate is required to do that trade or service.

We tend to use the term in  a positive manner, except maybe with regard to number 3 above.  Let me add one more to the list:

5)  Anyone who serves in a leadership or management role, regardless of career field, education, or anything else.

We tend to forget that our managers and our leaders are professionals, even when they do not have a college degree and their office is a plant floor, the tailgate of a truck, or the cockpit of an armored troop carrier.

Professionalism is not conveyed by a title, a degree, or a position.  It comes from behavior.

So what behaviors should characterize a professional?  Here’s my list.  A professional …

Leaves Their Ego At The Door

Work should not be a competition between competing personalities, but a collaboration of people who realize that “We” is stronger than “I”.

This means actually listening to others, getting their input, objectively evaluating and responding to what they offer, and sharing the work, the credit, and sometimes the blame honestly and appropriately … you know, all those things you want other people to do with you.

If your workplace resembles “Game of Thrones“, you have a special challenge ahead.  Staying above the fray is sometimes difficult and may result in personal loss on your part . . . See next entry.

Always Does the Right Thing . . . Always

Nothing excuses unethical behavior … nothing.  The trick here is to have developed a well-tuned system which helps you make ethical decisions, both small and large. Professional organizations often provide codes of conduct and ethical decision-making processes, which can be quite helpful

Too many people try to wing this one or rely on the average standards for their industry …Don’t.  Being ethical is NOT about meeting standards, but about going way beyond them.

Ethics is also not about “bottom line” or outcomes.  Doing the right thing is the goal, not the means to some other end.

Knows Their Job

Often the first thing we think about when identifying the professionals among us.  The problem is that we too often identify the wrong job skills.  We find the absolute best caller in the call center, the top salesperson, and the most eager customer service representative … then promote them into a leadership role for which they may not be ready.

Treats Others With Respect Regardless of Position

Two quick definitions here:
Respect” –  treatment of another which conveys an acknowledge of them as a person with thoughts, ideas, concerns, and dreams, and not a simple clog in a machine with no other existence.

“Position” – the rank or title which the person holds.  Even in a hierarchy or other formal structure, you are still dealing with human beings, who come complete with abilities, skills, knowledge, motivations, pains, worries, and a life already lived.  Consider that every single person with whom you interact shares one important thing with you:  Both of you are dealing with a fellow person.

If the above is too wordy, just remember this:  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”)

Is Continually Learning More 

Well, you knew I would add this one, right?   How can anyone keep up a professional level of knowledge or present a professional image if they are not constantly learning new things.  I might add that I am not talking just about knowledge in their field or career.  Maybe I should have said “Has a curiosity about learning new things”.

When someone learned their last new thing many years ago, you might call them  “boss“,  “sir“, and even “professor” … but the odds are against you ever calling them a professional.

Shares Knowledge Easily With Others

“Knowledge is good”, as the founder of the college I wish I had attended says.

Knowledge unshared is just taking up valuable brain space“, as I say.

Professionals do not hoard their knowledge, counting the bits of information like gold doubloons.  They share it freely and nurture the growth of knowledge in others.

When we help others grow, we grow.

Well, that’s my list for what characterizes professional behavior.  What did I get wrong?  What did I miss?

Reviewing my own qualifications to be called professional and finding “room for improvement” in the Heartland ….


Coaching … Sliced Bread or Snake Oil?

For a profession that did not exist anywhere but in a gym or sports arena just a few decades ago, professional coaching is certainly in the limelight these days.

We have coaches for almost every type of endeavor or environment, it seems.  Every time I am around professional (certified) coaches, I receive many offers to help me sort out my life.  My cynical side prompts me to ask “Who helped people before coaching?”

The answer, of course, is that helping using what we now call coaching techniques, has always been part of our professional and personal development. The skill-sets of coaching were not invented in the past thirty years, just the idea of professionally identifying oneself as a coach.

Of course, sports coaching has existed for a very long time and some of the strategies now popular for life, executive, career, and other current coaching areas were originated and refined by athletic coaches.  That said, I do not consider most sports coaches in the same category with professional life or business coaches, which is where my comments are directed.

Disclaimer:  I have a love/hate relationship with professional coaching.  This post includes no citations of other sources – just me sharing some thoughts as someone who identifies as a coach as part of my professional repertoire. Continue reading