Everyone wants to be challenged

“The way to get things done is to stimulate competition. I do not mean in a sordid, money-getting way, but in the desire to excel.” (Charles Schwab)

If you do a Google search on “what makes people happy at work?”, you will get 738 Million results. I didn’t take the time to read them all, but I did browse a few, and I have done some reading on this in the past. One item that seems to come up on many of the surveys and studies that rank among the top factors, is doing meaningful, and challenging work. The wording may vary, but that theme comes up again and again.

Speaking from my own experience I can tell you that I have been most engaged at work, and happiest at work, when I have been involved in projects and assignments that challenged me, and that I perceived as meaningful. Now, what is meaningful can vary from person to person, but what is the same among them is that the person doing the assignment believes that what they are doing makes a difference to someone, or to the organization.

Charles Schwab’s quote fits into this idea of job satisfaction nicely. What he is saying is that when people feel challenged, when they have a sense of competition at work, they will excel.

Think about it from your own perspective. Would you rather have a job where you had little to do, and spent most of your time in tedious tasks, or completely idle; or would you like to have a job that challenged you – either mentally or physically – to do the best you can? You might be tempted to say that you’d like the job with lots of idle time, and that might even be nice for a short time, but over time you’d become bored and lethargic.

As a leader, it is part of my job to inspire people to excel. I have found that when they have work that stretches them, and makes them want to do better each day, they are happier, and the results flow in. Sometimes there are more tedious assignments that have to get done. The challenge there is for me and them to see how that assignment fits into the larger picture of our department or our company. In so doing, we create that link in our minds that lets us know that what we are doing matters.

In this section of principles, we are trying to Win People to Our Way of Thinking. This is the last of the principles in this section, and it is the one that we can use to close the deal. Once we have reached this point, and we are about to forge agreement, we can issue a challenge to our colleague. That challenge will be that together we will execute on the agreement we’ve reached.

Some people who look at this principle might shy away. They might say that there is too much competition in the world, and we shouldn’t be so driven to compete with one another. They have a valid point, and even Schwab helps guide us in the quote. The competition we are talking about here isn’t the kind fought on the playing fields of sport, and it isn’t about clawing our way to the top while trampling others. It is about the healthy sense of competition with ourselves. It is about the challenge.

When you are ready to execute on a plan with the person that you’ve worked hard to reach agreement with why not…

Principle 21 Throw down a challenge.

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Don’t just tell me, show me

“A Picture paints a thousand words.” (Fredrick R. Barnard)

Many of you, like me, probably have a DVR or Digital Video Recorder. My wife and I rarely watch TV live, opting usually to record our favorite shows so we can watch them commercial free. When we do watch, we fast forward through the commercials. I have noticed that as DVRs increase in popularity, commercials on TV are changing. They still have a golden toned voice over, but knowing that people will be hitting the fast forward button, they have also gone to bigger and bolder pictures. Many companies actually put the words that the voice over artist is saying on the screen in large print so they can be read even at high speed.

It has been known in the world of advertising, and in the world of business, that pictures tell a story better than mere words can do. Tell me that 75% of sales come from one place, and I might remember, but if you show me a pie chart, it will be cemented.

When we are driving to align our minds and actions with others, it is usually best to find a way to make the concept come alive for the other person.

Some years ago I was part of a project that analyzed why projects failed at our company. We did a deep dive analysis on over 50 projects that had failed to meet their objectives. We looked at many factors that played a role, and we did so with objective analysis and interviews. One theme that came from our study was that often our own senior management would either delay decisions about key aspects of a project, or would force changes into the projects after they were underway. These, and other actions, tended to make projects either come in late, or over budget.

The study took a couple of months, and I was elected to share the results with the senior managers of our company. The team and I knew that if we really wanted to have meaningful change in the future, we had to have our senior management understand the role that they were playing in the success and failure of projects.

The day before the presentation, I decided to take a bold step. I went to a craft store and bought 10 small mirrors. I put them into nice envelopes and placed them at the seats of the executives before the presentation. I even tied the envelopes shut with ribbon. When it came time to get to that point in the presentation, I asked them all to open the envelope in front of them. When they did, they held the mirror and saw their own reflections. I then proceeded to make the point, with definite examples, of how they had contributed to the failure of projects.

It was risky on my part, because they might have thought that I was trying to show them up. I was careful to point out that all of their decisions were made with the best of intentions, and that they were, of course, correct decisions. At the same time, I helped them to see that even though they were making good and right decisions for the company, they were also putting a strain on the people who worked for them. In fact, they were putting a double strain because they were not only causing projects to fail, but then they were holding the project leads accountable for the very failures that the executives themselves had caused.

At the end of the meeting several of the executives came and personally thanked me. I would love to say that the presentation caused them all to change their behaviors overnight, but that would be an over sell. What is true is that over time they did become more aware of how they were making projects fail, and we found ways to account for that within our results so that the project leads weren’t hit again.

When we need to get people to our way of thinking it is best to remember this principle.

Principle 20 – Dramatize your ideas.

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Appealing to the nobler motives

“The moment there is suspicion about a person’s motives, everything he does becomes tainted.” (Mahatma Gandhi)

There are really not that many villains in the world. There are few people who sit wringing their hands and uttering a maniacal laugh as they plot evil schemes to conquer their fellow humans. Really, most people want to do the right thing.

Most people not only want to do the right thing, they want others to know that they are doing the right things for the right reasons. Heck, even the maniacal hang wringers want others to think that they have high-minded, noble motives.

Gandhi’s quote serves as a reminder of all this. Gandhi reminds us that what people think about how we are doing what we do matters. It matters because it is about our reputation. Once tainted, a reputation is hard to repair, so people will go to great lengths to protect theirs.

If we are working to Win People to Our Way of Thinking, it is good to remember this simple truth. As we are working our way to agreement, we know that if we appeal to a person’s sense of fair play, of doing what is right, of acting for the general good, of supporting the company’s goals, and so on, most people will want to follow along.

Most people will even set aside their own interests for the common good, and for the higher minded motives.

Now, a word of caution for you, and it is one we’ve touched on before. If you used the notion of appealing to noble motives as a way to manipulate others, then you will soon be found out. And, guess what, your reputation will be damaged, and your motives forever questioned.

So, as we are working our way towards a meeting of the minds, we can apply …

Principle 19 – Appeal to the nobler motives.

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Treat the other person as though you know their heart is breaking

“Three-fourths of the people you will ever meet are hungering and thirsting for sympathy. Give it to them, and they will love you.” (Dale Carnegie)

Sympathy. That word comes to us from the Greek roots syn (together), and pathos (feeling) – or just “fellow feeling”. Often we hear it used interchangeably with empathy, but the two are slightly different. If you look up the definitions of the two words you find that empathy is the state where you actually feel the same as the other person, while sympathy is the state where you understand the feelings of the other person and have a genuine interest in those feelings.

The quote above from Mr. Carnegie reminds me of something else that I was once told. A former mentor of mine told me to treat the other person as though their heart is breaking, because most often you will be right. In a conflict, or even a difference of opinions, understanding that the other person has feelings about the subject, and then understanding what those feelings are, goes a long way to helping win that person to our way of thinking.

As I am writing these entries about the book How to Win Friends and Influence People, I am constantly reminded that in order for me to accomplish the title of the book, I must be genuinely interested in the other person. It isn’t about my feelings, my desires or my wishes only, it is about those of the other person.

In the late 1960s in America there was a television show called Dragnet. Each week the stories on the show were about the crime fighting that was done by the main characters –Sgt. Joe Friday, and Officer Bill Gannon. It became a bit of pop culture to mimic Joe Friday and say “Just the facts ma’am”, as he would when discussing something with a suspect or witness. I am sure that he said it far less often on the show than most would believe, but the idea was there. In his world of solving crimes, he was only interested in dispassionately gathering the facts. Those facts would, and most often did, lead him to the culprits and help him secure an arrest.

That is a fine approach if you are Sgt. Joe Friday, Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, or any other detective. Most of us, though, are not detectives. We live in a world where facts and emotions often are intertwined.

One of the best compliments that a person can receive where I work is that they take a fact based approach to problem solving. This compliment is a recognition of the fact that most problems which need to be solved have both a fact-based, and an emotion-based side. When a person takes a fact-based approach, they are doing what they can to weed out the emotion and deal only in the black and white. Most of the time this will yield the best answer in terms of the technology involved, or the objectives of the project, but it can ignore the human element with detrimental results.

I have often seen in group meetings where a person has a particular fervor about a position in regards to a problem at hand. The fervor may, or may not be based on the facts in play. The feelings the person is having may just be related to their own passions on the subject, or some other situation which is going on. Sometimes it is about ownership of a piece of the puzzle. Too often I have seen teams steamroll through the facts, reach a conclusion that satisfies them, and implement a solution. Left in the dust are the feelings of the person (or even people), who were passionate.

Most people are quire professional, and they will set aside their feelings for the common good. But, setting aside those feelings, and actually having them addressed are two very different things. While the professional might willingly swallow their pride on an issue, it doesn’t mean that they have forgotten that their feelings were trampled. At some time in the future, whether they do so intentionally or not, those feelings will pop up.

Failing to at least acknowledge the feelings of the other person might bring compliance to a solution, and it might even bring compliance to the best solution. But, it is like playing emotional whack-a-mole. That little head might go down under the hammer this time, but it is just going to pop up out of another hole later.

I am not suggesting here that conference tables be replaced with couches and bearded men with notebooks delving into the dark recesses of other peoples’ minds. What I am suggesting is that if we want to continue to be successful, and if we indeed want to Win Friends and Influence People, then we better learn how to recognize, address and acknowledge that the other person has feelings in the situation, and what those feelings are.

Note that in this principle, Mr. Carnegie doesn’t tell us to be empathetic to the other person. I do not have to share the same feelings about as subject as the person with whom I am working. But, if I want long term success and cooperation, I need to…

Principle 18. Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires.

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A change in perspective to move two parties closer together

“I’m you…” (Fictional Detective Lt. Everett Backstrom)

There is a detective show that has come on to US television this winter called Backstrom. It is about a quirky, eccentric detective in Portland, Oregon, who heads up a special crime unit. One of the things that the eponymous detective does is to get into the mind of the person he is investigating. He will start off with “I’m you…”, and then proceed to delve into the motivations of the person in front of him.

The idea for doing this isn’t new to TV dramas. Many other crime procedurals use the same tactic in one form or another, perhaps most famously by the profilers on Criminal Minds. Sadly, if some of the stories I have been reading are true, Backstrom will be cancelled at the end of this season.

But that doesn’t change the idea behind what that detective, and many other smart people do. If you want to understand why a person acts the way they do, it is good to work hard to see things from their perspective. Way back when we were talking about Principle 1 (Don’t criticize, condemn or complain), I said that the opposite of the three Cs was understanding. When I try to understand the motivations of the other person, I am far less likely to commit one of the 3 Cs. In this set of principles, we are trying to Win People to Our Way of Thinking, the concept is even more true. If my goal is to have you and I come to a meeting of the minds, where we are presently at odds, then it is in my best interest to understand why you think and feel the way you do.

I know that probably the world thinks that Mrs. Bobby-C and I live the idyllic life, full of nothing but happiness and rainbows. If only that were true. We have our differences from time to time, and sometimes those differences can be heated. One thing I have learned, from having blundered my way through all too often, is that when we are in a disagreement, it is best if I take time to truly understand what my wife is thinking and feeling. I need to know what is making her react the way she is, so that I can understand what I am doing, or what is in the environment, that can be addressed.

When people ask us about keys to a long, healthy marriage, my wife and I always come back to communication. And when I get into a more lengthy discussion, I encourage married couples to work hard to understand what the other person is thinking. I am not advocating that they become mind readers, rather that they take the time to see what is in front of them, and ask the right questions. I have learned, and you should as well to…

Principle 17 – Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.

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When my idea, and your idea are the same, then we have each won the other to our way of thinking

“It’s amazing what we can get done when it doesn’t matter who gets the credit” (A Former Director where I work)

About 13 years ago I was asked to join a new team at work. It was a team that was charged with setting standards for Project Management that would eventually become the basis for all of the project management discipline for the entire company. In the beginning there were only a few of us, less than 10 people. Our director had a vision for how he wanted us to develop the standards and implement them, and he knew it would take some years to get them all in place.

One morning we were in a meeting with him. We were discussing some of the tools that we were evaluating, and some of the processes we were looking to adopt. It wasn’t like no one was doing project management in the company. In fact, part of why we existed as a team was that the opposite problem existed. Everyone was doing PM work, but all in their own way.

Our director wanted us to find which of the processes that already existed were the best fit to the standards we’d been studying. He wanted us to implement that process and move things forward. One process in particular I thought was good, but needed some modifications. The director looked me square in the eye and asked what about implementing it without changes did I not understand? Well, nothing of course.

It wasn’t that day that he uttered the quote above, but it was that day that I realized how he meant it. By choosing a process that was already in place with one of our major departments, and implementing it, we would gain instant credibility and momentum. It didn’t matter that the process had flaws, what mattered was that we would have buy in from that department, and they would become our advocates for change.

As time went on, we did implement that process without changes. Over time, as it became a standard practice, we used a disciplined change process to address the flaws. Today it is a robust process that works very well.

Or skunk works team had worked hard on understanding industry best practices. We knew what would be the best way to do that process and others. But the 7 or 8 of us didn’t have enough voice to implement change. At best we would get compliance, but not cooperation. When we let the very programs we were leading believe that what they were doing was the right process, and we needed to communize it, our momentum grew. It didn’t matter whose idea it was, it mattered that we were all working together toward the common goal.

Very often we all have great ideas about how to accomplish things. And we know that if the other person, or group would just see it our way, we could make headway. Too often we try to be bull-headed and push our idea, when the better thing to do is to present the facts, and let people draw their own conclusions. When we do this, when the other person is involved in getting the idea moving, then they have ownership for the change. Once that happens with enough people, all we have to do is sit back and witness the magic.

I have had people ask me “But, what if I have the great idea, and someone else takes credit for my work?” To them I say that it is important to make sure your management knows what your ideas are, and how you implemented them by letting others come to the same conclusion. In the end, your organization will benefit from the idea, and those that matter will know the role you played in not only having the spark of the idea, but helping it to germinate in the organization.

This set of principles is about Winning People to Our Way of Thinking. When our way of thinking and their way of thinking are the same, we have hit pay dirt!

Principle 16 – Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers.

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Two ears, one mouth. Let that simple math guide you

“If you make listening and observation your occupation you will gain much more than you can by talk.” (Robert Baden-Powell)

Some years ago I was a teacher of Religious Education at my Church. Every Monday night, for 90 minutes, I would sit with a class of about 12 members of our Church who were in the 8th grade. We would discuss many topics of faith, exploring important points and helping them to understand what made these things important in their lives. Some of the class was pure instruction, other parts were open discussion.

One year I had a young man in my class who was quite a handful. He had a really hard time staying on point with our discussions, often opting to take us as far off topic as possible. He was something of a class clown, and at times he was just purposely difficult. Our season followed the school year, and it was the dead of winter. We were right in the middle of our time together, and he was tending to get on my last nerve.

One night in class I’d had enough, and asked him to step out into the hall and sit there until the class was done. There were about 15 minutes left. When class finished, I headed back to the Director of Religious Education’s office. My wife was also an instructor and she headed back there as well. It was common for us to debrief some with the director.

As we were sitting there, the mother of this young man stormed into the office with figurative smoke pouring from her ears. She was upset with me, and wanted to give me quite a talking to. She asked me what happened, and in one or two sentences I told her. She then proceeded to go on a tirade. She told me all the things she didn’t like about how our program worked, about how her son was put upon, about how teachers didn’t like him. It went on and on for a good 10 minutes. Throughout, I said nothing, I just listened. The director, my wife and I just let this woman talk.

She was near tears at one point as the protective mother of a child she thought had been wronged. We listened, and she kept going. After a while, without us having said a thing, she started changing her mood. She started admitting that her son was difficult at times, and that she knew that he was hard on us. We continued to listen until she finally was at the point where she agreed with us and how I had handled the situation. As she wiped the final tears from her eyes, she thanked us all, and wished us a great week. And then she left.

We sat for a few minutes in silence ourselves, until the Director piped up and asked “what just happened here?” We chuckled a bit, and then I remembered this principle. I said that we did the only thing we could possibly do, and exactly the thing that she needed us to do. We listened. We didn’t take on a defensive position, we just listened and let her do a great deal – in fact nearly all – of the talking.

Very often when people are upset, what they want most is to be heard and listened to. They want us to hear their issue, and believe that we are listening attentively and caringly.

As Robert Baden-Powell (the founder of the Boy Scouts), understood, when we listen, we learn. And, when we listen, we give the other person the chance to completely say their peace.

The rest of that year went well with that student, and his mom and I had other discussions along the way. She was always cordial and helpful to me, and would clue me in on some things to help me to better instruct her son. All of that happened because I remembered to keep my mouth shut and my ears open. If I had chosen to violate the 10th principle and started to argue with her, all would have been lost. If I had violated the 11th principle and told her that I thought she was wrong and I was right, she’d have dug in deeper. Instead, I let her do the talking, and we ended up reaching an amicable solution.

When faced with a difficult situation where the other person has an intense point of view, it is best to…

Principle 15 – Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.

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