You Are One Question Away

You are one question away from changing someone’s life.

One QuestionHow do you respond to people who you encounter who are grumpy, demanding, bossy and out of sorts so to speak?  What do you do in the line at the airport when the person who is checking your ID and boarding pass is non-communicative, irritated with the people in the line, and short with everyone who comes to his podium?  The natural tendency is to look at the situation from the way it affects you.  If you are like most, you start making statements like, just like Gov’t employees, they don’t care. Snide remarks begin captivating your vocabulary like TSA stands for Thousands Standing Around.  Other words come to your mind when describing the actions of the person and they get more insulting and hurtful in your mind the closer you get to the podium to have your very existence questioned by this person.

It is now your turn and you turn the tables and ask “Are you having fun yet today?”  The agent looks up quickly with a cold stare and then turns his eyes back toward the desk and comments in a somber tone “I am never going to have fun again the rest of my life.”  At this point, you have one of two options.  The first is to internally ramp up your distaste for this individual and reaffirm everything you thought about him while standing in line. The second choice is to change the focus from you to him and ask one question.  “What happened that caused you to lose all hope?”

The agent looked and said “the story is too long to cover here.”  He looked down again and uttered, “My son died two months ago.”   One question in a moment of contact uncovered the deep wound in his life that explained everything about his actions that morning.  This answer caused an immediate change from cynicism to compassion.

With tears in his eyes, he looked back up.  I turned my body to shield him from view of the others in the line and told him, “I am probably one of the few people that will come through your line that will understand the level of pain you are feeling right now.  We lost our 18 year old son 14 years ago.  The pain will never completely go away, but that is O.K. as it is the mechanism that will always remind you of him.  The pain will however diminish to a point in the future that you will again feel joy and happiness.  You will most certainly have fun again in your life.  One of the most difficult things to do at this time is to introduce new people into your life, but if you ever want to talk about what you are going through, or how we got through this, here is my card.”

The entire exchange took less than a minute. Drying his eyes he thanked me for the encouragement and hope.

I do not ever anticipate hearing from him, but that is alright.  If you view life as an adventure, you do not have to know the outcomes of every situation you encounter.  You only have to focus on your role at the time of the encounter. In fact knowing the outcome creates pride and arrogance that causes us to again focus on ourselves instead of others.

Try a question you are comfortable with to help someone make even the slightest change in their day. When you are buying gas, getting coffee, picking up the dry cleaning, focus on them instead of you.  Leave people better off because you walked through the door into their life today.  It is the greater way to travel through life.  Join me on that Greater Journey.


Calves Crying at the Fence

CalfWe are weaning three calves in the pen and pasture behind the barn.  Each day two of them stood at the fence and moo’ed loudly to be fed.  As I carried the bucket out to the feeding trough in the pen the third calf was standing patiently in the pen.    While two pleaded fervently to make sure they got fed (demanding their rights) it was as if the third was saying, I did not have to call you as I know you come every morning.

Then it came to me.  “Which way do others see you?”  Some of you are constantly mooing to be heard even though people are there for you every day.  The calm and peace of the third calf sent a message.  I trust you, and I believe in you.  Her attitude brought peace as she walked over to sniff  and casually walked to the trough and waited.

Through her controlled and quiet communication, she let it be known that the goal was to be fed and went to where the action was to be completed.  The other two further down the fence line began to run to the pen to make sure they were not left out.  Ask yourself, which calf would you want to be around?

Ask yourself, as a boss, employee, customer or family member, are you someone people want to be around?  Do you leave people with a peace that you are OK because you believe in them, project an attitude of cooperation and teamwork?  Or are you bringing a message that you are untrusting, fearful and constantly crying “I need, I need, I need?”  Take a moment and honestly look at your behavior and how it is seen from both sides of the relationship.  Are you a problem or a solution in your daily activities?  Solutions are rewarded, problems are avoided or eliminated.

Your challenge is to begin working on an attitude of projecting control, leadership, and an atmosphere of calm in a crisis when all those around you are being taken out of the game.

The Day Pancho Villa Rode In

The Day Pancho Villa saved the landfills of Orange County, CA…

An outcome of the bankruptcy of Orange County, California in the mid 1990’s was the need to raise cash by the Board of Supervisors.  At that time I was the chairman of the Integrated Waste Management Districts (IWMD) commission.  Our responsibility was to sit as the board of directors for the operation of all the landfills in Orange County.  One of the proposals investigated to raise cash was the sale of the Orange County Landfill system to a private party.   A meeting was held with A.G. Edwards, the firm the county had retained to handle the sale, IWMD commissioners and staff, and a representative of the City Manager’s association.  Sitting at the head of a large conference table, the representative of A.G. Edwards asked each person at the table what they thought about the process, the results and what impact this course would have on the County.  Sitting unusually quiet that day and listening to the various discussions  as each member was questioned I requested that my turn be last.  After about an hour and a half, it was now my turn.  It seemed appropriate to set the stage by recounting how in the 20 years of  involvement in politics it was clear that the city governments and the county government had been at odds over the provision of services to the residents.  Each party fought for control and each tried to better their financial position in the process at the expense of the other.

“It reminds me of the Mexican Revolution, I said.  Pancho Villa rides into the village and says those dirty Federales come to your villages, tax you and take your chickens.  I Pancho Villa are here to protect you from the Federales but I will need chickens to feed my army.”  He then rides off.  Two days later the Federales ride into the village and shout “That dirty Pancho Villa comes to your village and steals your chickens.  We are here to protect you from that evil bandito but we need some chickens to feed our army.”  They were then reminded, “The Chickens don’t know the difference.”

What was missing in this meeting was what would be best for the citizens of Orange County. Each person focused on their immediate need. It was then suggested “Frank”, (Frank Benest was the head of the City Manager’s group) “You should hire consultants that are smarter than the ones at the end of the table to come up with a plan that will create the best solution for the citizens.   The citizens are the same people whether they are being serviced by the county or their city.

The final result was a plan that addressed the need of the county for cash, kept the rates for the citizens at a stable level for the next ten years and created a cooperative operating agreement that met the cities’ needs for landfill.   In addition it maintained operational control of this important asset in the county.

Your challenge, find the best solution that looks past your own interests and considers the interests of who you serve to get the best results from a crisis.  By doing this, everybody wins.

Replace “No” with “Not Yet”

When building our house we wanted something from the ranch in our home.  A large oak tree that had fallen a year earlier was chosen to become the fireplace mantle.   The adventure of cutting a 7’ section of trunk out of the tree resulted in my being pinned to the tractor, a trip to the emergency room, and 42 stitches in my forehead.  But, that part of the story is being saved to be exploited for a different life’s lesson.  With trunk in hand, we then needed to find a saw mill to cut a timber out of the 22 inch diameter oak tree trunk.

No, not yet.I was referred to a man in Miller Grove, TX named Ed Watts.   Armed only with Ed’s name and town, my neighbor and I ventured 30 miles south in search of Ed.  Miller Grove consists of one intersection with a four way stop sign, a feed store and a school district administration yard.  Since people at feed stores know just about everyone, we walked through the front door to the counter and asked if anyone knew Ed Watts.  The girl at the counter pointed to the back of the shop where there were a couple of tables and a coffee pot.  “Ed’s the one with the hat on” she advised.  Walking to the back of the store, I interrupted and asked if he was Ed.   Ed is in his early 80’s answered “who’s asking?”   I introduced myself, explained our desire to use the oak stump as a mantle and asked if he would be able to mill it for us.  He said he was cutting wood that day and to bring it over to his house.  I then asked Ed if he had lived in Miller Grove his whole life.   His answer “Not Yet.” will stick with me forever.

After a good laugh by all, it hit me.  What a great outlook on life!  His answer told me more about Ed than a thousand questions would have revealed.  Ed is on an adventure in his life.  “Not Yet” means he still anticipates and looks forward to the future.

Adopting Ed’s answer in my life has made great changes in the way my future is viewed.   If asked whether or not I have eaten at the new Chinese Buffet, landed at a particular airport or discount bungie jumped, I now answer “Not Yet”.  “No” is negative and leaves us with a rejection of the experience and the subconscious imprint of I have not been there, and “No”, I am not going there, ever.  “No” marks the end of an adventure.

“Not Yet” on the other hand, opens the door to adventure and growth and means you have not rejected the possibility of a great adventure.  In fact, you may even add it to your bucket list. “Not Yet” opens the invitation in your mind and puts it in its proper place.  Go ahead right now and try it.  Ask yourself  “Have you ever been to …. (you add the exotic destination)?     Have you ever done…. (you add the activity) ?  Force yourself to answer “Not Yet”.  Compare that to the times your answer is NO.  Start adding to your adventures.

Thanks Ed,  “Not Yet” has expanded my capacity to dream and has given me freedom of thought to replace the killer word “NO” with the adventure building words of “Not Yet.”

Are You Excited Yet?

Sam BarkerMy friend Sam Baker plays for the Atlanta Falcons. In 2006 he played for the USC Trojans under Coach Pete Carroll. The Trojans travelled to Corvallis Oregon to play the Oregon State Beavers for what was to be an easy game. The Trojans were shocked that they were behind 23 points at half time.  The third quarter was just as unkind as they scored only once to close the lead to 16 points.

With one minute left in the third Quarter, Pete Carroll called a time out. The tired and despondent team came to the side line expecting to be chewed out. “I AM SO EXCITED!” shouted the coach. “I had to let you guys know as soon as I could that I am excited to see how you are going to handle the fourth quarter. You are the most physically fit team in the Pac 10, have some of the best coaching available in college football, BUT you have never been in this position before. I am excited to see how you guys are going to handle this. I apologize for wasting a time out, we may need at the end of the game, but you just had to know how excited I am.”

Pete accomplished a lot in this short speech. First, he reminded them of who they are in the heat of the battle.  We forget the qualities, value and skills we have when we are being attacked by life. Secondly, he told them to forget what happened. How they got to this crisis was unimportant. What was critical at that moment was to look forward. Finally, Pete focused on the most important issue at the moment, their character. Pete recognized that a win without character is just a momentary record book victory. To build a person’s character is a win that will last a lifetime. Each player returned to the field focused on how they were going to measure up to the challenge.

The Trojans scored in the fourth quarter on a pass from John Booty, made a two point conversion and were within 8 points. With seconds left in the game, the Trojans again scored and lined up for the two point conversion to tie the game.

I remembered this story going to the doctor. My body was telling me that something was not right. After a few tests, the doctor came in the room; put his glasses on, sat down, stared at the report and in a very somber tone said. “Your suspicions are correct, you have Type II diabetes.” Looking the Doctor straight into his eyes and grinning I said, “Doc, I’m excited to see how we are going to handle this!” He sat back, put his glasses up on his head, relaxed and said “I have never had a response like that from a patient.” His whole demeanor changed. It would be easy to get this under control if I did my part. Looking at this situation as an adventure instead of a problem changed the process and the results.  We did not waste time on the past and immediately forged into the future.

Therefore, challenge yourself with this action item for your life. When you reach the point of desperation, despair, and hopelessness DO NOT GIVE UP. Tell yourself, “I AM EXCITED” to see how this is going to turn out. You will be amazed at how well you will do and how your attitude will be moving forward and pressing on.

Oh, by the way, I had to look up the game again to make sure I had the facts straight, but I never have to look up what Pete Carroll said that day. The Trojans missed the two point conversion and lost the game.

The Two Biggest Thieves in your Life

ThievesThe two biggest thieves of your life are the Fear of the Future and the Regrets of the Past.  It is amazing how much time, talent, and emotion these two activities steal.  Anytime you are living in either of these areas, you are unable to focus on the tasks required to get through today’s responsibilities.  In more serious forms, they paralyze your actions and thoughts and hinder you from moving on with your life.

Fear of the Future: Do you jump to conclusions when things go wrong?  You imagine the worst scenario and become fearful of what’s next.  When something goes wrong your mind rushes to the five or six catastrophic endings that could occur.  By focusing on these possible scenarios, fear steals your energy away from finding the facts about what has occurred and formulating a recovery plan.  The fear of the future steals confidence and joy from today.  You spend energy on phantom problems.  It is OK to plan for the future, but it is not OK to fear the future.  Fear is a powerful tool that takes good people out of the game.  The greatest way to handle this fear is to ask yourself “Is each item I am worried about the truth?”  If the answer is yes, work on those items, if the answer is no, dismiss it and move on.

Regrets of the Past:   Farmers have a great saying “Don’t water last year’s crops”.   Unfortunately most people beat themselves up over mistakes that were made, or waste time by over analyzing poorly handled issues.  Unfortunately your little voice inside does nothing to encourage you to move forward, it merely reinforces how you messed up.  To counter act this condition; replace the word “Should” with the words” Next Time”.  This simple change allows you to focus on how you will act if you encounter this situation again.  It makes you move on past the current condition and creates productivity again. Again ask yourself, is the message I am hearing the truth?

Your challenge is to manage these two thieves when crisis hits.  Getting these under control will make your days more productive, keep you less stressed, and you will become more effective to handle crisis each day.

Life is not a problem to be solved; it’s an adventure to be lived.

Ron’s Wall of Encouragement

Encouragement WallMy wife and I set up the office in our new house yesterday.  I was feeling a little overwhelmed as most of this week was consumed by getting settled in the house. Last night about 2 am, the little voice started saying, “what have you done, you are taking too great a risk, you should worry about the future, you have not saved enough money for the rest of your life.”   At 2:03am I got up and went into the office and sat at the desk.  The office was set up specifically so that this is the view looking across the desk.

The broad sword is a replica of the sword used by William Wallace in Brave Heart.  This is to remind me that there is a decision to be made. To engage the conflict and be the warrior I am created to be instead of compromising and worrying.  Its presence shouts – Engage in the battle!  It is also a reminder that there are fellow soldiers who are also engaged in the battle alongside me and that with our friends; we are never left to fight alone.

The first frame is a quote by Charles Lindberg.  “What kind of man would live where there is no daring, I do not believe in taking foolish chances, but nothing can be accomplished without taking any chance at all.”    To live an adventure, there is an inherent risk.  The risk should be managed so that the possibility of success is greater than the possibility of failure, but nonetheless, we must take prudent risks.

The second is Ayn Rand “Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision.”  On any adventure, we often begin with nothing but our vision and faith that we have been given the skills, wisdom and hope that are required to get us through.  We are required to take the first step.

Create a place with the specific items of significance in your life. These will encourage you and remind you that as you face the struggles, failures, and triumphant victories that come your way, each day is an adventure through life. We all need to be reminded of that sometimes and encouraged to persevere and move forward.


Peak Performance