Friday, June 29, 2007

Are You Mostly A Blue, Green, or Red?

Being a part of management for an extended period of time allowed me to participate in numerous conferences, seminars, and training opportunities. Many of these programs featured sessions that dealt with identifying individual traits required to become high profile managers. Some of these involved taking tests and then using grids, charts, and graphs to depict a particular person’s potential for becoming a superstar manager.

I remember the first of these types of sessions I participated in. It was in a weeklong conference in Chicago. The senior personnel consultant who conducted this session told us he had used this testing approach to provide insights into high potential candidates for many of the leading companies in America. It was a double blind format where it was hard to not reveal your real traits because the questions were asked in different ways in different sections. I was a very young manager at the time; therefore, the results were not that significant to me. In fact, my profile has been pretty much consistent over the years. More on that later.

What was really interesting was to see the reactions of those who thought themselves to be high potentials when their scores indicated something entirely different. Talk about grumbling. The test must be wrong. The way they saw it they were hard driving, take no prisoner types of people. Guess what? No, they were not. In fact, what the battery of testing showed was some of them were most likely better suited for administrative work than managerial. Talk about some angry, red faces. While these results may not have meant they could not be a good manager, they did provide a window into how their make-up may have been a better fit in another type of role or responsibility.

Many years later I attended an international technology conference in San Diego. This was a very memorable week since it was during this conference that San Diego experienced a major 6.6 earthquake and that event created more than a little excitement. I am certain there will be a blog account of my personal earthquake story but it will have to wait for another day. During this conference we had another of the evaluation sessions to determine personality and aptitude for particular corporate roles. That session’s speaker was a delightful fellow, a professor from USC, who looked like a department store Santa dressed in a business suit.

He had studied management profiles for many years and his testing results had been verified in many projects and applications within real corporate situations. He essentially said you couldn’t, over time, be something other than who you really are, and that’s just the way it is. If you are in a managerial position but don’t have the inclination for it, you will either be ineffective or frustrated. One other thing he said has stuck with me over the years. There are no right and wrong answers regarding the strengths we have as individuals. Your perceptions may not fit reality but knowing the truth about who you really are is still the truth.

My results at this conference pretty much mirrored the same types of outcomes from similar exercises I had participated in over the years. The final result from this session was boiled down to a color coded wheel where blue indicated a nurturing personality, green was judicious, studious, and administrative, and red meant high charging and domineering. Those scoring high in the blue were people who enjoyed working in an environment where they could help, nurture, and serve. The Professor said his wife scored so high in this category he was sure she would most likely lay down in the snow under a car to help it gain traction. (This is the same score my wife had when she later completed this assessment.) Those high in the green would be those who enjoy bookwork, accounting, support roles, and tasks that have a purpose. People who scored off the chart in the red would be those willing to step on anybody at any time to achieve the results they seek, typically for their own self-interests.

Remember there are no wrong scores. There might be wrong uses of the identified traits but not wrong strengths. Mine turned out to be what they called a blended hue which interpreted means I can move in and out of the three as required to accomplish the purposes I have been given to achieve. If I need to be in the blue as one who nurtures and if that’s what is needed to get the job done, I can do it. If I need to do the grunt work associated with green, I can do it. If some red is called for in terms of standing up to be counted, I can do this as well. I guess the real issue is in coming to terms with your own particular patterns of strength. Those who wanted desperately to be a high red but did not score that way were disappointed. The objective was to take what was found out about these internal strengths and apply it, not to be angry because you found out you are not naturally a ruthless person!

I was able to get a handful of these tests and brought them home with me. A couple of years later we hosted couples from our Church in our home and I thought the tests would be a really fun thing to do. Was I ever wrong! My approach to the tests was to let the spouses guess how the other spouse would score and what color would be the prominent feature. The exercise was intended to be a diversion not a prelude to divorce court. Well, it wasn’t quite that bad but there was much disagreement between couples regarding how they thought their particular mate would come out.

Some predicted they were probably a green with much blue and ended up being green and red. Their wife had said red and then the argument was on. It reminded me of the time we did a Sweetheart Banquet at the Church and I designed a Newlyweds Game for fun. I put the husband and wife in chairs back to back and asked them questions and they had to write down the answers. Often the answers did not come close to being the same. This turned out to be somewhat of a problem since a number of them began arguing about their mate’s answers on things like when they first met, or where they went on their first date, and other trivial questions. It sounded like a good idea at the time.

Truth is, getting reality to match perception is not that easy. But let this be a lesson for us all. I didn’t have an expectation of being a high red; therefore, a blended hue was okay with me. If you are honest on the testing, supposedly it is to show who you really are, not who you want to be. Trouble comes whenever someone is in a job or situation requiring much in one color but they are mostly void of that characteristic. This is why the Bible tells us to develop our children around their recognized bent or personality. This requires parents to be tuned in to each child. Remember also that it's what we do with what God gives to us that counts. Everyone would recognize Moses as a great leader but I wonder how many know that God said his greatest attribute was his meekness! Think about that! Every individual is a different color as it relates to his or her personal strengths, and we need to help each one find that proper place where they can do their best work. More later………….

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Odd or God? You Be The Judge.

My wife’s dad was one of the closest and dearest friends I’ve had in my life. He was a true encourager to me and always believed in me. I could not have dreamed of a better father-in-law. He pastored Churches for more than forty years and whenever we were together we would spend many hours sitting out under a shade tree or in the swing on the porch discussing all subjects relating to the Bible. He had his faults and could be as ornery as a Baptist preacher could be, but after all, that’s what he was, a Baptist preacher. But at the same time he was the ‘real deal’, sold out for Jesus, and a man with a passion for souls.

He passed away a number of years ago and I miss him so very much. Over the years he told me many stories about his many experiences as a servant of the Lord. He was not a man prone to conjure up all kinds of spiritual signs in every happening in life. But at the same time he tried his best to follow God’s direction each day that came his way. An illustration of this can be seen in a special event that happened to him.

One Sunday afternoon after Church services he began feeling a burden to go and visit a pastor friend some fifty miles away. He tried to shake it but he couldn’t. Finally, he decided he had to go. He made arrangements for the Sunday evening services to be covered and he drove over to his pastor friend’s Church. When he arrived his friend came out to meet him and my father-in-law told him he had no idea why he was there, but was hoping that perhaps he could tell him. The friend said he didn’t know either but was extremely glad to see him and asked if he would preach for them that night.

The people showed up and my father-in-law stood up and preached the message God had laid on his heart. At the end of the service nothing unusual happened and after visiting for a short time with his pastor friend, he returned home. At that time he really didn’t have a clue as to why he had felt the need to go to his friend’s Church but he did sense that he had obeyed what he believed God had directed him to do.

A few months later he saw his pastor friend at a fellowship meeting and his friend said he had something very important to tell him. A couple of days after my father-in-law had preached at this Church the pastor received a phone call from a man who had attended services that night. He asked if he could meet with the pastor to discuss something that had happened that night. He agreed and the man came over to his home and they sat on the front porch.

He went on to say that the man began to weep and told the pastor that on the night in question he had come to the Church property with a pistol in his belt fully intending to kill another man in the Church over some disputed property. After hearing my father-in-law’s sermon he could not bring himself to go through with the killing. He said he then understood that his family as well as the other man’s family had been rescued from tragedy that night. In fact, he and the other man had since reached agreement and made things right between themselves.

This was all a surprise to my father-in-law because he had not thought any more about it for a long time. Some might think this was coincidental or maybe that someone’s imagination got the best of them. I can assure you my wife’s dad was a man of honesty and integrity and I am fully persuaded that God Himself took action that night in sending my father-in-law to be used to intervene between these men. Long ago the poet wrote: “God works in mysterious ways his will to perform”. Amen. And so He does! More later………….

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

It Takes A Licking And Keeps On Ticking!

Today’s title comes from a series of commercials back in the 50’s and 60’s hosted by respected newscaster John Cameron Swayze. The ads were filmed torture tests for Timex watches where the timepieces were put through a variety of different extreme situations to see if they would continue running. They were subjected to many forces from being frozen in an ice cube tray, tied to the leg of a racehorse, and even strapped to Mickey Mantle’s bat. At the end of the test the watch would be handed to John Cameron and with a close up of the watch face on the screen he would proudly announce the now famous words…”It takes a licking and keeps on ticking.”

I have my own Timex testing story but with a very different twist. The Chicago based company where I worked as a management consultant for eighteen months was a very high profile computer equipment leasing company. As a multi-billion dollar enterprise, marketing and sales dominated the culture there. Everything revolved around deal making and because of this they had a number of very top dollar sales people. Because of this emphasis and big deals being a key success factor, the sales and management staff were very aware of their need to not only be successful but to also look the part. Therefore, everyone wore expensive suits and Rolex watches and diamond rings, cufflinks, and imported shoes.

They were very clued in to these indicators and were constantly pursuing new ways to distinguish themselves. They had no way of knowing I did not fit into their mold. I was at their company at the request of their founder who was revered among the staff. I reported to an executive committee that essentially ran the company, therefore, they figured I must really be “somebody”. I did wear what I considered to be nice Men’s Wearhouse business suits and I did keep my shoes shined and I did try to fit in. I certainly had no problems gaining access to any and all people and areas because they all considered me to have a special connection. This was a gross overestimation of my power but that was fine with me because I needed as much access as possible to get my work done.

Because of this prevailing focus on the flashy and mover and shaker deal making, attending meetings there were a blast. Often they became a show of style over substance and antics over actual contribution to seeing the company move forward. One weekend while I was at home in Texas I accidentally broke the watchband on my gold watch. I needed a watch until this one could be repaired so I ran to K-Mart and purchased an inexpensive replacement. I found a Timex for less than $30. It was black with a vinyl strap but it did look very distinctive.

The following week I was back in Chicago and found myself in a meeting with a number of their high profile people. They were doing their normal “Can you top this?” routines and then I noticed several of them had spotted my new watch. They wondered what kind of watch I had. One asked if I had purchased one with a rare eel skin strap. Another wanted to know if it was one he had heard about that was imported from Africa. To me this was hilarious. I told them I had come to talk about wasted resources, not watches. This only made them more curious; therefore, I made sure my suit coat sleeve kept the watch covered enough to keep them guessing. Man oh man, the games people play!

This preoccupation with externals reminds me of the story in the Bible about God choosing a young shepherd boy named David to be the next king of Israel. Everyone including Samuel the Prophet thought it should be someone with the stature, the bearing, and the looks of a king, but God said he looked on the heart and not on the outward appearance. This would have been an excellent lesson for my former associates in Chicago. John Cameron Swayze would have been proud. He had attached Timex watches to paint mixers and boat motors but in the world of the unsurpassed G-forces associated with the powers of prestige and pretension, my little K-Mart Timex had taken a licking and came out ticking. More later………….

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Always Be A Problem Solver!

The famous line from the Apollo space capsule scare, “Houston we have a problem.” has become a cliché used for just about everything imaginable as it relates to not being able to function. The problem is we end up with way too many problems and not enough problem solvers. The good news is there exists a set of problems that you and I are most likely designed to be able to solve. However, if we are inclined to only be able to recognize the presence of problems, we may never take that step which says I can do something to provide a fix or solution.

I am not mechanically adept, period, end of story. I admire people who are. I was certainly exposed enough growing up to know a lot more than I do but it was not my thing. Our eldest son can fix nearly anything mechanical. Pumps, automobile repairs, home improvement projects, and just about any other type of need in this area, he can handle them all. I can’t. However, I do know how to diagnose and solve complex problems that pertain to organization, scheduling, coordination, execution, and planning issues. These are the problems I can solve.

One of the great challenges for anyone is to come to realize what problems they can solve. It would be ludacris for me to tackle a mechanical project knowing I have little or no aptitude for it. Unfortunately, there are literally millions who are mismatched in their jobs today. I’m not talking about a dream world here. My youngest son used to say he would like to be an evangelist for the Lord specializing in reaching people on the golf courses of America. I’m not talking about this type of what would you rather be doing kind of issue. I’m talking about taking the time to know the types of problems you can solve because of your bent, your orientation, and your skills.

So many today can only see problems, talk about problems, and report problems but with little or no abilities to solve them. Some say training is the answer and I would agree that’s one answer. However, you could train me on something mechanical until the cows come home and I would still not be able to be effective in that arena. But turn me loose on a project that involves research, interviews, analysis, conclusions, and recommendations, and I’m your guy. Over the years I’ve discovered this is my bent, this is where I function best, and while I’ve had to do many other things along the way, it is within this sphere that I have accomplished the best of what I have to offer.

I remember one time being pulled out of a direct management position to head up a project team chartered to plan for the continuation of all corporate information processing functions in the event of a disaster. Several had attempted this task but had not been able to pull it off. My boss said he knew I had what was needed to solve this problem which was now required by law as part of our responsibility as a publicly traded company. While this recoverability and continuation of services stuff is readily available today, it was essentially a blank page back then.

This assignment was almost like a sabbatical sort of thing and it really challenged me at that time. Yes, I knew this type of work was right down my alley but vacating my manager position where I had a large staff and operating budget to tackle this project was very difficult. I agreed to do it. Someone was immediately promoted into my manager position. I went from a staff of forty to a three-person team made up of a senior analyst, an auditor, and myself. Thus we began our journey into uncharted territory.

Over the next twelve months we literally became experts. We attended conferences. We conducted interviews and visited with a variety of other companies. We discussed, argued, sometimes very loudly, but in the end we put together a first class plan for our company. Making sure business information systems can continue is an expensive proposition and it had to be approved by upper management before we could proceed. The team wanted to do a multimedia big bang type of production but as Project Manager I chose a handwritten flip chart instead.

The big issue was how we would be able to convey the sense of urgency and the need to invest extensively to accomplish these objectives. As I worked on the presentation at home our eldest son and I talked about how to get their attention. Together we came up with the idea of showing the downtown skyscraper that housed the company engulfed in flames. He was a pretty good artist so he drew the flames and I took care of getting an enlarged photo of our building. We strategically placed the realistic flames on the floor that housed the central computing center. Bingo! What a homerun we hit with that one picture!

The senior level executive who funded the project later said he had been very skeptical about this recommendation. But he testified that when he saw that picture and appreciated the fact that something like a fire could happen, he was sold. In fact, he went on to say that picture came back to him many times later. Wow! Using what each one brings to the table is what solves problems. When the project was ended I had no home to go to since someone had filled my job. This made me a little nervous but within a couple of weeks the entire organization was shuffled and I ended up in a senior manager’s job overseeing an operation made up of over 100 people.

Was that project effective? Seven years later an outside audit team dissected that plan and when the smoke cleared they pronounced that with minor tweaking and updating it not only was viable, it was perhaps the best they had ever seen. This is what happens whenever people’s particular problem solving skills are applied to problems they are well suited to solve. Here’s to hoping you will find your niche in that grand scheme that you and you alone can do so well. At least it is something to shoot for and something worth pursuing. In finding that place you will learn what it means to make a life as opposed to just making a living! More later………….

Friday, June 22, 2007

Launch Time at the Revolving Doors!

Everyone is put together differently. When we were in Scotland a few years ago on vacation the tour guide asked our group why it is that Americans always say back and forth. He said it makes more sense that you have to go forth before you can come back, therefore, they always say forth and back. Maybe this explains a lot of things, or maybe it doesn’t.

At any rate, we are all different and some of us are more different than others. Growing up I was taught to work. My granddad believed in it. He took seriously the impact of the curse that caused us to have to sweat for our living. The one thing he hated more than any other was laziness. His said lazy people were as sorry as white dog poop. He always had a quarter-acre vegetable garden and it required much in the way of maintenance. I remember once hoeing down a few tender corn stalks thinking that would get me out of having to work. He soon made me aware there are many uses for a hoe handle and once you get past the normal one used to chop weeds, the rest are not pleasant at all.

His commitment to labor was part of his identity and he always had something else in mind that could be done. I used to help him cut firewood in August for the coming winter. No power saws for him. We used a two-man hand crosscut saw and I can testify that doing it this way is work. I greatly admired how he could look at the top of a tree and determine exactly where it would fall. Once you get the hang of using this type of saw it will bring home the firewood. He always brought to his work a level of enthusiasm and commitment that separated the doers from the talkers. Looking back I can say these were some wonderful times.

When I began helping him cut wood he was already in his early sixties. The key to using a crosscut saw is cooperation and rhythm. He used to tell me not to ride the saw because he had not eaten my breakfast for me. He used to tell me that he would do enough grunting for both of us, so I didn’t need to do any. He carried a ‘big red’ soda bottle in his back pocket with pine straw stuffed in the top. The bottle was filled with kerosene and while we were heads down sawing, he would whip it out, oil the saw blade and never miss a beat. Once the tree was down, it would be trimmed, and then marked off for sizing with an ax, and then more sawing, and more sawing, until the old pickup truck was so loaded down the front tires were barely on the ground.

Maybe this is where I got my ideas about work and how it should be approached. I’m not saying I’ve never had a bad work experience or I’ve never had a bad day but most of my days that involve working have been filled with anticipation and enthusiasm. I commuted into downtown from the suburbs for over twenty years. I typically caught the first bus available at 5:30 a.m. I could read, study, or write on my way into town. But the closer I got to my destination; it was the more my thinking woke up. The bus let me off two blocks away from my building.

The closer I got to the building the faster I walked. All the things I had planned for that day were whirling around in my mind. Schedules, priorities, meetings, projects and activities had my neurons in overload. By the time I reached the revolving doors I was doing some traveling. May the good Lord help anyone who happened to be already in those doors when I came on the scene. I’m not proud to say this but on more than one occasion I’ve catapulted an unsuspecting soul. Pity the poor lawyer who came in early but went down like a hockey player with his briefcase flying across the floor. Pity the lady whose coffee made it at least twenty feet in the air. Sure I apologized. Sure I was sorry.

While I may not be as bad today, I must tell you these same motivational stimuli are alive and well. I wake up looking forward to making my way towards my place of employment. It’s a part of me. It’s a part of God’s answer to our sin cursed world where we must earn our way by the sweat of our brow. Thanks to my granddad for giving me an example to go by. Thanks be to God who gives me the desire to meet and exceed expectations in the work I do. I see many where I work today, especially the younger guys, who walk slower and slower the closer they get to their workstations. Their shoulders slump and they appear to barely be able to go. The way I see it they could use a little time on the other end of a crosscut saw to teach them something about work, because to tell you the truth I didn’t eat their breakfast for them! More later………….