You are the Resistance

To be human is to have passions, to seek out experiences which give you expertise, prestige, and even a little bit of magic. That said, your means of earning money should not require you to lock your heart in a box and set it on the shelf. If you do, you’ll die inside. It’ll take your body a while to catch up.

But business is getting personal. It was inevitable with smartphones and devices connecting us 24 hours a day. The business we are in, our professional connections, and company culture will ever affect us in our homes and private lives with no end in sight.

That can be a very, very good thing.

“Let My People Go…”

In my days, I have seen a company fire a loyal employee because he picked up a piece of discarded ice from the ground for his lunchbox; I have seen bone-headed “organizational restructurings” done just to push out folks who mention elephants in the room; I have seen minorities passed over for higher roles because someone didn’t like their hair texture.

Let companies like that grind themselves into the ground and burn as their best employees leave.

As more professionals realize the importance of good fit, I hope we witness an exodus of great talent from bad companies. I wish all people would take a good hard look at themselves and determine if they are valued where they are. If not, prepare a daring escape.

When top talent across the US votes with their feet and companies with great culture absorb them, you will see fear and trembling in lesser firms. Bums will be thrown out of boardrooms, mini-tyrant managers will be told “Hit the bricks, pal!”, and talented employees will stop having to fear for their job regardless whether their hair may or may not be straight enough.

The Power to Change

In short: great employees who know what they bring and what they will stand for can change bad culture to good. And if the culture won’t change, the company must be forced to wither on the vine.

More employees are demanding more human-friendly workplaces. Top companies are minimizing dress codes, creating family-friendly policies, and even putting people through school to get them to where they need to be. In short, creating places where people can not only apply their talents but also bring their hard-wrought personalities. Day to day work becomes attached to personal vision.

Your Value

A good analogy for how our personal and professional lives should transect is bitcoin mining. To oversimplify, bitcoin is a cryptocurrency extrapolated when software “unlocks” data transactions creating a one of a kind block of data. When the software “figures out” how to unlock the block, bitcoin value is created or verified. Currently, a bitcoin is worth somewhere around $11,000.

Just so, when you can figure out where your personal life and professional passions truly transect, you get your value. Learn to combine your expertise with the thing that gives you prestige and your magic. Where those things come together is your value, your bitcoin.

In my own case, what I see as my value is this:

  • An MS in Organizational Leadership and Human Resources Management, as well as an SPHR and SHRM-SCP certifications (Expertise)
  • A background with really great organizations (Prestige)
  • The mystery and honor that comes with an honorable half decade in the world’s best fighting force and deployments to Afghanistan (Magic).

Where all these transects, people feel they can trust me, want to hear what I have to say, and look to me to guide them in their career goals. So I guide them.

In Closing

Find your bitcoin. Where do your different aspects intersect for greatest value? Gather those to your aid that can help you answer that. Odds are, you’re worth more to the world than your current status. Once you figure it out, go where you are appreciated, not tolerated. Even if that means blazing your own trail.

I am an aspiring writer and supporter of professional people trying to push their boundaries. But I love public speaking even more! I’ve been rebranding people through writing resumes and building LinkedIn profiles for years from my online vacation home at www.careerflex.net.

Initiative

This article is part 4 of a many part series treating the Marine Corps Leadership mnemonic, JJDIDTIEBUCKLE

Definition: Initiative is taking action even though you haven’t been given orders. It means meeting new and unexpected situations with prompt action. It includes using resourcefulness to get something done without the normal material or methods being available to you.

I am currently on a Mel Gibson, Nicholas Cage, John Travolta action movie bender. Dozens of 1980’s and 90’s action-packed glory. I probably need help at this point, but I can’t stop/won’t stop.

Fortunately, I have noticed some real pearls of wisdom. Every great action movie is filled with characters who know just what to do when things go bad. Where to go, what to blow up, or whom to take down.

The motif is important. It’s the idea of people who just get things done with no guidance even in disorder or duress. In a word, “initiative”.

Here are some elements of the motif behind initiative:

  • Expertise
  • Communication
  • Respect for competence
  • Trust

When your team has the expertise, communicates well, there is general respect for each other’s professional competence, and general trust, initiative will thrive.

Which means your team will thrive.

The sign of a great leader is when you can embrace the decisions your subordinates make which are reasonably correct and run with them. The truth is that most all decisions can be course corrected, but a decision needs to be made in the first place. Embracing decisions from your subordinates creates more decisions. Unwarranted criticism of subordinate’s decisions which you were not equipped or confident enough to make in the first place creates team paralysis. And you are to be blamed.

It’s a mark of an immature leader that creates paralysis. And the gates of leadership hell (“heck” for those in Utah) swing wide and hungrily for those who refuse to make a decision till a subordinate is forced to and then proceed to criticize. It’s a gross feat of cowardice.

I have seen managers avoid making a decision (that would tie them down) and then browbeat those who saved their bacon by making a call. I’ve seen managers chew the buns right off well-meaning subordinates who made pretty solid decisions, just because it wasn’t the decision the manager would have made. The erosion of trust and confidence is staggering. Initiative ceases.

Soon you get a “leader” musing about if they only had a better team.

“There are no bad battalions, only colonels”, said Napoleon Bonaparte. That translates to “there are no bad teams, only leaders.” Let that sink in.

I assume you have expertise in your role and understand why communication is important (go read “Crucial Conversations”). On showing respect for people’s competence, that gets downright philosophical. I’ll give you a free tip: If you find yourself being a jerk-wad, stop it! That’s it.

So let’s focus back on the trust piece. This is hard, yet freeing. Do you have what it takes? Are you confident enough in your professional game to allow your people to develop through decision-making? Even though the buck stops with you? I hope so. A great leader will allow subordinates to step into and mimic higher roles (including their own). There’s no experience like hands on experience.

I have seen great leaders defend their subordinate’s decisions because their subordinates making increasingly complex organizational decisions is part of a well-foundedleadership development program. The overwhelming majority of those leaders then gain their own bosses respect. Because trust takes guts. Being a sneaky weasel does not.

An organization which embraces daring-doo, putting aside ego and public displays of perfection (which no one buys anyway…sorry), is a strong one. But the culture which values the false forms of flawlessness over the function of leadership development will watch its talent launch daring escapes. Then they’ll gripe that “kids these days don’t know how to work!”

Want to create leaders? Represent initiative yourself and protect the initiatives of your subordinates. It is key.

TAKE AWAYS:

  1. Create communication by not being a critical jerkwad
  2. Let your people make decisions
  3. Support their decisions, course correct as needed, but above all, run interference for them

I’ve been rebranding people through career and life coaching, writing resumes and building LinkedIn profiles for years from my online vacation home at www.careerflex.net. I love public speaking and helping people identify what they want to do with their talents. Preferably we hike a mountain while talking. I can be reached at jake@careerflex.net or (858)522-0194.

Dependability

This article is part 3 of a many part series treating the Marine Corps Leadership mnemonic, JJDIDTIEBUCKLE

Dependability: The ability to carry out what is expected of you consistently.

Isn’t this a better trait of for “followership”? I say no. I have noticed that a significant amount of training in organizations focuses on how to get your job done, from the follower’s perspective. We do very little, however, in the workplace to effectively prepare people for leadership. Managership, sure. But actually wielding power, creating buy-in, caring for others, and creating long-term relationships is something organizations struggle with.

For instance, when was the last time you saw leadership traits and practices actually measured and managed. As in, if you are a terrible leader, your job is on the line?

I thought not.

Working for someone who is inconsistent, changes their word, misremembers facts, or lets the course of the week drive their mood is awful. The opposite experience is glorious. But the former experience is all too common.

“To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved”. I grew up in a world where this George MacDonald quote was repeated with some frequency and it affected my worldview. As I grew older, this belief was challenged by those who teach that to be loved should be the prime focus and should be independent of action.

But experience has shown me that love has to be based on something. It’s a response to perceived value. Dependability is a serious motivator towards love, be it romantic or fraternal. In military parlance, we call it someone “having your 6”. It’s an incredible experience to really know you can trust those you work with.

Want your team to “love” you? Be dependable. When you promise an action, make that action happen.

As a leader, another way to look at dependability is called “being authentic”. As a leader, you need to remove the “who am I dealing with today?”

How do you achieve dependability? The easiest way has two parts. 1) Surround yourself with people who will give you honest feedback, regardless of your rank or position, 2) Have the intestinal fortitude (courage) to listen and not punish them. The world and corporate America has more than enough would be dictators with fragile egos who, once they get a little power, wield it like a baton. They forget that eternal truth: while authority is granted from above, power comes from those you lead.

Once you break the trust of those whom you lead, you’ve lit a fuse on your own respectability and much will be the rejoicing when you are gone.

What’s more, as a leader you owe it to yourself to figure leadership dependability out. Data science and machine learning are coming for you. We know that disengaged workforces have enormous costs. Perhaps within the next decade or two, data scientistswill quantify leadership and track your execution of it. And I will be helping them.

Take aways:

1) Surround yourself with people who will tell you the truth.

2) Have the guts to listen and not make them pay.

I’ve been rebranding people through career and life coaching, writing resumes and building LinkedIn profiles for years from my online vacation home at www.careerflex.net. I love public speaking and helping people identify what they want to do with their talents. Preferably we hike a mountain while talking. I can be reached at jake@careerflex.net or (858)522-0194.

Judgment

Judgment

This article is part 2 of a many part series treating the Marine Corps Leadership mnemonic, JJDIDTIEBUCKLE

Judgment is sound decision-making after considering variables at hand. Closely related to the principle of Justice, done wrong it is a credibility burner.

Twisting facts or considering only the facts that support our opinions is a mark of immaturity. When someone has poor judgment, a popular axiom is that they lack the sense that God even gave the lowliest goose. Running about the farmyard or the corporate office or squad headquarters, what comes from their mouth raises eyebrows, causes whispers, and at times dismay.

Judgment can be a tricky thing because it creates competition for our imaginative resources.

We have to understand both things as they are and things as they can or should be. Then the decisions we make must change current circumstances into better circumstances. More just and effective circumstances.

Let me tell you a tale of when I exercised poor judgment. An employee’s house had burned down, but that employee had used up all vacation and personal time. There was no mechanism for simply letting her be off work, so as a young fool held her to the attendance standard, which ultimately would have led to her termination.

I had a great leader and her response I will never forget. “Why would you do that?” she asked. “Do you really think our company is so brittle that we can’t put our arms around someone who has had a major life event? Do you think she burned her house down on purpose? You need to learn to make the heart decision instead of the hard decision.”

Ouch and lesson learned. I learned to supersede less significant factors with greater factors.

A mark of superior judgment in a leader is faith and hope in his or her people, creating greater confidence and desire for excellence.

Great leaders know that, as Goethe put it, “Misunderstandings and neglect occasion more mischief in the world than even malice and wickedness”. Or put more modernly, “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by misunderstanding”. We’ve all seen managers jump at the chance to reprimand with partial information. It erodes trust and shows poor judgment.

Soon people cease bringing their problems to you, at which point they’ve taken away your leadership. You then are consigned to being a mere manager driving metrics, but affecting little. In the words of one of my favorite workplace associates, “Ew”.

TAKE AWAY: Careful, well-considered judgment is a hallmark of a great leader. To have it, you have to think hard thoughts and read hard books. There are no bulletized steps to getting this, just hard experience. I recommend Dr. Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate and Dr. Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind for excellent treatments of human nature and developing judgment.

Exhalt your team

A person might be smooth as oil, but if he executes power through distrust and duplicity, they’ll be deposed. And many questions will follow after him.

Power in a position is one of the most difficult tests a leader can face. It reveals your inner soul or inner snake. In most organizations, the consent of the led is rarely taken into account which is unfortunate. I do not think human nature has changed all that much through the millennia, but certainly—at least in the Western world—historically low violence, the high level of education, and ability to communicate as easily as we do lends itself to choice and buy in.

But less about the led (although doing right by your people is a core of leadership), leaders—real leaders— imbue all their people with power. They are transparent, trust their subordinates, back up effort, and don’t play favorites. A miniscule number of subordinates may be unwilling to reflect trust back. But most of the led I have ever seen are eager for leadership which inspires, transforms, creates a break from the mundane common experience of self-serving “managership”.  Too often the experience of most of us involves that duplicity I mentioned, but also disrespect, disregard for real achievement, favoritism, and demoralizing feats of hypocrisy.

The conflict is between what comes easy and what betterment demands. Beautifully put in of nasty conflict and human nature, in Blood Meridian Cormac McCarthy writes,

“It makes no difference what men think of war, said the judge. War endures. As well ask men what they think of stone. War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner. That is the way it was and will be. That way and not some other way.”

But that’s the conflict. War, conflict, abuse, overreach have all always existed. But not all people take part in it. I would argue that honorable history is shaped by a few men and women who break the mold of human nature and show something new— something just as eternal but sadly less seen.

The nature of men is self-aggrandizement. Those who practice it as the cost of other’s trust in them call it “pragmatism”.  It’s bullshit because it wrecks teams. The burden of leadership is to transcend that, to become the ideal of a team, a thing that represents the team’s highest intentions.

If you exalt your team, your team will see you exalted. Leadership is a high and holy calling.

When to swim with rats

I was once part of the greatest Marine battalion on earth. Trust me. Well, it was the greatest. Then we had a change of command and a new unit leadership came on board which was totally opposite of the previous commander and his vision. The new leadership crew had an odd fascination with the mundane. Rather than technical skill, intrinsic communication, deep knowledge of the art of war, the new focus became uniform preparation, the precision of haircuts, and the proper greetings of the day. “Brilliance in the basics!” was the mantra.

As I watched orders come in for senior leader after senior leader to leave the unit, many well before the traditional transition point one would expect, as a young lieutenant I approached one of the highest ranking enlisted in the unit and observed how odd it seemed that all these leaders were suddenly leaving. “Sir”, he said, “have you ever heard of rats jumping off a sinking ship? This is one of those cases where you’re seeing the big rats jumping from the ship and it’s time to get yourself the **** overboard.”

How right he was. It didn’t take long to realize that the new team focused on the mundane because they didn’t have the intellect or connectedness with each other to delve into the grey areas of human experience together. You see, dress codes, politeness, and policy manuals are predictable and safe. But they don’t bring growth or excellence. As our unit was a combat unit engaged in warfighting so unusual so as to be described as “learning to eat soup with a knife”, focus on parade readiness and so forth was a safe escape from the hard, ambiguous realities that needed to be dealt with. The young warfighters, many who had been on the 5th and 6th combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, knew snappy uniform items did not prepare anyone for that world. They were wise and experienced.

To massacre a quote by a man smarter than me, here is what happened: The men who shut their mouths and dumbly nodded along at the latest powerpoint brief about drill formations received commendations and promotions, while the men who delighted the lower ranks by speaking truthfully about the reality-based training needed got reprimands. It was the truest distinction between management and leadership I have ever seen. I learned that leaders are original, inventive, movers and shakers, unpredictable, imaginative, full of surprises that confuse and overwhelm the enemy in war and corporate HQ in peace. But managers are safe, conservative and predictable. They conform to the established organization, are always on the side of the “A team” and are dedicated to the establishment, not the mission.

It’s these guys who cause us to forget why our leadership principles are up on the wall in the first place.

I give you an example. I worked for a place where an overpowered corporate lawyer had say in virtually every decision made. His reach was incredible. Unfortunately, his first major travail as a young lawyer decades before had been a disaster caused by loose standards. Thousands died. After that point, every choice was viewed through the lens of worst possible outcomes. As a result of his risk aversion, terminations that should’ve been made years before were not made because of this amorphous and undefinable shadow monster called “risk”; daring business plans were not executed because hearts might be wounded, labor boards called, and pearls clutched. The stagnated cesspool of brash underperformers in a company which had no purpose defied description. I called it “cesspression” because we lived in a cesspool of ne’er-do-wells with no avenue to elevate our standing from our depression. It was awful.

I took it upon myself to terminate several of the underperformers in my region for:

  • falsifying leave documents
  • not performing up to standards
  • lying on and falsifying official company records
  • threatening a manager with “an ass beating”

Definitely cream of the crop.

Of course, the lawyer had seizures and end of day visions. Also, of course, none of the doomsday vision even remotely came to fruition. The California Department of Labor appeals board—those randy pro-business jerks— told the guys to get lost. But the lawyer did not learn. Instead, he doubled down and increased his obsession with risk avoidance.

In view of all this, the company was truly puzzled as to why it couldn’t attract and retain young talent. I tactfully explained that the kids these days are not hip on cesspressions. After a bit, I was told that I was hurting the tender feelings of executives who wanted to imagine that people under 30 lacked work ethic and that was why we could find none fit to be part of us. Negligence in their upbringings, basically. Further, I was told I had just better be quiet because. Yes, because. Mime-like, passionate as I was, I became quiet. And then I left.  As did others.

I think every organization goes from a place of growth to stability to stagnation and finally death. Some don’t die, they just become corporate-sized extras in “The Walking Dead”. I do not know how to stop it other than to punish it. When organizations start hiring people who favor the safe feels of stability over the life inducing energy of innovation, daring, risk, and reward, the leaders need to fight back until they lose the culture war. Then they need to leave to a new company which favors their view of the world. The old company will slouch into cesspressions and the new company will get an adrenaline shot.

A great culture is the goose that lays the golden egg. Once a culture is mired in risk aversion, revenues and forward momentum you see come from it is residual energy. But it’ll stop.

Then it’s time then to join the rats for a swim.

If not you, then who?

It’s easy to get distracted. Ever notice how the technology we use that was supposed to bring us together only seems to divide us?

It’s important to get back to basics. Especially those on this forum (ie, professionals) there’s a lot we can do by deciding to. By connecting with others and deciding to act, we can do some good. To be “anxiously engaged in a good cause”, as one thinker put it.

I’ll share my story:

Thanks to Amazon’s unbeatably veterans friendly culture, last year I was in the Philippines as part of my Marine Corps Reserves Civil Affairs duties. While there, I bought a plate of rice from a family in the jungle. I noticed they had an open pit well right in front of the front door of their house. Just an open pit with a concrete lip, down into brown water far below. They also had several children younger than 5 running about.

Having 4 little humans myself, I thought the open well was a poor design. I inquired and found that there used to be a pump, but it had been destroyed in a typhoon a few years earlier. They used some wood slats to cover it and afford some protection.

I asked why they didn’t put in a new pump and they gave me the, “Yeah, and why don’t we just fly a Rolls Royce to the moon while we’re at it, too?” look that homeowners give when some idiot proposes an impossibly expensive project.

Having done several remodels, I thought the components for a good hand pump assembly couldn’t be too much. I went down to the local hardware shop and priced out what would be needed for a good, steel hand pump. $60 for the full project.

$60? Easy decision. I bought the equipment and cement and took it back to the family. Being industrious, they had that thing in and cemented within 3 hours.

The next day I sat and talked with the family. I found out that they lived on not much money for a family of 9. The oldest daughter, Abigail, 17, had plans to go be a cruise-line hostess as per some ads she had seen, which promised to “show you the world”. As a Marine involved in stopping such things, I recognized it as a probable human trafficking trick. Like any decent military member, I quoted Admiral Ackbar and told her it was a trap.

Now I was involved. I’ve learned that while bad men get laser-focused on their quarry, too often good men just hope that bad things will not occur if their personal behavior is good. So I decided to get laser-focused on her plan. If I were involved, egregious actors would have less of a chance to trick and manipulate. I think we call that mentorship.

We sat and mapped out potential plans for college, trade schools, and so on. Turns out for her to have substantially increased odds at a good life was around $300 USD a year (which I confirmed through research).

For her, not possible. For me and mine, eminently doable.

Fast forward a year. We have her brother, Jerick, in an electrician program ($80), her with a study kits for high school final and college entry exams ($20), which occur in March, and the family with 2 new pigs to raise and sell for around $220 each ($40 each). We were also able to eliminate some predatory debt brought because of hospital bills from a car accident, for which the family had to take out a loan. Compound interest when working against you is hard to beat.

About once a week, Jerick, his sisters, and I communicate over Facebook. We talk about simple business plans, using compound interest in your favor, cost/benefit analysis, how to inventory, running a profit and loss statement, establishing a market, and avoiding scams. Stuff that for me (and probably you if you are reading this) is our daily bread. For my new friends, a useful master course in playing the game a different way.

In March, my family and I will go out there, together, so I can show them the Philippines, help my kids get a grasp of how much they have, and at the same time allow them to see the happiness and love in the eyes of the people there. We’ll also see what else we can do, not just for this family, but for the community.

The life we have in the West is the 1%, compared to the world at large. Instead of doing something with it, too many are distracted by false quarrels. Or waiting for someone else to act.

I am not a believer that asking a third party to do good with our money is very useful. I am a believer that we should all allow ourselves to click with other people, and when we do, wear our lives out in a good cause. Relay what you have learned.

Evil people have a laser focus on doing harm. Commit your laser focus on doing good.

If not you, then who?

Brand Yourself

Submit your resume to jake@careerflex.net to get started and discuss rates.

Helpful information includes:

  • What are your career goals?
  • Why haven’t you achieved them?
  • How geographically open are you?
  • What is your current and target income?

Please include a reliable contact method. Resumes and cover letters are a reflection of you and to be successful, we will be in touch. Personal touch.