Love versus Stuff

Over the past week, those of us living in southern California have had a whole new complication thrown into our busy holiday schedules: wildfires. For me it’s a reminder of the lesson I learned ten years ago, when our long-time family home burned to the ground in the massive Witch Creek fire of 2007. The lesson is this:

What matters in life is who you love and who loves you.

Everything else is just stuff.

Sometimes in our lives—and particularly during the holidays—we get lost in accumulation. We want to buy more things, do more things, see more things—and we get ourselves and our priorities out of whack.

How are you doing so far this month? Are you focusing too much on stuff—such as what you have and what you have to do—and not on the people you love?

It’s not too late to turn that around.

Reach out today and tell the important people in your life how much you love and care for them. Better yet, cozy up around the fire and spend time talking and laughing together. That’s the real spirit of the season.

Gratitude: A Great Stress Buster

Having just experienced a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend, I’ve been reflecting on the relationship between thankfulness and stress. Recent research indicates that when you’re stressed out, if you stop and count your blessings and what you are thankful for, your stress will go away. Turns out that you can’t feel stress and be thankful at the same time. I love that!

Let’s keep this idea in mind as we head into the December holiday season. The minute you feel stressed out—shopping and thinking of all the other things you need to do in preparation for the holiday—take a deep breath and think of something you are grateful for.

This reminds me of the lyrics to a wonderful Bing Crosby song we used to sing when I was a kid:

“When I’m worried and I can’t sleep,

I count my blessings instead of sheep,

And I fall asleep counting my blessings.”

Good on you all!

Keep Your Praise-to-Criticism Ratio at 4:1 for a Healthy Workplace

I was once talking to a young woman and asked her if she liked her boss.

“She’s okay,” she said. “She seems to think I’m doing a good job.”

“How can you tell?” I asked her.

“Well, she hasn’t yelled at me lately,” she said.

Unfortunately, too many people have bosses like this—they never hear from them unless they do something wrong. That’s too bad. I am a firm believer in not only catching people doing things right, but praising them when they do.

I was involved in a corporate study where criticisms and praisings from managers to direct reports were tabulated and the reactions measured. The study concluded that in a healthy workplace environment there need to be at least four times as many positive interactions as negative ones between manager and direct report—a 4:1 ratio.

When there was one praising for each criticism (1:1), people perceived their relationship with their boss to be negative. When the ratio was changed and there were two praisings to one criticism (2:1), people still saw their manager as being all over them. It wasn’t until there were four praisings to one criticism (4:1) that people responded that they had a good relationship with their boss.

You know that people’s perception of criticism is powerful when it takes four positive comments to balance one negative comment. It’s pretty clear that when a leader doesn’t give a lot of praise, the people who work with them will think of them as negative and unfair. So how can you cultivate that much praise? It’s simple: catch people doing something right and give them a One Minute Praising.

In The New One Minute Manager®, my late friend Spencer Johnson and I wrote about One Minute Praisings. They work best when you follow these steps:

  1. Praise someone as soon as possible after you see praiseworthy behavior or work. Don’t save up compliments—unspoken praise is worthless!
  2. In very specific terms, tell the person what they did right—and be specific.
  3. Tell them how good you feel about what they did right and how it helps others or the organization. In other words, relate their good behavior to the broader picture.
  4. Once you’ve given a praising, pause to let the message sink in and give the person a chance to feel good about what they did.
  5. After a brief pause, let the person know you would like to see more of the same behavior.
  6. Make it clear that you have confidence in them and that you support their success in the organization.

These steps can easily and sincerely be accomplished in a minute. One Minute Praisings have a powerful impact on morale and productivity—and they are a great way to create a consistent 4:1 ratio in your organization!

Blessings in the Rubble

Last week marked the ten-year anniversary of the massive fires in San Diego that took our family home. When Margie and I reflect on that time, we try to focus on the good things that came out of it. You might not think that makes sense. Of course, it was a tragedy—but there were many positives. One of our biggest blessings was realizing the difference between the value of people and the value of stuff.

Only a month before we lost our house, I received a copy of a new book called When the Game Is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box written by my friend John Ortberg—a wonderful author and the senior pastor of Menlo Church in Menlo Park, California. I was so taken by one section of John’s book, I sent everyone in our company a voicemail about it. John wrote about how in life, some things are forever and some are temporary—and how easy it is for us to get the two mixed up. He suggested everyone do the following exercise.

All you need is a pen and two pads of sticky notes. Write TEMPORARY on each note on one pad and FOREVER on each note on the other pad. Then go around during your day and distribute them. Put a TEMPORARY note on your car, your house, your furniture, your checkbook, things in your closet, your TV, your cell phone, etc. Put a FOREVER note on people in your family, your friends, your boss, your coworkers, the stranger behind the counter—and don’t forget to put one on yourself. Because everything else is just temporary stuff. No one will remember what clothes you wore, your bank balance, or the kind of car you drove. When the game is over, all that’s left is love—who you love and who loves you. Everything else goes back in the box.

A week after the fire, we decided to have a memorial celebration for our house—so many people in our company had been there for get-togethers or holiday parties. And over the years a number of our salespeople and consulting partners and other friends and colleagues had come to stay with us, sometimes for days or weeks for various reasons. And even though there was nothing left of the house now, all of those memories remained—so about 100 people gathered and shared their memories with us. It was a wonderful, healing experience.

One of the blessings we hadn’t thought of—and one of the biggest laughs—came at the end of the memorial celebration. Our daughter, Debbie, said, “I’ve been having a lot of mixed feelings about the house burning down. Of course it’s very sad. But I remember not that long ago walking through the house and seeing all of mom and dad’s stuff in the garage and the closets—they never threw anything away. I had the thought that if something ever happened to them, it would probably end up being my job to clean the place out—to go through everything and figure out what to do with it. Now I won’t have to do that!” Everyone laughed but they had to admit that Debbie had a point.

Shortly after the fire, a wonderful friend of Margie’s and mine named Tom Crum told us about a sign in his home written by a Japanese poet. The message on the sign translates to “Now that my barn is burned to the ground I can see the moon.” It was yet another reminder—there’s always something to be thankful for.

The Leadership Compass

A few years ago, my good friend Bill Hybels, founding pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, came up with an interesting concept about how leadership is like the face of a compass, with four points—south, north, east, and west.

When people talk about leadership, they are usually talking about the compass pointing south. When you lead south, you are the leader and your job is to help your people win. Spencer Johnson and I wrote about this in The One Minute Manager. You work with your people on goal setting, praise them when they do well, and redirect them when they get off track.

When you manage north, it’s about influencing up—which is the subject of my book with Susan Fowler and Lawrence Hawkins, Self Leadership and the One Minute Manager. How do you get what you need to succeed? You must develop the right mindset and skillset to ask your boss for exactly what you need.

Then there’s leading east and west, which is all about supporting your colleagues and others in your peer group. When you know how to lead laterally and create win-win situations with your peers, it can have a very positive effect on the culture. Leading east and west is also about the mentoring that can happen among people of any rank or age as long as one person has something they can learn from another.

What’s really key to the compass analogy is what is at the center of the compass: you. The most difficult leadership challenge we all have is ourselves. Meeting that challenge begins by being self-aware. It doesn’t matter how many points we hit around the compass if we’re not strong in the middle. Take a hard look at yourself. Figure out what you need to do to be the kind of leader you want to be.

If you want to be a 360-degree leader, you need to learn how to lead in all four directions—south, where  you serve the people who report to you; north, where relationship and influence help you manage those with authority over you; and east and west where you guide and encourage your peers. And don’t forget to keep the compass point centered by knowing you are the best leader you can be so that you can maximize your influence on others.