Managing the Ups and Downs of Performance

Every year we have a Final Four basketball week at our company. Teams of three from departments around the company compete with each other for the championship. We also have a free throw contest from the foul line. The prize goes to the person who hits the most out of 20.

In the past, I’ve won the free throw competition a number of times.  I was a basketball player when I was younger and known as an outstanding foul shooter. This year the score I had to better was 14 out of 20. When I stepped to the line, I made eight in a row. Everybody was cheering, because they thought I had it made.

Suddenly, I couldn’t hit the proverbial bull in the rear with a handful of rice. I lost.

The experience reminded me of golf. It’s been said about golf that you never own it; it’s just on loan. Just when you think you’ve got it, you don’t—and just when you think you don’t, you do.

What I should have done after missing a couple of free throws is step back, take a deep breath, and regroup. I do that on the golf course, but I had never experienced such a dry spell with my foul shooting. Live and learn!

Fluctuating performance happens in the professional arena all the time. For example, when sales go down, rather than charging on in hopes they’ll go back up, it’s beneficial to take an organizational deep breath, gather people together, and determine what might be causing the drop in sales. Whenever our company has done that, we get great feedback from our people, develop new strategies, and get back on track.

What do you do to get back on track, individually or organizationally? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Life is a Very Special Occasion

I can’t believe how fast this year has gone by. I like the joke about how life is like a roll of toilet paper—the closer you get to the end, the faster it goes!

Of course, everyone’s year is 365 days long. But for a lot of us, it feels like the years go by faster than they used to. Why do you think that is? I recently heard an interesting theory. When you’re in your 70s like I am, each year is only about 1/70th of your life. But when you’re 5 years old, each year is 20 percent of your life! That’s why the years seem to fly by as we age.

Remember when we were young, how we couldn’t wait until the school year was over? It seemed to drag on forever when we were waiting for summer to arrive. These days, at the beginning of each new year, Margie and I say “Just think, pretty soon it will be summer and we’ll be at our cottage in Skaneateles!”—because we know how fast those months will go.

Whether you’re young or old, though, I hope you enjoy every day. Life is a very special occasion. Don’t miss a minute!

Savor Some Solitude

In the age of information and round-the-clock news, many of us feel swamped by obligations that constantly require our attention. We can all relate to feeling bogged down by responsibilities. It’s only human to feel that balancing a job, a family, and flooded inbox makes taking time for yourself an impossible luxury.

It’s true that taking time for solitude in a busy world is challenging. In the rare moments where we have time to ourselves, relaxing can feel unsettling because we are used to doing, not being.

Despite our hang-ups, solitude is extremely valuable. Many CEOs, including Steve Jobs, use solitude as a tool to process information away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Jobs believed that if you just sit and observe your mind, you will see how restless it is; but over time your mind calms down. When it does, you can see things more clearly and there’s room for your intuition to blossom. Jobs used the awareness he developed through reflection to build a groundbreaking company. His intuition gave him insight into the desires of customers. This became one of the defining qualities of Apple: giving customers what they didn’t know they needed.

Solitude helps us know ourselves. When we know ourselves, we’re able to make decisions that match who we are and what we value. If we don’t take the time to know ourselves, our decisions are often based on what’s popular, rather than what’s best.

My wife Margie and I believe in the importance of reflection so much that we spend a good chunk of our summer in Skaneateles, away from our business in San Diego. I find that this time I spend reflecting actually improves my business decisions when I return, because I come back relaxed, with a better sense of my values.

Take time to listen to yourself, in the same way you would listen to an employee’s concerns or a friend’s problem. Time is a precious resource, but setting some aside to just be will bring a great return on investment. Even if it’s only 10 minutes each day, this time will empower you to make decisions that are powered by your deepest self.

If You Choose Your Attitude, You Get to Change Your Life for the Better

Does your busy schedule sometimes require you to do one thing when you’d really rather be doing something else, and it leaves you feeling a little grumpy? Once in a while when this happens to me, I think of a story I heard several years ago about the late, great opera singer Beverly Sills.

At a reception being held in her honor after a Saturday afternoon concert in San Francisco, the much loved Sills was approached by a reporter.

The reporter said, “I’ll bet you hate the fact that you have to give another concert tonight.”

“I don’t have to give another concert tonight,” said Sills.

“Yes you do,” the surprised reporter said as he held up a theater program. “It says so right on the front of this program.”

“You don’t understand,” said Sills. “I don’t have to give another concert—I get to give another concert. For much of my life I’ve said “I have to” do things. When I would say “I have to,” I could feel all the energy drain out of my body. Then one day I started thinking about how for each of my concerts, people were getting babysitters and dressing up and driving long distances just to see me sing. I realized how fortunate I was to be able to make a living doing something I loved to do. So the truth is, I get to give another concert tonight.”

Isn’t that great? So next time the thought runs through your head that you have to go to work, pick up the kids, do the shopping, or something else—substitute the phrase I get to. It’s a great mental shift toward a more positive attitude.

Another great attitude boost comes from Charles Swindoll. He is a famous pastor, author, educator, and radio preacher who wrote a wonderful essay about being in charge of your own attitude.

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude in life. Attitude is more important than facts. It’s more important than your past; more important than your education or your financial situation; more important than your circumstances, your successes, or your failures; more important than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than your appearance, your giftedness, or your skills. It will make or break a company. It will cause a church to soar or sink. It will make the difference between a happy home and a miserable home. You have a choice each day regarding the attitude you will embrace.

Life is like a violin. You can focus on the broken strings that dangle, or you can play your life’s melody on the one that remains. You cannot change the years that have passed, nor can you change the daily tick of the clock. You cannot change the pace of your march toward your death. You cannot change the decisions or reactions of other people. And you certainly cannot change the inevitable. . . . What you can do is play on the one string that remains—your attitude. I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it. The same is true for you.”

Life is a very special occasion when you have the right attitude. You are in charge—so I hope you choose to have a great attitude today. And remember: you don’t have to, you get to!

What’s Your Midyear’s Resolution?

Can you believe that 2017 is almost half over already? Wow! Where did the time go?

I’ve been thinking about how every year we set New Year’s resolutions—and by June, those goals are just distant memories. So maybe it would be a good idea for us all to set a Midyear’s resolution every year in June. There’s nothing wrong with setting a goal for how to make the next six months better, or for what you want to be doing six months from now. Margie loves the saying “A goal is a dream with a deadline.” So think about the next six months coming up and go ahead and dream about the person you want to be or the thing you want to do. When you start to send energy out as a dream, you never know who may show up in your life to help you accomplish it.

That’s what happened when Spencer Johnson and I wrote The One Minute Manager. The book was due to go on sale in May 1982. So in September 1981, Spencer and I met at the La Jolla Cove. We had The New York Times book review section and a bottle of champagne, and we talked about our goals and dreams for our little book. We set a goal to sell 500,000 copies—no business book had ever sold that many—and we dreamed that it would be on The New York Times bestseller list for six months. Then we celebrated, clinking our glasses as we sat there with the bestseller list, and it was really a fun time. That was on a Sunday.

On Monday I was on a plane bound for Chicago. I introduced myself to the guy sitting next to me in first class and asked him what business he was in. He said, “I’m a regional sales manager for B. Dalton.” (At the time, B. Dalton was the largest bookstore in the US.) I said, “You’re kidding me. You sell books?” and he said, “Sure, we have 750 stores.” So I started talking to him. By the time we got to Chicago, I had come up with a whole strategy to reach the business buyers of B. Dalton and Waldenbooks and all the other bookstores.

Before we got off the plane I said to the guy, “I’ll bet you weren’t supposed to be sitting here, were you?” He said, “How did you know that? They goofed up my ticket and at the last minute I was upgraded to first class.” I laughed and said, “You had no choice. I sucked you into this seat with the energy from my dream and vision about this book.” Ha! And you know what? That little book did all right.

So dream big—and be sure to let other people know what your vision is. Someone you meet might be able to help it come true. June is almost over! What’s your Midyear’s resolution?