5 Powerful Questions to Reboot Your Work Life

As most of us settle into the COVID-19 working-from-home life, I’m reminded of just how important learning is in our lives. Whether we’re doing it for personal or professional development, learning keeps our minds and skills sharp. It not only staves off boredom, it also keeps us from becoming boring people! Getting older—or getting seniority in our jobs—has its pluses and minuses. On the one hand, you can finish day-to-day tasks with ease by relying on past experiences, document templates, and standardized steps. But without ongoing learning, your personal satisfaction and effectiveness in the workplace will suffer.

I recently started a fun interaction on my social media channels called the Blanchard Campfire. Each Friday I pose a question and open it up for discussion in the comments section. Last Friday’s question was, “What have you learned during the COVID-19 pandemic?”

The answers inspire me and underscore the joy and importance of continuous learning. Here are a few of the things people said about what they’re learning:

“I’m staying current in my job by learning many things I overlooked all these years.”

“I’m learning how important motivation and perseverance are.”

“When life slows down, families grow stronger.”

“I’m rethinking my work role.”

“I’m studying a new language.”

“I’m strengthening my video development skills.”

“I’ve learned that we really do not have control of the future, so we need to love unconditionally.”

“I’m learning to teach an online course.”

If you’ve ever worked on a computer that hasn’t been tuned up in a while, you might have noticed that it can get sluggish. The same thing happens to us as individuals. We need rebooting and updated software from time to time, and this pandemic is a great opportunity to refresh and reset our professional lives.

To help you reboot, I’ve created a short quiz, adapted from the book I wrote with Mark Miller, Great Leaders GROW: Becoming a Leader for Life. Read each question and give an honest yes or no answer.

  1. Do I have up-to-date knowledge about my industry?
  2. Do I share my knowledge with others?
  3. Do I know my strengths and weaknesses?
  4. Do I have a mentor in my field?
  5. Do I have a personal development plan?

If you answered no to any of the questions above, that’s a great place to start. For example, if you’re new to an industry or have fallen behind on the latest developments in it, take the following steps:

  • Set a goal to become knowledgeable in a specific area of your industry.
  • Set a deadline to complete your learning. As my wife, Margie, often says, “A goal without a deadline is just a dream.”
  • Take action to achieve your goal: read relevant books and articles, take online classes and tutorials, or participate in webinars that will fill in your knowledge gaps. Take advantage of any educational opportunities your employer may offer. And don’t overlook the value of finding a mentor in your field.
  • Reward your progress. When you’ve finished a book, tutorial, or class, give yourself a pat on the back or treat yourself in a way that makes you feel good.

Go through this process with items 1 through 5 in the quiz above and turn your no answers into yes answers. When you’ve done them all, start over and do them again. The point is to continue to grow along your learning journey.

Don’t set yourself up for failure by setting your expectations too high. Remember, perfection is the enemy of excellence. That’s why I suggested that you reward yourself as you make progress, not just when you complete the goal.

And don’t beat yourself up if you don’t do it perfectly. Suppose you wanted to teach a child to say, “Please give me a glass of water.” If you waited until the child said the whole sentence before you gave them any water, they’d die of thirst. So, you start off by saying, “Water! Water!” Suddenly, one day the child says “waller.” You burst into a smile, hug and kiss the child, and get grandma on the phone so the child can say “waller, waller.” It isn’t “water,” but it’s close. Be as compassionate with yourself as you’d be with that child, and praise yourself for progress, not perfection, as you work toward your goals.

Brian Herbert said, “The capacity to learn is a gift; the ability to learn is a skill; the willingness to learn is a choice.”  So, choose learning today—you’ll never regret it!

Keep a Positive Perspective on Today

I’ve been thinking lately about how important it is to have a positive perspective and live life in the present. I have a journal I read frequently where I have written inspirational thoughts as well as motivational quotes. I try every day to live by these three positive thoughts:

  • You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.
  • You become an adult when you realize life is about serving others rather than being served.
  • Life is about significance. Making a living is about success.

To me significance is about making a difference in the lives of people you touch every day. Success—doing your job well—is important, but it’s not the meaning of life. As I continually say:  Life is all about who you love and who loves you.

I also am inspired every day by a wonderful saying attributed to Stephen Grellet, a French-born American Quaker missionary: “I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” What a great perspective this is—if you can do some good or be kind to someone, don’t wait—do it now.

After the big football game last Sunday, I reflected on when I was part of a panel in Dallas many years ago with Tom Landry, the late, great Dallas Cowboys coach. If you ever watched Landry when he was coaching, he was the picture of calmness no matter what was happening. A man in the audience asked him, “How do you stay so calm in the midst of this crazy game of football?” Tom’s quick answer was this:

“Staying calm is easy for me, because I have my priorities in order. First comes God, then my wife, then my family and friends, and finally, my job. So if I lose on Sunday, I have a lot left over. Unfortunately, I see some coaches who are devastated when they lose because winning is their whole life.” He really knew how to put winning and losing in perspective.

When I met Don Shula, legendary coach of the Miami Dolphins and my coauthor on Everyone’s a Coach, I found out he had the same philosophy as Tom Landry. Don’s wife and family were always center stage for him before winning. I’ll never forget once when I was visiting him, the Dolphins had a very important game and they lost. I was concerned because Don and I had a big television interview scheduled for the next day. But much to my surprise, when he arrived at the studio he was very upbeat. I asked him how that was possible after a major defeat. He said, “The philosophy I’ve instilled in our team is that we have only 24 hours after a game to either celebrate a victory or bemoan a defeat. After that, our focus has to be on the next game.” Talk about living in the present, not the past, and then planning for the future.

During the opening ceremonies for Sunday’s big game, it was great to see Don, at age 90, on the field smiling and waving to the crowd. He was being recognized as one of the 10 greatest coaches of all time. I called him a few weeks ago on his 90th birthday and said “Happy birthday, youngster!” He immediately replied “I can still kick your a**!” Now there’s some perspective! Ha!

One of the fun things about arriving home from a trip is the greeting I get from our fabulous little dog, Joy. It shouldn’t go unnoticed that “dog” spells “God“ backwards. I think it’s because dogs behave the way God would like us to behave—they focus on the present. They don’t worry about the past—yesterday is over. They have little concern for the future—tomorrow is yet to come. They stay in the present and enjoy every moment. Dogs are living, breathing guides to a positive perspective on life. Then why can’t dogs live longer? The best answer I’ve heard is that if you gave out unconditional love 24 hours a day, you’d be exhausted, too!

Thanks for permitting me to reminisce about all these things. I hope you have a wonderful day focusing on the now. Keep your “I love yous” up to date. And never forget that life is a very special occasion. Savor every moment!

Pay the PRICE to Make Good on Your New Year’s Resolution!

Have you made any New Year’s resolutions? How are they working for you so far?

Every year I hear people say they are having a hard time motivating themselves to put their New Year’s resolutions into place. My first question is always “How many resolutions do you have?” The answer usually goes something like this: “Well, this year I want to lose weight, exercise more, start reading, spend more time in the garden, watch less TV, travel more, and stop drinking.” Of course those people don’t feel motivated—they are so overwhelmed by their resolutions, they don’t even want to get out of bed! So my first piece of advice is to pick one or two resolutions that you really believe you can accomplish and focus on those.

Several years ago, my friend Bob Lorber and I wrote a book called Putting the One Minute Manager to Work where we talked about the PRICE system. This model works great for New Year’s resolutions. Here’s what the letters in the PRICE acronym stand for:

P is for pinpoint. What is the thing you’d like to do? Is it to lose weight? Exercise more? Get to bed earlier? Identify what you want to work on and be specific.

R is for record. What is your present level of performance in that area? Record your weight or your clothes sizes, write down your present level of exercise, or write down your typical bedtime so you have baseline data. Now you have something to compare with where you want to go, which involves the next step.

I is for involve. Gather key people in your life who can help you set a One Minute Goal for each resolution based on the difference between where you are now (what you’ve recorded) and where you’d like to go. We need to ask for support from people who care about us because it’s very hard to stick to resolutions on our own. Perhaps you could agree to help someone with their resolutions while they help you with yours! Almost everyone needs support from others. What will they do to cheer you on? How can they help hold you accountable? Plan it out and get agreement on your goal or goals. And remember, the best goals are SMART: Specific and measurable, Motivating, Attainable, Relevant, and Trackable/time-bound.

C is for coach. Now your plans are in place and you are starting to make good on your resolutions. You are getting the coaching you need—the cheerleading, the support, and the redirection. Let other people help to keep you in line. As I say, if you could do it by yourself, you would.

is for evaluate. When you have made some headway on your goal, look back and evaluate how you are doing. First, catch yourself doing something right and give yourself a One Minute Praising—any forward progression toward your resolution is worth celebrating! Now think about whether you may be off track in any way. Is there anything that needs to be “tweaked” to enable you to continue your progress? A One Minute Re-Direct may be in order. Don’t stop now! Keep tracking so you can see how you are continuously improving, and plan your future strategies. What will you pinpoint next?

It’s exciting to look ahead at a new year, especially when you have plans for self-improvement in place and friends to support you and help you accomplish your goals. What are you going to be smiling about in December? Take care and have a terrific 2020!

Ask Empowering Questions

Most of us—even millennials—have a history of working under guidance and control at school and in our workplaces. Therefore, we tend to think of authority as external rather than internal. The following questions are all too familiar to us:

At school: “What does the teacher want me to do to get good grades?”

At work: “What does my boss want me to do?”

While things are changing, we live and work in a culture predominated by top-down management and hierarchical thinking, so we’re far less likely to ask questions like these:

At school: “What do I want to learn from this class? How will I know I have learned something I can use?”

At work: “What do I need to do to help my company succeed?”

These are empowering questions. President Kennedy made a call for these kinds of questions when he challenged Americans: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

Empowering questions open the possibility for us to become stronger and more competent. So why don’t we ask them more often?

It gets back to all those hard-earned parenting, teaching, and managing skills we learned from our hierarchical culture. Indeed, we feel it is our responsibility as parents, teachers, or managers to tell people what to do, how to do it, and why it needs to be done. We feel we’d be shirking our responsibilities to ask children, students, or direct reports empowering questions such as these:

“What do you think needs to be done, and why is it important?”

“What do you think your goals should be?”

“How do you think you should go about achieving your goals?”

Many of us are afraid to relinquish control to our direct reports because we’re concerned about outcomes. Yet organizations with a culture of empowerment almost always outperform their hierarchical competitors. Consider the following story from Ritz-Carlton, a company famous for its culture of empowerment.

A loss prevention officer at The Ritz-Carlton, Toronto, was called for the second time to a guest room after receiving a complaint of children playing hockey in the hallway. A typical response might have been to knock on the family’s door and ask them to be quiet. But Ritz-Carlton encourages its employees to think for themselves as they live by the company’s “Gold Standards.” These standards invite empowering questions such as:

  • How can I respond to the expressed and unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests?
  • How can I create unique, memorable, and personal experiences for our guests?

Rather than tell the parents to shush their hallway-hockey-playing kids, the loss prevention officer came up with a creative solution. He enlisted banquet employees to isolate space in one of the meeting rooms and create a hockey rink, using banquet tables as a frame. While the “rink” was being set up, he drove to a local sports store and bought two hockey nets, six sticks, and hockey balls. Finally, he delivered a written note to the family, inviting them to an impromptu hockey match against the Loss Prevention All-Stars.

Needless to say, the family was wowed.

A tight match was played between the Loss Prevention All-Stars and Team Family, with Team Family emerging victorious. The game was recorded on the Loss Prevention in-house cameras and Team Family was sent photos of their epic game.

Double-wow.

My friend Tony Robbins often says, “Successful people ask better questions and as a result, they get better answers.” So, ask yourself some empowering questions, and encourage your people to do the same.

The Precious Present

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift—that’s why they call it the present.”

You may have heard this quotation, attributed to many different people including Eleanor Roosevelt. It reminds me of when I first met Spencer Johnson. He had just finished a manuscript entitled The Precious Present (Doubleday, 1984).  It’s a wonderful parable about a young boy who lived near an older man who always seemed to be happy. One day the boy asked the old man about it.

The old man told the boy that the secret to lifelong happiness was finding the Precious Present. “It is a present because it is a gift. And it is precious because anyone who receives such a present is happy forever.”

“Wow!” the little boy exclaimed.  “I hope someone gives me The Precious Present.”

For years as the young boy grew, he searched high and low, trying in vain to find the Precious Present. Finally, as a grown man, he stopped to recall the things the happy old man had told him so many years ago. At that moment, he realized the Precious Present was just that: the present. Not the past, not the future, but the Precious Present.

It’s okay to learn from the past, but don’t live there. And it’s okay to plan for the future, but don’t live there, either. If you really want to be happy as you go through life, don’t lose what is precious to you. Live in the present.

What a powerful message. I always remember it when I’m feeling bad about something that’s already happened or when I start worrying about things that haven’t happened yet. Living every day to the fullest is really the best way I know to be happy for the rest of your life. Thanks, Spencer.