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Connecting With Dusty

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I mentioned in the “Cipher” section of What Drives You?  that I always took extra steps to connect with “tough case” students in classes I was assigned to substitute teach in. Validation of that strategy succeeding came once again yesterday when I ran into “Dusty”. He smiled and said “hey, Mr. Cool Sub! How ya been?” It was good to see him, and we visited a while before moving on.

Dusty and I have some history between us. He remembered me, and I sure remembered him from over six years ago…..

Before my first day assigned to sub a week for Dusty’s class, I was warned about him by his regular teacher-that he was an especially surly, disruptive, troublesome student and I shouldn’t give him an inch. On down the standard list. I identified Dusty first thing, slouched down in his chain-drooping gothic black clothes and five piercings that I could see, scowling “don’t mess with me, I’m bad”.

Enough of that. Before class started, I walked along the rows of students and set the strategy in motion. Simply “hey Dusty, how’s it going?” as I passed his desk. No response beyond a dark stare, but none expected. He had his game face on, after all.

In the halls, I greeted him every time I saw him. Same thing every morning in the classroom. Toward the end of the week, he finally walked up to me before class. “You know what’s cool about you?” he said, looking me square in the eye. “You know my name. My other teachers don’t even care if I’m alive.”

How powerful is that?


Written by Craig

November 11, 2012 at 2:11 am

Gotta Love Those Life-changing Events

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It’s June 16, 2012. A beautiful Saturday morning except that it’s my third sunrise looking out a hospital window. I’ve had a heart attack, fairly minor but still way up there in the hierarchy of life-changing events.

The realizations creep in one-by-one. This is my third too-close brush with being finite. I’m 58 and maybe I’m not indestructible after all. Maybe I need to finish writing those songs. Maybe continuous 13-hour days are not as do-able as I thought. Maybe I do need to pay attention to what I eat. Maybe I need to pay more attention to my wife’s nagging (?) and start taking all those supplements. Maybe I don’t have forever to do all the things I really want to do.

We’re each given only so much of it…maybe I need to stop wasting time.

This book project has plodded along for well over two years, through numerous direction and design changes and spurts of progress before stalling out again. The irony: Connections makes the case for identifying, understanding and relentlessly pursuing your values-driven goals, to become fully connected with what is truly important to you, to set your direction then doggedly stay on that path. The destination: a happier, more productive, longer and healthier life.

Physician, heal thyself!

They told me this morning it would be at least two weeks before I go back to work. That’s a great chance to get things in perspective and get back on track, even though I hope to negotiate that “two weeks” down a bit (see, there I go).

One thing I’ve learned that I hope you can take to heart: the wake-up calls we get can be extremely rude and obnoxious if you don’t tune in and pay attention to the more subtle signals.

Tomorrow is my first day on the outside. It’s also Father’s Day, and I’m going to ease into this recovery business. Going fishing with my daughter.

Look, listen, connect. It’s a good place.


Post-fishing excursion update: I’m afraid I exceeded my 10lb weight restriction a couple of times. What was I supposed to do, hand the pole over to my daughter and say “you better handle this one-it’s too big for me”? Not gonna happen.

Written by Craig

June 18, 2012 at 5:02 pm

Let the Rabbits Run, redux

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(It seems I get a query or two a day on this parable. Tells me there are a lot of rabbits who want to be allowed to run. STOP making them take swimming lessons!

What really gets me is that the education system is hell-bent on teaching rabbits to swim. I know, I know…we cannot allow anarchy to rule the schoolhouse. No way can kids be allowed to learn only what they like and what they are good at, just as we can’t permit them to avoid what they hate…I’m just sayin’.)

A parable from the book: Soar With Your Strengths, by Clifton and Nelson. This book is a classic!

 Imagine there is a meadow. In that meadow there is a duck, a fish, an eagle, an owl, a squirrel, and a rabbit. They decide they want to have a school so they can be smart, just like people.

With the help of some grown-up animals, they come up with a curriculum they believe will make a well-rounded animal: running, swimming, tree climbing, jumping, and flying.

On the first day of school, little rabbit combed his ears, and he went hopping off to his running class. There he was a star. He ran to the top of the hill and back as fast as he could go, and, oh, did it feel good. He said to himself, “I can’t believe it. At school, I get to do what I do best.”

The instructor said, “Rabbit, you really have talent for running. You have great muscles in your rear legs. With some training, you will get more out of every hop.”

The rabbit said, “I love school. I get to do what I like to do and get to learn to do it better.”

The next class was swimming. When the rabbit smelled the chlorine, he said, “Wait, wait! Rabbits don’t like to swim.”

The instructor said, “Well, you may not like it now, but five years from now you’ll know it was a good thing for you.”

In the tree-climbing class, a tree trunk was set at a 30-degree angle so all the animals had a chance to succeed. The little rabbit tried so hard he hurt his leg.

In jumping class, the rabbit got along just fine; in flying class, he had a problem. So the teacher gave him a test and discovered he belonged in remedial flying.

In remedial flying class, the rabbit had to practice jumping off a cliff. They told him if he’d just work hard enough, he could succeed.

The next morning, he went on to swimming class. The instructor said, “Today we jump in the water.”

“Wait, wait. I talked to my parents about swimming. They didn’t learn to swim. We don’t like to get wet. I’d like to drop this course.” The instructor said, “You can’t drop it. The drop-and-add period is over. At this point you have a choice: Either you jump in or you flunk.”

The rabbit jumped in. He panicked! He went down once. He went down twice. Bubbles came up. The instructor saw he was drowning and pulled him out. The other animals had never seen anything quite as funny as this wet rabbit who looked more like a rat without a tail, and so they chirped, and jumped, and barked, and laughed at the rabbit. The rabbit was more humiliated than he had ever been in his life. He wanted desperately to get out of class that day. He was glad when it was over.

He thought that he would head home, that his parents would understand and help him. When he arrived, he said to his parents, “I don’t like school. I just want to be free.”

“If the rabbits are going to get ahead, you have to get a diploma” replied his parents.

The rabbit said, “I don’t want a diploma!”

The parents said, “You’re going to get a diploma whether you want one or not!”

They argued, and finally the parents made the rabbit go to bed. In the morning the rabbit headed off to school with a slow hop. Then he remembered that the principal had said that any time he had a problem to remember that the counselor’s door is always open.

When he arrived at school, he hopped up in the chair by the counselor and said, “I don’t like school.”

And the counselor said, “Mmmm, tell me about it.”

And the rabbit did.

The counselor said, “Rabbit, I hear you. I hear you saying you don’t like school because you don’t like swimming. I think I have diagnosed that correctly.”

“Rabbit, I tell you what we’ll do. You’re doing just fine in running. I don’t know why you need to work on running. What you need to work on is swimming. I’ll arrange it so you don’t have to go to running anymore, and you can have two periods of swimming.”

When the rabbit heard that, he just threw up!

As the rabbit hopped out of the counselor’s office, he looked up and saw his old friend, the Wise Old Owl who, after listening to little rabbit’s sad tale, cocked his head and said, “Rabbit, life doesn’t have to be that way. We could have schools and businesses where people are allowed to concentrate on what they do well.”

Rabbit was inspired. He thought when he graduated, he would start a business where the rabbits would do nothing but run, the squirrels could just climb trees, and the fish could just swim. As he disappeared into the meadow, he sighed softly to himself and said…

“Oh, what a great place that would be.”

A great place, indeed. Weigh in:

  • Was owl smoking something to plant those fool thoughts in rabbit’s head?
  • Why would, or wouldn’t, rabbit’s utopian business work?
  • How much of your work makes you feel like a rabbit running? And, how much of your work makes you feel like a rabbit in water?

The whole “Strengths” genre is fascinating. Plan on seeing much more about this soon.

Reinventing Myself

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People have emailed me, wondering why I haven’t posted anything lately. That’s a bit humbling, as this blog has been primarily to help me frame my thoughts. But there are people who have actually been paying attention to these musings…thank you!

Briefly, I’ve taken a break for introspection triggered by a “hard right turn” career change. A summary of that inward look follows. The result-I am starting a more focused blog, yet to be published. Some of the themes found here will carry over, some will not. I do plan on keeping this blog up and running, but with even more random thoughts and probably more fun than it has been. Stay tuned.

Besides this reinvention I’ve had an epiphany along the way too, thanks again to my career / position-on-the-ladder shift. See John Everyman.  As an immensely respected mentor inscribed in a Max Depree book he gave me in 2001, “never lose sight of yourself.”

 I did, and didn’t even realize it.

The Road to Reinvention

Over the past 20+ years I have worked for two multi-billion dollar multiple-location corporations, with projects at both the business unit and corporate levels. I’ve been both a follower and a leader. Hopefully, the experience in one has had a positive impact in my ability to be the other. I have been involved in development of people and process improvement, in business process and manufacturing environments. Most recent projects included culture change, leadership curriculum development, alignment and action planning, developing and managing systems (performance management, quality management, and communication systems), re-engineering, standard work and lean implementation.

After losing my position in February 2009, I stopped to examine my direction. Did I need professional re-engineering? Are my knowledge base and my core competencies a good fit with my values and beliefs, and career plans? More importantly, was I focusing on critical areas that businesses need to achieve excellence, and were those areas worth devoting my efforts to in this phase of my career?

In short…is my direction personally relevant (engaging) and professionally relevant (marketable)?

I’ve moved past ladder climbing; I simply want to make a meaningful contribution where that contribution is truly valued and strategically significant. I do not care to work in a large corporate environment again; I prefer being part of a smaller organization that is flexible and insightful enough to do what it needs to do.

I have always been a huge believer in “involvement”. Involvement has transformed into the loftier concept of “engagement”. But what you call it matters little. Either way, two truths stand out:

  1. If you don’t pay constant attention to the “soft” stuff (the human side of the business—working relationships, personal development, teaming, involvement etc) you will never fully achieve the maximum level of “hard” results (### and $$$) that your business is capable of. And,
  2. If the soft stuff does not have a strategic impact, what good is it? Who has time for irrelevant hugs and kisses classes with no purpose? Forget Kumbaya, show me the cash.

Over the past half year I produced a random series of essays loosely focused on what is becoming the basis of Roadmap. Thousands of surfers visited this blog without any active promotion on my part. For me this affirmed the power of cyber space, but also indicated a high level of interest in Engagement, Alignment, Communication, Systems and Involvement…my reinvented focus.

Mission: Within my sphere of influence, enable individuals and leaders to leverage the power of engagement to more fully realize flawless execution of strategy.

Vision: Improve quality of life and protect our standard of living. Serve as a catalyst who enables highly satisfied and productive people, leading to greater business and industry profitability and success.

Unlike some missions / visions, I feel confident that mine has sturdy legs: supporting objectives, strategies, and action plans. One strategy is to produce what you are reading right now, and my target market and how to reach it are both detailed in my objectives.

 The Relevance

So why all this personal disclosure, and how is it relevant here? Why should anyone but family and friends care at all about any of this?

One: I wanted to share my experience with you, so others can understand my perspective. Two: personal re-invention comes highly recommended to other individuals. Three, the introspective analysis I conducted is roughly the same process a company goes through, or should go through, on a regular basis to re-evaluate, validate and adjust its strategic direction. My reinvention was reactive, out of necessity, caused by a “crisis”…career change. I would strongly advise others to be more proactive-don’t wait for the bleeding to start. Rather, prevent the injury!

In my chosen avocation, if you’re not continuously evolving you’re falling behind. The opposite of growth is stagnation, atrophy and, eventually, death. I don’t want to look back when it’s too late and do the “woulda, shoulda, coulda” thing.

In that respect is your business, career, or life any different than mine?

Written by Craig

December 28, 2009 at 4:14 am

YOU ARE HERE….A Quick Navigation Tip

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Welcome! Highly recommended, to help find the right posts to meet your interests:

About In Pursuit of Excellence   

Roadmap of Categories and Topics 

These are both in the PAGES section, upper right corner. I would really appreciate your weighing in on the issues. In Pursuit of Excellence is for sharing insights!

Written by Craig

April 12, 2009 at 8:36 am

Employment Branding-A Seeker’s Perspective

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First, a word from our friend Ben at his blog…5 ways to improve your company’s Employment Brand.

Ben’s points ring painfully true for me as a job seeker, and he offers extremely good advice for employers. So whichever hat you‘re wearing right now, go read Ben’s post. Then come back here for my 2c worth from a current seeker’s perspective.


It’s so easy to forget that an employment relationship represents a significant investment from both employer AND employee. What drives a job seeker to sign on with one company over another, all other things being equal? Employment branding is essential to catching the best there is to catch, even in this buyers’ market.


A nod’s as good as a wink to a blind man….do not underestimate the importance of communicating to applicants. My elephant’s memory has total recall of those who did, and those who didn’t, respond in some way, ANY way, that they know I exist. By the way, I’m a customer too.


It’s not just Gen X and Gen Y who want to be informed and treated as owners. I’ll testify for the boomers-we want the same. But Ben’s assessment is correct-sharing business information is indeed becoming more critical with those coming up into the power seats. And don’t just share a bunch of “stuff”…you need a communication strategy.


Whaaat?! There’s more to onboarding than “here’s your desk / sink or swim bubba”?! The transition process is too often ignored. I have to go find it, but good data is out there somewhere on the impacts of ineffective transitions at many levels-internal position changes, new leaders, people new to the company. It’s critical to eliminate the unknowns and other barriers so “new” folks and the people around them can reach maximum productivity ASAP.


Sell the Sizzle! The really good candidates are most definitely interested in more than a sterile job description. Here to testify again. The HR-politically-correct job description is a necessary evil, but there must be more to a job posting than that. Exceptional job seekers look for exceptional opportunities. It’s more than a job, it’s an adventure.


Related to selling the sizzle-protect your image, employers. The really good candidates study a company prior to expressing interest. Your web site is the world’s window to your soul. If it’s boring, I sleep (CLICK). If it’s nothing but techno-babble, I glaze over (CLICK). If there are typos and poorly written copy, I laugh (CLICK). Unless I’m applying for your webmaster position, in which case I’m thinking “job security” (ka-CHING).


Written by Craig

April 10, 2009 at 8:30 am

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First, a news flash…my favorite purveyor of engagement, BlessingWhite, is in process of rolling out new material after partnering in its development with a couple of UK leadership experts: Why Should Anyone Be Led By You?

BlessingWhite Press Release for “Led by You”  (you may need to register to see this but it doesn’t take long and it’s free)


In one of the groups I am active in, I posed a question about leadership style and whether there are significant cultural / norms / environmental differences in our worlds on different sides of the water—the UK and US.


Mary Ann Masarech, Director Research & Marketing at BlessingWhite, replied

“…In my personal experience, leaders and employees have far more in common across geographic boundaries than they have differences. We all know that you can have five individuals who look a lot alike, with similar backgrounds, yet they can have very different personal values and goals. That’s why we say “coach the individual, not the demographic.”


That’s a great philosophy to work by…coach the individual, not the demographic. It’s dangerous to cram people into buckets.


Situational Leadership is decent, for its basic philosophy: weigh the task at hand and the individual’s level of readiness and willingness, and tailor your coaching and communication approach accordingly. The relatively new stuff that examines generational differences in motivators and therefore preferences (Values Population Groups, or ‘generational cohorts’), while providing decent food for thought, is not absolutely practical without some serious analysis of the specific situation and the individuals involved.


Myers Briggs, DiSC et al….buckets all around us. Have you ever seen a bucket full of crabs? I haven’t. But I’ve heard the picture is not pretty. The crabs evidently don’t want to be in the bucket, and neither do I.


It’s easy to determine your own preferences for leadership style, both leading and being led, especially if you‘ve taken the time to identify and very clearly define your personal values and goals. Things get much more difficult when dealing with other people unless there is crystal clarity between you, of each others’ drivers and core values.


Now, there’s a unique idea….what level of trust would you need to have an open and honest discussion with someone at work about your core values? If that someone is your boss, and if they care about your job satisfaction (therefore your level of performance!) they have a huge vested interest in what drives you.


If you are a manager, re-read the last sentence. Twice.

Written by Craig

April 10, 2009 at 8:11 am