A boy…

At 4:00 a.m. I was awake and wondering, had I adequately prepared for a lesson I’d be presenting later this morning? A roll, a turn. It was pointless. I was awake and left with only one option – review my lesson plan.

Quietly, I plugged the modem in and crept from the bedroom to my office. Digitally reconnected to the world, I pulled up the lesson and began to review, but I must admit, first I stole a peek at your Facebook headlines.

The first one I saw was from Matt Mobley. “4-3 Going to the championship.”

Another lady wrote, “Need a picture of what HUSTLE looks like?? These boys have hustled!! I am over the moon right now for them…”

I smiled at the thought of how excited we get for our children. Sure, we often wonder if they even realize how much we sacrifice for their fun – hopefully their growth and development as well – but we don’t truly know what they are gaining from the experiences we provide them until later in life.

Our responsibility is to simply do our best to provide opportunity. We are making an investment in them, in their future, in their potential. That journey is filled with excitement, satisfaction, pride, fear, and all too often heartache and pain, but we would not trade it for the world.

Nobody knows what a boy is worth,
We’ll have to wait and see.
But every man in a noble place,
A boy once used to be.

Leaders, Listen!

A friend once told me that his mentor counseled him, “As the boss, the greatest t

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hing you can do for your people is to be accessible and listen to them.”

I could not agree more; however, I would add that you must not listen only to hear, but to understand. In the U.S. Army, there are many age-old traditions. One of thos

e traditions is that on Thanksgiving Day the leaders dress up in their service uniforms and serve their soldiers and families Thanksgiving dinner.

It’s an unwritten rule that after everyone is served the leaders mill around the room and ask their soldiers how they are doing. As the boss, I told my subordinate leaders that their soldiers knew when they were asked, “How are you doing?” whether the lead
er truly cared to know the answer to the question or not. “They know before you ask them if you really care,” I told them.

Some leaders do what they are expected to do, but they are not authentic. Truly caring means listening not only to hear, but to understand. So many leaders today simply can’t set the rest of the world aside and give their employee a few precious seconds of their time.

Have you ever entered your boss’s office to ask a question or solicit guidance, but they kept glancing at their computer screen as they spoke to you – distracted?  Have you ever been speaking to your boss and grew irritated because every time their iPhone “dinged” they glanced at the screen?

Sadly, I’ve experience these scenarios all too many times.

If you truly care. If you truly want the best your employees have to offer. If you want them to know that you genuinely care about them. Listen to them!

If you don’t really listen – you’ll never UNDERSTAND.

Mining Potential

You may be familiar with the success storypenny of America’s first industrialist, Andrew Carnegie. Early in the 20th Century, when millionaires were sparse in America, forty-three of them worked for Mr. Carnegie. A reporter once asked, “How have you managed to surround yourself with such intelligent, successful, and prosperous people?”

Carnegie replied, “They weren’t millionaires when they began working for me.”

The natural follow-up questions was, “Then how did you develop them, and make them successful?”

To which he replied, “Men are developed the same way gold is mined. Several tons of dirt must be moved to get an ounce of gold. But you don’t go into the mine looking for dirt,” he added. “You go in looking for gold.”

In order to maximize the potential of our people we must accurately identify those with gold at their core, and start digging.

Jimmy Blackmon is a retired U.S. Army Colonel and the author of PALE HORSE: Hunting Terrorists and Commanding Heroes with the 101st Airborne Division. Jimmy is a professional speaker, leadership coach, and the Co-Owner of Out Front Leadership. www.outfrontleadershipllc.com www.jimmyfblackmon.com

Offering Keynotes and Classes on:

Leadership vs. Management

Innovation and Initiative

Time Management & Delegation

Casting & Manifesting a Vision

Shaping Culture

Setting a Climate for Success

Leaders! Being Positive is a Choice

As a young boy, I loved watching “On the Road,” with Charles Kuralt. As advertised, it always made me feel good, warm inside. They were merely brief segments during the CBS Evening News, yet they always left me uplifted. Sadly, the feel-good shows of yesteryear, the Andy Griffiths of TV Land, have all but faded. Today, we are bombarded with a steady flow of negativity. The 24-hour news cycle fuels a constant flow of everything bad that is happening in the world. News shows have become so polarized that they incite fear and hatred. The school yard bully still exists, but social media empowers even the weak and frail to lash out in a thousand hurtful ways, injuring victims in ways far more painful than a bloody nose. It has become acceptable to note every flaw, every fault, every poor choice anyone makes.

If we’re not careful, we’ll become experts at finding fault in everyone, yet blind to the good qualities they possess. Leaders (parents, coaches, teachers, managers) if we truly want to inspire our families, friends, co-workers, and employees to stretch a little farther, reach a little higher then we’d be wise to lift them up more frequently. Encourage those striving to be better, support those doing their very best, champion their strengths and boost their self-confidence. From the most talented people you know to those struggling just to get by, we all respond better to positive feedback.

Early in my military career, I traveled to Fort Irwin, California for a month-long training event. During that event, I served as the Adjutant (Chief of HR & Assistant to the Squadron Commander). My job had very little to do with operations, yet we were practicing wargames, so naturally, I volunteered to lead a planning team to help solve our tactical problems.

After the last big battle of our rotation, we attended an after action review – an event during which we discussed all the things we did well and what we needed to improve upon. At those events, we commonly found that we had far more weaknesses to improve upon, than strengths to sustain.

Following the after action review, I exited the building. Just as I walked out the door, I felt a hand grasp my arm. It was one of the cadre members, Captain Mike Lundy. He pulled me around to the back of the building. Assuming I’d somehow messed something up, I feared the worst, but to my surprise he told me, “Lieutenant, you did a great job during this exercise. You’re going to be a very good leader. Keep doing what you’re doing.” Then he patted me on the back, and I walked back around the building to join my unit – felling like a million dollars.

That captain took one minute to encourage me, to tell me I was doing a good job, and I’ve never forgotten it. He got a lot of mileage out of that quick bit of positive leader behavior. I, like most everyone else I’ve encountered in my life, respond well to encouragement. As leaders, we would be wise to go the extra mile to seek out opportunities to encourage others. Become an enthusiastic cheerleader for those we lead.

I’m not suggesting that we do not correct inappropriate behavior, nor am I saying we should overlook mistakes. Recently, in a men’s class at church, we read these words. I could recommend no better behavior for leaders.

“I come … with a plea that we stop seeking out the storms and enjoy more fully the sunlight. I’m suggesting that we accentuate the positive. I’m asking that we look a little deeper for the good, that we still our voices of insult and sarcasm, that we more generously compliment virtue and effort.

I am not asking that all criticism be silent. Growth comes with correction. Strength comes with repentance. Wise is the man or woman who, committing mistakes pointed out by others, changes his or her course. I am not suggesting that our conversation be all honey. Clever expression that is sincere and honest is a skill to be sought and cultivated. What I am suggesting and asking is that we turn from the negativism that so permeates our society and look for the remarkable good in the land and times in which we live, that we speak of one another’s virtues more than we speak of one another’s faults, that optimism replace pessimism. Let our faith replace our fears.”

It’s not hard to identify faults. Heck, I know I supply ample material for even the most pathetic critic to become a success. But, if we want to truly get the most – the very best – out of those we lead, we need to take a closer look at ourselves. We must honestly ask ourselves, am I a positive leader? Do I inspire those I seek to lead, or do I berate and criticize far too often? I suggest we begin in our homes. Practice finding the good in our own family members. Make positive reinforcement a habit, something we truly excel at. Before long, we’ll develop a keen eye for the good in those around us.

Being positive is choice. Make the decision today!

Livin’

A year ago today, Lisa and I made the decision to hang up our spurs and change our course in life. In many ways, it was a scary and difficult decision, yet we always felt comfort – an assurance that we were making the right decision. On that day, we looked forward into a world with dew still on it – a world full of possibility.

A year later, I still feel like a stumbling, newborn colt, trying desperately to get his legs settled beneath him, yet gazing out upon a world with no fences. I look backward in time and see rich blessings, precious memories of treasured friendships. I look forward with eager anticipation for the relationships I’ve yet to forge.

It would be easy to become entangled in the negativity of our time, to note every briar that nicks our skin, but that would only hold us back. These are exciting times, our opportunity to write the story that will be recorded in the annals of time, our story.

May we each look to the future with great optimism, full of hope, committed to encouraging one another along the path of life.

Demonstrating Trust

The lineman tells the quarterback to trust him, “I’ll block that linebacker. Take your time and complete the pass.”

The soldier assures his buddy, “I will suppress the enemy. You run across that open area and gain a foothold on the building. I’ll keep their heads down. Trust me.”

The business leader assures his middle managers that the change in organizational culture will result in a more positive work climate and increase performance. “It will spark innovation,” he says. “Trust me.”

We urge our teams to trust us all the time, and we genuinely mean it. “Trust me,” we say hoping to assure them, somewhat pleading with them.

Yet, the reality is that our actions produce faster results than our words. Demonstrating that we should be trusted gains support faster than any motivational speech.

Several years ago, my eight-year-old son asked to join me on a deer hunt. He desperately wanted to sit in a treestand beside me while I hunted. Thrilled to have him along, I took my portable deer stand to a location where I already had a permanent stand affixed to a tree. The tree forked right where my stand was locked onto the tree.

I climbed the tree and fastened the portable stand to the other major fork in the tree. My son would be inches from me. That afternoon we dressed for hunting and headed to the farm. I buckled a safety harness to my son and we quietly walked to the tree.

I told my son to wait at the base of the tree while I climbed up to my stand. I climbed with the end of his safety line in my hand. Once I was in the stand, and tied to the tree, I tightened the slack in his safety line and told him to climb up.

He began climbing immediately, but once he was about six feet off the ground he froze on the side of the tree. I wasn’t sure what was wrong. I tugged gently on the safety line to get his attention. He did not look up at me. His eyes stared straight at the tree. “What’s wrong?” I whispered.

Then I saw his chest begin to heave. “I’m scared,” he said, sobbing.

“I’ve got you,” I assured him, hoping he’d put his trust in me.

He did not move. He was locked up, frozen, on the side of the tree. “Son, climb on up. You won’t fall. I have the safety line.”

He continued to quietly sob. I then pulled the safety line enough to gently lift him off the steps. I lifted his entire body up, and he saw that I could handle his weight in my hands. Suddenly, he looked up at me, and without hesitation climbed up to the stand.

No amount of reassuring worked. My words were hollow, yet when I demonstrated that even if he slipped I would keep him from falling, he gave me his complete trust. It was a powerful lesson.

As leaders, we often urge others to trust us, but we would be wise to demonstrate capability. The old adage, actions speak louder than words, rings true when trust is desired.

Avoiding work…

You simply can’t make this stuff up. I recently spoke at a large conference. I was to go on stage at 10:15 a.m. The driver delivered me to the event center at 9:45, at which time I was greeted by a group of very nice ladies who organized the event. They took me to a side room to put my bag down and prepare for the presentation.

The room was fairly large, but it was empty except for one circular table in the middle of the room and one rectangular table against the back wall. There were several chairs around the circular table and a table cloth on the rectangular table that draped to the ground.

The ladies and I went over the slides to make sure we had the right version. We discussed the mechanics of getting onto the stage etc. We had been in the room for at least ten minutes when two other ladies entered the room and said they needed the rectangular table. They bought books for all of their attendees, so they wanted me to sign them after my presentation. They would use the rectangular table as a signing table.

A lady went to each end of the table and lifted it slightly. As they began to move it slowly away from the wall, hair and then eyes were revealed. Being startled, one of the ladies squealed. Sitting on the floor, under the table, HIDING!, was one of the convention center workers. She had been sound asleep until they moved the table. The ladies moved the table completely out away from the wall and there she sat.

No one knew quite what to say, so I looked over at the lady and said, “Needed you a little snappy nap I see.”

She sheepishly smiled and rose to her feet. “Off you go. Back in the game refreshed.”

One of the ladies from the company said, “Can you believe that?”

I told her it happens in most companies every day. Some people go the bathroom to sleep, others do it in their cubicle. But, is it the audacity to sleep on the job that shocks us most, or the fact that she was avoiding work during a busy event?

On the flight home, I flew United for the first time in a long while. My flight attendant was on her mobile phone most of the trip, and I was sitting in first class! I took her picture with the intent of reporting on her performance. I’ll never fly with them again. She sat in the jump seat with her head against the wall staring at her phone for over 30 minutes of the 95 minute flight. Is that any different than sleeping? The end result was the same – the customer was neglected, and in their case, they lost future business.

Cell phones kill productivity in the workplace, yet when you remove them morale plummets. In the Army, if you ban them from field training exercises you’ll receive IG complaints. The sad truth is that the senior officers will allow the investigations to go forward. Sleeping on the job or being constantly distracted, either way, productivity is negatively effected.

I once wrote an article for my warrant officers in which I told them – always be to work on time, always shine your boots, and when you are finished with your work see if your buddy needs a helping hand. “Do these things,” I told them, and you will be successful. Seventy-five percent of your peers will take themselves out of the equation by not doing them.

Today, I would offer, set the phone aside. Return to the age old practice of giving an honest day’s work for an honest day’s wage and you will be successful. You will be the minority.

Ma

Sometimes I strain to hear answers to questions I never asked. I was too young, I suppose. She died before I was old enough, or wise enough, to ask the things that I now wish I had. It sounds silly to try and listen for answers from the dead, but I find myself hoping that if I try hard enough a memory somewhere deep within my mind will catch fire and rise from the dead. Nothing would be more rewarding.

She was kind enough to wait until I was overseas in the Army before she died. It surprised me when she passed on, because she was always a contradiction to me. All of my life she looked old, but her mind and spirit were young and full of life. Old people are supposed to act a certain way, but apparently no one ever told her. Or else she refused to listen.

When I was in fourth and fifth grade I ran laps around her house almost daily. One day, I bragged about how fast I was and that old woman challenged me to a foot race. She must have been seventy by then, but that did not stop her from laying her apron on the ground and assuming a starting stance with her toe on the pine branch she designated as the start and finish line. This old woman must have lost her mind, I thought to myself.

She gave the commands. “On your mark, get set, GO!” she said, and took off like a mad granny in a sun dress.

I called her for a false start, but the fact remains – she beat me.

“Oh honey,” she said. “You were probably just tired from all those laps you ran before we raced.”

She never owned a cell phone, never saw a computer or a video game. I’m so thankful for that, because those things might have robbed me of a few precious memories that I hold dear still today. Instead, she instructed me in life. She taught me to shell peas, shuck corn, chop cabbage, cook potatoes, and about a go-zillion other things. In wisdom that spanned her nine plus decades and multiple generations of mothers and grandmothers before her, she acknowledged that some snakes were poisonous and others weren’t, “But if you treat them all the same you’ll never go wrong, Hon’.”

Why tell all these things? Why does any of it matter anyway? Well, there just seems to be a lot of static in the world today. So many things compete for our time that we sometimes forget the memory-makers – those things that will leave our posterity with cherished recollections of time spent with us. As she snapped peas and dropped them into a bowl without ever looking down, she told me about her life during two world wars and the great Depression. I wasn’t texting, Tweeting, or Instagramming. I was listening to my sweet grandmother’s voice. I don’t know if she realized how much it meant to me, and how much I appreciated the fact that she never tired of talking to me.

Sometimes I wonder if I make myself busy with the right things. Perhaps it’s worth considering. Maybe it’s something we should all think about. 😉

 

 

 

On Choosing to be Happy

Except for days when my wife spells me of my post-army duties, I drive my daughter to school. Each day, without fail, we encounter a transformation in mood as we approach the first crossing guard at Richview Middle School.

 

An Africa American gentleman in his late fifties mans the crosswalk in front of the school, and his smile changes the mood of everyone that sees it, even those with the temperament of a cornered rattler. It’s magical.

 

Despite the weather, he points, waves, laughs, and beams with a toothy smile that draws your attention like Sauron’s eye. One cannot help but smile back at the man. He is quite literally a flashlight in the land of the blind. Subconsciously, facial muscles flex and despite the traffic that flows like molasses, despite the fact that it’s early, despite the fact that most drivers are sipping some caffeinated beverage to try and part the morning fog inside their heads, everyone returns the smile – an exchange of gladness.

 

His magical aura and mood of genuine happiness is infectious.  I do not know the man. I’ve never spoken to him. I’ve only exchanged smiles and even caught myself waving at him to make sure that he knows that I know and appreciate the fact that he chooses to be happy every day of his earthly existence.  I can sense that he made a decision a long time ago that he would face each day with cheerfulness, and that deserves my recognition, my gratitude.

 

We’ve all encountered an environment where the climate was foul. Eternal pessimists are sadly also infectious within an organization. They breed ill will and negativity like diseased rats. Subsequently, they should be cured or eradicated – figuratively of course. But, we’re not here to talk about our organizational cavities. We are here to praise those like our Richview crossing guard.

 

Whether you are the CEO or a line employee, if you want to make a difference in the climate within your organization, begin tomorrow with a smile and a positive attitude. Find something good in all those you encounter. Emulate the behavior you’d like to see within your organization, and soon you will be met with a mirrored smile from all those you meet. It can’t be helped – smiles breed smiles.