When I Do Dumb Things

I am not perfect.

I’ve known this for quite a while.

I have no delusions that I am.

This means that I am going to make mistakes, just like everyone else.

My guess is that you aren’t perfect either.  If you are, you might as well stop reading now because you clearly don’t need any help.

For the rest of us, this means that we are going to make many mistakes in the course of our personal and professional life.  That’s just part of who we are.  What differentiates us from others though is how we deal with those mistakes.  Did we learn from them?  Did we figure out what to do differently?

Personally, I have a process that I go through when I do something dumb to make sure I don’t do it again.
But to make this entertaining, let me tell you about one of my recent dumb episodes.

Yesterday, I was scheduled to update several of our senior leaders on a project I am working on.  As time drew near, I ran from the printer, across the building, up a flight of stairs, and over to the meeting room.   I sat down in the lobby to wait my turn only to be told immediately, “you’re up”.  So I jumped up quickly (my first mistake) and walked in to the room.

I immediately began passing out copies of my PowerPoint, but noticed I was feeling a little light headed (clearly I stood up too quick).  I pushed through the feeling and began my update while walking to the front of the room.

As I approached the front of the room, I realized my light-headedness was becoming worse and I was struggling to catch my breath as I stood in front of my leadership.  I continued my presentation anyway (my second mistake).

At about a minute in, I started seeing black spots.  At this point, I knew that this was not going in a good direction.  While I typically like to stand and deliver, I said, “Just a second.” and grabbed the chair in front of me, sat down, and continued my presentation.  It got better – once I had oxygen.

Could you imagine what would have happened if I hadn’t sat down?  My career trajectory may have become flatter than me laying passed out on the floor.  Stories would be told for years around the water cooler about “that guy”.  I would be a legend…and not in a good way.

When I finished and left the room – I said a quick prayer of thanks for not passing out in front of the senior group and for being able to deliver the message.

I checked in with a couple of the attendees later and they said that they could tell something was up in the beginning, but that the update was fine.

I realized, though, that what I did was dumb and I only have myself to blame.  Was I as effective as I could have been?  No.  Was I distracting in the first few minutes with whatever behavior I was exhibiting? Perhaps.  Could it have been a lot worse?  Definitely!

So what did I do?  In the minutes following the meeting, I walked through my “Gee Jason, that was dumb – don’t do that again” process.

Here’s how it works.  I ask myself three simple questions – Why, What, and How:

  • Why did it occur?
  • What should I have done differently?
  • How will I ensure that I don’t do it again?

So, let’s take my episode as an example and walk through this.

WHY did it occur?  As I thought about it, it all began because I was rushing.  I shouldn’t have been because my presentation was done well ahead of time.  But I was in a hurry, waited until the last minute to go upstairs, and then ran to my meeting.  I sat down and stood up quickly, which made me light headed.  But instead of taking a moment for my head to clear, I pushed ahead – probably because I’m stubborn.

WHAT should I have done differently?  For starters, I should have printed my materials sooner (in the case that something delayed me).  I should have arrived at my meeting with such an important group well before the meeting started.  And I should have stopped at the first sign of trouble and taken a second to catch my breath.

HOW will I ensure that I don’t do it again?  Two things.  First, I will set a reminder to print my materials at least one hour prior to the update meetings.  Second, I will set a calendar planner to arrive at the meeting 15 minutes prior the start.  This should keep the whole episode from happening again.  It is important to be specific in determining your actions for next time.

This is a really quick process to run through and you can use the formula for a multitude of situations.  But the key is being resolved to ensure that you follow the actions you outlined in the HOW – or else you are doomed to repeat yourself.

Now, there is one possible additional step in some circumstances.  If you do something dumb and insult, upset, or disappoint someone – you should ask yourself this additional question, “How do I make it right?”  And then act on that quickly – as in – before the sun sets.

Now, in hindsight, my dumb episode is kind of comical, and I hope you found some humor in it.  But it’s only funny to tell because it had a relatively positive ending.  The important thing is that I learned something from it. And that you learn from the mistakes that you make.

So, how do you learn from your mistakes?  What process do you go through when you do dumb things?

Leadership Resolutions: 2012

It’s a new year!   And with the new year comes a slew of promises, goals, and resolutions to “be a better you”.

So, what resolutions have you set?

As I’ve listened to several people this week, I’ve heard much of the same rhetoric that you hear every year at this time.  I’m going to lose weight.  I’m going to eat better.  I’m going to be healthier.  I’m going to read more.  I’m going to spend more time with family and friends.

Now, these are all noble goals.  But let’s be honest.  How many times have you set these goals for yourself at the beginning of the year and actually followed through on them as you had intended?

If you’ve achieved your goals in the past then kudos to you!  Unfortunately, you’re probably in the minority.  Often, our resolutions go by the wayside before we get out of January.  And then at the end of the year we wonder where the time went and vow to be more resolute the next year.

My wife and I were talking about our goals and resolutions for 2012 this last week.  And if I learned anything (which I learn a lot from my wife), it’s that everyone views resolutions differently and has different motivators to get them to succeed.

For me, I need pretty clear goals that outline what I want to achieve.  So instead of saying, “I will lose weight.”  I say, “I will lose 20lbs by May 1st by working out 4x a week, watching my caloric intake, and eating low fat foods.”   The latter goal for me is SMART (simple, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely) and is something I can accomplish.  Now, not all pursuits and resolutions can easily fall in to that SMART format (e.g., I want to be more friendly.  I want to listen more.), but it does work well for many and I encourage the use of those concrete goals when possible.

Another interesting observation of this week is that many of the resolutions that people talked about this week revolved around their personal life (e.g., weight, health, relationships, etc.).  I didn’t hear anyone say, “I want to be a better leader.”  Nor did I hear anyone talk about their professional life in any form.

So, I want to focus here.  Because I think it’s important to that we set goals in all aspects of our life; personal, professional, spiritual, etc.

Since our focus is on leadership topics, let’s look at your leadership goals.

What do you want to do differently as a leader this year?  Have you set any goals or made resolutions?

Resolving to do things different here isn’t much different than any other area of your life.  It’s merely identifying the areas that you’d like to improve in, setting a goal, and then driving towards that goal.

To share a personal example, for 2012 I resolve that I will be a better leader by ‘talking less and listening more’.  Now, this is hardly a SMART goal, which for me means that I will have to be even more deliberate and diligent in my pursuit of this goal.  Why is this one of my goals?  Because this is a trait I see that makes other leaders great.  And frankly, is an area that I can improve upon to improve my own leadership presence and skills.

One of the most profound statements I heard over the last few weeks came from a visiting pastor at my church.  He said, “One of the rost things you can do is be successful at things that don’t matter.”

So, back to you.   What can you do differently this year to become a better leader?  Are you focusing on the things that matter?

Here are 10 good examples of leadership resolutions I pulled by scouring the internet:

  1. Talk Less, Listen More
  2. Be Deliberate (in what you say and do) – have purpose behind your action and words
  3. Cut the Crap – Eliminate unnecessary clutter in your life (e.g., meetings, emails, etc.)
  4. Work Out! – Getting in to a regular workout routine improves stress management
  5. Focus on One (thing at a time) – be present and pay attention
  6. Grow Your Network – Build stronger relationships and make new ones
  7. Find Quiet Time (to think and focus) – don’t get sucked in to the momentum of the day
  8. Get Organized – find what works for you to make you more efficient
  9. Learn Something New – continue expanding your skills and knowledge
  10. Focus on Teaching Others – the actions of those under your influence is your legacy

What other resolutions can you think of?  What are YOU going to do?


Happy New Year!

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