Saturday, April 23, 2011

Sharpen the saw.

This is Steve Covey's last habit of his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Have you ever tried to cut wood with a dull saw or ax? How about trying to carve the Thanksgiving turkey with a dull knife? How about trying to enter a conversation with some quick-witted thinkers having a dull mind? I suppose that is sort of like trying to be interested in one of cousin Harvey's oft told war stories after all that monosodium glutenate you partook of at the Thanksgiving feast.

It is absolutely necessary to sharpen the saw. I just finished reading a continuing ed course book and taking the test. In order to renew my real estate broker license every two years I have to earn 14 hours of continuing education credits. That exercise forces me to study various facets of my profession and try to sharpen up on them. It is the same with all people who are licensed to practice a profession. Even physicians have to earn 36 hours of continuing education credits to renew their licenses to practice every three years. My physician son-in-law is on his way to Washington, DC in a couple of weeks to a medical convention where he will earn so many CME's.

Sharpening the saw is absolutely essential. No matter what we do in life we have to renew ourselves. We should constantly be challenging our minds with good reading material. We ought to be active in a church, synagogue or a social club. We should surround ourselves with good friends. People that we just flat out enjoy being around that stimulate us and stretch our horizons a bit. Don't discount the influence of your family. Don't let too much time go by without drinking from the fountain of family memories.

Last year about this time my wife, Nancy, was in a rehab hospital recovering from a life threatening infection. Our daughter, Beth, went to the specific effort to schedule a week for us in the Smokies around the end of July. Nancy and I thought long and hard about going because she was so weak. We decided finally to give it a try. If it got too hard on her then we were only about a 7 hour ride home.

That week was one of the most important aspects of her recovery. She had cousins from New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina all come to enjoy being together. We had a Bar B Que one afternoon where we had almost 50 people. Some of the younger Mothers had organized water balloon races and fights and a talent show for the children. It was the zenith point of our week together. Nancy tied up with an old college room mate who came over and visited one night. That was a night of laughing and telling tall tales and was restorative on its own.

Whilst I worked for corporate America over my thirty years of service we had a CEO of our company named Kurt Landgraf. He ended up being the COO of DuPont. He would always speak to us off the cuff. He would often say to us that the company had a pretty liberal vacation policy. " Take your vacation. Get away from your job. That is very important !" Doggone if that wasn't so. Every time I took off and played a little golf or went on a trip with my family I came back renewed and a little more enthusiastic about my job.

Sharpen the saw. It is vitally important.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


Covey's 6th habit is SYNERGIZE. What an interesting word. What does it mean? I used to sell a product called Percogesic. Percogesic was a combination product. It had Acetominophen (APAP) and Phenyltoloxamine (PTLX) in the formula. Of course APAP is the principal ingredient of Tylenol. PTLX is an antihistamine. Percogesic was indicated in the treatment of pain. The pitch on this product went like this: " The PTLX is contained in the combination for its synergistic effect. You see the PTLX potentiates the APAP. The one makes the other more effective causing it to work much more quickly and smoothly."

So Covey is telling us that in order for us to be effective in life we need to take the various elements of our life and combine them to potentiate one another. That makes sense and requires a little thought and a little strategy.

I like the experience I had in Boy Scouts of America as a leader. A scout is immersed in a myriad of experiences. He earns 21 merit badges and performs various projects and advances through scouting until he becomes an Eagle scout. The end result of scouting is that hopefully we see an individual who can draw on all those experiences to the benefit of the whole. One would hope to see a fairly balanced person with an ability to work through goal setting and earn confidence and effectiveness along the path. The fluer de lis which is the symbol of scouting represents the three different important aspects of the individual: physical, mental and spiritual.

I hold a bachelors degree from a liberal arts college, Huntingdon, in Montgomery, AL. I feel as though I received a good education there. I was not the Valedictorian of my class, that guy is now a U.S. Senator named Jeff Sessions. However, I did pass through the curriculum and attained the baccalaureate. All of those elements of my liberal arts degree, the math, history, philosophy, english lit, etc.combine to make me a more balanced human being. In my 30 year career with DuPont I drew on all of those elements to help me in my various job assignments.

Networking is a great example of synergy. When you combine all the elements of your contacts in your neighborhood, workplace, church, clubs, schools and so forth you will find that you have a fairly formidable network. When you need to you can use all those elements in a synergistic fashion to drive to a goal.

The most overused example of this concept is a football team. It is just too ripe to ignore. Our defending collegiate championship football team is Auburn. Now Auburn did not just fall together in perfect alignment to go undefeated and win the NCAA championship. It took people who knew how to block, tackle, kick, throw, run and so forth. It also took the coaches to put it all together in game plan. All the parts came together in a synergy that produced a champion.

I read a little book to one of my grand children that comes to mind. It is called There was an old lady who swallowed a fly !. At one point the story goes like this: " There was an old lady who swallowed a cow. I don't know how she swallowed a cow ! She swallowed the cow to swallow the goat. She swallowed the goat to swallow the dog. She swallowed the dog to swallow the cat. She swallowed the cat to swallow the bird. She swallowed the bird to swallow the spider, that wiggled and jiggled and tickled inside her. She swallowed the spider to swallow the fly. I don't know why she swallowed the fly."

So that is the way we synergize. We spend our lives in pursuit of swallowing concepts, ideas, experience, etc. The end result is that we are able to accomplish the end result by drawing upon all of the foregoing elements. Our effectiveness in life sort of hinges on the elements which we have incorporated.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Seek first to understand then to be understood

What a long header for one of the seven habits. It is as wise as it is lengthy. How many times do we fly off half cocked in one direction or another? I suppose that is the nature of most of us. We live in a world of instant gratification. Why most of us cannot go without tweeting or facebooking for more than just a few minutes.

I remember a fictitious story of a woodcutter who was a widower and had his small infant son and a German shepherd living with him. He had to go out for some supplies so he left his infant sleeping quietly and trusted his dog to watch and protect his child. When he returned home he found his little cabin covered in blood and his child was not anywhere to be seen. He drew the conclusion that his dog had betrayed him and attacked his child in his absence. He quickly put an end to his dog’s life as it had obviously become a man eater and killed his child. It was not until after he had consummated this act of vengeance that he heard his child’s muffled cry from under his own nearby bed. It was then that he noticed the crashed in window where the intruder had come into his home. He then found the corpse of the wolf that his faithful dog had fought off, courageously protecting his child. One can only imagine the great remorse of the woodcutter when he discovered how he had jumped to an erroneous conclusion.

It is so very vital, especially in business, that we seek to understand before we require that we be understood. I wonder if Florida’s newly elected governor has inculcated this habit? I wonder if he truly anticipated the great wave of discomfort that he will cause in disrupting the lives of so many state of Florida workers in his policy implementation? I notice that he was booed rather emphatically as he served as the grand marshal of our Springtime Tallahassee parade. I wonder if he and his advisers truly sought to understand the plight of the citizenry when they sought to move quickly to make good on campaign promises.

I have noted that great wave of political correctness that has made public figures think carefully before they utter one particular syllable being concerned with how it will be spun. I think of people like Fuzzy Zoeller, Mr. Don Imus, Senator Trent Lott. The list goes on almost into the ifinite. They should have spent a little time seeking to understand what their declarations were going to do to the people who listened to them. Their careers all ended on their inability to understand.

We must do all we can possibly do in amassing information that will lead us in the direction of correct choices. To neglect this habit is to put ourselves at risk in our careers. I think back on my own lapses in judgment over the years and I wince in some degree of anguish. How I wish I had taken time to speak a little more carefully, not react to a particular rumor or push a plan of action in a wrong direction.

I remember an experience that I had back in October of 1999. I was a busy government affairs manager for my company and had been in the fight of my life with a legislative issue. I was exhausted and badly needed to get away from work and town. My wife and I took a trip to the Smokeys in the midst of the change in leaves. I swore to myself that I was going to forget work and not even check my voicemail. Well I lasted into about Wednesday and whilst my Mother-In-Law and wife were in the Sylva, NC WalMart I decided to check my voicemail. I fielded a call from the state of Florida director of the board of pharmacy. He advised me that I had lost the support of an important member of the board and he was launching torpedoes in my direction to scuttle my product. If he were successful then my company would lose millions in dollars of business on my watch. As I hung up, my vacation was over, I had to immediately respond to this situation. I was in the darkest of moods. As I waited for my wife and her Mom to come out of the WalMart I struck up a conversation with a gentleman who was waiting for someone to pick him up. As I looked out at the mountain vista before me with leaves that were just sparkling with color, I mentioned to the man that I was from Florida and had not ever seen these leaves as beautiful as they were currently. I was not ready for his response. He said, " They tell me they are beautiful. I live here but I have never seen them. I have been blind since birth." I was speechless. Here I was caught up in the business disapointment, fearing failure and loss of revenue and maybe even my job. However, I could see the leaves, my wife's face, the road ahead, etc. This man corrected my perspective immediately and set me on the proper pathway. I thereafter went on my way with a measured sense of well being and set a clear path forward and corrected the business threat and continued to stay on the winning side of the issue.

Seeking first to understand the proper perspective on all things, rather than having others understand you, is vitally important.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Think Win - Win

I was raised in a very competitive environment. I played sports all through high school and prior to. Even today when I line up with my good buddies to play golf, my goal is to beat them. It was just the way I was raised.

When I sold for thirty years my goal was to beat the competition and win the business. I always played fairly but my plans and implementation of same were to one end, beat the other guy.

When I lobbied the legislature, my goal was to win on any issue I faced. I wanted the vote to go my way. Hang the other side. I win. You lose. That is the way I have always been taught to perform at any level.

I was at war with the competition. Either I kill you or you kill me. What's the point of building that FAA-22 Stealth fighter if we don't intend to win? I have no mixed feelings about the war we fought in Iraq. We lost 3000 innocents in the twin towers event. My philosophy is that someone has to pay for that and so we go to war. Not to make a statement but to WIN.

I find myself in real estate negotiations where someone has to win and someone has to lose. However, as I have tried to apply this Coveyism of win-win I have softened my approach somewhat. That does not mean that I don't represent my client as hard nosed as I ever have. I just try not to leave the blood trail strewn with dead bodies.

Covey suggests that one of the main elements of win-win is character. We need to elevate the feelings of the other side as much as possible. We may take the negotiation right down the path that we wish but we do so with diplomacy and compassion. I am learning those lessons a bit late. I would have been much happier as a lobbyist if I had been a bit more diplomatic and less warlordish. I never lost an issue but I did lose more than a few friends along the way. My attitude was it is my way or the morgue, you choose. I used to see people running away from me in the halls ahead of me. That was a period in my life where my character changed. I did not particularly like the person I had become. I can certainly see why others would feel the same way.

Even now, I find myself going to def-con 2 & 3 positions in discussions that don't amount to a hill of peas. We have to soften our approach. Is it really all that important to win the argument? Is it really possible to play win-win? Yes it is ! Negotiation is what diplomacy is all about. We must take the position that we will do all we can to influence the outcome but we are not going to all out war over the event. I used to report to an EVP who used the following quote often, " You know, sometimes that hill is just not worth the climb." He's right. It is possible to get into a mindset that you are always right and no other perspective matters.

I learned that on into my career when I had to represent my company in the marketing of HIV/AIDS products. I roamed around the country meeting with gay advocacy groups, pre-selling our product to them. Now, I am a conservative, 60 yoa and very heterosexual. Here I was thrust into a culture that was completely foreign to me. I had to be processed through sensitivity training with a consultant firm hired by my employer for the purpose of helping me and numerous others to understand a culture completely beyond our comprehension.

The process of relating to this new group of customers pushed me to my limits. I soon learned that I had to compromise or I would surely fail. In the end I became a little softer, a little more understanding and more importantly a lot more tolerant. I don't feel that I have any stronger understanding of the gay lifestyle but I do have an understanding of the emotional and hellish life that the people who live in this arena endure. I believe that there is something going on in the inner workings of people who take on that lifestyle that we just don't completely understand.

Win-win. I am still working hard to not arm my missiles in certain situations I am forced into. It is possible for an old dog to learn new tricks. I cannot claim to be Christian and take an unmoving, intolerant position against any of my fellow human brothers and sisters, regardless of what their lifestyle might entail. The Master Himself was criticized by the authorities of his time for taking bread and drink with the sinners and publicans. I remember he said, " The whole hath not need of the physician." I need to try and be more like Him and I am not going to give up trying.