Posts Tagged ‘mack mckinney’

Leader driven Harmony #42: Working in the Big City

by Mack McKinney on October 29, 2011

It seemed like a small thing but once I finished it, I realized that it was actually a really big deal!  A friend recently left her job in New York City (NYC) and moved to a much smaller city in the southern US.  Today at lunch I saw her file in my Outlook Contacts and when I opened it, noticed that her NYC work address was still there.  As I deleted that address, one character at a time on my Blackberry, I got the most delightful feeling of relief when the last number of the NYC zip code disappeared into the ether!  It was as if I closed a chapter of her life.

I recalled the stress that the City levies on her residents, the constant fear of violent street crime, the challenge of grocery shopping without a car, just the general uneasiness my friend seemed to have whenever I visited her there or we talked on the phone.  She and I watched a drug deal go down across the street from her apartment one summer night.  And the cost of living in Brooklyn was surprisingly high – – -it took almost everything she made to buy the $5 boxes of cereal and the $3 quarts of milk.  And she was always sick.  Sinus infections, a bout of MRSA in a knee that she nicked shaving, a chest cold that wouldn’t go away: There was always something going on with her health.  A physician’s assistant friend told her “Yep, you’ll STAY sick for your first year in NYC because of all the germs that exists there and nowhere else, and the constant influx of immigrants from all over the world – – – nobody has immunity when they first arrive and it takes at least a year to build up a resistance to the bugs”.  We will never know if that would have been true in my friend’s case because she left at the one-year point.

She said the idea of renewing her apartment lease and living another year there was not at all appealing.  She enjoyed the work there as a TV producer and she really liked the company she worked with.  And she liked most of the social life and she loved the restaurants.  But she said the final straw for her was being so tightly packed in a subway car one morning that, with every breath, she inhaled into her mouth the stranger’s hair in front of her.  And she was too tightly sardined to move.  Turning her head helped a little but she apparently made a decision to change jobs (and cities) that morning.  I don’t blame her at all.  I wouldn’t have lasted a month there.  Maybe not a week.

So here’s the deal:

  1. Have some respect for people who endure the City.  They put up with a lot.  And if you need them in your business, as a supplier to you for example, or a customer, be thankful they put up with life there.  It isn’t easy.
  2. Try it yourself sometime.  If your industry/career values time spent in a major metro area, consider NYC for a 6-18 month stint.  You might even like it.  And lastly, well, I don’t have a third point – – –  I’m just VERY glad my friend is out of there and in a friendlier, slower-paced city in America’s southland.

No place is perfect, there is some crime everywhere and she may have issues what some facets of life in Charlotte in the years ahead but the big cities come with their own challenges, which sometimes, get the best of even the bravest and the most enduring!

In Summary: When you conduct business with what seems to be someone who is a little irate, or cold or unapproachable… be patient; you never know what they have endured just to get to that meeting or to make to that conference call…

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

Mack McKinneyMack McKinney is on a personal crusade to eliminate conflict and stress in our lives. Mack’s mantra is “People treat you like you TRAIN them to treat you!” His company Solid Thinking Corporation teaches creativity, concept development, relationship management and high-performance project leadership to major US corporations and the US government
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Leader driven Harmony #41: Read a Book, ANY Book!

by Mack McKinney on October 14, 2011

Have you Gen-Yers noticed how seldom any of your friends mention a great book they have read?  Not an online article or a short news article but a real, honest-to-goodness BOOK?  Not very often, huh.

I know.  Why bother?  You can learn everything you need to know about most any subject with just a quick search on Google or Wikipedia, right?

Wrong.  An insidious, sneaky thing is happening to us.  We are losing the ability to read.  Book sales have plummeted in just the past 5 years.  This is more common among young people than middle-aged and older people.  And here is the danger – – – if you don’t read books at all, very soon you’ll notice that you NEVER read books anymore and now here is the contentious question:  WHY is that?  Why do we stop reading books?  Several respected studies and books conclude that the reason is as follows:

  • When we read short articles, and get quick answers, two things happen – – – 1) our brain gets a shot of the feel-good chemical dopamine as a result of our completing the research task we assigned ourselves and 2) our attention span shrinks just a bit.
  • Soon we are more comfortable tackling short-duration tasks and so we do just that – – – every study task becomes a short-duration task as we force the problem-solving job to match our now-shrinking attention span.
  • We are almost never required to consult a book to solve a problem or learn a new skill since someone else usually has developed the Cliff Notes © version which spoon feeds us ONLY what we must know to gain a basic familiarity with any new subject, computer, phone, TV, etc.
  • Eventually, we no longer have the patience to tackle a thick book with its slower progress and less fulfilling (no dopamine) effect on our minds.  The lure of the quick fix has dominated our actions for so long that any process that requires deep, detailed, significant thought will be avoided in favor of a shorter, more intense-feeling approach. And since we lose what we don’t use, before we even know it has happened to us, we no longer CAN read a book on a complex subject that requires deep thinking, introspection and internal debate.

Multiple studies are showing that it is just becoming extremely hard for young professionals to force themselves to read a book, ANY book, even on subjects of great importance to their chosen professions.  Begrudgingly, they will read a book when assigned by their boss or as part of a course of study but not otherwise.

We get best at the things we do most frequently.  If we never read deeply, many of us lose the ability to think deeply especially over a long period of time, which is the very type of thought required to solve tough problems in life, to make decisions about courses of action (one career vs other candidates, where to live, etc.).  If we ONLY make decisions quickly, after little/no deliberation, several things can happen and most of them are bad:

  • We start to view ALL problems as being relatively simple, lending themselves to knee-jerk solutions.
  • We lose the ability to stay engaged in a course of study over a long period of time, without getting bored.  So we begin to avoid making decisions about any problem whose solution is not apparent after a few minutes of deliberation.  And such “vexing” problems fester and often worsen, leading to crises in our lives.
  • We don’t just enjoy the short-cycle of thinking and acting that shallow thinking brings us, we actually begin to need it.  Studies show that the same people who do not read books also text frequently and spend a lot of time online.  We’ll discuss this more in a later post but there is ample scientific evidence that Gen-Ys who seldom read books and who are constantly texting and tweeting and browsing Facebook and other social network sites are rewiring their brains in ways that we don’t yet really understand.  But the need for constant social stimulation appears to be a byproduct of the rewiring process.

So here is some advice for people whose brains are in development, people between the ages of 12 and 24.  Read a book, any book!  Hang out at the library once a week for an hour or two.  Download  a book to your Kindle.  Take your Color Nook to Barnes and Nobles and read eBooks there for free!  No matter how you do it, just find subjects that interest you and read books on those things.  Then branch into related topics.  Go where the ideas take you and read, read, read.  Or before you know it, you won’t have either the patience or the ability to do so. Use it or lose it!

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

Mack McKinneyMack McKinney is on a personal crusade to eliminate conflict and stress in our lives. Mack’s mantra is “People treat you like you TRAIN them to treat you!” His company Solid Thinking Corporation teaches creativity, concept development, relationship management and high-performance project leadership to major US corporations and the US government
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You are a new college graduate and have just landed your first real job.  You’ll be moving to a large Metropolitan area and you’ll need to find a place to live in the new town.  Looking at the Apartment Finder booklets, the Sunday paper and Craig’s List you find there are thousands of apartments available, across a 100 square mile area!  You don’t know anyone there so you tell your colleagues at the new office you want to rent a two-bedroom apartment and ask their advice on location.  Here’s what they say:

Suzie says “Drive around and look for “apartment for rent” signs and find something within your budget.  Neighborhoods are all pretty much the same here.”

Jan says, “I live in River Estates and they have apartments for everyone’s budget.”

Bob says, “Any place is safe in the metro area if you just stay alert.  Pick a location like I did near the shopping mall.  It’s a longer drive but worth it”

How do you pick the right one?  Here’s a decision tool I’ve used many times when I changed jobs and moved ourselves or our family members:  Think Safety, Security, Proximity and Value, in that order.

  • Safety:  Avoid living in high crime areas even if it means you must drive further to work each day.  Go to www.CrimeReports.com  and check the crime statistics for the areas you are considering for apartments.
  • Security:  Only seriously consider apartment complexes (or apartments in houses) that are bright and well lit at night.  If you’ll have a car, look for off – street parking in a secure area.  (If without a car, look for easy, well-lit access to public transportation — wide, bright sidewalks for example)
  • Proximity:  If driving to work remember you’ll be doing that every workday so pick an area to live that has several routes available to and from work, preferably an interstate-sized highway and another major route.  This gives you options when an accident blocks a route.  And choose a location as close as possible to your work location (biking/walking distance would be ideal for many people).  If you are moving with another person[1], and they will be working at a different site, to be fair try to pick a living location that requires each of you to drive roughly the same time to and from your work.  And, of course, proximity to recreational areas, downtown restaurants and shopping areas will need to be factored into the decision.  Then drive these routes at rush hour and/or the times you’ll be commuting.  An open road at 3 PM can become a rolling parking lot at 5:30.
  • Value:  As the list of apartments being considered shrinks, you’ll think about value and amenities — What you’ll get for your money.  A list of pros and cons will help you make the decision:  number of bedrooms, baths, washer and dryer, fitness center, pool, proximity to work and other locations, monthly rent, length of lease, acceptance of pets, amenities fees, etc.

If several apartments are equally desirable, a tie breaker might be the direction (and the times) you’ll be driving to and from work.  If working 9-5 you’ll want to drive generally westward in the morning and eastward in the evening, so the rising/setting sun is always at your back and not in your squinting eyes!  All else being equal for nine-to-fivers, live east of where you’ll be working.  Traffic congestion is often aggravating enough without the added stress of a sun-glare-induced headache twice daily, not to mention the ever-present risk of traffic accidents due to poor visibility (ask Los Angeles – dwellers about this)!

Who knew there was a preferred process for picking your new place?!?


[1] Agreeing on priorities for each of the four factors—and then adding a weight (importance, twice as important, three times as important), before looking at the first apartment or neighborhood, can prevent debates and arguments.

Mack McKinneyMack McKinney is on a personal crusade to eliminate conflict and stress in our lives. Mack’s mantra is “People treat you like you TRAIN them to treat you!” His company Solid Thinking Corporation teaches creativity, concept development, relationship management and high-performance project leadership to major US corporations and the US government
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Leader driven Harmony #39: Do the Crappy Little Jobs FIRST!

by Mack McKinney on September 9, 2011

It is so easy when running a business (or office, branch, etc.) to put off doing the crappy little jobs.  You know the ones:  the monthly payroll report to the state revenue office; the weekly income spreadsheet update; the logging of business expenses into a spreadsheet; in short, any minor task you dread but that can BITE if it is NOT done.  Here are four tips for keeping up with the niggling little tasks that you hate to do.

  1. Do it first thing, right when you think of it.  Don’t put it off for even an hour.  Just do it and be done.  Then reward yourself with a walk outside, or an apple, or anything else you find pleasant and that takes very little time from your day.
  2. Work on it for only an hour and no more.  If it isn’t finished in an hour, set it aside until tomorrow and finish it up.
  3. Get help:  If someone could read a list of figures to you, for example, thereby speeding up the job, ask them to.  If the job will be easier with three people, get two others to help you.
  4. Set a calendar reminder in Outlook, etc. and when it dings, stop and do the task.  Right then.

When you have something that must get done and you procrastinate, by putting off the inevitable you pay a hidden price – – – WORRY.  You are renting that task some space in your head!  This is not healthy.  It pushes other ideas out and can keep you from fully engaging with others.  You won’t be able to live in the moment because deep in your mind is that little nagging reminder about the task remaining to be done.  You won’t be able to fully relax because that THING is stuck in your brain.

Not getting these things done also adds to your total stress level and ANY amount of stress adversely impacts your heart.  So keeping the small tasks caught up is key to staying healthy.  Who knew that not paying bills on time, or failing to order key office supplies on time could tax your heart?

So in summary, do what your parents taught you: Work before play.  Get the annoying little tasks done when they are due!  Then you can focus your attention on getting the BIG things in your life organized and arranged – – – the family issues and the career training and education you need to schedule; get that book started that you’ve intended to write; call that old friend you haven’t seen in years.  Remember, BIG ROCKS FIRST!  But you cannot focus on those big rocks if an irritating piece of gravel stands in the way.  Keep your mind clear and unencumbered by dealing with the crappy little tasks before they cause bigger problems!

Mack McKinneyMack McKinney is on a personal crusade to eliminate conflict and stress in our lives. Mack’s mantra is “People treat you like you TRAIN them to treat you!” His company Solid Thinking Corporation teaches creativity, concept development, relationship management and high-performance project leadership to major US corporations and the US government
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Leader driven Harmony #38: ACE Your Life

by Mack McKinney on August 19, 2011

ACE stands for Always Control Expectations and we teach it in all our classes.  It means no surprises for your colleagues, friends and family:  If you say you’ll do something, then be certain that you make it happen.  Senior people sometimes use the old saying “Mean what you say and say what you mean”.  Lots of wisdom there.

In buying or selling services or products, treat people like you would like to be treated (the old Golden Rule).  And be sure you understand your organization’s internal processes so you can over deliver (and under-promise).  If you promise a signature or a delivery in one week, do it in 3 days.

In negotiations, don’t strive to win at all costs.  Build the relationship first and subsequent business will go much smoother.  Securing a tough, one-sided deal that costs the other party most of its profit is guaranteed to cause ill feelings and will get the relationship off to a rocky start. It might get you that deal, but won’t get you another from the same customer.

Worldwide, I have found that people do business with people they like, all else being equal.  Or maybe not  even equal . . . heck, I’ll pay a little more for insurance if Eddie Fields at State Farm sells it, because I trust him.  I’ll pay a little more for construction work if Ronnie Cooper does it, because he is fair and detail- oriented.  I’ll pay more for sushi at Sakura’s in Moyock, NC because it is fresh, the staff is super friendly and Wing and Wing Ha are great chefs.

In the end it isn’t about the money.  It’s about the friendships, the trust, and the people whose paths you can make just a little smoother as we all take this trip through life together.

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

Mack McKinneyMack McKinney is on a personal crusade to eliminate conflict and stress in our lives. Mack’s mantra is “People treat you like you TRAIN them to treat you!” His company Solid Thinking Corporation teaches creativity, concept development, relationship management and high-performance project leadership to major US corporations and the US government
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Leader driven Harmony #37: Eating, Drinking & Business

by Mack McKinney on August 12, 2011

What should you eat at a business meal or social gathering?  Do cultural sensitivities really matter these days?  Here are some basic, common-sense rules for business dining etiquette:

  • Don’t eat sushi around squeamish people whose faces turn fainting-white when you mention that raw fish is on the menu.  Those people are as rare as the fish, thank goodness (I love sushi and sashimi).  Just be sensitive and watch their facial expressions when the menu is discussed.
  • Don’t eat pork when dining with Jews or Moslems (or with both – – – yes, it has happened to me).  Just the idea of pigs can make some people nauseous.

Should you drink alcohol at business functions?  Some business gurus say drinking is OK and then others advise total alcohol abstinence!  My answer is . . .  yes, you can drink, but with a few caveats.  First let’s discuss the cultural issue.  In many cultures, business meals are occasions to get to know people.  Alcohol is viewed as the universal social lubricant.  And only after the other party gets to know you and likes you, will they have meaningful business discussions with you.

If you are dining with people from Western Europe, the Slavic countries of Eastern Europe, the Scandinavian countries, Japan, Korea or China, bring a spare liver!  Drinking alcohol is likely to be an accepted part of the business experience and you’ll seem odd if you don’t partake at least a little.  Sorry but I don’t make the rules of international business.

With other groups of people, in the US for example, you have more options.  Here are some basic guidelines:

  • If everyone else is drinking and if you would like a drink, then have one.  But limit it to one or two drinks throughout the activity.
  • If you don’t drink, say so and don’t drink!  You don’t owe anyone a detailed explanation but if you feel obligated to explain, say you are slightly allergic to alcohol and it upsets your stomach.  That should settle it.
  • But if you are hosting a guest at a business dinner (prospective employee, client, possible teammate, etc.), you should order a glass of wine.  Period.  Do this either when initially seated or with the meal but do it.  Do this whether you drink alcohol or not.  You do this to clearly indicate to your guest(s) that their having a drink is fine with you.  Words won’t communicate that point nearly as well as your $7 glass of red wine.  And if there is a toast, you have something to toast with (you can put it up to your lips and then set it down).  If you don’t drink, let it sit and get tossed after the meal.  If asked why you didn’t drink it, say that you didn’t like the taste (they won’t know if you tried it or not).

One more rule here:  If you are a US defense contractor, you’ll need to deduct the cost of the alcohol from the total receipt, showing it separately.  It is not an allowable expense in most cases.  Your company may or may not reimburse you for your drink.  And they can only deduct half the value of the business meal anyway in most cases (thank you IRS).

Who should pay for the meal?

  • If the meal is with teammates (other firms) and they will have the chance to reciprocate rotationally at their facilities, then the host organization should pay.  This should be by prior arrangement among the principles.
  • You, personally, should pay if . . .
    • You invited the others to dinner and no Dutch Treat (each person/team pays) arrangement was discussed.
    • You are trying to win the business of the guests and they are not government employees.  Most US Federal and State government employees are prohibited from accepting meals or gifts of any kind.
    • You are trying to win the business of the guests, they are from other firms, and those firms do not prohibit their employees from accepting gifts (including meals) from potential suppliers (like you).  Some firms’ ethics policies prohibit their employees from accepting meals or “anything of value”.  Other firms prohibit anything above a dollar limit, $25.00 for example.  And some firms have no policy at all on this subject.
    • Split the check if your firms are of comparable size, you will benefit equally from any subsequent business, you are not on an expense account and are expected to be frugal with the company’s travel budget, the other side sincerely offers to help pay, and there is no expectation of future meals out like that one (no expectation of reciprocation “the next time”).

In short, use your common sense regarding eating and drinking at business functions.  And if you drink, limit yourself to one or two drinks.  When in doubt as to the appropriate behavior, ask the financial or legal people in your organization.  And I’d ask them either before or after a trip: Calling their cell phone, from the restaurant, late at night, might get you an answer you DON’T want!

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

Mack McKinneyMack McKinney is on a personal crusade to eliminate conflict and stress in our lives. Mack’s mantra is “People treat you like you TRAIN them to treat you!” His company Solid Thinking Corporation teaches creativity, concept development, relationship management and high-performance project leadership to major US corporations and the US government
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You know the old saying “If there is only one lawyer in a town, he’ll be poor.  But if there are two lawyers in a town, they’ll both be rich!” The insinuation is, of course, that they will convince the people in the town to sue each other.  I’m sure you know a dozen other lawyer jokes.

People say they hate working with lawyers – – – they are expensive, they speak a language few others understand, they are deal-breakers not deal-makers, and . . . did I mention that they are expensive?  But if you are in business, lawyers can be a necessary and valuable part of your team.  And even the most rabid anti-lawyer person changes his tune completely and rapidly when he has a legal issue: He cannot seek out a good lawyer fast enough!

In a company, lawyers will be involved in bidding large jobs, to make sure the proposal team doesn’t inadvertently commit the enterprise (company, service, agency, etc.)  to do something inappropriate or impossible.  They will also be involved in mergers and acquisitions, employment agreements, patent applications, teaming agreements, employee terminations and other such stuff.  But let’s say you are a low level employee in a company, doing your job and staying out of trouble.  When should you, personally, seek the advice of an attorney inside your company?  Anytime one of these events occurs:

  • You are asked by ANYONE (even your boss) to do something you know would be illegal.
  • You learn that a government person, either in the USA or abroad, might be paid to steer a procurement award toward your company.  (This is Foreign Corrupt Practices Act issue and people can go to jail.)
  • You hear a client say anything even hinting at legal action against your organization, even if just a hypothetical discussion.
  • You find something wrong (missing, broken, not installed correctly, etc.) on a deliverable and your supervisor won’t listen.  Before that gear gets shipped to a client, talk to your boss and then to his boss, etc. until you get that equipment fixed.  And if nobody will listen to you, talk to a company attorney.
  • You see someone being discriminated against because of their race, color, religion, sex, etc. and the reporting chain won’t stop it.
  • You see an unsafe condition on the job, where coworkers or customers could be hurt, and nobody in the immediate management chain seems concerned.

There are more examples but certainly in any of the above cases, a company lawyer who must defend the company if sued for improper action, or not taking a required action (known as errors of omission or commission), will be VERY interested in what you have to say.  They will want to head-off any impending legal disaster and will go right to the top of the company if needed.  Yes, you may have some explaining to do with your management chain if you bypassed some of them as you sought out the lawyer but in a decent company, you’ll be rewarded , not disciplined, if you acted in good faith and with the company’s reputation foremost in mind.

Here are some basic do’s and don’ts regarding working with corporate lawyers:

  1. Involve them earlier rather than later.  They can sometimes easily fix a problem if told about it early enough.  If you wait too long, problems can cascade, their hands may be tied and very bad things can occur (lost jobs, lawsuits, criminal penalties, etc.)
  2. Come completely clean.  Tell them everything about the incident/problem/issue and leave nothing out.  They cannot help you if you lie to them.
  3. Get to know them when you aren’t having a crisis. Invite them to proposal-completion parties; ask their advice on almost-routine things just so you can learn how they think; invite them out with customers so they get to know the clients.
  4. Don’t “shave” the rules.  If something you are considering would get you in trouble with the legal staff, do not do it.

In short, treat lawyers like you would want to be treated.  The old Golden Rule applies to the legal beagles too.

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

Mack McKinneyMack McKinney is on a personal crusade to eliminate conflict and stress in our lives. Mack’s mantra is “People treat you like you TRAIN them to treat you!” His company Solid Thinking Corporation teaches creativity, concept development, relationship management and high-performance project leadership to major US corporations and the US government
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Remember in Star Wars when Yoda said something to the effect that “There is no ‘Try’, only ‘Do’”?  Well I guess if you have supernatural powers and a light saber then that might be true.  But on THIS planet, there is often a lot more trying then actually doing!  In fact business experts say unless you are failing periodically, you aren’t trying hard enough.  So setting lofty goals is a good thing, right?

Yes but failing a lot may earn you a reputation for not delivering on your promises.  The more I talk with people in business about what qualities they want to see in their employees, the more I hear the phrase “Do what you say you will do”.  From engineering staffs to marketing teams, making things happen – – – key things and minor things – – – seems to be an increasingly important ability when HR departments look at potential hires.  How do you do this?

How do you build a reputation for Reliability?

  1. Be very reluctant to agree to do things in the first place.  Since your word is your bond, don’t give your word easily.  Instead of saying “I’ll make so-and-so happen by the end of next month” when you have no idea how you’ll actually make that happen, say instead “I’ll push hard to make that happen and it depends on our ability to get X and Y here parts in time” or just say “That is high risk but we will try it.”
  2. Be an ACE – – – Always Control Expectations.  If a task is going to be especially difficult make sure key people know it, for two main reasons:  a) You want them to know that the probability of success is low so they are not automatically counting on your success and are, instead, preparing back-up plans b) you may need resources in order to be successful and they can help you get them.

 Here is how you DON’T build a solid reputation for reliably making things happen:

  1. You don’t cherry-pick only those jobs that you know you can do, finding ways to reject/avoid all the others.  This will get you branded as a primadonna interested more in your corporate image than in the work of the enterprise.
  2. And you don’t play the blame game, finding ways to blame other people (coworkers, managers, suppliers, etc.) time after time when you are unable to complete assigned tasks on time.

As a boss, if people on your team are signing up for tough jobs and then unable to complete them on time, a process (or several) is probably broken.  Your forecasting process for sales may be unrealistic; your supply chain might be unreliable and impacting your deliverables; your project managers are not properly assessing risks and developing work-around plans.  Whatever is causing the problem, get a Tiger Team to tackle it.  They should dig until they find the root causes, no matter how politically painful, and then provide you with options and a recommendation to fix the problem.  This has the additional benefits of forcing people to adopt a mindset of continuous improvement, helping teams become more self-directed and showing everyone that management wants solutions brought to the table whenever a problem surfaces.  Find a problem?  Good.  Bring some possible solutions (options for management) and a recommendation.  That last point, making a recommendation, forces people to take a stand and suggest a course of action.  Such assertive action, taking a public stand on something, builds character.   Managers always watch to see who does this – – – they are almost always the future managers and leaders for the enterprise.

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

Mack McKinneyMack McKinney is on a personal crusade to eliminate conflict and stress in our lives. Mack’s mantra is “People treat you like you TRAIN them to treat you!” His company Solid Thinking Corporation teaches creativity, concept development, relationship management and high-performance project leadership to major US corporations and the US government
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Leader driven Harmony #34: Left Lane Loonies

by Mack McKinney on July 22, 2011

Our society is based on predictable actions by us and the people around us.  Nowhere is this more important than on our highways.  As we hurtle past each other on our roadways in 2-ton cars, just 4 feet apart, at a relative speed of 120 mph, being predictable is crucial. And with urban sprawl and longer commutes, we are spending more time than ever on the road.  In fact, for many of us the highway IS our office.  Cell phones let us do business from our cars as we travel to the office, the airport or to meetings with clients.

But I am not arriving at meetings as relaxed as I’d like to be, mainly due to an increase in what I call Left Lane Loonies on the interstate highways in the eastern US.  These are people who drive in the left lane at speeds slower than other traffic, creating undue stress and aggravation for other drivers and further slowing traffic on our already-congested highways.  This behavior has nothing to do with their traveling above or below any certain speed limit – – – they just drive in the left lane at a speed LOWER than other drivers behind them would like to drive.  Why is this a problem?  Let me count the ways:

  1. FACT: It is absolutely illegal in, I believe, every state of the USA and most foreign countries.  State laws that I have examined always say something like “on multi-lane highways, slower traffic must keep right”.  And that requirement is independent of any speed limits:  if someone wants to pass you and you force them to do so on the right (because you do not quickly yield your left lane), it is a ticketable, moving violation.  In Germany, both drivers will be cited!
  2. FACT: It impedes traffic.  Some years ago a friend was driving to the emergency room with an injured child in his car, only to get stuck behind a person driving exactly the speed limit in the left lane and in-formation with two other cars in the right lane.  The driver just wouldn’t move on past the traffic in the right lane so either she could then move right or so my friend could move right and pass her on the right.  It took several minutes to get by her and he finally did so by driving on the left shoulder when it became apparent that she had no intention of moving to the right lane, even when it was clear.  Luckily the child wasn’t critical or those minutes might have been fatal.
  3. FACT: It creates unsafe situations: the driver trying to pass may take unwarranted chances to get around, cutting too close to other traffic or, in extreme cases such as my friend above, driving on the shoulder.
  4. OPINION: It marks you as either narcissistic (in love with yourself), in La La Land or a frustrated person who wants to control the actions of others (in other words a bully), or some combination of these.  No matter what, it makes you look foolish.

If you are guilty of this behavior, you need to stop it.  But assuming that you don’t do this, what should you do when you encounter someone who does?

  1. First, be safe.  Maintain at least 1.5-2.0 car lengths between you and them.
  2. Slow down yourself!  Try getting into the right lane, moving at a slower pace and just enjoying the scenery!  Most of us are in too great a hurry anyway.
  3. If you don’t want to slow down for whatever reason (that’s your business), politely ask them to move right by signaling them with the quick, international “two flash” of high beams.  If they CAN move right (there is room over there) and if they are traveling at roughly the same speed as the traffic in that right lane, reminding them to move over shouldn’t cause a problem.  (I sometimes get caught in the left lane by faster traffic and I willingly move over when asked.)  Both flashes should only take one second and you should get back on low beams or no-beams.  Then WAIT 10-15 seconds to see if they will move to the right when it is convenient for them and they can do so into traffic that is traveling at roughly their speed.
  4. If they don’t move over, even though they could do so safely and the other traffic in that right lane is moving at roughly their speed, then there are three possibilities:
  • They are waiting for a bigger “slot’ to move into, maybe among somewhat faster traffic in that right lane than you and they are currently passing, probably moving more closely to their desired, long-term speed.  So if you and they are still passing vehicles in that right lane cool your jets and just wait awhile.
  • They haven’t seen your lights flash, asking them to yield. On the chance this is the reason, flash them again, just briefly – – – don’t brighten your lights in anger – – – it marks you as a hotheaded rookie driver.  And stay well back: Unstable people have been known to slam on their brakes when pushed too hard to yield a left lane and this is not worth a collision.
  • They saw your light-flashing signal and know what you want but they have no intention of moving over, because a) they are the self-appointed speed police and have decided their speed is the correct speed for everyone or b) they feel they have a right to drive in any lane they want and are unaware they are violating the law or c) they just don’t like YOU.  If they are only an annoyance and I’ll be able to pass them on the right soon, I just bide my time and pass when able.  Then as I get back in front of them, I roll my driver’s window down, extend my left arm and point repeatedly above my roof over to the right, asking them to move right for the string of traffic now formed behind them.  In about 1/3 the cases, they move over to the right lane!  They were in La La Land and didn’t realize they were causing traffic problems.  But sometimes they just shake their head “no”.  I made my point that their controlling behavior did not go unnoticed.  On the other hand, if they are knowingly causing a serious traffic problem by refusing to change lanes when asked, I assume they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.  I then dial 9-1-1 on my cell phone and report their strange behavior and tag number in a calm, measured way to local law enforcement.  Hopefully some of these people get pulled off the road and get educated about the importance of keeping traffic flowing.

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

Mack McKinneyMack McKinney is on a personal crusade to eliminate conflict and stress in our lives. Mack’s mantra is “People treat you like you TRAIN them to treat you!” His company Solid Thinking Corporation teaches creativity, concept development, relationship management and high-performance project leadership to major US corporations and the US government
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Leader driven Harmony #33: Know Your People!

by Mack McKinney on July 15, 2011

I visited the director of a mid-sized aerospace company recently.  His group has over 200 employees and performs major maintenance, repair and overhaul on C-130s and helicopters.  I wanted to meet him and discuss the possibility of collaborating on some projects.  He has only had the job two years and was a career Marine, so I expected a rough, gruff, order-barking guy.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Unlike the guy before him, he is straight forward, but friendly.  One of my friends was just hired there and he says the employees all talk about people smiling and laughing on the job for the first time in years.  The line workers seem to really like him which is a big change for this operation.  Absenteeism is way down and productivity is way up.  When he first came aboard he personally reviewed each contract and renegotiated several of them that seemed unfair to his company.  (These were put in place by the manager before him and were poorly written).  He also personally reviewed every employee’s personnel jacket (record) and called them in to discuss the pay, what he expected from them and to ask what they needed from him.  I’m also told this guy shows no favoritism among the staff or workers.  Everybody gets a fair shake.

I enjoyed talking with him.  His polite straightforwardness was refreshing.  And we may do some work together later this year.  But it was a couple of little things that really impressed me.  His office is not very large, doesn’t have a breath-taking view and is located above a hangar floor.  It takes a good five minutes to walk there from the visitors’ parking spots in front of the building.  This is a controlled area and most execs would simply have sent their secretary out to meet me and escort me to his office.  But this fellow personally fetched me!  He walked all the way from his office, met me at the car and escorted me all the way back in.  (I remember a television journalist saying how impressed he was that King Hussein of Jordon walked him to his car after an interview in Amman and when thanked, the King explained “this is just common manners – – – I do this for visitors all the time.”

But even this was not the most impressive thing I saw that day.  From the parking lot to his office and then back along that same route an hour later we probably passed a dozen people and without exception he called each by their first name and asked them something personal:

  • Sarah, how’s your son doing?  Is he out of the hospital yet?
  • Jane, I hear you are leaving us?  Are you taking a better job with more money for your family?  (Yes I am)  Well then that is ok and let me know if there is anything I can do to make your transition easier.
  • Bobby, how are you doing?  Did your guys find that tool they were looking for?

I suspect this fellow knows the first name of everybody who works there and that is impressive.  Not just that he can memorize them but that he does.  This is old-school leadership behavior and the people who work there will never forget it.  Do you know the first names of all the people who work for you and your colleagues, and their family situations?  Why not?  Even an old Marine does it!

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

Mack McKinneyMack McKinney is on a personal crusade to eliminate conflict and stress in our lives. Mack’s mantra is “People treat you like you TRAIN them to treat you!” His company Solid Thinking Corporation teaches creativity, concept development, relationship management and high-performance project leadership to major US corporations and the US government
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