Losses Make Us Stronger

I listened to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s interview with Charlie Rose last week. He is ending his first term as governor and running for reelection. He is also promoting a new autobiography in which he highlights both his successes and disappointments.

Here’s a statement that caught my attention:

“There are very few success stories that don’t have losses in the early chapters.”

As we have slogged through this recession, I’ve marveled a number of times at how much I’ve learned as well as how much our company has learned. I don’t ever wish for losses and setbacks, but there is no question that they can makes us better.

Here are some of the ways:

Losses can cause a stark, candid reflection of yourself or your organization. A significant setback can cause you to stop and consider where you are and what you need to change to improve things.

Losses cause a return to accountability. When you suffer a setback, it’s important to accept accountability. You won’t come back from it if you don’t make a decision to be accountable for improving matters and moving ahead.

Losses create an education about grief. Losses cause you to grieve. There’s a process of sorting through frustration, anger and shock to get to the new reality. Those who have experienced grief understand it better when it comes along again.

Losses cause a re-prioritization. Priorities can be skewed. You can put the wrong things first. Losses help you set things in the right order.

Losses provide motivation. No one likes losing. Setbacks provide powerful juice for bouncing back.

Losses broaden your perspective. They make you wiser. You get a greater sense of timing and cycles. You learn failure doesn’t have to be fatal. You learn that setbacks aren’t permanent nor are they pervasive.

Losses give you an appreciation for the present time.  Losses are inevitable. Thus, today is what is important. No matter where you find yourself, what is important is what you can do to make it better now.

Work With The Customer In Mind

“Work is simply taking the raw material of creation and developing it for the sake of others.” Tim Keller

As a “lean” company, we strive to add value. The goal is to perform tasks and to produce products for which someone is willing to pay. The “lean” theory says if we are doing something or charging for something a customer wouldn’t want to pay money, it is waste.

Keller’s quote reminds me. The work we do, each of us, is intended to add value for someone. So often, we go about our work in a routine fashion without any regard to the customer we serve.

If we keep in mind who we are creating our product or service for, it can be an inspiration. It can cause us to be more accountable. It can add pep to our step because of the pride we take in our work. It can sharpen our eye to enhance the quality of our work.

If you feel “blah” about your work, stop and reflect upon who it is you serve.

Risks Reap Rewards

“The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable.”

Ernest Hemingway, great American novelist

Hemingway’s quote points out a tension that each one of us face. In order to achieve things, you have to be willing to be vulnerable.

Having “a feeling for beauty” means to me that you have a tender heart. Beautiful music, sights and interactions make your heart sing. On the other hand, corruption, deceit, disunity and cruelty can cause deep sadness.

Being a risk taker brings rewards greater than those attained by the safe, stay out of the fray folks. You may fall down. You may fail. But, risk takers know the taste of a risk rewarded is well worth the mediocre outcomes of never talking them.

Speaking the truth is the outcome sought by “courageous communicators”. Occasionally the truth spoken strains relationships and causes disappointment. But, truth sets us free. It clears the way. The best people know to champion the truth is worth the short term pain it can cause.

The best people sacrifice. They put others before them. They delay gratification. They do the nitty gritty work of doing the weeding and fertilizing, because they know it bears the best fruit.

Vulnerable? Yes. But the virtues that Hemingway describes creates a rich life.


Competitive Spirit Delivers Satisfaction

As a big college football fan, I’m noticing more parity among football teams.

Teams like Ohio State and Alabama are still notable, but other teams are beginning to hire the same kind of conditioning coaches and running the same kind of offenses and defenses. The “have nots” are catching up to the “haves”.

The pundits will speak of one coach or the other losing an edge. While I certainly think that success can breed complacency that dulls an edge, it’s also a truth that the competition responds to the successful players in their market.

Hall of Fame basketball coach Pat Summitt says: “You can’t always be the strongest or most talented or most gifted person in the room, but you can be the most competitive.”

Strength, talents and gifts provide an edge, but that edge can be wiped out by a team that works hard, perseveres and competes fiercely.

I think a good strategy is to stay humble about strength, talent and gifts and be hungry when it comes to work, perseverance and competition.

Satisfaction will follow.

Build On Success

“Take your victories, whatever they may be, cherish them, use them, but don’t settle for them. ” Mia Hamm, USA soccer great.

Hamm’s quote reminds us you build on success. You can have a great day, a great month, a great year, but life doesn’t stop. It’s difficult to maintain, because every great success is a combination of circumstances.

We control some of them. Our effort. Our preparation. Our knowledge. Our skill.

But, there are other factors. The weather. The economy. Our competitor’s complacency, poor preparation or bad luck.

We can learn from every victory. We also can learn from  every setback

Hamm’s quote reminds us that most people obtain a victory and lose an edge. The great one’s get the most out of every win and use it to win again tomorrow.

Be Calm And…

A colleague sent me this quote:

The more tranquil a man becomes, the greater is his success, his influence, his power for good. Calmness of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom.”

– James Allen,
British philosophical writer

Tranquility describes a calm nature. I value it in others especially during tense times. I try to model it as well.

If I remain calm, I’m less likely to say things or do things I will regret later.

If I remain calm, I think better. I consider a broader range of alternatives. I anticipate consequences better.

If I remain calm, I find relief faster. Whatever has caused my tension has happened. Regretting, chastising, criticizing, cussing, busting stuff up is all wasted energy. If I remain calm, I can move ahead.

If I remain calm, my teammates will follow my lead.  They will join me as we make a plan to move ahead.

Calm is contagious. It inspires trust and confidence.

There are times for impassioned reactions. They have their places. But, calm has a power all its own.

Don’t Hide Your “Light”

I’m a believer in self nomination.

This is important to note. So many people wait to be noticed. The Bible calls it hiding your light under a basket.

The hope of the “light hider” is that your talent, skill, abilities or ambition will get discovered over time and it will be put to good use. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way.

Talent, skills and ability that go unused or untested result in frustration and discontent. The flip side is that when they are recognized and used, they lead to a high level of satisfaction. Productivity is higher. The team has a better chance of success.

That’s why “self nomination” is so important. It speeds up the process. It is lean.

As much as I would like to tell you that we are experts at discerning and putting talent to work, we aren’t. Our emphasis at getting work down well causes us to put on blinders.

So, if there are ways you can help that you aren’t being asked to do, you will eliminate a lot of personal frustration by speaking up and nominating yourself.

If you have ambitions that aren’t known, make them known. Get some feedback about them. Let us consider how we can structure things to meet them.

If we don’t do anything about your nomination, it’s on us.

But chances are your nomination will lead you to a better place. Why not step up?

Embrace Change

How many of you subscribe to the idea “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it”?

If we are candid, most of us subscribe to the notion. Our brains encourage us to develop habits and patterns. We resist the idea of giving up good habits or good patterns. We don’t readily take up the idea of creating new ways to do things because it is difficult to form a new habit.

So, we cling to what we are doing now.

That would be fine if things didn’t change around us. Our world is in constant flux. In our business, things change constantly. Think about customers:

Some grow. Some get smaller.

Some change owners or merge with others.

The people we interact with regularly change. They get promoted or change jobs. Sometimes the replacement is better, sometimes worse.

The economy changes. The scope and mix of our raw material shifts. There are wars and rumors of war.

We age. We gain weight. We lose weight. We have health issues develop. Kids get born and then they grow up. They get married. They move back or they come home.

Add to that technology. Better and more mobile devices with greater power and reach. More stations to watch.

It just keeps coming.

So, the tension we manage is the desire to have things stay the same while the world is bursting with change.

We don’t need to break things that work. Because, if we stand by long enough, things will break on their own accord due to matters beyond our control. And we will have to change to move ahead well.

So, doesn’t it make sense to embrace “change” as compared to resent it?

Doesn’t it make sense to be alert to the circumstances that are developing and make plans to adjust?

Doesn’t it make sense to have a bias toward considering and trying out new alternatives so that we can move with great agility to meet the changing environment?

There are constant waves of change headed our way. Don’t resist the breakers of change. Get on the board and ride them.

Make The Most Of Opportunity

“A bad day for the ego is a great day for the soul. – Michael Beckwith

I was telling a story about a blown leadership assignment.

I was elected to a great position. I accepted the position while the organization was experiencing record success.

Rather than plan ways to help the organization grow, I took a laid back approach. I kept it on a steady pace. No new challenges. No plan to address weaknesses.

Guess what? We slipped. I realized late in the process that I had squandered a great opportunity. It grieved me for years.

But, it was good for my soul.

It humbled me. I realized the good work that got me to the great position had to continue after the position was achieved.

It taught me something about satisfaction. The grief of the squandered opportunity far exceeded the satisfaction of achieving it. In other words, while achievement brings joy for the moment, it doesn’t match the satisfaction of doing well with the opportunities available today. And tomorrow as well.

While I learned the lesson, I’d be dishonest to tell you that I never squandered another opportunity. But, on the occasions I do, my soul is quick to alert me: “Hey, you know better than that! Get your head in the game.”

Gratefully, every new day brings a new game.

Determination Creates Excellence

“Most men succeed, because they are determined to.” George Allen

We want to attribute success to many things: intelligence, inheritance, luck, talent, creativity, physical abilities, genius.

Coach Allen, who was a successful coach whose children became a gifted film producer, a successful pro football executive and a governor makes the distinction that counts the most.

The truth is we all have talent, intelligence, creativity, physical ability and financial resources. If the truth be known, most of us are close to average. Few of us are exceptional.

So, as Allen suggests, our determination defines.

My favorite new phrase is “no one drifts into excellence.”

You want to be excellent? Set your sights on the target. Work hard to get there. When you encounter setbacks or plateaus, don’t quit.

Remember, chances are that if the competition is getting better results, its intention and determination that is the major difference.


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