Monthly Archives: August 2017
My boys continue to be a source of inspiration and learning for me that I can apply to the workplace. Last weekend they set up a lemonade stand in our front yard (not a busy street) and sold 22 cups of lemonade and earned $11 and some change. Obviously a lot of neighbors came to the rescue, but the design behind a lemonade stand, not just the “Frantz Superhero Lemonade Stand”, contains many valuable lessons for all of us Xers, Millennials, and Boomers that can make us better leaders of people. Allow me to explain.
In the Frantz household, the lemonade stand concept wasn’t born on a Saturday morning, it was a weeks worth of planning. Jackson, the 5 year old, was the chief strategist, and took the lead in planning. As any good leader will do, he assembled a team, and by team I mean 3-year old Colin. Jackson started simple and outlined what he needed: a sign, a stand, and lemonade. He and Colin discussed where there stand would be and what each of them would be responsible for. Cute, right? But stop for a moment and think how this applies to us and how easy it is for us to miss the simple clues to success. Step 1 starts here, with the plan.
When a goal is in front of you, what is the first thing you tend to do (after panic)? You start strategizing, right? How many of you go too big in your strategy and are into the weeds before you know where the garden is? This is where most of our strategies fail, we go too big. Let’s take some lessons from my kids here. They started with the basics: a sign, a stand, and lemonade. They didn’t think about what type of lemonade, ice, cups, the weather, ink for the sign, words for the sign, angle of the sign, hot temperatures to attract thirsty customers, or who would sit on which side of the table. They started with the key elements they needed and then worked their way up. Close your eyes and think of something on your plate that you haven’t started. What needs to be accomplished? Sell lemonade in my boys’ example, but Project ‘X’ in your world. What are the core elements that you need to accomplish, or need in order to accomplish the project? Start simple and THEN expand… don’t expand and then get overwhelmed.
Lesson #2 from the boys, ask for help. For them I call in dependency, for you and me I call it humility. “I need help” are three of the hardest words to utter in sequence in the English language once you get past 6 (I assume). Once the boys started simple with “a sign, a stand, and lemonade”, they realized that they didn’t have anything to make a sign or lemonade. They knew a trip to Target was in order, but knew that was outside of their skillset. They engaged mom and dad to take them to Target and help them buy the right things. EVERY task that you and I face can be done by someone else and done better. If you are a prudent manager, you will surround yourself with these people and value them, not feel threatened by them. Identify those key players, partner with them, and then share the success with them.
Lesson #3 from the boys, stay humble but stay aggressive. The cuteness is hard to deny, but the boys’ also worked for the their $11. Imagine these two sitting at a table under a nice shade tree and screaming, “LEMONADE FOR SALE! COME BUY SOME”! When there wasn’t a person on the street, they shouted louder because they thought someone on another street may hear them. Now I am not saying shout louder where you are at, what I am saying is stay aggressive. The boys’ didn’t know if someone on another street could hear them, all they knew is that their job was to sell lemonade and they still had lemonade left in the jar. Whatever it is that you are working on or working toward, stay aggressive and stay positive. If you get tired and give up, or “leave lemonade in the jar”, you haven’t accomplished what you set out to accomplish. Tired is ok. Frustration is ok. As long as you acknowledge the feelings and move on. Stay humble, but stay aggressive and realize….
Lesson #4 that sometimes a fly will drop in your lemonade. I noticed that Jackson and Colin were having a big discussion and looking upon a glass of lemonade, concerned looks upon their faces. I looked down and there was a gnat in one of the cups. They were discussing what to do about it… should they fish it out with their hand? Should they dump it? The conversation was cute, and ultimately they decided to dump it (after I suggested that was the most prudent choice), but an important step in achieving a goal together. I can’t think of a goal I have ever had at work where I didn’t have a “fly” land in it. What I saw in my boys was collaboration. Jackson and Colin were actively discussing what to do about the fly. Jackson didn’t just grab the cup and dump it, and Colin didn’t stick his hand in the drink before discussing it. As much as a 5 and 3 year old can, they appreciated each other’s suggestions and contributions, and, with a little executive help, made a good choice. Friends, collaborate like crazy! You may have to make an tough decision, as I did, but you should obtain as many points of feedback as you can. The best idea may come from the most unexpected person.
The final lesson for me in watching my boys sell lemonade was their customers. A gentleman was out running and stopped at the stand. He engaged the boys in conversation, but only had a $10 bill. He was one of the first customers, so we had no change (as I was a poor planner with low expectations). He was going to let them keep the $10, but I slipped him a dollar and Jackson made change. The money didn’t matter to the boys, but the gentleman understood the importance of supporting my boys’ lemonade stand.
You see, two of the best gifts you can give an employee or teammate are 1) confidence and 2) a sense of belonging. This man saw an opportunity to create a memory for my kids. He knew that his $10 was going toward developing confidence and character in my boys. Don’t get me wrong, the walkers that walked by and said “no thank you” are just as important. I don’t believe in “everyone gets a trophy”, and I wanted them to also face rejection in this harmless scenario. What they learned is that you treat people the same way, whether they buy from you or not. Same for us, not everyone will work hard on your project and give all they have. Some people won’t be interested in collaborating. Some people will think you fail. What you must always do as a leader is to practice “detached coping” by maintaining focus and avoid reacting to emotion. If you are able to do that, your team and peers will maintain confidence in your leadership and feel as though they have a place at your table in formulating solutions. My boys could have easily chucked a lemonade cup at the “no thank you” walkers, but they remembered the jogger who stopped and gave his time and interest.
Friends, look around you and think about all of the “lemonade stands” in front of you and think about the 5 themes of my blog:
- Plan- Keep it simple, start with the basics, and build out
- Humility- When you need help, ask for it. Surround yourself, either by hiring smart or partnering well, with people that are better at certain things than you. Don’t feel threatened by them, embrace their expertise
- Stay Aggressive- We all get burned out in what we do or what we are trying to accomplish. I say that isn’t a bad thing, it is just your brain signaling you to take a different approach. Stay aggressive until you accomplish your task.
- The “fly”- Bad things will happen too good people. Bad things will happen to bad people. Bad things will happen no matter what. Big or little, learn how to run with these things and not get defeated by them. I call it detached coping. Leverage those around you and collaborate like crazy to get through it.
- Be the customer to your team- Your involvement breeds confidence and a sense of belonging to others. If you engage and say, “hey, you are worth it”, you instill a power into others that will bear fruit for years to come. An investment in someone never goes wasted (even if it may look like it).
Enjoy the week (and eclipse) friends!
The summer of 2017 has been a period of healthy transition for my family and me. Work has been relatively quiet with little travel, Jackson starts Kindergarten in two weeks, Colin grew a size (finally), and Emily is moving to shorter days at work. Over the years we have gone from being very social to being somewhat of hermits. Seeing as how “woo” is one of my bottom 5 Strength Finders, I decided I was going to turn it into a strength, and get my woo on to build us a network of friends 🙂
Last weekend was one of the first big opportunities for me in rebuilding a social network, and it came at the high cost of leaning into many discomforts, chief among them, camping with strangers. Our new church, Grace @ Polaris, hosted their 24th annual father child camping treat in Mohican Valley. For those of you unfamiliar with Ohio, picture a forest on the outskirts of Amish country with no cell services (my Millennial friends just had a panic attack). Colin, 3 years old, was not old enough, so it was just Jackson and me. Mind you, I haven’t camped in more than 20 years and I’m not sure that I ever tent-camped for a weekend. I showed up with a small cooler, enough firewood to fuel 20 camp sites, a tent, and some sleeping bags. Needless to say, I was out of my element and really out of my comfort zone.
As Jackson and I drove into the camp site, there was a large circle with tents all around and it was our objective to just pick a site and get busy. As I stated earlier, I knew absolutely no one. So what does one do in that moment, pick the least visible place possible. Jackson and I picked the back left arc of the circle, furthest away from the common area, but strategically close to the bathrooms.
There were about 30 kids playing on a slip and slide and Jackson wanted to play. We put on his bathing suit and then he stopped about 20 yards away, unable to push himself to play with strangers. I buried myself (literally) in then tent and began to set up camp. I was trying to avoid the discomfort of one of two things in a Christian environment: 1) “hi how are you doing, tell me all about where you are with your faith”, or 2) being totally ignored. Pretend like I’m busy to avoid discomfort was my best option.
I was struggling with the rain guard and the guy next to me came over and just started helping. He introduced himself and then just struck up chit chat, nothing awkward. His daughters (13 and 7) started talking with Jackson and eased his nervousness. The broke the ice without a formal ice breaker. Nathan and his children made Jackson and I feel like we belonged. The next afternoon the pastor was walking by and Nate called him over to introduce him. I’m familiar with pastors and my expectation was surface-level conversation or social awkwardness. After introductions he said, “tell me about yourself” and within 5-minutes we were quizzing each other with baseball trivia. Expectations broken.
Blogger man get to the point… ok got it!
The bold words above were the lessons learned from this great adventure in leaning into discomfort. The past 8 days have led me to deep thought about last weekend and then transformation I could experience if I would open myself to it. It made me think quite a bit about my workplace and how I treat my team and colleagues. What was I doing well and what could I do better? I was proud of the culture we have built, not dissimilar to that of the camping experience, but there are certainly opportunities to further improve.
Out of Our Element– You have experienced this, probably many times a week. The most confident of us experience discomfort by being out of our element. I handle this discomfort differently at work than I did camping. When I find myself out of my element, I try to “learn enough to be dangerous”. I do not need to be an expert in all things related to the FIU, but I need to have a general understanding of everything. If I’m able to prepare beforehand, I do. If I’m not able to prepare beforehand, I study the situation and people, identify the expert(s), ask questions, and won’t leave until I understand the impact to my team.
Avoid Visibility– I try to stay consciously aware when someone is “hiding” in plain sight. I’m not a front-row or back-row person. I position where I can see the most faces (corner of a rectangular table). If I am the leader, I engage first with eye contact and then I lob “softballs” to the uncomfortable people to give them an “in” to the conversation. This helps them relax and participate.
Pretend Like I’m Busy– Have you ever been caught in that situation where you don’t know an answer or feel way over your head in the conversation? So you earnestly study a blank screen or those words on the paper? Friend, your intense stare won’t change a thing. Borrow a trick from our Millennial friends, ask questions, force understanding, and have a voice. You learn more and a shorter period of time, which increases the opportunity for you to add value.
Break Your Expectations– Do you ever look at your calendar and see a meeting where you expect the absolute worst things to happen? Or you feel like it will be a complete waste of time? Human nature to be sure. It is a habit you formed, now you have to form a new positive habit to break your expectations. Whenever I dial into a call, respond to an e-mail, or having a meeting scheduled, I try to visualize a cool splash of water to the face. The better I can clear my expectations, the more value I can add, and the more benefit I can receive.
Continuous Improvement- Never settle for status quo or BAU (Business as Usual). I’ve caught myself a few times saying, “we are finally BAU” because we now have some volume predictability and static quality. I then catch myself treading into this dangerous territory. The moment I accept that we are BAU is the moment I digress as a leader. My team would tell you of a familiar term I use… “picture the FIU as a school spectrum. You start in Kindergarten and end in the 12th grade. Each year you mature in different ways. If the FIU were on that spectrum, we would just be finishing Kindergarten”. When do we hit our last day of 12th grade? Somewhere around 2040 when I retire.
Have a great week!