Work Tip #85 - Preconceptions Stifle Achievement
During my first deployment to Afghanistan I served as the chief of a small team that was in support of a larger force. I took the job to heart, and did my best to prepare my team for what was to be a tough deployment. I also had a lieutenant that served as the team’s officer in charge, and I made sure to help him find his way through his own development as an officer. I had my own ideas of what an officer did, though, based on comments from other senior enlisted and the little I had seen in my career. Those preconceptions ended up biting me in the ass.
You see, when we deployed I quickly took to tending to the team’s matters. Supply, management, direction, were all things for which I felt a need to take responsibility. Meetings, headquarters, and liaising with the larger unit we supported was “officer” stuff. I made it a point to skip out on what I thought were “officer” meetings, “officer” conversations, etc.
It was a significant screw up as my lieutenant’s senior enlisted adviser.
Not only did I miss out on everything that was discussed at meetings, but I also was unable to effectively mentor and guide my lieutenant through his decisions … or at least provide him an experienced person he could trust to help with decisions. My understanding was that he led the team, and I made things work. That was a stupid understanding of what an officer/enlisted relationship is, and we could have done much better on that deployment had I deployed with a different mindset.
Son, my preconception of how I was “supposed” to act degraded my performance as a team chief. Had I deployed with a more open mind, more like my true self, someone who wants to help, participate and guide … I would have been a better chief. Had I not let the preconceptions I had of an officer and a chief control my behavior, I may have achieved something greater than a typical team chief. Instead, I perpetuated my own preconceptions.
Preconceptions are nothing more than road blocks on the path to better decisions son. You mustn’t act them out to be great, you must shed them to be great.
Learn to do that and you will undoubtedly be great at everything you do.
Life Tip #76 - Create an E-mail Trap for Marketers
Who knows what or how they will send you advertisements when you read this Charlie. In my lifetime, marketers have gone from post mail, to telephone, to E-mail and managed to stay annoying throughout it all.
When it comes to post mail or telephone, that’s easy. All you have to do is give fake info. However, E-mail is a little tougher, because often times to log in you have to receive the E-mail from the crappy site you are trying to gain access to. Not a problem.
Just create another e-mail address that you use for all the worthless Internet sites you want to gain access to. Use it for the sites you know are going to inundate you with E-mail even though you only used their site once. I started to do this about two years ago, and my junk E-mail has gone down to zero.
I logged into the e-mail once to see how it looked and it was crazy in there! Like some kind of cesspool of premature balding, sex-crazed, get-rich-quick lunatics. Actually, that kind of makes the sites your old man is going to a little suspicious. ;)
The Power of the Pen
The military is known for having decorations and awards, and for the most part they serve their purpose of rewarding people for their accomplishments or hard work. However, the most underutilized form of recognition is a simple letter of appreciation. I think it is underutilized because people really don’t think it means much, but they are wrong. A simple letter means a lot to the person who receives it, and it takes nothing to create.
I have a simple criteria for writing letters of appreciation. If someone goes out of their way to help me do my job or if a person helps me when he’s not required to, I write him a letter. If a person helps me even once during my mission and her small part plays a role in something greater, I write a letter (in those instances I make it a point to say she played a part in something important). Sometimes I’ll address it to the person who helped me, but often times I’ll address it to his or her boss.
If the person is a peer, I get my own boss to sign the letter. In this case I typically talk to my boss in person first, and then I offer to write the letter for him. That is especially important, because people are typically lazy or disinterested in what someone else did for you, and won’t bother to write it. I also make sure there is an organizational letterhead that looks important (especially if I work for an important organization), and bug the hell out of my boss until it is signed.
I have probably written dozens of these letters and I am sure some think I overdo it, but I don’t see what the hell the big deal is. It is a simple letter. I am not advocating a promotion or praising the person’s overall performance. I am simply offering a formal “thank you,” that will stay with that person for the rest of his career. And that is important, because often times good work goes unnoticed.
It is simple, Charlie. You have seen the impacts plenty of times, from teachers’ positive comments on homework to comment cards you fill out for a waiter at a restaurant. A letter of appreciation is just a more formalized version of those examples. It is a powerful thing to formally thank a person for his hard work, so don’t ever miss an opportunity to do so when the situation presents itself.
Don’t ever underestimate the power of the pen.
100 Places to See Before You Die #7 - The U.S. Open Road
So my “100 Places to See…” list isn’t very traditional Charlie, but that is exactly my intent. It is too easy to pick 100 places that look pretty in pictures or make me seem really cultured. Instead, these are places I truly think you should see and appreciate.
That said, let me tell you about the open road.
Many people, when they travel, fly from one place to another. They spend a lot of time in cities, hotels, resorts,on ships, etc. Very few get to experience the open land between these places, and there is no better place I have seen for experiencing the open road than the United States (pictured above).
In a matter of days you will drive through snow-capped mountains, beautiful plains and barren desert. On a perfect night you will see more stars than you have ever seen in your life, and on that same road you will see fewer cars and people than you have ever seen in your life. It is the ultimate escape in many ways.
The U.S. isn’t the only place I have seen like this. In Europe and South America too, the open road can be a place of extreme solace and beauty.
So while you may not be able to pin it on a map or post it to your social media page, the open road can be as amazing of an experience as almost any one spot you will read about on any other “100 Places to See” list.
I’m sure you will take many road trips with your me and your mom, but just in case, here are a few trips to get you started:
- San Diego to Seattle (drive the inland up, and the coast down).
- Washington D.C. to San Francisco (take Interstate 90 through the Dakotas and cut down to Interstate 80 through Wyoming).
- Skyline Drive through the Shenandoah Mountains.
- Fort Lauderdale, Florida to California (take Interstate 75 along the coast to Interstate 10 … and lastly Interstate 8).
- Washington D.C. to Alaska (through Canada … this is our next one!).
Work Tip #48 - Controlling Panic
One day you will probably find yourself in a stressful work situation, son. It will most likely be a situation that includes a condensed timeline and a requirement to perform a task within that timeline. When that happens it is very probable that some sort of panic will set in. It happens to almost everyone.
The difference comes in how you respond to it. Some people let it consume them. They lose cognitive skills, small motor skills, and sometimes can even lose hearing! Really, it can consume you that much. I have seen it plenty of times.
The trick to keeping your composure during times like these is understanding what is happening to you. We all have that rush of adrenaline when we get into a stressful situation, so that part is completely normal and mostly uncontrollable. However, understanding what your body is going through allows you to focus and accomplish your task. It prevents you from “freezing up.”
It is somewhat of a learned skill, but one highly valued in the workplace. No one wants to work with someone who panics, even if it’s during the most stressful situations. No one wants to work for someone who panics. People respect and even follow those who can control their anxiety and function. People admire those who can calm and lead others through their own panic.
Remember this when you find yourself in your first few stressful work situations. It is one of the most valuable skills you can have.
Life Tip #65 - Dry-Erase Boards
I think talking to you about dry-erase boards is about as worthwhile as talking to you about chalk boards, but here it goes.
Sometimes you accidentally write on a dry-erase board with a permanent marker. Not to worry. Just take a dry-erase marker and mark over what you wrote with the permanent marker several times. Then wipe it all away.
Works every time.
Until You Walk A Mile In Their Shoes …
The true first day of Marine boot camp is typically pretty hectic. There is a lot of chaos, and some guys start to lose it pretty quickly. I saw one guy start to freak out and become the focus of a lot of attention, so when the drill instructor moved away from him I told him to “just relax.”
The drill instructor shouted out, “Who said that??” I responded that I had, and he said, “You’re the first squad leader.” It was my first lesson in leadership … leaders help others.
I stayed a squad leader throughout boot camp, and put a lot of effort into helping my fellow recruits make it through events. I spent time talking to guys and practicing sit-ups during our one hour of free time each night. My biggest challenge was the chubby kids, though.
The chubby kids were put on “special” meal plans, which basically denied them calories. I could eat the main meal if it was meat, for example, but they couldn’t. They could only have fish. So they would get hungry, and of course they would steal food. Well every time they got caught we all got in trouble, and it sucked. I talked to my chubby guys and told them they needed to cut it out, but one kid from Louisiana told me it was hard and kind of stuck up for himself. My response was to try it myself and show him it wasn’t impossible.
The next day I made a fake tag that looked like theirs, and I wore it on my uniform … “DIET RECRUIT.” The drill instructors didn’t even notice. We exercised in the morning, I ate breakfast, exercised again and marched, I ate lunch, trained some more and … I was dying. I mean, literally I was starving, and so were these kids I was trying to convince to stop stealing food.
I couldn’t understand how they survived. I mean, I couldn’t even make it to dinner. I pulled the tag off and devoured my evening meal. It was insane. From that point on, I just decided that my squad would pay the punishment for them stealing food, and deal with it. I honestly felt it was the least we could do for them. It was a tough challenge to be a diet recruit.
You see, I hardly walked a mile in their shoes, but I experienced enough to know that sometimes you need to walk in someone’s shoes to truly understand what they are experiencing. It’s one thing to be smart and reasonable, but it’s something else to experience another’s life for a day. There was no way I could have truly understood what those kids were going through had I not tried to do what they did, and had I not tried I may have continued to ask more than they were physically capable of.
The irony was, as a result of me trying, they tried harder. They appreciated the fact that at least one other person had an idea what they were going through, and that one other person actually appreciated it.
I guess that was the real leadership lesson. Sometimes the best way to lead a man is to first walk a mile in his shoes.