Taking The Bullet

So I learned many valuable lessons when I worked at the U.S. Secret Service–I loved it there!


But one of the lessons that sticks out it that sometimes you have to take a bullet for the President!


This lesson stayed with me and I believe it applies to a lot of other situations in life as well.


Sometimes you take one for the 


– Team


– Cause


– Relationship  


It’s easy to say you are going to preserve you self by “dodging a bullet,” but often it’s really just the opposite that is needed. 


If you take the bullet, you are putting yourself subordinate to a larger cause and what is really important. 


Taking one to safeguard the President of the United States is definitely a larger cause. 


But also your team, the success of an important cause or project, precious relationships that have been built over time–these can all mean more than taking even a significant hit. 


This doesn’t mean to be stupid, become anyone’s punching bag or just take people’s sh*t for nothing. 


Rather what it does mean is that you can suck it up sometimes–when the ends justify the means–and jump in front of that bullet to preserve something bigger and more important than just yourself. 


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Enter With A HANDSHAKE & Leave With A HUG

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So after almost 6 years at the U.S. Department of State, I am moving forward in my career to a very exciting role at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 


As I look back, I have fond memories of the wonderful high-performance division I was part of and the many amazing achievements we had together, and what our Deputy Assistant Secretary called, the “A Team.”


But one thing today is sticking out in my mind and it’s this image.

“Enter with a handshake and leave with a hug.”

On the first days, when I arrived it was all formality and firm welcome handshakes.


We don’t really know you and you don’t really know us, but we’re embarking on this journey together, and where it takes us no one really knows, BUT we wish you the best of luck–now go out and do great things!


Then on the last days, as I was preparing to leave, the formal handshakes were long gone and instead they were replaced with warm heartfelt hugs (and some special emotional words and cards). 


I was no longer a mystery of a person, with just my reputation, coming in to do G-d knows what. 


Now, I was a human being that had a genuine history with them, formed relationships with many, had faced challenges together, and had touched not only minds, but also it was apparent, hearts. 


I will not forget the special people, nor the many times shared, our accomplishments as an organization, and how we grew. 


I am moving forward not only with their tight hugs to more handshakes anew, but also to once again hopefully grow heart-to-heart with people, as further relationships are formed and we make, please G-d, amazing new progress together–for the mission and for the people. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Work-Family Is A Word

Team

This week I learned something about “work-family.”


Yes, work is not family–it’s your job.


But on the job we meet people that influence us, change us, and sometimes inspire us. 


Not everyone has a positive impact on us–some people we work with are bad, unbalanced, selfish, biased, and abusive–they bring their personal craziness into the office. 


But some are truly good people out there–and they leave a lasting impact. 


This week was the first time I experienced someone in my group passing away suddenly. 


She was at work Monday and Tuesday–we had talked and joked.


I remember she wore pink on Tuesday and it matched a pink stuffed animal on her desk–she looked happy or at peace. 


By early Wednesday morning, I was getting texts then calls that she had passed away (I simultaneously let my boss know). 


One day she was there in the office (and had been for some 30 years) and the next day she was gone.


But there was something special about this lady and how she interacted with the team. 


She seemed to touch people far and wide with her outreach, caring for others, joking around, and good spirit despite whatever challenges she herself may have been going through.


When she passed this week, people were in my office and the halls crying–they loved this lady, their coworker and friend.


At 9 AM, I gathered the broader team to announce her passing. “One of our own has passed.” I spoke and then went around offering others to say a few words, which some surely did. 


At 10 AM, I sent a notification of the passing to the people in the entire building (and others associated).


Later in the day, there was a toast to her and more speeches from up and down the chain to remember this good lady as well as to pull together as a team to support each other.


By the next day, things had quickly moved to care for the family, packing her office things and memorializing her, as well as provisions for some grief counseling. 


[Note: I am blessed with an extraordinary high-performance team, and this passing was not only a shock but added to the intensity of the work we do and how much of it there is.]


Once we have all the funeral arrangements, then next up is sending out an broader department-wide notice–and a large attendance for her is expected. 


What I learned is that while work itself can be productive and meaningful, through doing good to others and sincere personal interactions on the job, there can be bonds formed that can have a personal impact on people and bring tears to their eyes. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Losing Trust In What We Need Most, Each Other

Group

Last month, The Daily Beast (2 April 2012) ran a interesting article on “Why Humans, Like Ants, Need [To Belong] To A Tribe.”

Throughout history, people have joined and held allegiance to groups and institutions “to get visceral comfort and pride from familiar fellowship.”

Belonging is a familiar way to get social connection, meaning, and to make the environment “less disorienting and dangerous.”
Essentially, what this means it that we stand stronger together than we do alone and apart.

Today, people search for “like-minded friends, and they yearn to be in the one of the best” groups–from elite fighting forces like our special operations to Ivy League universities, Fortune 500 companies, religious sects, and fraternities–we all want to be part of the best, brightest, and most powerful collectives.

On one hand, tribing is positive, in terms of the close friendships, networks, and associations we form and the problems that we can confront together.

Yet on the other hand, it can be highly negative in terms of bias, distrust, rivalry, outright hostility, and even open warfare that can ensure.

The downside to tribes occurs because their members are prone to ethnocentrism–belief that one’s own group is superior to another and is more deserving of success, money, and power, while everyone else in the “out-groups” are deemed inferior, undeserving and worthy of only the leftovers.

The negative side of tribes can manifest in the proverbial old-boys club at work looking out for each other to people associating hyper-closely with their favorite sports team and their symbolic victories and losses.

Despite the risks of tribes, we have a strong innate genetic and cultural disposition to groups and institutions and the many benefits they can bring to us, so it is sad to see as The Atlantic reports (21 April 2012), that Americans have “lost trust in one another and the institutions that are supposed to hold us together.”

The article states that the reasons for this are that we’ve been “battered by unbridled commercialism, stymied by an incompetent government beholden to special interests, and flustered by new technology and new media.”

The result is that “seven in 10 Americans believe the country is on the wrong track; eight in 10 are dissatisfied with the way the nation is being governed.”

So there is now a historical break from trusting in our affiliations, institutions, and government to one represented by the motto of “In nothing we trust.”

Instead of turning to each other and bonding together to solve large and complex problems, there is the potential that “people could disconnect, refocus, inward, and turn away from their social contract.”

Not having a tribe is worse than working through the difficult issues associated with affiliation–a society of alienated people is not better!

When people no longer feel bonded to institutions and the rules and governance they provide, we have a potential social meltdown.

This should of deep concern to everyone, because no man is an island.

We can see this alienation in action as people withdraw from real world social interaction to spending more and more time online in the virtual world.

Although there is some measure of interaction on social networks, the connections are at arms-length; when it gets inconvenient, we can just log off.

One might argue that people are still affiliated with stakeholder-driven organizations and institutions (the government, the workplace, religion, etc.), but unfortunately these are being seen as having been usurped by false prophets and marketing types who who will say whatever it takes to get the popular nod and the job, and by fraudulent leaders who are in it to take far more than they ever planned to give.

What needs to happen now is to re-institute belief in the group by insisting on leaders that have integrity and a governance process underpinned by accountability, transparency, and diversity. 
 
To get out of our web of socio-economic problems, group trust and affiliation is vital to solving problems together.

(Source Photo: here with attribution to CraigTaylor1974)
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Candy Dish, Come and Get Some

Candy_dish

I saw this brilliant piece in the Wall Street Journal (20 March 2012) about building relationships with sibling “rivals”, but in my opinion the advice has much broader implications for growing our relationships for how we deal with others in life.

The article describes about how one man sends his brother, with whom he has been fighting with for years, the following story in an email:

“Two men had a stream dividing their properties. One man hired a carpenter to build a fence along the stream, but the carpenter built a bridge by mistake.” The brother then wrote, “I’d like to walk over the bridge.”

Wow! This is a very powerful story.

We can choose to build walls to separate us or build bridges to close the divide.

This can be applied to so many situations, where building relationships has a genuine chance or can be a lost and forgone opportunity.

In the office, for example, some people choose to put up proverbial walls between themselves and others. They do this by closing their doors, scowling at others, putting up signs that they are having a bad day, or perhaps by literally surrounding themselves with the accoutrements of their office (desks, chairs, appliances, mementos) and sending a message of a clear distance between them and others–almost like they are circling the wagons and no one will get in without getting shot.

While others take a different approach and are busy building bridges between themselves and others. For example, they regularly say good morning and how are you, they have a true open door policy, they may even have a candy dish or other enticements for others to stop by and just talk. They are open to others to share, collaborate and to build relationships.

Thus, just like with the two brothers, the conflict between them can turn into a hard and deeply anchored wall that closes all venues or the opposite, a bridge that connects us.

Think about it as building or burning bridges. When dealing with people who are really not deserving of trust, sometimes there is no choice but to separate and “live and let live,” but when dealing with those with whom a real relationship is possible and even desirable, then start building those bridges today or at least take a first step and put out that candy dish. 😉

(Source Photo: Blumenthal)

The Art of The Fearless

This was my introduction to Wingsuit Flying.

It’s an extension of death-defying BASE jumping off of Buildings, Antennas, Spans (bridges), and Earth (cliffs) with the added feature of soaring like a bird over the most beautiful terrains.

The wingsuits are bat-like jumpsuits with material stretching between the legs and under the arms enabling a user to glide through the sky, rather than free-falling straight down to the ground.

Image

Essentially the wingsuit gives the human body the extra surface area to get the lift to fly through the sky without any mechanical devices at all or with the addition of small jet engines strapped to the feet for added thrust.

I am amazed at the fearlessness of these wingsuit fliers who jump virtually head first from unbelievable heights, fly close to the ground over extremely dangerous terrain, and only then release their parachutes toward the very end, near landing.

The other thing that impresses me about this is the beauty of this sport–the stunning places they jump from in Norway, Greenland, France and so on, the amazing, intricate colorful fly suits, the choreography of the stunts–alone and in groups–the spectacular filming of the events, and even the great heart-pounding accompanying music.

The talent, beauty, and courage of these sports enthusiasts combine to inspire me and hopefully you to go out and do great things (although hopefully not anything near as dangerous) with our lives–because these guys make it seem like almost anything is possible.

(Source Photo: here)

Playing For The Good Of The Team

Good Morning America”s Play of the Day is called “Man Plays Baseball With Himself.”

In this incredible video a Japanese Astronaut on the International Space Station throws a ball, runs and picks up a bat and hits the ball he just threw, and then jumps up and catches the ball he just hit.

An impossibility in Earth environment, but a possibility in the low gravity of space.

One lesson then is that nothing is really impossible–given the right circumstances, the impossible becomes possible, so have faith in your abilities and understand that your limitations are not insurmountable.

A second lesson is that while this astronaut shows what’s it’s like to be literally a one-man team and to succeed; in the real world, there are no one man teams–we depend on each other, whether to play a game of ball or to accomplish things from major projects to minor tasks.

On Thanksgiving, a favorite pastime is watching football and the NFL has been playing on Thanksgiving since at least 1920. In general, there is a huge appreciation of team sports in America whether football, baseball, basketball, soccer, and more.

People on sports teams and in organizational settings who get ahead understand the importance of team and that collaboration and strategy is the key to success and to “winning”. Those that can’t get alone, end up on the sidelines of the game and of life.

Playing alone, especially in space, may make a great video, but working through a difficult problem with others is even a bigger challenge and feat accomplished.

Getting alone is something we try to instill in people in our society from the earliest of ages, but it does not come easy for everyone. That why we describe people in the organization who don’t get alone with others as “not playing nice in the sandbox.”

Perhaps, this Thanksgiving, we can appreciate the ability of those who are team players as well as those who may be more individualist, as long as everyone is playing for the good of team.

(Source Photo: here)