Author Archives: omarreece

About omarreece

This is a personal weblog. The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer.

A Second Chance

Four years ago today, January 15, 2011, I was driving to a basketball tournament in Rice Lake, MN early in the morning, as I’ve done dozens of times.  I was giving a ride to my friend Michelle, her son Chris, and my son Will.  I was driving my 1998 Honda Accord, and the boys were sleeping in the back.  We started out about 6:30 in the morning, and it was snowing pretty hard.  For some reason, our directions took us on a path which was a bit remote, but we made it through until we reached a major highway, which was in much better condition.  As I turned Eastbound on Highway 8, I remember a sense of relief to that point.

Highway 8 is a two lane highway, and Michelle and I were making small talk, probably about our shared relief to no longer be on the back roads.  I remember being in mid-sentence when I heard the first of two loud thuds in succession.  The second thud was something slamming into my car head-on, driving us into the ditch to the right.  At that point, much of it became a blur, but airbags, glass and panic ensued.  I quickly looked around the car, both boys returning with eyes wide in shock.  I yelled, “is everyone OK?” and they nodded.  Like the cliché, I had no idea what had hit us.  I instructed everyone to get out of the car.  Michelle, who is a registered nurse, quickly noticed that my arm was bleeding.  “It’s gotta be broken Omar,” she said.  I winced and tried to pry my door open to get out.

I looked out my broken window and a truck was stopped on the road, and the driver was trying to talk to me.  Soon, all I can remember is getting out of my car, crossing the road, and seeing emergency vehicle after emergency vehicle racing down the road.  All the focus was on whatever had hit me.

Michelle and Chris were separated from me and Will, and in an ambulance someone was taking care of me.  My son just sat there, unable to even speak.  I finally remember a helicopter landing in the field where the other vehicle was in addition to fire trucks, police cars, and many people.

We traveled by ambulance to Amery, WI. where I learned that the driver of the pick-up truck that had crossed the center lane and hit me was killed.  I was beaten up, bloodied, and stitched up, and clearly in shock.

But we walked away.  He didn’t.

It’s taken awhile to get my thoughts around the enormity of this accident.  Both boys are thriving young high school Juniors.  The police said that because they were sleeping, the impact was less, similar to why a drunk driver sometimes inexplicably escapes injury in a crash.

When you walk away from something like this, you can’t help but think you got a second chance.   I got a second chance.

So what have I done with it?

Honestly, not enough.  I wish that I’ve done more.  I wish I had some inspirational change or comeback story to share with you.  I’m humbled that I don’t.

But re-living a major events is healthy.  It gives you a reminder and perspective about the bigger picture.  It makes me want to thank everyone that is a part of my life, who has supported and believed in me.  Even the modest number of followers to this blog.  You don’t know how important it is to me that you read, and care about, things that I have to say. And I hope in some small way its added value. Today, for me, is a day of reflection, and a day to now look forward.  With this humble reminder of what happened on January 15, 2011, it’s time to do something with that second chance.

I Don’t Know

Those three words instill fear with some people. Part of a leader’s job is to ask questions, sometimes difficult questions. I think we have to be conscious of how we are asking the questions, but I wonder why people don’t just say “I don’t know” when they don’t know the answer.
Many people feel that talking their way through an answer, even if they don’t know the answer, is better than just saying they don’t know the answer.
I disagree. I believe it’s much better, and not a sign of weakness, to just say you don’t know.
I remember my Mom telling me that you don’t have to have a good memory if you always tell the truth. I think Mom was onto something.

We often are coached to be confident. I would argue that confident people can say they don’t know the answer to something. When faced with this situation, ask yourself “why” you would be inclined to “wing it” instead of just saying it. Then keep asking “why?”

Why #1: Why won’t you just say you don’t know?
Answer 1: I’m afraid that I’ll look stupid
Why #2: Why are you afraid that you will look stupid?
Answer 2: Because I think my Boss thinks I should know the answer
Why #3: Why do you think your Boss thinks you should know the answer?
Answer 3: I don’t know.

Bingo. In this example, the core issue might be expectations between you and your Boss. Have a discussion with your Boss about expectations, and level of detail you should have in your role given your scope. Likely this conversation will be enlightening in that your assumptions of what your Boss expects do not actually match what your Boss expects. Having this conversation saves you from losing credibility when you try to “wing it” but inevitably admit to not having a clue.

If we were all much better about being open and honest about this type of thing, then we can be liberated, and not fearful, when responding to a question for which we do not know the answer.

“I don’t know, but I can find out.”

Your 2015 Leadership Wake-Up Call

As we think about how we make authentic leadership impressions  with each other, and the teams we lead, many people I talk to have used the same tools throughout their successful career.  Recently, I was talking to a great leader, my friend John (it’s actually his real name) and was asking him questions about how he goes about connecting with his broader team as President of his company.  John very quickly pointed to some good, solid tools out of his leadership tool belt:

  • Manage by walking around. John makes it a point to know each person’s name, and enjoys the personal connection realized by physically walking the floor
  • Open door policy. He makes it a point of setting aside certain hours where employees can come into his physical office and talk 1:1

As John’s workforce makeup changes from the Baby Boomer now to the Millennial of tomorrow, will those legacy tools be enough?  Will the new workforce be able to relate to John?  In short, can John stay relevant as a leader if he doesn’t modernize his tool kit?

In my role as a reverse mentor, I’ve helped executives like John realized that the tools of yesterday, while valuable, might not scale and be relevant to the workforce of the future.  By now you should have a solid understanding that the workforce of tomorrow has different needs from leadership than the workforce of yesterday.  As a result, leaders must evolve their tools to stay relevant.  That’s the wake-up call.

How to “wake-up” in 2015:

  • Keep what works, with a twist. Ask your team while walking around or during your open door 1:1 meetings about this and what they would suggest you try.
  • Commit to one new and different way to work. Talk about what you are going to try and do differently, and ask for feedback.  For example, “I’m going to start a monthly blog to share with the team.  Let me know what you think and what others are saying about it.”
  • Ask for feedback via a communications survey and personally read all of the responses. This will get you tuned into whether or not your workforce needs are changing in respect to leadership connections.

Recently, I read a blog authored by an executive I have worked with in the past.  He had even tweeted the link to it!  A couple years ago, blogging and tweeting were nowhere in this leader’s vocabulary.  Seeing that leaders are capable of evolving how they engage and inspire their teams was very humbling to me.

He “gets it”.  Do you?

MythBusting at Work!

I had the opportunity to hear Adam Savage, co-host of the TV series “MythBusters” speak today at the #Kronosworks conference in Las Vegas.

Savage was entertaining.  He had great slides, I’m a fan of the show, and I have to admit it was just cool to see a celebrity in action.  He talked about having a hypothesis, testing it, and then analyzing the results.  You learn from this process.

There we were, 2500 knowledge workers, there to learn, anxious to apply these concepts!

But he didn’t really tie anything to work.  Not at all.  Zilch.

Thank you Adam!

You may be wondering why I’m thanking Adam for such an obvious omission.

Truth is, this has been my calling for years.  I’ve written about the concepts before, like in my most popular blog about the power of betting a burrito.  We so often stop short of trying out or experimenting on new things based on our opinions or speculations about a topic.  Sometimes I just get too impatient, and just want to test out the hypothesis.  It wasn’t until Savage’s talk today that I tied it all together: We need to think like MythBusters at work.

Take an idea.  Develop a hypothesis.  Test it out.  Learn.

It takes leaders, like you, to move your initiatives and ideas into this model.  Don’t get caught in a speculation showdown.  Challenge your partners to test stuff out.  Bet burritos.  Take action.  Heck, you might even bust some myths along the way.

No. (is a complete sentence)

How good are you at saying “no”?

At some point in my career journey, I became programmed to say yes as a default. I remember getting training to avoid words like “no” and “but”; rather, we were coached to say more positive words like “yes” and “and”.

Who would ever want to be referred to as a “no man” instead of a “yes man”?

My mother had seven children, and she would often say to us matter-of-factly, “No is a complete sentence!”

Mom, an incredible woman, wasn’t a “yes man.” (or yes woman, if that term even exists)

Truth is, Mom couldn’t say yes to everything, even if she had wanted to. With seven children, she knew that was a recipe for disaster. She needed to keep the lights on, handle our basic needs, and ensure we were all setup to be successful and contributing members of society. Simply put, she focused on her primary mission and purpose, and in order to do that she just had to say “no” to other things that would be in direct conflict of that. If Mom spoke corporate-speak, she would have said she was good at “controlling scope”.

Here’s the wake up call: Failure to say “no” may lead to your failure.

While you may be popular initially, a one-outcome decision tree (yes, yes, yes…) just doesn’t scale. There are always tradeoffs to consider.

If you want to start to improve on your “no” game, then consider helping your stakeholders understand why you are saying no. Saying “no” with full wisdom of the issue at hand can be a credible answer too. If you can get them past any emotional issues your answer is causing, they may be open to hearing why. No one wants to say “no” to be a mean person; usually, you have good sound logic for saying “no.” Explain yourself, talk about the tradeoffs and the considerations, take accountability for your answer, and soon you may find that your stakeholders will accept, and appreciate, your critical thinking.

Is Business Writing A Lost Art?

I recently wrote about a new paradox I’ve seen related to two seemingly opposite management movements—working out loud and being invisible.  It was great to see Author and Blogger John Stepper chime in on the topic in his weekly blog.

Another paradox I’ve been thinking about involves a movement away from true business writing–the thoughtful, structured, and logical use of writing for purposes of issue framing and problem solving to more unstructured “social” writing and communication.  Just look at how your kids are writing on their devices!

So what?, you might be thinking.

Believers in the art of business writing argue:

  • Writing helps ensure that the original message is correctly translated by the audience
  • Writing encourages a thoughtful structure to build a bridge from the audiences initial point of view to the desired conclusion
  • Writing helps create a context for what the topic is, allows you to focus on the true problem, and drive to the right recommendation/answer

It might be obvious, but good business writing takes time.  And, it takes sweat equity.  In contrast, we spend much of our time quickly responding to many more things more than ever before.  Forcing ourselves to think through–and write down–our thoughts needs our personal commitment.

Often times, people cite ambiguity as a necessary evil; however, I’ve sometimes found that the reasons for ambiguity lie in the lack of time taken to critically think and frame up the issue at hand.  Ambiguity becomes a good excuse for not investing in the sweat equity needed to lay out, explain, and recommend a solution to a complex problem.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach, but I’m coaching many to work on their skills as communicators, around these core pillars:

  • What is the situation? These are the facts, an overview of the status quo, or a high level of understanding of what is going on.
  • What is the complication? This is where to realize an opportunity, or to overcome obstacles
  • What is the core question? This helps you to understand “what to do”
  • What is the answer? Can it be quantified?  This is also known as the recommendation

These pillars have been gathered over the course of my career from many sources, from consulting to 6Sigma tools.  I find them interestingly relevant years later, which typically tells me they are “keepers”.  I hope they can help you as well!

Playing Time

In youth sports, everyone fixates on playing time. Hear any parent, on any field, in any season, and likely the conversation surrounds playing time.

I’ve been there. Usually the scenario is where you and your child believe he/she should be getting more playing time. More is better, right? I’ve found myself propagating these emotions.

Sometimes it even gets to the point where your child asks you tough questions like:

Why don’t I ever get into the games?
Why don’t I get a chance?
Why don’t the coaches like me?

Tough questions for a parent who loves his child.

Our typical reaction is one of defense, to assume an injustice is happening and to be angry. But we focus so much on the reward (playing time) that we forget about focusing our energy on what we can control (e.g., practice attitude, hustle, improving our game, and just being ourselves.)

If in our minds we can change the reward paradigm and focus it more internally, and live more in the moment, I think we’d be surprised that the rewards are right in front of us, and our energies are much better spent thinking about that.

And we all know this is not just about youth sports. Our lives, at work, are full of similar feelings and emotions. It might not be called playing time, but it’s definitely called promotion or opportunity. What we dwell on–or not–is our choice. Dwelling on what someone else got, that you didn’t, is the same mistake we make when we focus on playing time in youth sports.

There are rewards right in front of us, we just can’t always see them.

I tell my sons all the time that you should judge the season at the end of the season. Life is full of trials, and what you make of it defines your character.

Time Out!

The regretful words uttered by Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz last Saturday in a game against arch rival Iowa State which will haunt him for sometime to come.

The situation was at essentially the end of a tie game. His opponent was lining up to kick a potential game winning field goal. Ferentz had one time out left. As the kicking team lined up, Ferentz gathered the sideline referee close to him. He was waiting until the last absolute moment before the snap to call time out, disrupting the kicking team and “icing the kicker”. The theory is that with more time to think about it, the kicker would miss the kick, and send the game to overtime.

The ball was snapped, the kicker connected, but missed wide left!

But wait, Ferentz had called time out before the snap so the play was voided. Time for a re-kick.

After the timeout, the kicking team lined up again, and this time Iowa State kicked the ball through the uprights and the result was an Iowa State victory!

Ferentz was guilty of what author Malcolm Goldsmith called in his book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There as trying to “add too much value” a nice way of telling someone else they are being a Jackass.

We all, from time to time, try to add too much value. We have opinions, thoughts, and want to take action most of the time. That part of Goldsmith’s book for me was the golden nugget. I am guilty of trying to add too much value from time to time. And this Saturday, so was Ferentz.

I think there is wisdom for letting some things play out, to observe, and to listen. Perhaps the other team will miss that field goal on their own…

(Disclaimer, this blogger is a devout Iowa State Fan–go Cyclones!)

Favorable Weather

A community leader was sent a letter after a town hall meeting where the leader indicated he was hopeful that they would get rain to help the farmers’ crops which had been experiencing a drought during the late summer months. Farmers cheered at his support.

The next week he was sent a letter from a resort owner asking why he had expressed his desire for rain? Didn’t he know that it had rained all spring, adversely impacting the overall resort business? More rain would mean one of the worst resort seasons in recent history!

It sure is hard to please everyone. How often do you have good intent, but someone in the audience assumes the opposite? I’m sure this community leader was not wishing doom on the resort business, but how telling it is that the resort owner assumed as such. We all get so entrenched in our own perspective, from our own lens. We’re all resort owners, to some extent.

As leaders, our words matter. Choosing the right words and understanding all of the perspectives can make the difference between a happy farmer and a disgruntled resort owner.

So what did the community leader do the next time he mentioned the weather? He said, “I’m hoping that in the next few weeks we all have favorable weather.”

Let’s Take That Online, not Offline…

“Let’s take that offline.”

Generally speaking, that means that the topic at hand is deemed more appropriately discussed privately, and not out loud with the entire community.

Besides never knowing who actually takes the action to setup the offline discussion, the “offliner” or the “offlinee”, I wondered if anyone has ever said, “let’s take that online” instead of “let’s take that offline.”

So why would you ever actually elect to have topics liked this discussed online versus offline?

I’ve found that the offliner’s questions or concerns about the topic may actually be the same questions or concerns with the broader group. Taking it online, and thus out loud for the questions/concerns to be raised–and answered–may benefit the entire community of people. Taking it offline can imply that the entire community would not benefit from the dialog around the topic, but how do we know?

Yet our tendency is to take these things offline and if the offline meeting happens at all rarely is there a feedback loop to the broader community. One person’s concerns are addressed offline, and the remaining community, likely with the same question, is just left to wonder or speculate. Plus, we all tend to create drama when it really isn’t there. “Oh, I wonder how that (offline) conversation went?”

I’m just not sure that is really efficient. I’m not suggesting at all that there is never the need for a private discussion. I’m just suggesting that the future of work involves more online discussions, even if the topic may be something we’re used to handling in private one-on-one forums.

So, the next time you’re tempted to play the “offline” card, why not try the “online” one? You might surprise yourself.