Archive for May, 2010

Memorial Day… not just a time to remember those who are gone

Posted May 28th, 2010 by Steve Alexander

This post will be a little off the ordinary business focus, so I hope you’ll bear with it and allow me a more personal moment.

Last Saturday, I was in the middle of my typical errand-running, when a dust cloud appeared ahead of me on the freeway. At first I couldn’t tell its origin, but it quickly became clear. A truck had crossed two lanes of highway on the opposite side, the center grassy median, two more lanes on my side from the opposite direction and pounded into the hillside. Another car stopped, I called 911 and directed emergency services to the complicated freeway interchange and leapt from the car (confirming I needed to  update my Red Cross CPR and first aid training, which I do regularly). One young girl had made her way down the hillside, crying for her friend, who had flown from the truck and couldn’t be found in the thick brush.

When we finally got to her, it was evident she was in serious condition. Both girls likely had internal bleeding, one what appeared as a compound fracture of her leg and the other bleeding from her ear. We did what we could to keep them from moving and administer what aid and comfort was possible; they were both emotional from the accident and because they couldn’t see one another, but one of the first rules of first aid is to keep the person from moving in case of internal, spinal and other injuries. Try telling that to a hysterical 19 year old girl who’s just flown 100 feet from an out-of-control vehicle and can’t find her friend!

A lot flashed through my mind as we took control of the situation, put out flares, administered aid and made sure the two girls were warm and not moving, and kept traffic moving to avoid additional accidents. My wife has a daughter and her image was vivid in my head. How quickly our lives can hang in the balance. How precious life is, yet how much we take it for granted. One minute we’re rushing about our days, either fretting about this project or that, an employee challenge, the economy or something else that is filling our time and our lives.

Yet, in a flash, it could all be gone.

We approach holidays like Memorial Day usually focused on where we’re going to celebrate the weekend, what we’ll be eating, what projects at work won’t get done on time, the traffic, trains or airports we’ll have to negotiate. You know the drill. 

Yet, in a flash, it could all be gone.

So, if you read this during your holiday, take a moment to think about those you love, both here and gone, as you celebrate Memorial Day. Think about those that matter, whether at work, home, extended family or wherever they might be. Take a moment to reach them in some way that matters. After all, you never know, right?

As the ambulance pulled away and after I left the scene, I kept thinking that those two young girls had parents and friends somewhere who wouldn’t know why they didn’t show up on time wherever they were expected. And how their lives will likely be affected forever from that event. Hopefully, you’ll take the time to remember someone that matters to you today. Because you never know, in a flash, it could all be gone.

Take a time-out today to remember those who matter

Posted May 6th, 2010 by Steve Alexander

Today is my dad’s birthday. He usually gets an early morning call from me to tell him how much I appreciate and love him. He and my mom have been a major influence in my life. They taught me how to accept others, and myself, for all the imperfections we encounter in our lifetimes. Especially our own. And they also taught me how to love… and not just those that are close and caring toward us, but those ‘stretch’ experiences. You know the kind. Loving the unlovable. We all get challenged by that, no matter what we do in our lifetimes. At least if we’re living authentically.

They also taught me how to pay attention to people that matter. People in our lives we sometimes just take for granted. That they’ll be there. And care. I’ll bet you have a few like that in your life. Have you noticed them lately? And thanked them?

We use a little exercise when training speakers how to communicate effectively and the importance of caring about their audience. This brief exercise helps them undertand the importance of what people really remember. It goes something like this: Name the five weathiest people in the world. Name the last five Heisman trophy winners. Name five people who have won the Nobel or Pulitzer Prize. Name the last five Academy Award winners for best actor and actress.

We give them a few minutes (without the help of Google!); most can remember maybe one or two in each category. Sometimes none. The point is, none of us remember the headliners of yesterday and yet they are no second-rate achievers – they are the best in their fields. But facts fade along with our memories.

Then we ask them the following: List a few teachers who aided your journey through school. Name three friends who have helped you through a difficult time. Think of a few people who have made you feel appreciated and special. Think of three people with whom you enjoy spending time.

Easer? Sure. The people who make a difference in our lives are generally not the most credentialed, richest or awarded. They are the ones that care.  The ones who made an impression.  We use this to help speakers understand the importance of being present and caring about their audience, and to understand that impressions are made by that and not the facts you tell them. I believe it’s also important as we move about our busy lives each day. After all, you never know how long, like an audience, the people that matter in our lives are going to stick around.

So take a moment, pick up the phone or make a special trip to reach out to someone that matters. Tell him how they affected you and why they matter. I promise it’ll enrich your life as well as theirs.

Something I wish each year I could still do on my dad’s birthday. Ever since he passed away years ago much too young in life.

Remember the promise of technology… more time saved to pursue our interests?

Posted May 2nd, 2010 by Steve Alexander

A client and friend recently sent me a Harvard Business Review article, titled “The Acceleration Trap.” Important reading if you’re leading a company or organization and you’ve gotten caught up in the ‘more is more’ addiction and find yourself multi-tasking and using technology to ‘stay in touch’ at all times. The reason the concepts they highlight are so startling is that the authors have studied the impact all this 24/7 ‘in-touchness’ can and is having on the work environment. What we think is making us more productive is actually hampering our effectiveness… and there’s a big difference between being efficient (for example, staying in touch at all times with lightning speed response to e-mails, tweets, texts, etc.) versus being effective (actually achieving productive, meaningful, tangible, mission-driven results).

I facilitate a lot of medium to large meetings, retreats, team-building and training sessions, strategic planning events and other types of in-person meetings, including some with just one or two people. For years we’ve been applying some common-sense ground rules about the use of technology in those sessions, the importance of being ‘present’ to have effective interaction with peers and team members and how to productively engage with others in a way that creates meaningful outcomes. Technology, and its applications that try to keep us in touch with what’s happening ‘outside the room’ can actually be a big deterrent in those settings. With some playful and thought-initiating exercises and ground rules, we establish an important commitment from participants to connect with those in the room.

I’ve had more friends and colleagues admit their e-mail addictions recently than ever before. So, what can we do to make ourselves the master of the technology we have at our disposal rather than how it’s become/becoming our master? How do we avoid the pitfalls of multi-tasking and re-learn how to focus and regain effectiveness (and our sanity!) and how to be present in the moment?

Some simple tips: 1) Read the HBR article. It will get your attention if you’re responsible for your or others’ results and the achievement of goals and priorities. 2) Ask yourself, when you’re with someone else or in a group setting, how important is it really that I check the latest e-mail, news, tweet or some other external information source? How will that add value to who I am with and what I’m doing at this moment? 3) Learn to be present… in the moment, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, to ensure you are truly (intellectually and emotionally) connected to the person(s) with whom you’re supposed to be communicating and interacting. 4) Disconnect on purpose. Plan some times when you are completely off the technology grid. Use the time with family, friends, peers and colleagues. Or even invest in time to be alone. 5) Build a habit of shutting off your ‘connected devices’ when you’re in a meeting and invest instead in actively listening and engaging in the discussion. You were asked to be present because your presence matters. Make it matter intentionally. 6) When you find yourself getting caught up in the ‘acceleration trap’, ask yourself if doing more is the same as achieving more. Create and apply a litmus test that will guide you to determine if more and faster actually equals better.

Bottom line: It’s up to you to make time to take a break from the pace and impact that our technological connection has created. Stop to smell the roses. Just promise you won’t snap a picture of the roses on your iPhone and tweet it to your Facebook friends!

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