Lessons from My Brother, Jack

Lessons from Jack

A year ago today, I lost my only brother, Jack.

 

“For life and death are one, even as the river and sea are one.” -Khalil Gibran

 

I found myself in shock. Unexpected deaths don’t come with a handbook. You think you’re good at compartmentalizing until an event like this upends your normal routine.

One evening, I went to bed thinking I would be in meetings all the next day. Instead, I was helping with funeral arrangements, making flight reservations, and trying to make sense of it all. My mom asked me to give a eulogy. Since I give speeches all over the world, you would think I could string some sentences together. I couldn’t seem to get it together. Finally, I was inspired and able to honor him in the way I wanted to.

JackDays later, I found myself reading an autopsy report. We’ve all watched the crime shows. I’m a lawyer and had my share of exposure to evidence and how it all works. It’s so different when it is about someone you love. Reading the cold facts about his body felt like getting pushed underwater in a freezing cold lake—which I thought of, instantly transporting me back to our neighborhood lake where Jack would do that very thing every summer. Dunked, again. Memories flood in like pictures or the sound of his voice so real that I look up.

Jack had a colorful, interesting, crazy and somewhat difficult life. Not until we were adults did we learn Jack had been abused as a kid. Though he never faced the perpetrator in court, others did, and he was locked up. That had a profound effect on him. He struggled with addictions; though he was clear of all of that when he died. Cause of death was perhaps rooted in that past, weakening his heart. I may have read the report, but life and death remains a mystery beyond our current scientific explanation. God still has power beyond man’s ability to understand.

We shared a room together for all of childhood. We shared that room with many others who would stop or stay in our family home. As kids, we shared bunk beds. Jack would lay there at night, asking deep philosophical questions about life. I still hear those questions echo in my mind some nights, as I lie awake.

 

“A brother shares childhood memories and grown up dreams.” -Anonymous

 

Power of OppositesJack

Jack and I were known as opposites in the family. Others defined us that way, too. It seemed to work for us. My mom always said I was born 50. Jack alternated between 5 and 15 his whole life. I wanted to fit in. Jack wanted to stand out. I looked for answers. Jack asked questions. In those days, Jack would buy 45’s. We were sort of like those albums. I would say Jack was the first and main song, and I was on the back, but that wouldn’t be right because Jack would find the coolest songs no one heard of on the back, flipping it around and sharing it with everyone. He was definitely way cooler.

Though we were very different, we were brothers. Here are just a few of the many lessons I learned from my brother:

 

Don’t be so quick to judge.

Jack had deep pain. He could irritate you to your limit and then push past that. But, then he would switch to be the kindest person you ever met.

“When we judge, we lose the opportunity to learn from a life different than ours.” -Skip Prichard

 

Don’t waste time.

Life is short. Don’t waste it on what doesn’t matter, on people who don’t care, and on things you will forget.

“A man who dares to waste an hour of time has not discovered the value of life.” -Charles Darwin

How Much Time Do You Spend Doing Shadow Work?

Time, Money and Productivity

 

How do you feel about bagging your own groceries?

You do put the grocery cart back in the parking lot, right?

Pump your own gas?

Do you book your own travel?

 

I do all of this. And I never gave it a moment’s thought. That is until I read Craig Lambert’s new book Shadow WorkThe Unpaid, Unseen Jobs That Fill Your Day. Businesses have somehow shifted the model, moving work from them to us without us even knowing. How this happened and its implications are fascinating.

I spoke with Craig about his observations about the fascinating world of what he calls “shadow work.” Craig served as a staff writer and editor at Harvard Magazine for more than two decades.

Are You Unknowingly Working for Someone Else?

 

Define this new term for us: shadow work.

Copyright Jim Harrison; Used by Permission Copyright Jim Harrison; Used by Permission

Shadow work includes all the unpaid jobs we do on behalf of businesses and organizations.
Once you define it and explain, it seems so obvious. It makes a light bulb come on. What made you aware of this concept and decide to write about it?

One night while waiting in line to check out at the supermarket, I noticed an attorney I knew slightly, about twenty feet away. She was a senior partner in a downtown firm, definitely earning a big paycheck—well into the six figures. Yet there she was, scanning and bagging groceries. She was doing this at a self-serve checkout, for her own groceries, of course. Yet she was still doing an entry-level job, one that pays around the minimum wage. And she wasn’t even getting the minimum wage; she was getting nothing at all, working for free. This was the first instance I’d noticed of what I’ve come to call “middle-class serfdom.”

I started thinking about other places where the consumer is working for free, often doing jobs that used to be done by a paid employee. I realized that there are many examples of this, most of which have appeared in recent decades. And that the phenomenon is growing. I started to see that there was a broad social trend afoot, and that “shadow work” was an apt name for it.

 

Shadow work is the unpaid work we do for businesses.

Wasted Authority is Poor Leadership

This is a guest post by Bruce Rhoades. Bruce is a personal friend and mentor. Having run numerous organizations, he is now retired. He reluctantly leaves his sail boat on occasion to help me with strategy, pricing, technology and product development issues. He also just joined Twitter. Follow him here.

Poor Leaders

All of us have experienced a leader who is controlling, arbitrary and makes decisions with little input from anyone while remaining un-influenceable.  Likewise, we have experienced a leader who does not delegate and demands that he or she make all the decisions while relegating dutiful implementation to subordinates.  These leaders mostly use positional authority to “run” the organization.  This type of leadership and management does not grow people, limits the potential of the organization and creates a stifling atmosphere with little collaboration.  Not good.

 

“Wasted authority results in weak organizations.” -Bruce Rhoades

 

Wasted Authority

At the other end of the spectrum is wasted authority, a management trait that results in weak leadership that is also damaging to the organization.  What is wasted authority?  We have all probably seen examples of managers who exhibit this trait:

  • Delaying decisions and overanalyzing.  In a meeting, all the options for a decision are clear and a decision is needed.  But the manager asks for more analysis, delaying the decision for the whole organization.
  • Delaying decisions to hope for consensus.  Likewise, there is the meeting where options are clear, but there is disagreement among the subordinates in the meeting.  No more data is really needed and it is clear that the “boss” needs to decide.  Instead, the discussion goes on and on until the meetings adjourned with no decision.  The boss is waiting for a consensus to emerge…
  • Inexcusable behavior.  An associate has behaved in a manner that is inconsistent with the company expectations. It is ignored by the leader, repeatedly, with the excuse that, “That is just Jim.”
  • Wandering agendas.  The discussion in a group is wandering way off-topic.  The leader allows the discussion to ramble into many issues that are irrelevant to the real topic.  Before long, people are disagreeing on things that were not even supposed to be on the agenda.
  • The silent elephant.  Then there is the meeting where everyone knows about “the elephant in the room” – a huge issue that no one wants to discuss outright but everyone knows about. The meeting goes on as if nothing is wrong.
  • Poor customer response.  The organization’s response to a customer problem was poor, and the customer was ill-treated. The leader clearly knows about the situation but is too busy to look into the details. The customer complains no more so the issue is forgotten.
  • No recognition.  A particular associate has performed well above his or her norm and has done an exceptional job for a situation, but the manager says or does nothing, no “great job”, no recognition – just a “thanks” and moves on the next meeting.
  • Performance Ambush.  An associate made a mistake. The leader does nothing but a year later brings it up in a performance review with the associate.
  • Too many details.  Finally, the leader discusses a situation in excruciating detail, allowing the whole team to get mired in details, losing sight of the real issue. The whole team consumes great amounts of time needlessly.

I am sure that most of us will be able to add to this list of situations where authority was wasted and leadership lost.

 

“Culture and expectations are established via actions of the leader.” -Bruce Rhoades

 

Wasted authority usually takes one of the following forms:

  • Indecisiveness when it is clear that a decision should be made
  • Failure to take action when cultural expectations are violated or associates misbehave
  • Failure to address large, well-known issues openly and directly
  • Inability to provide timely feedback to teach individuals and the organization
  • Ignoring customer issues that the organization simply takes for granted
  • Failure to frame an issue, articulate priorities and delegate to others

 

“Wasted leadership authority creates extensive organizational damage.” -Bruce Rhoades

 

Wasted authority by the leader has many damaging effects on an organization:

 

Failure to decide

3 Common Mistakes of Strategic Planning

 

I’m always looking for ways to improve the strategic planning from a dreaded annual activity to a meaningful, helpful process.

Recently, I had the opportunity to read Elevate: The Three Disciplines of Advanced Strategic Thinking by Rich Horwath.  Rich has helped numerous companies and managers with the strategic planning process and evaluating strategic capabilities.  I had the opportunity to talk with Rich about the most common mistakes leaders make.

 

“If your strategic plan isn’t driving daily activities, then you’ve wasted time doing the plan.” -Rich Horwath

 

3 Common Mistakes of Strategic Planning

 

Rich, you’ve worked on strategy both as the CEO of the Strategic Thinking Institute and before that as a Chief Strategy Officer.  What are the most common mistakes you see in strategic planning?

 

There are typically three mistakes when it comes to strategic planning.

 

“The number one cause of bankruptcy is bad strategy.” -Rich Horwath

 

Mistake #1:  Confusing strategy with other planning terms.

 

The first is the group not having a universal understanding of what strategy is and how it differs from other key planning terms such as mission, vision, goals, objectives and tactics. There’s a tremendous lack of precision when it comes to strategic planning and that starts with the fundamental building blocks.

 

“Concepts change thinking and tools change behavior.” -Rich Horwath

 

Mistake #2:  Regurgitating last year’s plan.

 

The second is that most plans are simply a regurgitation of last year’s plan.  This is because managers don’t think before they plan.  I’m a big believer that new growth comes from new thinking.  If you don’t take time and tools to generate new insights, then don’t expect your group to perform any better than the year before, or the year before that.

 

Mistake #3:  Not linking the strategic plan to daily activities.