Archives For life lessons

Licensed to Kill

MH3 —  January 27, 2014

Around 8:00 PM Friday night I wished that I was anywhere but on a blinding strip of highway, just a few miles north of Toronto.

It was the worst weather you could imagine.

For endless hours the visibility was limited to a few feet. The wind didn’t gust. It blew constantly. Seemingly on demand, when the road got icier, it blew harder. Deserted cars, overturned trucks, spontaneous snow drifts all had to be dodged. I was helpless. Providing me a tiny taste of what a blind person must experience daily, ever hopeful they have safely chosen their path and that those around them are mindful of their vulnerability.

On several harrowing stretches I was forced to stop completely and pray that no one was dumb enough to even attempt to keep moving. Tornado-like snow gusts created a vortex around us that had me convinced our all-wheel-drive wheels would soon be airborne; with me powerless to return our ship to tarmac.

Nearly 180 minutes later, we made it safely to our destination. Beyond the obvious gratitude to the driving gods and relief to have kept my family safe, I was quietly pleased that only once had I let my true emotions show how frightened I truly was.

I think everyone got thanked for their divine intervention. The maker of my automobile. The aforementioned driving gods. My dog’s role as a good luck charm. My fellow drivers for being equally as cautious as me.

At the same time as I was issuing my gratitude, a driver just a few miles from us didn’t exercise the same caution as those that had shared the road with me. Inexplicably he (I actually don’t know their gender) decided to pass a transport trailer.

Seconds later they were dead.

So was their passenger.

Four other people were extracted from their vehicles.

Three were airlifted to hospital with serious injuries, including a one-year-old baby who was ejected from the car. Yet somehow survived.

What could possibly have been so important on a snowy Friday night in Clearview Township that the driver had to pass a transport truck in zero visibility conditions? Was he or she the parent of this child? Or was the baby from the innocent vehicle they struck head on? There were at least two people in that car severely injured. But thankfully alive. For now.

I don’t care how big of a rush you are in. I don’t care how impatient, self-important, impaired, or utterly stupid you are.

PLEASE SLOW DOWN.

Fearmonger

MH3 —  January 19, 2014

This morning, while taking my son to his freestyle skiing competition, I drove past one of my former rivals from my high school football days.

Predictably, he groaned as I began to tell him about every game we played against this school. Not again, he begged, and I begrudgingly retreated into silence. But silence can often prove to be a blessing, as it allowed me to think about my worst game against this rival.

It was the year I finally won the starting QB position. We travelled to this school for a season opener that we should have won. Instead I let the team down, played a tentative game, messed up my play calls, and cost us a victory.

Why? I was afraid. Panicked I would screw up. Frightened to lose my role. In the end, my fear-induced ineptitude swiftly cost me my QB job. This was my first experience realizing that if you think about something too much, it will come true.

There is no greater enemy in the arena or the boardroom than fear. Nothing frustrates me more than when I hear one of my employees is afraid of screwing up or even worse, afraid of me. I once had a client tell me I scared them.

Creating an environment devoid of fear has been a relentless objective of mine for several years. The only thing I want people to be concerned about is not trying. Not giving their all. Mistakes will happen. Initiatives may fail. Pitches may be lost. But trying and giving it our all is the true victory. Not trying is failure. I think I am most upset with people when they won’t try. The effort is as important as the result.

It’s a lesson we need to apply away from work as well. If you have kids who play sports, you have no doubt been a part of some great seasons and some crummy seasons. Odds are high that during the crummy seasons, your child and her teammates competed in a culture of fear. Usually created by a well-meaning coach who thinks she is installing a system, but doesn’t realize she’s installing a Pavlovian condition.

Maybe she is as afraid of losing as I was? Maybe she too had the same experience when she was 15? Maybe she too will drive past an arena from her youth, where fear got the better of her one game, and realize that fear doesn’t breed success.

Do you share your New Year’s resolutions?

A 2007 research study from the University of Bristol found that women were more successful at achieving their New Year’s resolutions when they shared them publicly.

At a weekend dinner party, I kicked off a discussion about resolutions and then was appropriately heckled when I tried to not to share mine. One could argue my conduct was misguided given the research, however the same study found the secret for men was to set measurable, goal-oriented resolutions.

I am strikingly influenced by both data points. I am always a big fan of measurement and I have been known to share more than one personal tidbit in my life. Both about me and those close to me…usually to their unfortunate chagrin. So it wasn’t totally unfounded when one of the dinner party guests whispered to my wife that my # 1 resolution should be to “get some duct tape for my mouth.”

Given that sort of sentiment, I should have received heaping praise for my reluctance to share. But there was a deeper reason. The best resolutions reflect something much more powerful than a simple “goal.” They provide a window into our soul.

For that, I wanted keep my resolutions list secret, or at least partially. Allow me to explain. I think it’s fundamental to the challenge we all face in life. And that is, we are human.

I had many successes in 2013. But I also had many failures. I am convinced that if I shared the events that I deemed unsuccessful, or the situations that cause me to lose sleep, or the demons that run through my brain daily…you may somehow see me as weak and unfit to be your consultant, colleague, boss, friend, or trusted family member. Most of my “resolution” checklist is built on these loose footings. Somehow it’s easier to make plans from ashes than flowers.

I realize this isn’t healthy. Allowing these issues to rule one’s life will take the colour out of 2014. So I have been trying to crystallize one simple, more positive resolution for the year. I don’t have it perfected yet and candidly that makes me happy. If I can distill it to a tag line, it wouldn’t be authentic. God knows I do enough of that in my life.

During the party I stated I wanted to avoid the one BIG work disaster that seems to throw a cloud over every year. Pretty sure each of us could circle that one on our calendars. But yesterday as I trudged my way through fresh snow on the Niagara Escarpment, I realized this resolution needed reorienting. Let’s make it positive. So instead I resolve that every day, I am going to chase the one BIG work triumph that will shine brightly over all else that happens. In fact I am so enthused by this idea, I plan to extend it to my family life, my circle of friends, my personal fitness, my coaching, my volunteerism, and even my pets. Okay, the last one I made up.

But I like this spin. Forget avoiding disaster, let’s chase glory! After all, there has to be a reason it’s called HAPPY New Year!

Kicking Game

MH3 —  November 13, 2013

I think every year I could write an emotionally charged blog when my football season ends.

If we finished with a championship win (circa 2005 & 2009), then the storyline might be about how my players overcame the odds or how they developed as a team.

If we finished with a playoff loss (insert the other 18 years of volunteer football coaching here…unfortunately), then I could pursue plot lines of valiant effort, or perhaps how I underperformed as a coach, or a wait-till-next year rallying cry.

This year, following our quarter-final upset loss last week, I could highlight being out-coached, a team that was overconfident despite fielding only 21-22 players versus 45 for our opponent, mistakes by me in the kicking game, key injuries to some of our best receivers, and mistakes by my team…also in the kicking game. Did I mention a team that fields only 21-22 players versus 45 for our opponent?

After the game, I was particularly obsessed by my errors in the Kicking Game, but was reminded by a knowledgeable parent of one of my players that one play doesn’t win or lose a game. He’s right, though I only half believe him today….

Admittedly, I’m a sore loser. I’ve been looking inward, very very deeply, over the last few days. Realizing that at 48, it really is time for me to grow up. Thankfully, I think I’ve stumbled over the reason why I feel this way.

It’s not the losing that really kicks. Because losing suggests I’m jealous of the winners. I’m not. They deserved to win. What hurts isn’t the loss of the game, it’s the loss of purpose.

When the season is on, everyone on a team has a common purpose. A brotherhood. A galvanizing force. When the season ends, the suddenness of that loss destroys that purpose. It’s the ending of the mission that hurts. Failure isn’t what creates fear, it’s the end of the journey and what that entails.

This is the true Kicking Game moral. It applies to sports, business, a husband and wife saving for their first house, a person trying to lose weight, someone facing a grave disease. The journey, the mission, the effort is the reward. The outcome is important; in most of my examples there is much more at stake than winning a silly high school football game. But even winning a championship results in the silence of the post-season the next day.

Fortunately, and unfortunately, I’ve recovered faster than ever from this loss. I’ve got a ton of missions to sink myself into. Work, clients, helping my wife and kids fulfill their dreams, mentoring my staff, supporting a sick colleague. Given what’s going on in this world, from devastating typhoons to ridiculous mayors, there is so much for us all to become a part of. Having a mission can be so powerful. So instead of waiting for next season to get my kicks, I’m going to tackle everything else in my life like I do my beloved Lawrence Park Panthers. As a volunteer, a leader, a committed partner.

That will give me lots of kicks!

Hanger On

MH3 —  September 22, 2013

Well, he made it.

At least for a few more days or maybe just a few hours. I was convinced that last week he would finally be severed by the axe of dismissal.

You met this week’s subject in my last posting, “First Cut”. The honour of being the first person I ever cut, from my lofty volunteer coaching position, was in his sweaty palms. Some of my readers thought I was actually trying to give him a warning, an opportunity to right his floundering ship.

He entered the week on Animal House level triple secret probation. One misstep and he was eligible for obliteration. The expression “on thin ice” wasn’t even closely appropriate. This kid was in my deep freeze.

I entered the week ready to pounce. Waiting for that stumble. Not surprisingly he managed to stumble not once, but twice. Shockingly he somehow still evaded my weaponry.

Clearly if he had read my blog, he sure didn’t take it to heart. He had fake injuries, misplaced equipment, an alleged sore back, followed by emergency breathing issues, and I am sure he lost his homework as well, but fortunately didn’t tell me.

Can’t say I was all that kind about his sticking around. I yelled at him. I lectured him. Kicked him out of team meetings. Sent him home early. Pulled him aside for stern lectures. Made him run lap after lap. Undoubtedly I tested every fibre of his spirit.

To say he passed the test wouldn’t be true. BUT…he did put in two good practices, out of five. His first and second good nights of the year. So while my core players give me a consistent five out of five great practices every week, his 40% success rate was relatively miraculous.

So, for now, I am letting him stay. Clearly there is something about this team he wants, needs, or likes. Perhaps a combination of all three.

I’m seeing some life in his eyes. I am seeing a small flicker of recognition on his face. There is a slight lift to his shoulders.

He hasn’t received a full pardon. But he might have achieved much more.

First Cut

MH3 —  September 17, 2013

I still remember the first time I was cut.

Despite being Grant Fuhr’s doppelgänger and my 6.85 House League goals against average, the Orillia Pee-Wee rep team didn’t want my netminding “skills”!

Then again, that wasn’t the last.

In Grade 9 I was thrilled when the basketball coach suggested I join the wrestling team, until my parents advised me this wasn’t an “incremental” suggestion. What I really needed was some incremental inches given I was 4′ 6″, without the skills of Spud Webb.

Seems lots of coaches had some great suggestions for me over the years, but they never involved sticking around. The late Tom Dimitroff took one look at my 5′ 2″ freshman frame and suggested the Guelph campus paper needed a sportswriter more than the Gryphons needed a wannabe Pinball Clemons. (Though in those days, Johnny Rogers would be a better example.)

Even today, when I’m 25 years past trying out for teams, I endure regular cuts from potential clients during the pitch process. Many of them sound just like my old coaches. “We loved your agency, but you finished second.” “If we could only hire everybody.” “Your pitch was great, we just found a better fit.”

But today it’s me who has to do the cutting. It’s my first time. It’s making me sad. I have never had to boot someone off the high school football team I have coached for over 15 years. But I have finally met the kid who won’t try. Won’t listen. Won’t commit.

So it’s bye bye time. Unless he can turn it around. He doesn’t have to be good. He just has to try.

When I am angriest at myself at work, it’s when I lose a pitch I know I didn’t put enough effort into. A valiant effort resulting in a loss is okay. Losing because I was outworked…grrr!

For three long weeks I’ve tried to create the teenage analogy of this lesson in junior’s head. But he doesn’t give a crap.

There is no room in my world for people who won’t try hard. Maybe I should try harder to turn him around. But I really think it’s time. The first time. For me to make that cruel, everlasting decision to cut someone. Because I believe it’s the only message that he will remember.

Workcations Don’t Work

MH3 —  August 28, 2013

Last summer I was pretty proud of myself. I took two weeks off and only sent four work-related emails. Of course the London Olympics were a serious distraction from the office rote.

Stupidly when I embarked on this vacay, I actually expected to work. The theory of this hot air balloon burst quickly when I crashed into this old world time warp called Spain. Since swapping the chaotic romance of Barcelona for the organized tranquility of Montreux, Switzerland…the work time hasn’t increased. But my productivity has…and today while yodelling down the mountain, I decided to share my epiphanies with you.

#1. Mark the hypocrite says don’t work on vacation, but if you feel the pressure to be available, then:

# 2. Take twenty minutes in the morning to work and no more. You will be horrified you can actually do everything that’s truly important in way less than the hours of candle burning you normally incur!

# 3. Email at the best of times is horribly misused. When you are away you realize how much so. Convince your team to use email as a data transmitter, not a conversation enabler, and your inbox will shrink.

# 4. Use the twenty-four hour rule. On home soil, this applies when you’re about to send an angry email. But when you are away, delaying all will allow you to edit your replies so they are divinely surgical.

# 5. Mull. Meditate. Ponder. Never do we have enough daylight hours to think. What better time to teach yourself new techniques.

Smile for the camera, it doesn’t know you’re working!

The Human Race

MH3 —  April 18, 2013

Events, such as the Boston Marathon, are the ultimate celebration of humanity.

Endurance events celebrate human achievement that many thought impossible in themselves. Festivals provide a stage for expression and recognition. Sporting events bond people together and prove that team colours are thicker than red blood.

Events aren’t supposed to result in death, amputation, devastation.

Events aren’t supposed to result in CNN, 911, 617.

Events aren’t supposed to result in this.

There have been many, many call outs for us to soldier on, carry on, move ahead. Events and organizers around the world are putting on a brave face. All of us realize the need for beefed up security and additional diligence in our planning. I want to add to the choir.

Our industry might be perceived as fun and games. But we hold the key to The Human Race. We create experiences, joy, and triumph. Now more than ever we must continue to do so.

In this nonstop age of media onslaught, only events will ensure people connect physically. Only events will ensure that we get to know our neighbours. Only events will drive the fitness of our bodies and minds.

Almost every person who reads this blog contributes to that. You need to realize how important what you do, what you do each and everyday, is to society. Whether you are a sponsor, organizer, producer, marketer, volunteer, or a marathoner.

Whatever your marathon is… keep running. Keep organizing. Keep supporting.

Look into the faces of your participants and recognize the importance of what you do.

You don’t organize events. You build people.

Don’t let some nut stop that. It’s the best tribute we can pay to the victims, their families, and the countless people engaged with the Boston Marathon.

Junior Birdman

MH3 —  March 13, 2013

My twelve year old is taking his first solo flight this week.

YYZ to MIA in airport code speak.

Toronto to South Beach in March break speak. Actually Coconut Grove, but South Beach sounded cooler for a moment. Given that it was the setting for Meet the Frockers and is Dexter’s hometown, the Grove may seem cooler to my tweenager.

This world where we put twelve year olds on planes by themselves is pretty foreign to me. I think I had flown once by that age and it was smack dab between my parentals. My guy? If I told you how many flights he has been on, you would bombard me with the fifty-six known translations of the word spoiled! Yet this one is going to be different.

I am handing him over to a flight attendant who will only be slightly less a stranger than the persons seated next to him and the pilot to whom I am entrusting him. Three hours later he will emerge as just one of the 110,000 daily travelers through Miami International and hopefully be safely escorted into the clutches of his friend’s mother. It frightens me to think that just a few years ago I was holding his hand to cross a street and now he is crossing the border all on his own.

Part of me wants to ride down with him, help the crew refresh the plane, and u-turn right back to Toronto. The other part of me knows I am overreacting. I have put him on a bus for a month away at camp. I have left him lakeside at my parent’s cottage for a week. Less than ten days ago I willingly let him attend a sleepover where the boys were attempting their first all-nighter.

But this is different. I can’t just run over three blocks if he gets a cream soda induced stomach ache or call the camp nurse to ensure he is a-okay.

No this is requiring me to realize he is growing up. That some day he will get on a different plane for a grad trip, university visit,  and eventually for his own career. Not so fast! I still want him to be a junior birdman. A child who wants to sing songs with his Dad. A boy who wants to play with model airplanes, not a VIP passenger on a real one. Sadly no.

So look up in the air. That’s my son.

 

 

 

 

Summer School

MH3 —  March 6, 2013

Seems to me that the weather must be getting nicer, based on the flurry of summer job inquiries I received this week.

Friends, clients, ex-clients, suppliers, neighbours, net-workers are all sending me the same email. This email details the ambitions, talents, and virtues of their son/daughter/niece/nephew/neighbour who are looking for that perfect summer opportunity. This email tells me they NEVER hit people up to arrange summer jobs. This email forgot they said the same thing last spring!

Bring ’em on I say. It’s candidly the best channel for recruitment.

But I would like to offer some unsolicited advice to the young nominees who are approaching us for work, to help ensure they get the best shot at the best opportunities this summer.

1. My name isn’t “Mike”. Yep, happened today in fact. A second year student emailed “Dear Mr. Mike Harrison” for a summer job. Guess they teach name recognition in third year. (I politely, for me, emailed them back and said Mike wasn’t hiring, but Mark might be if they wish to try again.)

2. Our company name is TrojanOne. No space. Capital O. Not T1.

3. Enough of the petty stuff… here is an important one. Brevity! Don’t send me your cover letter, resume, and three references all expertly compressed and PDF compatible. Sorry I don’t have time! I am going to flip your email to one of my hiring gurus along with a quick comment: “Mandatory Hire”, “Please Interview”, “Up to You”, and “This kid puked on my lawn last summer…”. So don’t bother filling up my in-box young stars, send me something short, and…

4. Sweet! Hey if you want to work for us, don’t just send me a form email. Customize. Personalize. Humanize. Here is a real life quote from an applicant yesterday:

Dear Mr. Harrison,
Thank you so much for considering me for a potential summer position.

I saw my mother’s email to you … maybe she should be the one going into marketing and promotion. To be described as tall by her is unreliable, at best, and “busty”… maybe relative to my twelve year old brother.

I look forward to hearing from your “hiring dude”.

Hilarious! I hope we have hired her already.

5. This is the most important tip. Figure out what you want to do, how you want to learn, and whom you want to meet. Then be disciplined and diligent at getting it. Summer jobs can be great experiences. They can be great fun. They can be hard work. They can be a great party. They can be a great foundation. There is no right answer. However you need to figure out how you want these four months to impact your future, because whether you realize it or not… you’re not headed to a job, you’re headed to Summer School.