Friday, September 29, 2006

"Busy." Rest In Peace

Week in and week out, one of the most exhausted and often ignored greetings in America ("How are you doing?") keeps getting paired with an impersonal and exceedingly automatic response ("Busy."). I hear this response so much these days that every time it is offered I wish it appeared as a cartoon dialogue balloon out of everyone’s mouth. That way, I could snatch it out of the air and punt it out of the atmosphere (and hopefully out of our vocabulary). This word is being used recklessly around America, and when I hear it, I have to ask myself, “Are we this boring?”

“Busy” is never expressed in a tone of excitement. We tend to be somewhat sluggish, reluctant and almost embarrassed when saying this nasty four-letter word.

This four-letter word needs to go. Let’s bury it! I’m sick of seeing family, friends, and co-workers victimized by this tiny sliver in our dictionary. We enjoy FULL lives with big dreams. We are busy. When did that start to carry so much heavy baggage?

When you graduate from Michigan, you don’t spend the rest of your days lying on your back. Busy is your destiny. Wake UP! It’s exciting!!! As long as the word “busy” rests in the graveyard, you can start to express your life as “eventful” – “active” – “industrious” – “engaged” – “lively”.

In the workplace, managers need to be very careful about how often they relay their status as “busy.” People seek managers for direction, support, advice, and resources. If a manager constantly says he/she is “busy,” then he/she starts to become unapproachable. Being unapproachable is a negative characteristic, and it can be a source of frustration producing countless other barriers that make it difficult for people to perform well.

Michigan graduates thousands of future managers and team leaders, so as you get ready to take on those professional roles, keep the word “busy” buried in the ground. When you find your life FULL of people, decisions, and responsibilities, it doesn’t hurt to smile at yourself and let everybody know that lying on your back is for dead people.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Birthdays build your network

I’m lucky enough to say that I’m one of many Michigan alumni to travel back to Ann Arbor this past weekend for a timely reunion with family, friends, football, and Rick’s American Café. Last Thursday, my mom and I enjoyed lunch at Pacific Rim and later shared some Sangría at Dominick's. On Saturday, my dad, brother, and I piled into the Big House’s Section 7. The “Maize Out” across the stadium looked just as incredible as our defense, and the band made a beautiful hood ornament in front of the nation’s finest student body. Thank you for hosting a great weekend on campus, and thank you for keeping the celebration going at Rick’s.

My twin brother in red is a former bartender at Rick's. We love catching up with good friends.

It's all smiles on a Saturday in Ann Arbor.
Today, one of my best buddies from college is celebrating his 27th birthday out in L.A. Before moving to L.A., he grew up in Boston, learned about life in Ann Arbor, and watched the Red Sox win the World Series down in Austin. He spent just over three years in Austin, and this is the first time in nine years that I’ve called him on his birthday with half the country between us. Over time, things change…miles grow between great friends…but birthdays stay the same.

When you take on a career after Michigan, it is up to you to keep in touch with your amazing network of friends, faculty, advisors, mentors and acquaintances. Nobody is going to do this for you, and in my opinion, this network will be more valuable to you than your neatly framed diploma. Michigan men and women will welcome you to a new city, write letters of recommendation on your behalf, stand up in your wedding, encourage you to return to Ann Arbor, attend a parent’s funeral, and let you know they are thinking of you.

The presence of a career and new cities make it very challenging to hold your network together, so I urge you to start realizing the importance of birthdays. It is an annual event in a friend’s life that is extremely deserving of a phone call. Your voice will always bring back memories, and it will make them smile. In addition, you will get to listen to annual updates that will help you understand the resources and connections at your fingertips.

When I moved to Austin, I spent my first year scrolling through my phone book, placing daily phone calls, and trying to keep up with an unrealistic pace of conversations within my entire network. Ten to twenty phone calls per week interfered with me getting to know a new city, and it cut down the time I spent with my roommates. Sooner or later, I became realistic about enjoying daily and weekly relationships with my closest family and friends and maintaining annual relationships with my greater network.

A desk calendar hangs behind my bathroom door, and every morning, I walk out of my apartment and make my birthday calls. I avoid e-mail and e-cards, because my voice is more unique than Times New Roman, and conversations are unpredictable and explore everything on the spot. This is one of the best routines of my life. I make over 120 birthday calls every year, and when I make trips back to Ann Arbor, I always have a place to crash. When I share my career updates with my network, I always have an attentive and helpful audience.

Your relationships are your responsibility. Celebrate the birthdays in your life, and Michigan will get bigger and better. Go Blue from Texas!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Football, the Armed Forces, and the Workplace

Let it be known that I played high school football at 145 scrawny pounds, and I don’t have a personal military history. Yet, my loose ties to football and the United States Armed Forces helped me draw an important connection to UofM and the workplace.

When a football team enters a game week, coaches prep their players with opponents’ game films, offensive/defensive strategies, and practice. The team competes against the other team, and then the team evaluates the win or loss by watching their performance on game film.

A military unit participates in the same intentional cycle. Officers brief the unit on a particular mission. The unit uses that information to complete objectives. Once their objectives are complete, they debrief the mission.

Both football and the military rely heavily on cycles of briefing and debriefing to facilitate the growth of their players and soldiers. What would it look like for these groups to lose the ability or time to brief and debrief? In my opinion, they would see an absence of emerging leaders.

Activities and organizations that depend on leadership must take the time to initiate learning cycles for people to compare/contrast growth and internalize their key contributions. After all, if people within an organization aren’t expected to grow, then that organization is not fit to grow.

Have y’all ever questioned whether or not we deserve to call ourselves “Leaders and Best”? At five years out of school, I can tell you Michigan is exciting, because it is all about you. It’s a green light to be selfish. Right now…it’s all about your classes, your interests, your hopes, and your dreams. Family, faculty, and advisors are cheering for you. They want this journey to be all about you. Your mind is truly set free, and it explores the greatest intellectual, social, and civic collision in the world. Your ingesting and digesting daily experiences and the more you get to know yourself…the more you know what you are capable of in the world. We experience that kind of growth at Michigan, so yes…We are the “Leaders and Best.”

When you graduate and start building your career, you don’t always find environments that encourage you to reflect and internalize your journey. A company or manager’s inability to create learning cycles in the workplace can stall your enthusiasm for your job and injure your self-esteem. In any job interview, it is critical to ask future employers about their informal and formal review processes. Football teams evaluate game films weekly, but in the workplace, formal reviews typically take place on an annual basis. If an employer is unable to answer in detail or if those details are a bad match, walk away and set your sights on an employer that sees your growth (a.k.a. leadership) as a means to grow the company.

Go Blue from Texas!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Lance Armstrong & Steve "Crocodile Hunter" Irwin

“With every step, I further define my capacity for living.”
-Lance Armstrong-
Internet news headlines collected millions of clicks after posting the details of the sudden death of an educator, adventurer, pop culture icon, husband, and father. Steve "Crocodile Hunter" Irwin certainly had a great deal to share with the world, and in my mind, I'm thankful for Lance Armstrong's words to help me sum up the life of a memorable man.
What becomes so attractive about the lives of people like Steve Irwin and Lance Armstrong? For one, they introduced many of us to the never-ending spirit of risk-taking and surviving. Equally important, they allowed us to watch them doing what they love to do.
In order to recruit and retain the top students in the U.S. and around the globe, American universities are being forced to create the most plush learning environments in the world. Resort-like recreational facilities, technologically-enhanced residence halls, and multi-million dollar upgrades and renovations decorate today's college campuses, and I advise everyone who's preparing to leave Michigan one day. First, don't set your first job criteria to match every luxury of our Maize and Blue Wonderland. There are plenty of great employers who aren't always wrapped in familiar packaging. Second, doing what you love will push you to take risks and give you the presence of mind to survive.
I work in a relatively small organization. Small organizations are flexible, and employees are expected to be flexible. My job doesn't carry the familiar ring of consultant, analyst, engineer, or sales/marketing associate, but it does carry the likeness of a teacher, researcher, and change manager. On a day-to-day basis, I use e-mail, phones, Excel, Microsoft Access, web technology, a 2006-2007 "At-A-Glance" Appointment Book, one black pen, one red pen, and neatly lined paper to create learning & development programs for over 3,000 students and build networking programs aimed at 15,000 Austin Area alumni.
I design and train leadership teams (giving me a close connection to people) and I'm setting a vision for a small organization to have a big impact on a metropolitan area that is expected to grow to almost 3 million people by 2030.
I'm the type of person who thinks about the applications and consequences of leadership everyday. When I moved to Austin without a job in July 2002, I made a commitment to connect with what I love. I'm not nearly as animated as Steve Irwin, but I will practice and evaluate leadership until I die. Go Blue from Texas!