Hold the Salt

Business lore cannot decide who it wants to attribute the “salt test” to. Some say Thomas Edison, others Henry Ford, not to mention household names like General MacArthur and a host of others.

What is the “salt test” anyway? Essentially, the salt test was a simple method devised to examine the character and personality of a potential employee.

It looks like this… Henry Ford takes you out to dinner, a small price to pay since you’ve applied for a key position in the company. Ol’ Henry keeps an eagle eye on you as the server delivers your requested meal. Your mouth waters as you reach for the salt. (NO! DON’T DO IT!) You proceed to smother your food in that all white ionic compound otherwise known as common table salt. You take a taste. Mr. Ford asks how your food is. You smile and provide enthusiastic feedback, “Delicious!”

You continue your attempt to dazzle. But, it’s too late. You’ve forfeited the job.

Henry Ford knows that premature salt application would indicate a person’s narrow thinking and inability to analyze fresh data. The action might also show a lack of appreciation for the host or a shortage of trust in the cook’s ability.

THE CHALLENGE: Leave the salt alone! Examine your self-talk. Do you season your language with negativity?

“I can’t”

“I’m too”

“Why bother?”

“I’ll never”

How much of this negative dialogue acts as premature seasoning?

When you meet people do you really listen? Do you learn their name? Do you care about what they are saying? Or, are you projecting your own judgements upon them?

As you go throughout the day, pay attention to how often a limited view is imposed on yourself or others. You may be surprised at the frequency at which we season our situations prematurely.

Digging for Cables

In most situations, I’m a quiet guy. Somehow my dad nicknamed me “chatterbox” as child. The safety of my own home is probably the only time I lived up to such a name.

To this day I still hear people around me say, “watch out for the quiet ones, once they snap they’ll kill you.” Can’t say I’ve ever lived up to that.

In part however, I think there is some truth to the idea that the quiet folks tend to have a little more “clack” to their thunder, a little more “cold calculation” as words erupt like lava from a once stagnant volcano.

But it’s not just the quiet ones we need to be wary of. I think we ALL have an underground cable that if split will electrocute whomever dared to grasp the shovel.

I’m saddened with how quickly people go digging for cables. They long for contention and discord as if severed relationships were the rule and not the exception. They speak truth with no restrain, intent to hurt, intent to cause damage.

THE CHALLENGE: Brutal honesty (even if a skewed opinion) is often the shovel that will get you zapped. Brutal honesty has merit, but lacks sustainability. In dealing with those around you, look for the signs posted “warning, underground cable.” Stay away, dig somewhere else. Every personality has some territory that can be explored freely. Use tact. Use love.

As for your own cables, keep your signs posted. Avoid rust and decay. Sometimes we victimize ourselves when boundaries aren’t declared early and firmly.

Photo by: Ira

What Color Flag do You Throw?

My love for the game of football has influenced the way I think as a leader.

Although the colors of flags vary from league to league and have changed over the years, every modern day NFL fan will recognize the yellow and red flag. 

Yellow flags are thrown by the officials to indicate a penalty. Red flags are thrown by a head coach in order to challenge a play call. 

A keen observer will note that penalties occur on nearly every down.  The officials must be judicious. The essence of the game would be lost if penalty flags were thrown too frequently.  The fans would complain. There would be no entertainment value. The players would lose motivation. The game would not sustain itself as a business. The stands would be empty, the TV turned off.

Officials are required to use their best judgment. They must allow some leeway to let the players play.  They must preserve the integrity of the game without overshadowing the fun of the game. They must determine where the line is drawn between competition and outright violation of the rule book. 

While yellow flags may be unlimited, red flags are just the opposite.  Red flags can change the outcome of the game.  There are several rules surrounding the red flag (which I will not cover). In general, coaches are allowed only two per game and at the cost of a  timeout for any unsuccessful challenge.

Before a red challenge flag is thrown coaches must trust their own instinct, the word of the players, and/or receive guidance from assistant coaches with access to a live television feed.

If we apply this to leadership (including parenthood), what can we learn?

Are you the type of leader that mercilessly penalizes every member of your team with no room for error or forgiveness?  Do you put team members on report? Do you bench them? Do you outright fire them?  Is your production compromised because you are too busy throwing yellow flags?

Do you view yourself as a coach or a referee? Do you penalize at the expense of your player when a little coaching would have done the trick?

How often do you throw the challenge flag? Do you challenge your player’s integrity and intentions?  Perhaps your challenge is positive in nature, like always helping them strive to reach their highest level of performance. Do you challenge bad play calls made against your team members?

Before throwing a flag, consider how it is going to affect the REAL game.  The one on the field…the one we call life!

Law of the Beak

A bill of sale is a document that records a transaction between two parties. But let’s explore a different kind of bill, the type found on a bird. 

Birds differ in shape, size, color and song. But there is always one constant between the various species. Birds lay eggs, the eggs hatch and the chicks get fed.

Hatchlings don’t get to choose what they eat. I’ve never seen a bird turn up its beak over a slimy worm the way a young child might do over a piece of broccoli.  Instinctively, the hatchlings know they need vast amounts of nourishment in order to survive. They will take anything they can get.

As humans, we may be unlike the birds when it comes to food. But we are no less dependent upon the bill of sale. This transaction takes place when a parent opens its beak to feed us the traditions of the past – sometimes correct, and sometimes completely off base.

We are hungry birds waiting to be fed. We often don’t know what we want until someone shows us. It’s not until the new phone, or the new movie, or the new car, or the new fashion comes out that we believe we need it.  So, we sit in the nest and squawk. More, more, more!  Another beak comes along and vomits out a new diet, a new drug , a new scientific study, a new religion, a new political party, a new gadget or new learned behavior…we settle down in the nest, feeling full, but only for a short moment.  We soon yearn for the next delivery. 

Every commercial and every ad, includes a bird beak waiting to feed you…waiting to make that bill of sale.  There are plenty of beaks and there is no shortage of food.  

Perhaps every child has said “I wish I could fly.”  But fly we will never do, so long as we are squawking for more! 

Just Ask for the Dragon

Do you remember sitting at the dinner table and your crazy uncle said something like this, “If you don’t eat all your food I’m going to give it to my pet dragon…and tonight I’ll let him sleep underneath your bed.”

What do you do? You eat the food!  No questions asked. 

Is it just me or have the times changed? I noticed that when I am the “crazy uncle” and say anything even remotely close to this, today’s youth simply challenge it. “Can I pet your dragon!?” They ask enthusiastically.  They can sniff out my bluff a mile away. 

As you go throughout your day, listen closely. You will encounter a number of subtle threats.  People know you are scared of “what is hiding underneath the bed.”

Next time someone tries to use power or control to leverage themselves against you in favor of a stronger position, just ask to see the dragon. See what happens. 

I hate to give away the secret… But, there is no dragon!

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Disclaimer: There are people with mental health issues that are happy to exercise abusive measures to get what they want.  When dealing with these people it is best to seek professional help.  

Do You Speak My Speak?

I know a man whose native tongue is Spanish. Over the last year he has stepped far outside of his comfort zone to learn English. He still feels inadequate and I can tell that he is a little apprehensive when addressing a large group.

He informed me that he obtained his citizenship last month. I felt so happy for him and rejoiced in his progress. His English is so much stronger than he gives himself credit for, and I trust that he will continue to improve over time.

It is noteworthy that my friend did not have to master the language PRIOR to becoming a citizen. I wonder if this concept can better be applied in our social circles.

Think of something you are interested in, it might even be in the realm of your employment. Odds are, it has its own lingo. Odds are, you had to spend countless hours learning to “speak that talk”, I mean really master it. But remember, at one point you were that new guy or gal. You were the rookie. You were the recruit. You were the immigrant.

Next time someone is trying to gain citizenship into your hobby, your craft, your line of work or even your life (perhaps a significant other)…extend the hand of mercy. Let them in. Help them along. Grant them citizenship. After all, they have applied for it.

Three Up, Three Down

It is easy to view the world in black and white.  But remember, somewhere between black and white is a whoooooole bunch of gray.  That is where I fall into ranks.  Lets face it, we all do.  Everything we do gravitates to this ashy pigment…of…gray.

Yes, we may show strokes of brilliance or reach the darkest abyss.  But even then, odds are that someone has done it better and someone has done it worse.  Examine your strengths and weaknesses, do they not offset one another?  This puts you back to the mediocre middle.  Welcome home, I saved you a seat.

Once per year the Navy evaluates its Sailors using language where there are not enough actions (in existence) to match all the lofty adjectives.  No big deal, I liken this to the back cover of a novel.  Everyone is just trying to sell their book.

During the evaluation cycle, Sailors take part in a “mid-term counseling.”  This requires self reflection and open dialogue with the chain of command.  Normally, three strengths and three areas for improvement are identified by the counselee.  This inevitably reminds the Sailor of their existence in the gray zone.  As a matter of personal opinion, I think this is one of the most brilliant things the Navy does.  Sadly, I have yet to meet a Shipmate who *truly* takes this process seriously – but I’ll save that for another time.

At the close of a recent event, I was asked by the facilitator if there were any obvious areas for improvement.  I gave some “minor suggestions”.  His response was an appreciative acceptance with a follow-on call to action.  He said, “Do me a favor, send me an email including three up and three down.” (That is to say three strong points and three areas for improvement)

This facilitator, also a Sailor, was the first person I’ve heard use the term “three up and three down“.  Perhaps I’m late to the party and this is common lingo.  Nevertheless, I am left to suppose that it was originally harvested from a mid-term counseling session.

Next time you need some feedback on your performance or ideas, consider this strong negotiating tool.  It requires the sender to purge or reduce existing bias and evaluate using a two-point perspective.  Who knows, it might just propel you to reach a lighter shade of gray.