Monday, April 27, 2015

The Question That Got Away

“No one is asking the hard questions that need to be asked,” said the person I was speaking to in a recent conversation.  To put this in context, we had just come from a meeting that included the leadership of the organization.  I immediately answered, “You are right”, then I stopped for a moment and thought about it.  I responded honestly, even though no reflection had occurred on the comment yet. As I thought about it, both after my response and over night, that statement really rang true.  In his context, in other parts of our conversation, in more general terms, do we really ask the hard questions?

In fact, good questions are extremely important.  John C Maxwell wrote an entire book on the subject entitled, “Good Leaders Ask Great Questions: Your Foundation for Successful Leadership.” In the book, he points out that the correct questions are sometimes the hard ones that bring forth thoughtful answers.  In a similar vein, Anthony Robbins said, “Quality questions create a quality life.  Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.”  In project management, it is critical to ask the questions that make the recipients of the project think through what they are looking for.  Conversely, if implementing a vendor-based solution / product, the entire team needs to formulate the right questions to get good answers.  Poor questions can lead to weak answers, which provide no solutions.

For the most part, I find that people do not necessarily ask good questions.  I remember that when my Mom was diagnosed with cancer, one of her doctors pulled us aside and told us that patients that are in advanced stages of cancer (like my mother) will only ask questions when they are willing to hear the answers.  By extension, does this mean that we are afraid of the potential answers so we do not ask the question?  I have sat in meetings where the important question is the 800-pound gorilla sitting with us at the table and no one asks the related hard question.  Sometimes, I am sure that the people running the meeting, by design, avoid asking the question.

At times, we seem to draw circles around ourselves that represent our comfort zone.  Could it be that we feel that the right question will take us outside of the circles we have drawn around us?  If we do ask the hard question, which makes us uncomfortable, it can lead to questioning other things.  While we harbor the fear of opening Pandora’s Box, by avoiding the questions that we need to ask we run the risk of not finding the proper solutions.  John C Maxwell states it simply enough, “The ability to ask the right question is more than half the battle of finding the answer.”

Resolution: We need to “man up” and ask the tough questions, no matter the answers.  Avoiding the question does not make it go away, and in some cases, by not addressing the situation it can make the issue gets worse.  There are occasions where we worry so much and once the hard question is asked, the result is not as bad as we think it is.  Brian Tracy, in “Eat that Frog,” likens our issues, problems, or tasks as frogs, and the order in which we should prioritize them.  Brian Tracy based that phrase on the comment by Mark Twain, “If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first.”

How do you address the 800-pound gorilla?

Monday, April 20, 2015


“By changing nothing, nothing changes.” ~ Tony Robbins

Passover has ended and I am in the process of changing my kitchen.  We keep a kosher home and each year I go through the process of changing all of our dishes to our Passover set.  It is a lot of work, but I look forward to the holiday, the changes made in our kitchen and the different foods we get to eat.  Eight days, then it is over, which means that I am changing the kitchen back to the way it was before the holiday.  Change is good, it can break up our repetitive routines, provide a fresh perspective and in the business world, streamline processes and allow for improved productivity. 

Working as a project manager, there are two things that I believe my job entails – provide solutions and be an agent of change.  Some changes are happily accepted, others are not.  In 1995, when I first became a consultant, they told me up front that good consultants develop a thick skin, as most of the people that we deal with do not want the changes we bring.  The truth of the matter is that all of us become “comfortable” with repeated use of products and processes; we develop an aversion to change.  I have seen this as an employee, as a consultant, counselor in camp, vice president of shul, in the school system, in our government, and even at home. 

Sometimes change comes in response to something outside of ourselves.  Look at our dog, Lucy Lou.  According to Bec, “She is perfect.”  When the weather is cooler out, we let her hair grow out so that it provides some protection (I am not a big believer in doggie wear like my family).  Now that the weather has changed, it is time for Lucy Lou to change her `do and go with a shorter haircut (she likes being stylish, so Bec tells me).  Sometimes the change occurs on the inside and manifests itself on the outside, like the picture of me.  Our lives are full of changes, from sharing your life with a spouse, to having children, to watching them prepare to have a life of their own.  When Bob Dylan sang, “The Times They Are-a Changing,” I am pretty sure that he meant it as an ongoing condition.

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” ~ Winston Churchill

Monday, April 13, 2015

Spread Your Wings and Learn to Fly

15 minutes ago, the house was full of people, sounds and laughter.  Now it is just Debbie and I.  We are in the kitchen cleaning up and there is an unusual lack of noise around us, save for the water running in the sink.  I feel my heart drop an inch or two, but I am certain that it has dropped less than Debbie’s heart.  I am standing in unfamiliar grounds.  Is this foreshadowing of things to come? 

21 years!  That is correct, for 21 years, our lives have had a focus.  Prior to that time, we were newlyweds, enjoying our time spent together, learning about each other and figuring out how our lives will be as a single unit as opposed to two single people.  Then came the happy news that Debbie was pregnant.  Boy, were we happy!  Almost two years later, we find out that the stork would be paying us a second visit.  For 21 years, we have spent time thinking about our kids, preparing for our kids, nurturing our girls, and spending as much time as possible with our children.  Once they leave the house, it is time to turn our attention on what we did before they showed up, that was my thoughts.  We have heard the stories from parents that became empty nesters how sad they were.  I did not believe them.  For 21 years, Gab and Bec’s presence was with us every waking moment and now they were gone.

Tonight there were two other families with us.  With college commitments being made, one couple is starting the first freshmen experience next year, and the other about to become empty nesters with us.  We talked about this situation together for the first time.  I looked at Debbie, and then at Gab (who was home this weekend) and Bec – this is my family.  A half hour later, everyone left, including Bec to bring Gab back to school and to return the following day.  We were alone…the house was quiet.  We both noted that this was what was in the future for us.  We cleaned, we talked, we watched TV and we waited to make sure the girls got to Hartford safely.  The house was unusually quiet.  I love my wife, who is my best friend, and look forward to spending time with her.  But, I will miss the girls.

Enjoy the time with your kids while they live at home, for the time passes quickly before they reach the age where they spread their wings and leave the nest.

Monday, April 6, 2015

I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends

“Oh, no,” Rebecca’s friend yelled.  It was the end of the school day and the four friends were leaving the building looking forward to their break.  The smiles do not last long.  Like a stealthy hand reaching from the sky, the unexpected wind knocked free all of the papers from my daughter’s friend’s hands.  The group of girls that had left the school together stood there in shock as the stack of papers seemingly began to disperse out towards the four corners of the area outside the school.  This is high school, where any unusual incident could lead toward continuous commentaries, and not necessarily in a kind spirit.  What was a group of relatively quiet girls to do?

New York City used to have the image that it was an overcrowded city with not the nicest of people, crime-ridden streets and residents that could not care about the person next to them.  Growing up, we were used to the homeless, the people in the streets with dirty squeegees, and Times Square as an open sex market.  Even as the city was getting cleaned up, the perceived image of the people themselves did not change.  September 11th changed that when the people of New York banded together to help one another.  About 2 years later, the northeast was crippled by a blackout from the electric grid going down, stranding millions of people in the city.  Again, the people banded together to help out neighbors and strangers alike.  Whatever the images we each project, when things go bad, we tend to put aside our differences to help one another out.  We can see this with friends and families, where we put aside our grievances to help someone in trouble, less fortunate, or just down on their luck.

The girls stood there paralyzed by the unexpected explosion of papers.  They could each feel the trickle of sweat on their brows hoping that no one saw this, expecting to be greeted with fingers pointing and the laughter to start.  As if somebody had placed the needle on the record triggering a flash mob, students appeared from out of nowhere, as if in a well choreographed dance sequence, to smoothly gather all of the papers and hand them back to the friend, before disappearing as if they were never there.  Now the students were standing frozen in disbelief…did that really happen?  It just goes to show, that as humans, we have the ability to surprise ourselves, and others, by coming together, even for a short period of time, to help out.