The Obstacle is the Way

I’m currently reading The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday, which is $1.99 on Kindle and feels like the perfect book to read in the current world climate.

I came across this quote last night, which describes a mindset I try to maintain:

In fact, if we have our wits fully about us, we can step back and remember that situations, by themselves, cannot be good or bad. This is something—a judgment—that we, as human beings, bring to them with our perceptions.

The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday

I’d highly recommend picking up the book as it provides a useful lens to view the current world events for under $2.

For more concepts from the book, check out this sketched book art from sachachua.com:

Three Routines for Right Now

I’ve spent more time than usual watching the news and scanning social media over the past week. I don’t think I’m alone. “Normal” today looks much different than it did even a week ago.

COVID-19 has taken over the world stage and will likely continue to do so for quite some time. Like everyone else, I’m adapting to new routines and finding “rocks” in my day to build in some consistency. As author James Clear notes, “In times of uncertainty, your habits can ground you.”

Here are three rocks I’m focusing on currently:

  1. Move. Gyms (including CrossFit Undeniable) are closed in Colorado at the moment, but we’re still making it a point to workout every day with what we have available.
  2. Meditate. After many years off, I began using the Headspace app again. They’re offering free meditations during COVID-19. I’ve found that just 15 minutes helps me to say much more focused and present throughout the day.
  3. Prioritize. With a kid at home and schedules in flux, I’ve found it helpful to make a list of the top three things I need to focus my energy on during the following day. When stress levels are high, this kind of laser focus helps to ground my efforts.

I find that if I get those pieces in place, I feel much more confident and in control of my day regardless of the chaos going on in the world.

Corona Panic

Amidst the current panic, Morgan Housel published two pieces that are worth your time—Part 1 and Part 2.

Housel doesn’t pretend to be an overnight virologist. He doesn’t talk about the virus at all. Instead, he addresses two topics that will be applicable long after this is over—human nature and risk.

We’re not mentally prepared to think about widespread risk…Risk has three parts: The odds you will get hit, the average consequences of getting hit, and the tail-end consequences of getting hit. How people respond to risk is heavily influenced by the tail-end consequences of getting hit, even if it’s the least probable outcome.

Morgan Housel

He goes on to address the comfort in having an opinion (even if ill-informed) during uncertainty and the role social media plays in spreading mis-information.

Perhaps the most important line was this:

It’s OK to admit that we’ll get through this and that this is a big deal.

Morgan Housel

Wash your hands. Follow the advice of experts. Practice social distancing.

On the flip side, remain calm. Think rationally. As Seth Godin reminds us, “Panic is a choice, and so is productive generosity.”

The Care and Feeding of Monkeys

A fellow Automattician passed along this older HBR article that originally appeared in 1974. In the piece, the author describes how managers and leaders often take on unnecessary responsibility from teammates inadvertently. These responsibilities are referred to as “monkeys.”

An example from the article:

A fourth subordinate, Reed, has just been transferred from another part of the company so that he can launch and eventually manage a newly created business venture. The manager has said they should get together soon to hammer out a set of objectives for the new job, adding, “I will draw up an initial draft for discussion with you.”

Let us analyze this one, too. The subordinate has the new job (by formal assignment) and the full responsibility (by formal delegation), but the manager has the next move. Until he makes it, he will have the monkey, and the subordinate will be immobilized.

The language in the piece is a bit outdated (“subordinates” is an unfortunate term), but the piece is worth a read and reflection.

The Rise of Teddy

This year, I’m trying to read more biographies and books that have stood the test of time rather than new releases. I picked up this biography of Theodore Roosevelt after seeing Ryan Holiday post about it on his Instagram.

Teddy was an impressive man for many reasons. His courage, capacity for action, leadership qualities, and honesty are all worth emulating. I haven’t had a book leave me with the desire to simultaneously plunge headfirst into work and also roam around the Midwest hunting buffalo and sleeping under the stars. 😂

My favorite quote from the book, which I’ve been mulling over quite a bit:

I have only a second rate brain, but I think I have a capacity for action.

Theodore Roosevelt

The book was a dense but well worth the read. I paired up the physical book with Audible to keep moving at a good clip.

On High Standards (Part 2)

Yesterday, I shared two takeaways related to high standards based on a few recent podcasts.

  1. It’s okay to have high standards and to hold people to them.
  2. A prerequisite is to hold yourself to an even higher set of standards.

On Facebook, a friend pointed out an important missing piece—people are human. I think it’s worth expanding on this point quite a bit. Otherwise, one might assume that it’s okay to set a sky-high bar and act like a tyrant driving people in that direction giving no slack or breathing room for adjustments.

Let’s all agree that’s not ideal.

Here are a few additional caveats to the above takeaways:

These high standards should be developed alongside the people that will be upholding them in service of a goal we all agree on. When a team has a voice in setting the goals, they feel far more ownership than if the goals were just passed down the chain.

How you deal with failure matters. In Measure What Matters, John Doer talks about the OKR framework Google and other teams use for setting goals. They assume a 70-80% completion rate. If a team completes 100% of their work for a quarter, the goals weren’t ambitious enough.

A team/individual falling short of a goal or a standard is a critical inflection point. If you drop the hammer, it’s understood that falling short is not acceptable, and teammates will be reluctant to stretch in the future. As Steven Pressfield notes, compassion is an unlimited resource.

Extreme ownership applies here too. When a team member falls short, it’s not their fault. It’s your fault. You could’ve checked in with them earlier. You could’ve explained the goal in better detail. You could’ve offered to chip in.

With those caveats in mind, here’s how I would expand the original two takeaways:

  1. It’s okay to have high standards and to hold people to them. This works when the standards are defined alongside the people upholding them in service to a goal everyone agrees on.
  2. When people fall short, remember compassion is an unlimited resource. Don’t blame them; own the situation.
  3. A prerequisite to holding others to a high standard is to hold yourself to an even higher set of standards.

A Few Related Thoughts on High Standards

After some discussion on this post, I wrote a follow-up post here—On High Standards (Part 2). It expands on some elements this post misses.

While traveling to New York, I recently listened to two podcasts related to high standards.

First, I listened to the interview with Dave Castro (Director of the CrossFit Games) on the Pursuing Health podcast. As the host describes in the interview, Castro is a polarizing figure within the CrossFit space. He’s well-known for having exceptionally high standards for his team and holding them to those standards.

I hold people to a really high standard, and you can’t hold people to a really high standard if you don’t hold yourself to a really high standard.

Dave Castro

He goes on to discuss his time in the military, which informed many of his views on team and individual performance, which brings me to the other podcast I revisited during my trip.

Jocko Willink is well known for his podcast, Jocko Podcast, which offers leadership tactics through the lens of the military. I’ve listened to one episode multiple times in particular—“Set Standards. Aspire to Achieve Them. Become an Eminently Qualified Human.” The episode walks through the Marine Corp Overall Fitness Assessment.

This document embodies the idea of having high standards. Let’s look at the rating scale for “Performance”:

Meets requirements of billet and additional duties. Aptitude, commitment, and competence meet expectations. Results maintain status quo.

Sounds solid, right? That’s one of the lowest possible rankings. Here’s the top (bold added by me for emphasis):

Results far surpass expectations. Recognizes and exploits new resources; creates opportunities. Emulated; sought after as an expert with influence beyond unit. Impact significant; innovative approaches to problems produce significant gains in quality and efficiency.

That’s an incredibly high bar! At the end of the assessment, they provide this chart:

Courtesy of the NAVMC 10835 Assessment Form

The takeaway is clear—very few should be correctly graded at the top of the pyramid. Most professionals will fall in the middle of the pack.

Summarizing the two big takeaways I had listening to these two podcasts together:

  1. It’s okay to have high standards and to hold people to them.
  2. A prerequisite is to hold yourself to an even higher set of standards.

Four Questions Worth Asking

In a recent episode of his podcast, Tim Ferriss recounted a discussion he had with executive coach Jerry Colonna. In that discussion, Colonna mentioned four powerful questions that I feel are worth keeping top of mind:

  • How am I complicit in creating the conditions I say I don’t want?
  • What needs to be said that isn’t being said?
  • What’s being said that I’m not hearing?
  • What am I saying that’s not being heard?

In particular, the first question has been rattling around in my head quite frequently whether I’m thinking about a situation at work or when our two-year-old refuses to eat dinner. It’s helpful in framing the “extreme ownership” philosophy popularized by Jocko Willink.

Photo courtesy of Tim.blog

A Step-by-Step Outline for Starting a Tough Conversation

Let’s say you need to deliver some critical feedback. How do you kick off the conversation?

Maybe you get straight to the point and rip off the band-aid. Just go straight for the jugular.

Alternatively, maybe you start with a simple question, “How are things going?” Your hope is that they bring up the issue and save you a mountain of worry. Obviously they know something is wrong, right?

Critical conversations can be awkward. There’s this giant elephant in the room, and it’s tough to find the right approach to talk about said elephant.

I’m just finishing up Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott. The book provides a structure for having “fierce” conversations, which Scott describes as:

[A conversation] in which we come out from behind ourselves into the conversation and make it real.

In a more practical sense, fierce conversations are those in which we can truthfully attack an issue that’s probably difficult to acknowledge, have an honest conversation, come to a shared understanding, and set some kind of action plan to address the root issue moving forward.

Scott describes the perfect 60-second intro to a fierce conversation. Having flubbed my fair share, I found it to be a helpful template to avoid some of the awkwardness and get into the meat of the conversation.

Continue reading “A Step-by-Step Outline for Starting a Tough Conversation”