Business as Usual – Life After Graduate School

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Hot August Nights 2014

It was just about 2 years ago this week that I received my acceptance letter to graduate school at the University of Nevada, Reno.  I was accepted in the EMBA program and I decided to go for it, because that’s how I roll.

Honestly I had no clue what kind of knowledge and growth the next two years would offer me.  I have been able to dig down and learn a lot about myself and others.  I also had the pleasure of working with world class faculty and students.  This was truly a once in a lifetime educational experience.

The journey through graduate school was long and tedious at times, but it was worth the challenge.  I have sacrificed life with family and friends, missed events and said “no I have to study” on more than a few occasions.  So now that graduate school is coming to a close I will have more free time. Which means life can go back to business as usual and I get to start sleeping more!

The outlook on life from my perspective, how “business as usual” looks is a bit different today.   I have discovered new ways of thinking about management, marketing and strategy.   I have developed great friendships with my fellow cohorts.  I have even embarked on mission to launch a li-ion battery start-up.  My career path and business skills have changed as a direct result of business graduate school.

Over the last few months, I have been able to share with you some my personal thoughts on start-ups leadership, management, motivation, coaching, balance and reaching goals.  This exercise of opening up my skill set and opinions for public consumptions was very interesting and I enjoyed it.

Business as usual does not stop in the work place.  Last night I went out with some friends to check out the classic cars at Hot August Nights.  This is one of the biggest events in Reno and it was a great opportunity for me to take some photos.  Photography is one of the activities that I missed most while studying during graduate school, but last night it was “business as usual.” I tired something new last night, I shot in all Black and White.  Please let me know what you think.

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Looking forward finishing my MBA is one of the biggest challenges I have ever completed.  Because of this educational opportunity I have grown as an entrepreneur, leader and business person.   All of my skills are a little more polished and I have picked up many new tools along the way.   To me there is nothing more fulfilling than an experience that is humbling and evokes personal growth.  Graduate school was a very enlightening and humbling experience for me, which in my eyes are the best kind.  I am hoping to continue to blog about my experiences in entrepreneurship, leadership and start-ups as I work diligently with my team at Dragonfly Energy to make our company a success.   I promise not to leave out balance and photography, which are even more important now that I have accepted an even bigger challenge, launching a revolutionary tech start-up.  Life is Good, be well.

Working Toward and Accomplishing Goals

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In the course of my life I have reached many goals and missed some too.  When I look back and see the causes of my successes and failures.  I am not an extraordinary human being; I just work hard and never give up.  In my last blog we discussed how people hold themselves back.   I am guilty of this also, it’s part of being human.  There have been times in my life where I have struggled, given into fear and even quit.  These times are my best asset today; they allow me to have faith that if I am persistent anything is possible.

Today with these successes and failures in my tool kit, I am a driven and goal oriented person.   I find a target and I drive for it, when I reach my goal I set a new one and work hard to reach it.   There are moments when I struggle to find my way.  When I find myself getting frustrated I back off a bit and try to refocus, but today I never quit.

I think there are three important methods that I use to reach goals, I feel have these have been most instrumental in my life.

Scaling down the goal, I tend to break up goals into steps.  If you are anything like me, you dream big and that equates to big goals.  Sometimes I can psych myself out and talk myself out of doing something, because it’s too daunting a task.  I navigate around these fears by looking at the goal in pieces, for example one step at a time.   Since I returned to school in 2008, I have a strict policy of one week at a time; it keeps courses manageable in my busy life.

Perseverance, this is a powerful word.  When I looked up the definition of perseverance I found this – steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.  Through practicing the idea of perseverance in my life, I have found a lot of success.  I know in my heart and mind that I can reach my goal, so even though it may take longer than I expected, I never give up.

Lastly, I surround myself with great people.  The people in my life are the ones who support me in success and failure, they believe in me.   This is paramount, because when working toward a goal or a dream it can be tough.  It’s good to have friends and mentors to help me stay focused on what is important.  When I get tired or discouraged, a friend can remind us how far I have come and encourage me to keep trudging.

Of course there are many other traits that will help people reach goals, anyone who is focused and driven can accomplish a goal.   In my own life I am on the verge of completing a major challenge, my MBA.  I feel very proud of myself to have worked hard to reach this goal; it has been a very rewarding experience.  Probably the toughest challenge I have ever taken on.  As a result I will carry this strength with me for the rest of my life.

To reach a goal, start out small, start today.  Take good care of yourself mentally and physically so when times get tough you can persevere and reach your goal.  Surround yourself with motivated and supportive people, when you need it they will lift you up and keep you on track.  And most importantly do your best every day and never give up.  Sky’s The Limit, you can get started anytime, dig deep and dream big.

Let’s Talk Coaching with US Olympian Aarik Wilson

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Over these last two months I have written many times about leading, motivating and coaching.  I have shared my own view points and opinions.  Since this is a blog and hence an open conversation platform, I decided to interview a US Olympian to get his point of view on coaching.  Aarik Wilson is a friend and my personal trainer at F.A.S.T in Reno, NV.  In the few months I have worked with him he has coached me through the frustrations of rehabbing from a hip surgery and pushed me toward my personal fitness goals.

Born in Reno, Nevada and raised in Fallon, Nevada, Aarik Wilson was a Nevada star athlete in Track & Field and Basketball; being a 2-time state champion in track & field and Co-Player of the Year in basketball. After high school, he attended Indiana University and has since become an internationally renowned athlete who has had tremendous success in the US and abroad. Aarik is a 2-time NCAA Champion, 10-time NCAA All-American, 10-time Big-Ten Conference Champion, 4-time USA Champion, 2008 Olympic Trials Champion and 2008 Olympian, Big-Ten Indoor record-holder, 2-time Big-Ten Athlete of the Year, and holds 4 Indiana University school records. Aarik is one of the best combination jumpers in American Track & Field history with personal bests of 57′ 8″ in the triple jump and 26′ 10″ in the long jump. He was one of the nation’s leaders in both the long jump and triple jump and has been ranked in the top 10 in the world every season he competed.

SN:  Who is the best coach you have ever worked with? Why?

AW:      The best coach I ever worked with was my college coach at Indiana University. His name is Wayne Pate. Pate not only has knowledge and experience from more than 20 years of coaching world class athletes but he also does it in a way without yelling or negativity. He showed me that I could push the personal limits I had set in my mind and created confidence to continually attempt to surpass them. 

SN:  How have coaches helped you reach your full potential or overcome obstacles?

AW:      Good coaches help and show us that we don’t always know how much we can give. Good coaches instill ideals of accountability and responsibility that we keep and apply in sports AND life. 

SN:  As a coach what do you see are the biggest challenges people encounter?

AW:      The biggest challenge people face is themselves. People hold themselves back. Whether with insecurity, or fear, or lacks in knowledge and know how, people can generally move forward as long as they are able to push themselves past what they “think” they can do. 

SN:  As a coach how do you motivate others to overcome these challenges?

AW:      The best way I have found to motivate is with positivity, respect, energy, enthusiasm and patience. Coaches need to be able to identify issues within an athlete, be able to deal with the issues themselves and correct and lead the athlete past the issues. Attitude and the way a coach delivers his guidance are key in pushing others through challenges to accomplish goals. 

After interviewing Aarik, I realized that a great coach is someone who has learned from great coaches.   As Aarik shared in our interview, there are many things that make a coach great; motivational style, communication style and ability to push people to their full potential.  I found it interesting that these same qualities carry over into great business leaders and managers.

The second half of the interview was focused on how to help people overcome challenges and fears as a coach.  There are many reasons people hold themselves back, fear of failure, fear of success, lack of self-esteem and self-worth.  These are all sensitive issues in athletes and employees.  It’s not exactly easy to address these issues in a team member.  But if the message comes with positivity and is delivered in the right tone, it can make all the difference in the world.

Training-and-Coaching

As a leader or a coach, we have the opportunity to cultivate an environment where people can overcome these hurdles and move past their fears.  The environment must be supportive and safe, yet still maintain competitiveness and provide guidance.  When we create a positive atmosphere of growth in our workplace, we develop loyal and professional team members. These people become future leaders and winners.   Coaching is an essential part of being a great leader, the ability to motivate people to be there best is invaluable.

The Importance of Helping Others

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Throughout my entire I have been helping others.  When I was in high school every spring break I went with a group from my hometown in California to Mexico and we built houses.  The experience was amazing.  The opportunity to help build a strangers home was a powerful example of freely giving to others.  During those early years, I went on these trips because they were fun and I enjoyed helping others.   As I grew up my life became more and more busy and I felt like I had less time to help others.

Anyone who has ever completed multiple degrees in college will tell you that it’s probably the most selfish time in your life.   I know this from personal experience, I work a full time job, am launching a li-ion battery start-up and I am about two weeks away from completing my MBA.  But I have to say that as I have grown older, I realize the value of stepping out of my “important” life and helping someone else.

This morning I stepped away from my school work and visited my 88 year old grandfather.  He asked me to help him trim an apple tree.  I was happy to help him, mostly because he is my best friend, but also because I know my life is better when I help others.  It didn’t take that long and he was very happy to see me.  This is what is important, connecting with people on a real level, and actually being present in the moment.

My last blog applied this principle to leadership and business; I mentioned that I had to “give it away to keep it.”  Well today, it’s about stopping what I am doing to get outside of my thoughts and life and help someone else.   It allows me to refocus my energies and actually makes me a more balanced person.

Since 2005 I have been the director of a local charity called the Big Reno Coat Drive.  To date my team of volunteers and I have collected over 10,000 coats.  I have maintained this commitment to my community for going on 10 years and the experience of helping others has added a lot of value to my life.  It makes me grateful for what I have and less focused on what I think I should have.

The reality of the situation is when I am thinking about having to set aside something of utmost importance in my mind and help someone else, honestly it’s actually a struggle sometimes.   My mind can make a million excuses why I don’t have time.  Once I head downtown with a truck load of coats and hand them out to people who are cold and living on the streets, it shows me what is important in life.  There is plenty of time to get my work done and there is also plenty of time to help others.  A balanced life is a healthy life; it’s not always easy to maintain balance every day.  But one way to get re-balanced quickly is to stop and help another human being, a family member, a friend or a stranger.  I encourage you to try it, be aware of what is going on around you.  You will see an opportunity to help others.

Why Being a Photographer is Awesome

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Sometimes when you look up, you find a different perspective. Mormon Station – Genoa, NV

Over the last two years I have spent a lot of time working on being a better photographer.   In the last two years I have taken thousands of pictures of people, places and things.  In my travels and in my everyday life I carry my camera with me almost every day.  Over the last two years, I have found a new creative outlet in my life, a new passion:  Photography.

Confluence of the Little Colorado and the Colorado River - shot from a Helicopter

Confluence of the Little Colorado and the Colorado River – shot from a Helicopter

Being a photographer allows me to capture moments in time and history and capture them for all to see.  I have documented adventures big and small, far and near.   Last year I visited 3 national parks with my 87 year old grandfather.  Having my camera with us has allowed me to share these moments with our family and friends.   As far as I know none of us will be around forever, but the pictures will be.  In our travels we visited the Grand Canyon National Park.  The coolest part of our trip was the helicopter ride we took.  I was able to capture the entire trip with my camera, priceless.

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My Grandfather and Best Friend in the Badlands National Park – 08/2013

Taking photos is a great way to connect with others.  I have a unique opportunity to connect with my family and friends via photography.  People really appreciate a great picture of themselves.  In my opinion the majority of people don’t like the images that people take of them; I get it its awkward sometimes.   But to have the ability to get people to relax and enjoy getting their picture taken is an awesome way to connect with them personally.   The ultimate gift is when I capture someone’s smile and share the picture with them, and they love it!  This is what photography is about sharing art with others and connecting with people.

Badlands National Park Sunset

Badlands National Park Sunset

The main reason that photography is so important in my life is it helps me stay in the moment; enjoy the here and now.   It gives the opportunity to notice more detail in my surroundings.  It’s not a bad thing to stop and smell the roses.   I live a very fast paced lifestyle sometimes it’s great to slow down and explore my creative side.  I actually learn a lot about myself through photography and I grow from it too.  I have a better appreciation for life, the people in it and my surroundings, all based around my adventures in photography.  I surprise myself all the time when I capture something great.  I also get great pleasure in sharing this art with others.  People often offer to pay me for photos, but I always decline.  To me photography is one of the only things in my life that doesn’t involve money.  I like it that way, it’s simple and pure.

View of Sunrise over Lake Tahoe from Relay Peak

View of Sunrise over Lake Tahoe from Relay Peak

How to you express your creative side?  Do you stop and appreciate your surroundings?

Share Your Knowledge with Future Leaders

Over the last two weeks I have been covering leadership and what it means to be a great leader.  This will be my last post in the leadership series.  Over my lifespan I have encountered and had the opportunity to work with many great leaders.  These people have taken the time to help me develop my own leadership skills.

One of the ways that I have mastered skills in my life is by getting outside of myself and teaching someone else how to do it.  There is an old saying I heard a long time ago “you have to give it away to keep it.”  This is an essential part of mastering a trade or skill.  For example over the past few years I have been working on honing my photography skills.  After sometime I have been able to sit down and share my knowledge with friends, helping them take better pictures.  By looking at photography through someone else’s eyes I have gained a broader prospective of what to photograph.  So you’re probably wondering what is the point?  Ok here it is.

In order to become a great leader, you need to be continually pushing yourself to grow, so you can remain a great leader.

The best way to maintain your leadership knowledge and skills and to challenge yourself to grow is to develop others into leaders.  In a management or leadership role, we have a unique opportunity to help our teams grow and mature into leaders.  I usually use many different techniques to help push people to grow and reach their full potential.  In the process of this you will see different points of view on how to lead and different styles of leadership, this is valuable.

The easiest way to help others grow as leaders is to use delegation.  By delegating a task to someone on my team, I give them the chance to step up and show me that they can lead.  As friendly reminder, make sure you delegate cool stuff too, not just the boring mundane tasks of your job.  It also gives me the opportunity to later give some constructive real time feedback about how well they did.  Being able to give constructive feedback, means that people will listen to you because you make it known that you want to help them.  Sometimes if feedback is given under the wrong tone or circumstances, it can be very bad for communication.

The second tactic is use is sharing my knowledge with my team.  Often times in my career I have encountered people that don’t want to share certain parts of their job with someone else, for fear of being replaced.  This is a bad habit and it happens often.  I am not afraid to help other people grow, I want them to be successful, so whatever knowledge or skills I possess are shared freely.  As a leader I need to share my knowledge, as I mentioned in the beginning it actually helps me be more of an expert.

Don’t allow yourself to fear losing a good person; create an atmosphere of open communication and learning on your team.  You will attract great people.  It will make your organization more healthy and successful.  Over the years I have seen many people learn from me and move on to bigger and better, good for them!  I too have learned new skills and moved on to use them elsewhere.  It’s all part of building a career and a life, using what you have learned to add value in any situation.

The only way to remain great at anything is to practice and use your skills, these rings true in many aspects of life.  Sharing what you know with others is a great way to remember the experiences that helped you learn these leadership skills.

Remember where you came from, and pay it forward.

Do you have any coaching examples that you would like to share with us?  Please comment

Dealing with Difficult Team Members

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Lately I have been posting a lot about motivation, I started thinking about how some people are more difficult to motivate than others.  In our everyday lives we encounter difficult people.  We can usually just bypass these people and move on with our day.  This situation becomes a bit more pressing when you are dealing with someone difficult at work.  Most of us have dealt with difficult co-workers at work, it’s not always easy.

I started doing some research on Google using the phrase “dealing with difficult employees.”  I really don’t like to use the word employee (I prefer team member or co-worker) but for research sake I “googled” it.  This must be a hot topic, returning over 41 million results.  I guess a lot of people are talking about how to deal with difficult employees.  I have a lot experience of dealing with difficult employees.  These people come across as unmotivated, having a tough time getting along with others and they have a hard time taking direction.

Over the last 24 hours I have been mulling this post over in my head; it’s a difficult subject to cover without sounding negative.  The first thing that I want to point out is that as a leader of a team or teams, almost 100% of the time the “difficult” person is on my team.  If I call myself a team leader and a team player, I need to do use all of my skills and resources to help this person improve, because we are on the same team.  Being a team leader involves coaching.  Coaching is one of the most powerful tools that you have as a business leader.

When dealing with a difficult person don’t ignore the problem.  It won’t go away on its own.   I have seen managers attempt to ignore a difficult person; it’s not a great idea.  By avoiding the issue, it will begin to erode away at the foundation and cohesiveness  of your team; you will lose the respect of your team.  By ignoring the problem, you are validating the behavior and it could spread, at the very least it will make your people not want to come to work.  It’s always our first inclination to work around a difficult person, bad idea.

The biggest mistake you can make when addressing a difficult team member is doing so before researching.  Gather the facts before you take action.   If you have been maintaining constant contact with your team, it will not be hard to have a fact finding conversation.  You may have known this employee for quite some time, take a walk with them, and find out what is going on.  You need to address the issue in a timely manner, but don’t jump the gun.  You will run the risk of making an attribution error.

After you have gathered all of the facts, talk with the employee involved.  Let them know that you want to help them succeed.  Talk to them about the issues that you and others are having.  Let them know they are valued and you want them to improve.  If the problems persist you will need to document events.  The best way to do this is to lay out an action plan.  This type of plan will allow them to feel a part of the process.  At the point when you start documenting struggles, team members can become disengaged.  Some will be left with resentment and never change; these will have to be dealt with using the policy laid out by your organization.  This could ultimately lead to termination.

Some people will improve and they will learn to grow outside of their character defects.  I always like to believe that people can change and I strive to give them every opportunity to do so.  In order for these people to change my organization needs to have a positively reinforced environment, to allow this growth.  That positivity starts with me, their coach.  I need to lead by example and be there to help guide them on the path to success, walk the walk. By taking the time to work with difficult people you will grow as leader, its not easy to do.  In the end you can learn something from every person you encounter.

Difficult people are tough to deal with please share with me any experiences or thoughts you may have on this topic by commenting below.