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Wednesday, April 01, 2015
Volume 20 | # 477
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The C student starts a restaurant. The A student writes restaurant reviews. » PJ O'Rourke

Miraculous Perception

Recently while scanning the couple of hundred channels (we overpay to have) in our home, I came upon the last few minutes of a documentary that made me smile just a bit. It was entitled, “Kansas: Miracles Out of Nowhere.”  To be honest, that title alone entertained me.

Don’t get me wrong, I guess I’m as much a fan of the band Kansas as anyone who wasn’t staring at black-light posters in the 70’s.

But my first thought was, “How can they do 90 minutes on Kansas?”

I instantly decided to set the DVR to record it the next time it came on. I figured it would have to be good… or at least pretty high on the unintentional comedy scale. That’s entertaining either way.

As it turned out, it was pretty darn good. First, I’m one of those old guys who remember when vocalists used to actually have great voices and bands had, you know, real musicians in them. And the guys in Kansas were amazing musicians.

But the thing that struck me as I watched was how often they would point to the “miracle” of some fortuitous turn of events. I kept thinking that they were not really describing miracles.

Sure, they had lucky breaks along the way… but only after great amounts of practice and work.

These guys were rolling around (touring) the Midwest in an old school bus, playing for next-to-no money for years. They took any job they could get to be on stage and continue to hone their craft.

They didn’t sit and complain about being stuck in the middle of nowhere, waiting for someone to figure out they were really good.

They created their own luck.

Sure, the odds were against a “not-exactly-rock-star looking group” from Topeka to eventually sell out arenas and stadiums. But the odds can turn when folks work hard and refuse to give up.

And I love the story in which Kerry Livgren’s wife kept hearing him practice an acoustic finger exercise he wrote. She insisted it sounded like a song.

He said, “Nah, it’s just an exercise.” But she kept encouraging him that it sounded really good.

That practice piece became the intro to one of the most iconic rock songs in history: Dust in the Wind.

That career-altering song wasn’t a miracle. It was the result of a guy working diligently at his job. (Okay, and some positive feedback from his wife.)

Luck happens. But it happens far more for folks out there actually working toward their goals.

Don't Get All Snippy

I find myself occasionally wishing I had a portable diagram of the open-loop nature of the brain’s limbic system.

I’d like to give little “coaching sessions” to some managers who may not grasp the impact their moods and behaviors have on their teams, and more importantly, their customers.

After school one day this week, my younger son wanted a haircut but didn’t feel like waiting for an appointment. We decided on one of the local walk-in places that we’ve visited before.

When we entered, there were two stylists with customers in their chairs. One shouted out a welcome as we took a seat. Both stylists were their normal smiley, chatty selves, and their customers smiled and chatted right along.

Then, the woman I knew to be the manager walked out of a back room and towards the front where the waiting area is located. She neither smiled at, nor acknowledged anyone as she got behind the counter.

While looking at a screen, she growled at one of the stylists to come over. That stylist left her customer mid-snip to hurry over.

The manager then went off about a lack of folded towels or something. It was hard to tell if she was mad at the stylists present, some that weren’t, or the world in general.

She made critical comments about one person’s work habits and another’s incorrect computer entries. I half-expected to hear we customers were doing something wrong as well.

The guy with the half-haircut in the now-abandoned chair looked puzzled. The other stylist and customer also became pretty quiet.

I thought for a moment that if that manager stayed, we’d slip out and find another place. Thankfully, she soon left.

Now, I have no idea whether or not the world was conspiring against her that day. Who knows? Maybe she had valid reasons for the foul mood.

But transmitting it to employees in front of customers wasn’t exactly a best practice. No one looks good.

The manager looked unprofessional, the employees looked incompetent, and customers were made to feel inconsequential. Nice hat trick!

I fully appreciate that managing folks “on stage” is a challenge. And some folks give us more opportunities to “coach them up” than others.

But some of the more adept at it strive to praise in public and criticize in private whenever they can.

Your better employees will appreciate it. More importantly, your customers will, as well.

Leadership is difficult but it is not complex. » Michael McKinney

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these columns are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of any affiliated entities or sponsors.
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