Archives For October 2016

We’ve all probably had a boss or two in our lives who we’d swear were psychopaths… you know the one who had an ability to make people cry on demand, never noticed your heroic effort and sacrificed puppies every Friday at lunch. Good news, you’re not crazy if you thought that because a recent study of 261 senior professionals in the United States found that 21% had clinically significant levels of psychopathic traits – roughly the same percentage as the prison population. The normal rate among Americans is around 1%.

Psychopaths suffer from antisocial personality disorder which usually means they are unable to empathize, treat others with very little regard, have no conscience and show no guilt or remorse for their behavior. Psychologists believe they’re born this way, different than sociopaths who are are usually formed that way by nurture (parents / caregivers).

Another distinction is sociopaths are impulsively dangerous, rather than cold and calculated like a psychopath. If that’s not scary enough, psychologists say psychopaths are often able to fake feelings like empathy and remorse to gain trust and build relationships that are beneficial to them.

I think we can all agree from the onset that none of us would enjoy working for a person with these scary traits. You couldn’t trust them which would render your loyalty and commitment worthless… unless you’re scared of them because they’re psychopaths, then you might stick around!

Time for your annual performance review!!!

Time for your annual performance review!!!

But what if you’re a CEO who’s a psychopath only interested in results and you want to find some leaders who can drive the business the same way? Would you consider psychopaths better leaders? Let’s unpeel this onion a bit and pretend I’m talking to you as a psychopath CEO.

Psychopaths probably aren’t very valuable to your company unless they have some other traits you can harness and help mold. If I could pick any trait, I’d select narcissism which psychology defines as “extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration“. Okay, this is something I can work with. Now all we need to do drive the business is help build this person’s dream of the position they can achieve at our company and the admiration and fame that will come with it.

It doesn’t matter if the person has any passion for what your company does, all that matters is they can clearly see a path to dominance. Of course, you’ll need to play some games of your own to make sure this person isn’t able to unseat you, but you’re a psychopath CEO, so that shouldn’t be a problem. Isn’t this coming along well??!

The last thing you need to ensure is your psycho-minion is smart enough to at least fake some emotional intelligence. They can’t make it obvious they have very little regard for others or they won’t be successful. The good news is if you find a narcissistic leader who’s smart, they’ll know an important element of their success is shepherding and building those under them – at least enough that it helps the leader be more successful.

Congratulations psychopath CEO, your company is now built to at least hit next quarter’s numbers! However, anything beyond that is foggy because everyone else will probably quit.

So far, it sounds pretty clear we wouldn’t want to work for a psychopath. But is there more to the story?

Psychopath or a good business operator?

There’s some very tough middle ground senior leaders have to play that could often be viewed as either a psychopathic trait or as being a good business operator. I had to play some of these roles at my last job when times got hard and budgets got cut. This makes the job of a leader very difficult because you have to worry about the long term health of the company sometimes more than the individuals who work for it.

If you’re not able to be a “tough” boss who can make the hard decisions, you may not be successful and your company may fail. I had a very hard time making staffing cuts because I was very concerned about the impact to the individuals… but does that make me a bad business operator and does that make the person who made the cuts a psychopath? It’s obviously not black or white, so many of the judgments can’t be made without a broader understanding of the situation… which is hard to entertain if you’re the one who is getting let go!

What about psychopath visionaries?

Visionaries are the people who ultimately change the world. Sometimes they do it through building consensus and slowly moving the group along, but most of the time they’re single-minded in their efforts. It could be built out of their own goals of admiration and power, or it could be propelled by something they believe in so strongly that no person will be able to stand in their way.

Either way, they might be viewed as psychopaths because they’re more concerned with their vision than with anyone or anything else. They’re not hesitant to insult or fire people aren’t valuable to their cause. One often disputed psychopath is Steve Jobs. According to biographer Walter Isaacson, there was “Good Steve” and a “Bad Steve” and if you’ve read any of his biographies or watched the movies, you know he had some psychopathic traits. But he also changed the world.

In the end…

Even if 21% of senior leaders are psychopaths, it means that 79% aren’t. However, there are probably times that every senior leader was accused of being a psychopath due to the decisions they were forced to make. If I’m unwilling to make those tough decisions because I’m too nice (this is all theoretical) then does that mean I wouldn’t make it at the top of the company? Maybe that’s why there is a higher concentration of “psychopathic traits” at the top… because the people unwilling to make these difficult decisions quit before then or make a decision to stay at a lower level or as an “individual contributor” so they wouldn’t be put in a position where they’d have to look like a psychopath!

If it seems like I’ve gone in circles with this post, it’s because I have. When I first started writing it, I definitely had it slanted that there’s a clear “psychopath leader” trait and many senior leaders have the same temperament at the prison population… but as I started thinking through my own experiences and examples, I’ve definitely backtracked. It’s not easy being a senior leader and if you want to be the one in those positions of power and influence where you can drive real change, you need to make tough decisions that might make you look like a psychopath sometimes.

Studies like the one linked, just like most statistics, can be slanted in any direction or be made to tell any story one prefers. I’m assuming the interviews of the senior leaders were completed with the goal of finding at least one of those “psychopathic traits” – which is probably pretty easy to do with someone who’s been in that position long enough and has been forced to make the painful decisions to increase company longevity.

I think that’s where you sort out the real psychopaths from the others. Recognize if they’re only out for their own personal gain and power – and avoid them. Find someone you trust and can learn from and who you know has your back, but then understand we’re in a very challenging and quickly changing environment where tough decisions are sometimes required. I’ve always tried to find those people I respect and can learn from, and then follow them in my career until the time is right to move on.

Only until the recent centuries, humans have been driven by the seasons. This was especially true in nomadic societies where their survival was highly dependent on being at the right place at the right time. Even agrarian societies with permanent homes had to plan their lives around the seasons as the spring, summer and fall months were mostly spent preparing for winter.

Now, we just don’t give a dang. The biggest chores for winter preparation usually entail pulling out the winter sweaters from the spare closet and deciding if turtle necks are in or out (have they ever been in?). We’ve harnessed and nearly controlled mother nature to the point where reaction is only required if a major storm brings the chance of a snow flurry which will shut down a city like Atlanta or Dallas.

This isn’t as true in the north, where winters get much more serious and require preparation. We’ve learned this pretty quickly as our slight delay got us to the northeast a little later than planned and while it’s 85 degrees in Dallas, we’ve already dealt with freezing temperatures multiple times up here!

It started in the Adirondacks where temperatures dipped below freezing a few nights in a row so we decided to push on to the northeast. This propelled us into our next state: Vermont.

Vermont is for lovers or Vermont is for Vegans.. or Vermont is for Bernie Sanders? One of those saying is the correct one, but all three are partially correct. Our expectations were pretty high after leaving the Adirondacks and previously hearing how great Burlington, VT is from my brother/sister in law… and Vermont delivered!

We spent a few days around the Burlington area before heading over to the Ben and Jerry’s factory and exploring the quaint ski town of Stowe. Burlington is a cool city, full of guys who roll up their jeans, have well-crafted facial hair and man-buns. I say that in the most positive of lights. It lies right on the coast of beautiful Lake Champlain with a great city center sandwiched by the lake and the University of Vermont. Church Street offers 5-6 blocks of a pedestrian only street full of cute shops and eateries.

I found crepes in Vermont!

I found crepes in Burlington!

The Tonight Dough - straight from the Ben and Jerry's factory!

The Tonight Dough – straight from the Ben and Jerry’s factory!

After our quick tour through Ben and Jerry’s where we ate ice cream before lunch (Jocelyn had “The Tonight Dough” – which is one of the most incredible things ever), we headed to New Hampshire.

New Hampshire is one of those states I never thought I’d visit… not because I wasn’t interested, more so because I never really knew where it was on the map! Have you ever heard of the White Mountains- aka, the Presidential Range? I never had, and dang, they’re legit mountains!

After doing some research, we learned there was a lot to do here. Jocelyn has tendency to search for the “best” hike (and best restaurant and best meal and best tour and best… you get the point) and found a nice 9-miler up Mt. Washington. It was a pretty intimidating hike considering they claim “the worst weather in the world” at the top, so I wasn’t upset when we chose the third highest instead, Mt. Jefferson.

lucy-mt-climbing-2

As we began the ascent, we were feeling pretty good, although Lucy was moving pretty slowly from the big hike the day before. We headed up the mountain and things started getting steep… like too steep for Lucy to climb up. I gave her a lift up a few tall rocks which is challenging considering she’s 75 lbs.

lucy-mt-climbing-1

And they got steeper from there… to the point where we had to make the decision not to go any farther. It was pretty disappointing as this was the first mountain we’ve had to turn around before the top, but it was better to make that decision than to regret going too far and injuring one of us.

We spent our remaining days exploring around the White Mountains and checking out the “To Do’s”. The Mt. Washington Resort is deservedly one of those. Not only is it a beautiful resort with a great view of Mt. Washington, but it’s also very historical and the site where the Bretton Woods Agreement was signed! I had to look it up to remember what exactly it was – an agreement signed after WWII to create the International Monetary Fund (IMF)! Finance nerds like me love that kind of stuff.

Here's a great family photo from a hike we need around Crawford Notch in the White Mountains, NH

Here’s a “family photo” from a hike we need around Crawford Notch in the White Mountains, NH

We were having a great time exploring the mountains, but the weather was quickly changing. It was already cool, but in the days ahead, snow was forecasted multiple days in a row, so we were forced to move on to the coast.

For the improvements of ages have had but little influence on the essential laws of man’s existence – Thoreau

Our existence has always been dependent on respecting mother nature and adapting around her to survive. However, lately we’ve let coffee shops, fully heated homes, smart wool and 4×4’s outwit our essential laws and we think we’ve become more powerful. Our trip has reconnected us to the rhythms of nature and reminded us we live within it and not the other way around.

I realized this some when I was working in St. Louis quite a few years back and my only outside time was between the hotel and the office – six blocks apart. I’d get up in the morning, quickly walk to the hotel because it was cold, and usually return the say way in the evening. I was probably reading Walden Pond at the time which made my lack of natural living seem even worse, but it saddened me greatly to think of how disconnected with nature I’d become.

It was then I remembered a passage from a previous book I read that said you should allow yourself to be in awe of nature every day. So I gave it a try, I purposely found natural elements around me to be in awe of… like the beautifully setting sun, the tree bearing her bright red fall colors or the mighty Mississippi river flowing like it has for Millennia. I would look at it and force myself to be in awe… and soon it became more natural.

It’s much easier to be in awe of nature now as we’re purposefully surrounding ourselves with the most beautiful nature we can find… but it’s probably most important to be in awe of nature when you’re instead surrounded by concrete and metal.

When he walks into a room, he greets you with a warm smile, handshake, and most importantly, your name. He makes you feel like the most important person on the planet and the person he’s been waiting to see all week. Does he have some sort of superpower that makes him extremely charismatic? No, he just practices.

Emotional intelligence is one of the most important traits that will contribute to your success in life. It’s the ability to assess the situation and personalities in your presence and drive interactions based on that. It’s not something you’re “born with” – it can be learned.

When we visited Detroit during our Great American Road trip, we met up with a friend who has very high emotional intelligence. In the course of conversations with him and his partner, we learned that he works very hard to make people feel special. In fact, after he meets someone, he’ll write down their name and something to remember them by (what they do, where they met, etc). He’s been known to search through his notes for 45 minutes before a meeting to find someone’s name and notes again!!

This isn’t new information, and I’m sure you’re familiar with it from books like Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. In it, he gives many tips, but in this particular area, he has some dandies:

carnegie

Even with all of this information out there, it blows my mind to see how low some people’s emotional intelligence can be! There’s one particular example of someone who talks incessantly about crap nobody cares about. This person is not a friend, but someone who cohabits mutual gatherings, so don’t think I’m talking bad about somebody I like (or who would be reading this)! This person will trap somebody in a conversation and then drag them through the painful details nobody wanted to hear in the first place… and doesn’t seem to realize people are doing anything they can to escape.

People aren’t going to hire you, spend time with you, or even want to work for you if you have this low of emotional intelligence. I’ve thought about some of my friends and mentors who display high emotional intelligence and noted three main areas to improve my emotional intelligence, the “Three A’s: Awareness, Adjustment and Acceptance”.

Awareness

In my example of a really low emotionally intelligent individual, she had no idea people ran when she turned their direction. You have to be aware of how you’re viewed in situations. Are you coming off as arrogant and rude, or kind and friendly? Are people interested in what you’re saying, or are they just too nice to walk away?

To get more aware of yourself, start to take a more “outside in” approach and think about how other people see you. One of the biggest challenges with awareness is your particular situation is always changing. Even if you’re talking to two people in one conversation, each will have their own feelings of the situation. However, the first step is just to start thinking about it.

Adjustment

After you become of aware of how you are seen, make adjustments accordingly. If you’re the person who talks all of the time, take one of Mr. Carnegie’s tips and be a good listener and encourage others to talk about themselves. There’s no better way to drive a conversation than to get someone talking about something they’re interested in.

You can also try the name and notes approach, which always make a great start to a conversation because people are surprised you’ve actually remembered them and will quickly warm up to you.

Acceptance

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck. There’s some things we know about ourselves that we might not be able to change or don’t want to change. Conversely, there’s things about other people we’ll never be able to change. Some of my friends call me “Direct Dan” because I’ve been known to skip over the light talk to get straight to a point and it comes across a little harsh. I’m aware of this and many times I don’t control it fast enough as the directness escapes my lips, but it also helped define me in my career and allowed me to be a better leader and boss.

Working on your emotional intelligence can be a fun thing, but as mentioned earlier, it’s also vitally important to your career and life. We have another good friend (I know, surprising I have 2+ friends) who’s also highly emotionally intelligent. He’s one of those guys who can fit in any situation you throw him in, and he’ll adapt beautifully. A perfect example is a relationship he’s developed with the Marley’s (yes, as in Bob Marley’s family) through work. Whenever they come to town, they always give him a call because the trust they have in him that’s developed from his great work but also his high emotional intelligence. A call from the Marley’s will more than likely always result in fun.

What examples do you see that makes someone high or low emotionally intelligent?

p.s. I thought this picture would be fun to share because it’s from a work event, and I’m not a dirty hippie like I am now… and it maybe I’m either really emotionally intelligent in it, really cheesy, or just having fun 🙂

dan-and-pierre

What day is today? That’s quickly becoming the most common question between Jocelyn and me. When we did our first trip around the world, we kept in pretty good touch with time because we were always jumping on flights or checking into hotels. This is different though because Penny Lane is always open and most campsites don’t require reservations this time of the year.

It’s much different than how my time was dictated a little over four months ago before I quit my job. It felt like the next week started before I even got through the end of the day on Friday. My team was stretched across the world so it wasn’t uncommon to have a meeting Sunday evening with Asia, and it was quite common to have lingering stress from the week before or the upcoming week haunt my weekends.

My Monday mornings usually started promptly at 8am with a conference call with my team in Europe or across the states. It really saddened me to make my team in California join calls at the same time, which was 6am their time, or team members from Singapore join at 9pm their time. The day would usually continue with 8-10 hours of conference calls through 6pm as we worked hard to improve our website and keep it running. The next day would come in go with similar routines but more evening calls. I get tense just thinking about it.

But I know your day is probably similar. Even if you don’t have a full time job, the kids can be even more challenging as you prepare them for the day or prepare to be with them all day. Life ain’t easy.

Back to my new reality. It’s not the fantasy many people might think where stress has to be hunted down because it’s so uncommon, but it also won’t push me to an anxiety attack like my job did. Our new problems quickly simplify to the basics of human survival. Where are we going to stay tonight? Where can we find a clean bathroom? Where can we find water for our camper? Where exactly is that smell coming from?

The first full week on the road added the stress of not knowing how our car would perform after it broke down the week before and needed a new transfer case. Yes, it’s very questionable to pull a camper with a car that has 197k miles on it, but it’s almost incomprehensible to buy a new $30k truck when neither of us have jobs… it definitely doesn’t agree with the 20% rule for car affordability. So we packed up the repaired car, hooked up the camper, and went for it.

We left Kentucky on a Monday morning and drove straight to the Airstream Factory in Jackson Center, Ohio. This is where Penny Lane was born! Almost fifty years ago she rolled off the same assembly line that’s currently producing 18 Airstreams per day that are sent out across the US and the world. It was fascinating watching the factory workers build the Airstreams from scratch and mostly assemble them by hand. They were probably creeped out when I smiled at them fondly as I thought about the previous three months of full time work we put into renovating our Airstream.

We opted out of staying at the factory which actually had camping sites for people who stayed for service work, and instead continued up the road through Ohio so we could make it to Niagra Falls the next day. We stayed outside of Mt. Gilead in Ohio, and believe it or not, it was only our second night stay in the Airstream even though we had left Dallas nearly four weeks earlier.

We woke up the next morning, packed up and started the long drive to Niagra Falls. One thing we’ve learned is we can turn a three hour drive into a full day tour when pulling the Airstream. It’s a combination of stopping more because we get 10-12 mpg, and going slower… so we can go from 10 to 12 miles per gallon! We also make some stops along the way, which usually involve an hour stopover at the local Walmart.

Jocelyn is the navigator and researcher on the trip, and I’m the driver. She works hard to find economical campsites but also puts us in the place to see what we need to see. In Niagra Falls, she found a casino where we could stay for free! We pulled in around 6pm and made a quick hike to the falls to catch the sun setting. Afterwards, we stopped at the casino because they were so generous to let us stay there for free, and proceeded to lose about $40 gambling. Dang it, there goes the free night!

Sun setting over Niagra Falls - view from the US side

Sun setting over Niagra Falls – view from the US side

Free stay at the Seneca Casino!

Free stay at the Seneca Casino!

The next day we had a pretty drive along Lake Ontario as we discovered New York is a big state. We stayed outside Rochester for a quick night and met some fellow vintage trailer-ers in a 1962 Avion. They were total hippies – like the real hippies from the 1970’s. We’ve learned that if we’re going to make any friends at campsites, it’ll have to be with 60-70 year-olds as they’re the only ones out RV’ing!

Our final nights in New York were spent in the Adirondacks. Doesn’t that sound fancy? They must have really good marketing people because for me it conjured up images of wealthy New Yorkers fleeing the peasants for the weekend – the weekend they weren’t going to spend in the Hamptons, of course. I have to say though, I was impressed with the Adirondacks! We stayed at the beautiful Fish Pond Creek campground which was more of a lake than a pond, and was draped with brilliant reds, oranges and yellows from the changing leaves. This was why we came to the northeast first instead of our beloved southwest.

fish-creek-pond-sunrise

Sunrise view from our campsite in the Adirondacks

We did a nice hike the next day to a stunning vista with 360 degree views over the most impressive leaves I’ve ever seen. Growing up in Oklahoma, the leaves typically went from green to brown as summer ended in drought or the cold came too quickly to let the leaves show off. But these leaves…my gosh, it was like the countryside was on fire. It was then I looked down at my watch and realized it was Friday afternoon… and I didn’t have any meetings on my calendar and wouldn’t have any on Monday either. That’s why we did this trip.

View from the top of Ampersand Mountain in the Adirondacks

View from the top of Ampersand Mountain in the Adirondacks

When I last left you, we were stuck in Kentucky with a broken down dog and car in surgery. We were living off the hope that the worst was upon us and soon our luck would start turning around. Well, good news, it did!

Sometimes things become more painful due the anticipation of something else. Was a broken down car and a cut up dog the most difficult thing to ever impact us? Uh no, I’d much rather have it happen to the dog than it happen to me again like when I broke my hand and tore my Achilles tendon within the same month (just kidding, I’ll take the pain instead of you anytime, Lucy). What made it all so much more difficult was the fact that it was blocking us from doing something we were really excited to do! We had been planning the trip for quite a while and just as you start, you have these issues. Like I side in last week’s post though, you just have to roll with them and know good times will come again.

And they did.

Instead of waiting around in Louisville feeling sorry for ourselves, we decided to rent a car and visit friends who we wanted to visit anyway. From Louisville, we planned to head up to Detroit and then back through Cleveland before heading to Niagra Falls and continuing up the northeast. So we decided we’d leave the camper behind, complete a smaller trip, then come back and get the car and Penny Lane when it was ready.

The trip started with a drive up I75 through Ohio and up to Detroit. It was our first time to visit Detroit and we were lucky to have good ambassadors of the city to educate and entertain us. I’m sure you’ve heard all of the bad things about Detroit: boarded up buildings and decaying neighborhoods, crime and a dying city. But have you heard the good things? A city that’s coming back to life thanks to patrons who are deeply in love with. Entrepreneurs revitalizing neighborhoods that were formerly declared dead. A thriving food and arts scene. Picturesque mansions that tell a living history of the city’s former boom days. It reminded me a lot of New Orleans in that it’s a city people are deeply passionate about – for good reasons. It’s easy to set back and slam cities for what’s not going great, but as our good friend and Detroit ambassador, Bill, said, “Remember to say good things about Detroit”.

detroit

Some of the sites around Detroit. Unfortunately, we forgot to take pictures with our friends Bill and Peter!

The next day we made the drive from Detroit to Cleveland. This was a trip to catch up with friends we hadn’t seen in 7-9 years. It’s pretty amazing how fast time goes by (of course, I’ll pitch my favorite poem), and it’s easy to let relationships separated by distance and thinned by time slowly slip away. But that’s part of the point to this trip – to take back what’s important in life. To take back our time to spend on building and maintaining relationships. You don’t need to quit your job to do that though, you just need to reach out like we always say we’ll do.

 

Hanging out with our friends, the Sivaks, in Cleveland

Hanging out with our friends, the Sivaks, in Cleveland

 

kristi-family

Catching up with the Kosirs in Cleveland

We also got good news during our trip to Cleveland. Our car, which was supposed to be ready on Monday or Tuesday, was actually completed three days early on Friday! It was a pain because we weren’t there, but we headed back on Saturday night and spent Sunday with our incredible hosts in Louisville who got to deal with our drama (gotta love family) before heading out on Monday.

Hanging out with family in Louisville... taking a break from pool painting!

Hanging out with family in Louisville… taking a break from pool painting!

We had an amazing time catching up with friends and seeing places we probably would’ve never visited. It also got our minds off of the minor setbacks we were facing… but we did learn one thing… people wanted to see “Penny Lane” almost as much as they wanted to see us!! So if you’re up next on our friends tour, we’ll be sure to have her in tow.