As a part of a gratitude practice I’ve built into my routine, I hand-write a thank you letter to someone every Monday morning. It helps me remember the truly inspirational people I work with all over the world and makes an outsized impression on the recipient…we just don’t write letters anymore and a note in the mailbox means a lot.
But I’ve never written myself a letter.
Mac Anderson, founder of Successories and author of The Power of Attitude, wrote himself a letter as a freshman at Murray State. Mac had been hired to sell books door-to-door and his dad thought it was a bad idea. His dad didn’t think he could do it. Here’s what Mac wrote:
This is the chance of a lifetime. You’ll find out what you’re made of. Your Dad doesn’t think you can do it. You can prove him wrong. It won’t be easy and I’m sure there will be many times you’ll want to quit. Hang in there and with every fiber of persistence that you can muster.
And at the end of the summer when you look in the mirror…say with pride…I did it.
Make him proud to say, this is my son.”
Mac went go on to rank 7th in the nation that year for sales at the company. And he had shown himself the power of a letter (and in persisting and believing in oneself.)
What letter would you write and what would it say?
When I was eight years old, I attended a magic show. The magician transformed his handkerchief into doves, sawed his assistant in half and used weird words like “hocus pocus.”
In EHS we say weird words too. We use acronyms such as UST, TWA, TLV, TMS, STS, and STEL. We repeat words like incident (and cringe when others use “accident”), residual risk, and anthropometric.
Prior to the invention of the printing press in 1439, literacy was uncommon. Churchgoers in the Middle Ages listened to readings in Latin, unable to read or fully understand the texts. While passing out sacred bread and wine, priests would repeat strange sounding words. In 1674, the Archbishop of Canterbury, John Tillotson, wrote, “in all probability…hocus pocus is nothing else but a corruption of hoc est corpus (“this is the body”), [a] ridiculous imitation of the priests of the Church.”
I attended an EHS presentation last week where the majority of the audience was not in the EHS business. The speaker continually used safety-industry specific language. With each “DART” and “EMR”, audience members squinted, frowned, and eventually gave up trying to translate. In the end, it was a little too much “hocus pocus.”
How much hocus pocus is in your language?
The gesture, in response to someone sneezing, is almost reflexive. We pass the words to friends, acquaintances, and strangers in passing. And in a world of everyone staring intently at their 2”x 3” screens…the words “bless you” connect two people for a moment. It shows that you care (even for a second) and that the other person is noticed and respected. We’ve said it for years (yet nearly none of us truly believe that evils spirits enter the body during a sneeze.)
Stopping to connect is even more important today. Saying “hi”, asking how someone is doing (and waiting for the answer while looking in their eyes), saying “please” and “thank you”, and “bless you” are ways to reach out to others. Maybe even more important than reacting with an emoji or putting a hash tag before your latest feeling.
Don’t wait for the sneeze. Connect, care, and consider others.
Overheard last week:
“I can’t do this job wearing fall protection. Don’t you know we’re in the military?”
“I have to work until I’m 65, what else would I do with myself?”
“I’m terrible at math.”
“I need carbonation in my drink for lunch.”
They’re called self-limiting beliefs and they rob us of our dreams.
But since we’re people of integrity, we hold fast. We believe one thing and must therefore act accordingly. Need carbonation? Get that soda. Can’t wear fall protection? Then by all means live up to your own standard and go hide that harness.
Stop. Give yourself the gift of less integrity.
Lie to yourself. (You are unlucky but not today)
Cheat and don’t live up to that (false) standard. (You are terrible at math, but not today)
Steal back your dreams. (Put down that soda and pick up that PFAS)
It began with a whisper.
“She doesn’t know anything about marketing.”
The two marketing managers were discussing the knowledge level of the new VP. She’s come out of operations 6 months ago to run a new division and hadn’t yet met with the marketing team (or even acknowledged them in the weekly meeting).
The junior marketing manager inquired, “Should we meet with her and explain the value of marketing and what it brings to the division?”
“No, they either ‘get’ marketing or they don’t. I’ve tried with previous VPs and it’s always the same.” replied the senior manager.
How about safety?
What does your boss know about EHS?
If every boss knew everything about safety and understood the value and priority of every data point related to EHS, what exactly would they need you for?
Who is responsible for your boss’s ignorance?
Walking through the ASSE convention floor yesterday, I stopped by a vendor’s booth. We hadn’t met before and as I introduced myself, I noticed the zipper on his pants was down. As there were others around, I waited for a break in conversation to lean in and say, “Your fly is down.”
Embarrassing maybe, but not dangerous to health.
In safety we live in a world where difficult conversations must exist. How many times have we completed incident investigations with the thought, “If only they’d have spoken up” or “If only someone had said something”?
Are we building systems where people engage on challenging issues?
This is an essential question for organization success, not only for safety, but for necessary changes in operations, marketing, business development…and virtually every other facet of the company.
-Would your team tell you your fly is down and would you encourage/reward those who do?
-Would you tell your boss?
So the vendor pulled up his zipper and shook my hand.
Now where is the booth with the hand sanitizer?
“Did Brad ever tell you about all of the trees we planted?”
So began a story about Brad Giles and a season of planting saplings in the wilds of Idaho. And by the end of the story, I’d again be reminded about the impact one person can make in the world.
I met Brad Giles several years ago at a safety conference. At work, I’d just been selected for promotion to Chief Master Sergeant and days later hired to manage the U.S. Air Force’s safety career field. As Chief is the final military promotion, I was feeling the beginning of a career plateau.
Yet as Brad and I spoke over dinner, he shared with me a vision. A vision to share the vast potential of a career in EHS with military veterans. Veterans who protected our nation would serve again to protect our workforce. Brad ignited a fire in me that evening.
Last night, another Airman emailed me to let me know he’d passed the CSP exam and to thank me for my leadership and example. But it wasn’t my example he was seeing.
It was Brad Giles.
Because while Brad may be an ASSE fellow, former BCSP board president, ASSE director…and much more…what makes him so very special is this fundamental quality.
Brad plants trees.
From all of the trees…thank you, Brad. And happy birthday again.
Amos Tversky was a cognitive psychologist and a colleague of Daniel Kahneman. Both would change the way we view human behavior today, notably the prospect theory which says people make choices based on potential gains and losses, using mental shortcuts called heuristics, instead of by looking at the final outcome of the choice.
In his personal life, Amos refused to let errors compound. In “The Undoing Project”, Michael Lewis gives a couple examples. If he went to a party where he found people uninteresting, he’d leave without a word. His children remember him taking their mother to a movie and he’d return 20 minutes later. He’d decided that the movie wasn’t worth the time and then return later to the theater to pick up his wife. He said, “They’ve already taken my money, should I give them my time too?”
Whether or not you’d leave your significant other at a movie isn’t the point.
But the story does provide insight into the choice we have; the choice to not continue to error.
The choice you have, once the ticket is bought, not to attend.
To not finish the book.
To say you are sorry.
To change your mind.
The average lifetime earnings of graduates with Bachelor’s degrees is $2.1 million according to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1999 dollars. In 2017, that’s $3.1 million with inflation.
Warren Buffett, a multi-billionaire famous for cautious investing, told students at Columbia University to expect 50% more in lifetime salary projections…if they did one thing. And this one thing had nothing to do with the school they attended.
First, Buffett offered $100,000 to any student willing to pay him 10% of all future earnings. He’d done some quick math and “valued” each student at $1 million. At an average earnings of $3.1 million, that’s a safe bet.
Then he gave the students the secret to increasing it by 50%.
“…learning communication skills. It’s not something that’s taught…by having better communication skills, it’s another $500,000 in terms of capital growth value. See me after the class and I’ll pay you the $150,000.”
Communication skills, such as public speaking, negotiation, active-listening, writing, and delivering persuasive presentations, are essential for professionals in nearly every field.
What would Buffett pay you?
Like a bad version of Fight Club, we have values, but we don’t talk about values.
Not in meetings, not in group conversations, not in our annual headquarters’ reports, not in formal or informal performance assessments, and we never call each other out for displaying behaviors contrary to the organization’s values. Wait, there was that 60-minute presentation on values at the senior manager’s course. Does that count?
Like safety and risk management, if people don’t discuss it, address it in planning, adhere to it when it’s not easy, and use it as a tool to guide decisions…values do not exist.
Patrick Lencioni, in an article for Harvard Business Review, wrote, “…when properly practiced, values inflict pain. They make some employees feel like outcasts. They limit an organization’s strategic and operational freedom and constrain the behavior of its people. They leave executives open to heavy criticism for even minor violations. And they demand constant vigilance.”
Do your values go beyond the poster board on the wall?
Do they inflict pain?
Do they invite criticism?
Is your team’s culture intolerant of decisions made that run counter to your values?
Do your values matter?