Jim Huling

Wednesday, 25 November 2009 19:00

Endings and beginnings

September 17, 1937. A date that probably holds no significance for you, but one that made all the difference in my life. On that date, a young man named Bill, recently discharged from the Army, married a girl named Ann. They were like any other married couple, then or now, with great dreams for their life together and the youthful optimism to believe that those dreams would come true. And their greatest dream was to have a child.

One year passed, and then another and another, and still their dream was not realized. In all, 17 years would go by as they waited and prayed for the gift of a child. And then one day, the child for whom they had waited so long was born — that child was me.

The next five years were filled with all the joy and love that Bill and Ann had imagined as they wove their lives around their roles as parents. Then one day, Ann began to have unusual symptoms and sought the advice of our family doctor. Tests were run and the diagnosis was confirmed. Ann had terminal, inoperable cancer.

Because the cancer had already spread to her lymph nodes, she was given only weeks to live. After waiting 17 years to have her child, she now faced the certain knowledge that the past five years were all she would ever know as a mother.

Alone in her hospital bed, almost to the point of despair, she began to pray a single prayer. Her prayer was that she be allowed to see her child grow to become a man. I can only imagine the ferocity of that prayer and the sincerity with which it was offered from a mother’s heart.

Within days, her cancer went into remission. I’m sure there are others who would credit the wonderful doctors and the massive medications that were administered. Although she was grateful for them, my mother saw them as only the instruments of an answered prayer. A prayer that had brought her what she wanted most in the world.

The next 17 years were as wonderful, and as ordinary, as they are in the life of every family. It was a full, rich life that in reflection condenses down to a handful of cherished memories.

One of these memories is of a Sunday morning as I was excitedly preparing for my college graduation. Over the preceding weeks, I had noticed that my mother was often tired and seemed to not be herself. Today, she could not walk. Within a few hours, she was hospitalized. The cancer had returned and she was given only a few weeks to live.

Near the end, I sat on the side of her bed overcome with emotion. I could not believe that her life could be ending just as mine was really beginning.

“It’s not fair, it’s just not fair,” I said over and over again.

To this day, I can feel my mother’s hand on my head and hear her comforting voice.

“It is fair, son,” she said. “In fact, it’s more than fair.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. How could she think it was fair that she would die at the very moment I was ready to launch my life? And then she told me the story of that night 17 years ago and of her single prayer to see me grown.

“So you see, Jimmy” she said, “that’s why I’m so happy. I got what I really wanted.”

Within days, she was gone. But her example became the defining message of my life — a message that has been the central theme of this column for the past five years.

Every ending is also a beginning. No matter where you are or what challenges you face, you literally choose your life in every moment.

When you go deep enough to know who you are and what you really want, you will have found the guiding compass that will direct every step of your journey.

Follow it, and one day you will know the joy and peace of being able to say in your final moments, “I got what I really wanted.”

Jim Huling is an executive consultant, a national keynote speaker and a professional coach. His leadership experience spans more than 30 years, including a decade as CEO of a company recognized four times as one of the “25 Best Companies to Work For in America.” Jim is also the author of “Choose Your Life! a powerful proven method for creating the life you want.” He can be reached at jim@jimhuling.com.

Saturday, 25 April 2009 20:00

Reignite your passion

“I can’t even remember the last time I was excited about my job,” said Keith, a coaching client with whom I was working. “I’m really just going through the motions and hoping I don’t get fired.”

Keith was well-educated, bright and articulate. He had a midlevel management position with a solid company, a beautiful family and seemingly good health — in short, he had everything. Everything, that is, except passion for what he was doing.

Somewhere along the way, Keith’s inner flame had gone out, and hiring me was his last attempt to rescue what had once been a promising career. I hoped that, together, Keith and I could find the spark that would rekindle what he had lost.

Reignite your passion by rediscovering your best moments.

I began by asking Keith to remember the five best moments in his professional life — moments where he felt successful, valued and fulfilled. Once he recalled them, we went vividly into each of these memories by describing the exact nature of the work he was doing, specific details about the environment and the people around him, and the personal satisfaction that made each memory so important.

In the process, Keith made two remarkable discoveries. First, he discovered that he actually could remember being excited about his work, despite his opening statements to me. And as he recalled each pinnacle experience, I could see a little of his old passion beginning to awaken.

Second, and even more importantly, he discovered that these memories contained a pattern — common characteristics that he could use as a template for finding and sustaining the passion he had once known.

Reignite your passion by finding your own patterns of success.

Keith was amazed to see that in three of the five best moments of his professional life, he was speaking to an important audience on a topic where he was engaged and very knowledgeable. He also realized that the weeks of preparation prior to delivering these messages had allowed him time to work alone, rather than solely as a leader with his team — a change of pace that had invigorated him — and had provided the flexibility to work from home at least half of the time, a benefit that also had high value.

Using examples like these seen through the lens of his pinnacle moments, Keith realized that his true passion was in communicating, teaching and mentoring. Since these skills were rarely utilized in his current role, he began to understand why his passion had slowly disappeared.

While he enjoyed managing a team and was valued as a strong leader, he needed to be in a role where he was able to use his presentation skills often. He also was most engaged when he could balance the time with his team with work he could do alone as well as having some flexibility in his work schedule.

Reignite your passion by choosing the life you want.

Keith then began an extremely targeted job search. He pursued only those opportunities that met his criteria and reported that his confidence in interviewing had skyrocketed because of his ability to speak with clarity about the passion and ability he would offer. He even called once to tell me that the person with whom he was interviewing wanted to use the same process to rekindle his own passion.

In the end, Keith accepted a position as the head of a nonprofit organization focused on mentoring and developing inner-city youth. While the compensation was less than it was at his old job, he was now able to use his passion for speaking to inspire others to join this important cause. What he gave up in income, he regained many times over in the satisfaction and fulfillment of his new role.

In difficult times, it’s tempting to play it safe by going through the motions even though your passion is lost. But this is no way to build a career or a life. Excellence always brings the greatest security and the greatest reward.

Use the clarity of your best moments to help you rediscover your energy and excitement, either within or outside of your current role, and then refuse to settle for anything less.

Jim Huling is an executive consultant, a national keynote speaker and a professional coach. His leadership experience spans more than 30 years, including a decade as CEO of a company recognized four times as one of the “25 Best Companies to Work For in America.” Jim is also the author of “Choose Your Life! a powerful proven method for creating the life you want.” He can be reached at jim@jimhuling.com.

Monday, 23 February 2009 19:00

Honor your heroes

"You probably don’t remember me,” read the opening line of a letter I received one morning.

When I glanced at the name typed below the signature, I was transported back 18 years to my first significant role as a leader.

Kate was a software developer who was brilliantly talented but struggling to work as part of our team. Because of her strong personality and fierce determination, she had damaged many relationships and created a reputation that she was only interested in her own success.

Kate and I began to meet twice each week, discussing behaviors that would help her to build trust with the people on her team and practicing different ways of responding to situations. She worked hard, and over time, she rebuilt the trust of her team-mates so strongly that she was promoted to a leadership role — a recognition that her team enthusiastically endorsed.

Now, 18 years later, she had written a heartfelt letter to express what my coaching and my care for her as a person had meant to her life. She described the things she had learned in our sessions and how they had become essential to her career but also how they had helped her as a spouse, a mother and a friend.

The impact of Kate’s letter was overwhelming and brought me to tears. It not only gave me a sense of deep satisfaction, but it also rekindled my purpose as a leader. Today, that letter is one of my most treasured mementos.

Honor your heroes by expressing your gratitude
Do you remember your heroes? Stop and think about the teachers, mentors, leaders and friends who helped shape the person you are today. Remember those who patiently taught you the skills that made you successful, who offered advice and help when you were struggling, and who encouraged you in a time of need. Now ask yourself a single question: Do they know how much they meant to you?

Most likely, they don’t. And they never will unless you tell them.

Kate’s letter inspired me to begin writing to my own heroes — creating for them the same experience she gave me. Over the years, I’ve written to former teachers and old friends and even to authors like Stephen Covey, whose work was pivotal in my life. In the process, I made an unexpected discovery: writing a letter of appreciation is equally as joyous as receiving one.

I challenge you to have this same experience by writing to one of your heroes this week. When you do, you will know the impact that expressing your gratitude can have, both on your heroes and on you.

Honor your heroes by modeling their lessons
As I wrote to each of my heroes, I was reminded not only of the principles they taught me but also the example they set in living them out. For some, I knew that I was still practicing what I had learned, but for others, I realized that I had forgotten their valuable teaching. Writing each letter gave me a renewed sense of accountability to make sure their lessons were not lost.

As you write your own letters, keep a list of the principles and characteristics you’ve learned and use it to hold yourself accountable. Remember that the greatest tribute to your heroes will always be through the life you lead.

Honor your heroes by becoming a hero
If you could ask them, each of your heroes would want only one thing in return for all they gave you: that you give the same gift of time, attention and genuine caring to someone else.

Look closely and you will see countless people who need what you have to offer: young people in need of mentoring and encouragement, former co-workers who now need help finding a job, over-stressed managers whose personal lives are near the breaking point, and senior workers struggling to learn new skills.

It’s not easy to make time to help someone, but it’s important. And it’s the debt of honor you owe to your heroes.

One day you will look back on your life and be unable to remember all the urgent tasks you now face. But you will never forget the people you’ve helped. And they will never forget you.

JIM HULING is an executive consultant, a national keynote speaker and a professional coach. His leadership experience spans over 30 years, including a decade as CEO of a company recognized four times as one of the “25 Best Companies to Work For in America.” Jim is also the author of “Choose Your Life! a powerful proven method for creating the life you want.” He can be reached at jim@jimhuling.com.

Sunday, 25 November 2007 19:00

Grow through crisis

Aheavy spring rain soaked the mountain for over a week before my daughter Sarah and I began our backpacking trip through the wilderness. The great Chattooga River that ran beside the hiking trail was swollen to the top of its banks, and we had to move carefully across the rocks to a special campsite on the other side.

As we approached the familiar spot where we had made camp many times before, Sarah called out from behind me.

“Something looks different here, Dad,” she said. “Be careful.”

Full of parental wisdom and authority, I said, “It looks fine to me. Let’s keep going.”

A few steps later my boots disappeared into an unseen pool of mud. As I struggled to free them, I quickly sank up to my waist in a bog created by all the rain. It was one of the most frightening experiences I’ve ever endured. With my legs completely trapped and a heavy pack on my back, I was afraid that I would continue to sink deeper and deeper, unable to escape.

Have you ever had a moment like this? Even if you were not in the wilderness, have you felt trapped by a situation that threatened to overwhelm you? Your moment may have come with a frightening diagnosis or a late-night phone call telling you one of your children was in danger. In business, markets can shift, jobs can be eliminated, and people you trust can betray you. Any of these events can leave you awake in the middle of the night, feeling trapped, afraid and unsure of what to do.

When you’re mired in your own bog of despair, there are four steps to freedom.

Anchor your faith. My first reaction as I started to sink into the bog was to panic. I twisted and turned, trying to free my legs while my mind raced with every quicksand scene I’d ever watched on film. In the end, all I accomplished was to exhaust my energy and drive myself deeper into the mud. This is what you’re doing as you rush around taking every action you can think of and asking advice of everyone you know. Instead, stop your frantic search for answers long enough to center yourself in your faith and to hear your inner voice answer the question, “What is the right thing to do?”

Lighten your load. When I stopped my own thrashing that day, I instantly knew what to do. Slipping off my 40-pound backpack and heaving it past the bog stopped me from sinking any further and enabled me to begin to loosen my legs from the clinging mud. When a crisis hits, it’s time to let go of the things that are dragging you down. Whether it’s a job you hate or a relationship that is draining your spirit, now is the time to release it. Anger, bitterness and regret are also heavy burdens. Casting this dead weight aside may be the very act that sets you free.

Reach for help. As soon as she realized what had happened, Sarah grabbed a long limb that had fallen from a tree and extended it across the mud so I could reach it. As she anchored her end with all her might, I pulled on the branch and slowly began to feel my legs lifting free. It was a miraculous feeling that I remember vividly to this day.

No matter where you are, help is near. It may be through your family, through friends or even through the kindness of strangers. Perhaps it is your faith and connection to a higher power that sustains you. Whatever the source, the problem is not the absence of help, the problem is your willingness to reach out for it. Let go of your pride or your embarrassment or whatever is holding you back and take the first step to your answer: Ask for help.

Absorb the lesson. Every crisis offers a lesson. When you look back on your life, it will be the times of great challenge that you will value most. Learn to value them because these are the moments that will strengthen your faith, deepen your relationships and shape the person you will become.

JIM HULING is CEO of MATRIX Resources Inc., an IT services company that has achieved industry-leading financial growth while receiving numerous national, regional and local awards for its values-based culture and other work-life balance programs. The company was recently named one of the 25 Best Small Companies to Work for in America for the third year in a row by the Great Place to Work Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management. Huling is also the author of “Choose Your Life!” — a powerful, proven method for creating the life you want. Reach him at Jim_Huling@MatrixResources.com.

Monday, 25 June 2007 20:00

Embracing interruptions

I heard a brief knock on my office door before Susan stepped in saying, “Have you got a minute?” Looking up into the troubled face of a person who was both an employee and a friend, I had an inner reaction that was all too familiar: “Oh great, what’s wrong now?”

It was a reaction that Susan would never have detected because I smiled and said, “Sure, what can I do to help?” and then spent the next 45 minutes listening and offering suggestions on a problem she was facing. When we finished, we had not only developed a good plan for addressing her issue, we had also strengthened our relationship. It was a productive meeting with a great result.

But when she left my office, I started to think about my initial reaction — a reaction that I could remember having not only at work but at home and with friends, as well.

Have you ever had the same reaction? I suspect, like all of us, you have. In the workplace, requests for “a minute” are so commonplace that you can seldom get through a day without one. Similar requests can come from your spouse, your friends or your children. And with uncanny accuracy, they arrive when it’s least convenient, whether you’re engrossed in your own responsibilities or you’ve just settled down for a few quiet moments.

Regardless of the source or the timing, interruptions can be frustrating. And yet, like my experience with Susan, interruptions that frustrated me initially have often led to some of my most satisfying and fulfilling moments. Understanding this paradox taught me one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in over half a century of living: the importance of embracing interruptions.

Before you dismiss this advice as applying only to those with plenty of free time and flexibility, let me remind you that my life is as hectic and as full as yours. Each week, I balance my roles as husband, dad, CEO, martial artist, author, speaker and friend. I carefully plan each week and fill my calendar the way you would pack a suitcase for a long trip, with every space designated for some purpose.

And yet, learning to embrace interruptions, to welcome them as openings to the most meaningful moments, has enhanced my life beyond measure. The next time you feel frustrated by an interruption, here are a few things to remember.

  • Life doesn’t conform to your schedule. The people in your life need you when the crisis occurs, not when you can fit them in. When a friend receives a frightening diagnosis or a member of your team detects a project about to go off track, you can’t say, “I’ve got an opening next Tuesday, can we talk then?”

    You find a way to be there for those people in the same way you would expect them to be there for you. And when the situation is reversed, they will be likely to reciprocate.

  • People come to you because they believe you can help and that you care. The day they stop coming, you’ve either lost your value or you’ve convinced them that they don’t matter to you.

    Remember that leading is more about actions than words. Whether it’s your children or your teammates, stopping to help them solve a problem clearly communicates that they are important to you. And when you look back on your leadership and your life, the moments you stopped to help will be the ones you cherish most.

  • Staying accessible and available keeps you engaged. Isolation and burnout are two of the most common factors that can lead you to disengage mentally, physically and even spiritually.

    Interruptions force you to re-engage with the people in your life, to get outside the narrow circle of your own thoughts and schedule, and to find the renewed energy that sharing a challenge as well as a triumph with the people you care about will bring.

While you will always need times of focused concentration, learn to embrace interruptions when they occur. The knock on your door could be the beginning of your next great experience in the business of life.

JIM HULING is CEO of MATRIX Resources Inc., an IT services company that has achieved industry-leading financial growth while receiving numerous national, regional and local awards for its values-based culture and other work-life balance programs. The company was recently named one of the 25 Best Small Companies to Work for in America for the second year in a row by the Great Place to Work Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management. In 2005, Huling was awarded the Turknett Leadership Character Award for outstanding demonstration of integrity, respect and accountability. Reach him at Jim_Huling@MatrixResources.com.

Wednesday, 31 January 2007 19:00

Reach your intended destination

“You have arrived at your destination,” the semi-robotic voice droned from my car’s navigational system.

If I hadn’t been driving for the past hour, I would have laughed. Instead of arriving at the office building where I was to meet an important client, I was instead staring at the loading dock of a deserted warehouse. I had faithfully followed each instruction issued by the system — from taking major highways to making individual turns down isolated streets — but in the process had become totally lost. Not only was I about to miss an important meeting, but in perfect irony, my only way out was to use the same navigational system that had taken me there.

Although this was not the first unhappy experience in my love-hate relationship with a navigational system, it illustrates one of the greatest lessons in the business of life.

Have you ever found yourself in a life situation that was different than you intended? Did you begin with a vision for your career that has now gone off course, leaving you stranded in a job in which you have no real passion or opportunity? Did you give your best effort to a project or assignment, doing all the right things, only to see it fail?

If you have, then you know the pain and frustration that come when your life navigation system fails. To get back on course, you must ask, and answer, two important questions: “Do you know your exact destination?” and “Are you following your guidance system?”

Do you know your exact destination?

As I sat in the warehouse parking lot, I realized that I had entered the correct street name, Havenwood, into my car’s navigational system but had failed to include the word “lane.” Without that detail, the system led me to the same address on Havenwood Court, a destination far from where I wanted to go.

Just as this small detail navigated me to the wrong location, the lack of precision in your goals can take you off track. For example, have you ever accepted a position in which you received the title and the compensation you wanted, only to later realize that other factors, such as the culture or the integrity of the company, made it the wrong place for you?

The disappointment you experienced could have been avoided if you had been clear about all the factors that were crucial in your decision to take the job.

Take time to really think about the goal you’re pursuing so that your focus is clear and precise. Develop written answers to questions such as, “Why is this goal important to me?” “What is it I really want to achieve?” “How will I know when I’ve succeeded?” When you become clear about your exact destination, you increase the likelihood that you will actually arrive.

Are you following your guidance system?

When I’ve entered the correct destination, my car’s navigational system will then warn me if I’m off track, issuing commands such as, “You have left the route. Please turn around.”

Your life navigation system works in the same way. In whatever goal you’re pursuing, you are receiving guidance all the time. A mentor may offer you advice on a challenging problem you’re facing, a friend can compassionately share a painful truth that you need to hear, or, more important, your heart will tell you if what you’re doing is not who you really are.

Your challenge is not in being guided; guidance is all around you. Your challenge is in listening — and acting on — the guidance you receive.

Start by capturing the advice and insight you receive in a notebook or on your computer, adding your own thoughts about what it means to you and what you plan to do with it. The simple act of writing it down dramatically increases your ability to remember and utilize the information and, in the process, will guide you to stay on course.

When you take the step of adding clarity to the goals you’re pursuing and start to really heed the guidance you receive, you will begin to create the life you want.

JIM HULING is CEO of MATRIX Resources, Inc., an IT services company that has achieved industry-leading financial growth while receiving numerous national, regional and local awards for its values-based culture and other work-life balance programs. The company was recently named one of the 25 Best Small Companies to Work for in America for the second year in a row by the Great Place to Work Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management. In 2005, Huling was awarded the Turknett Leadership Character Award for outstanding demonstration of integrity, respect and accountability. Reach him at Jim_Huling@MatrixResources.com.

Sunday, 31 December 2006 19:00

Take a courageous first step

I stood barefoot before the glowing bed of coals, whose temperature had been measured at almost 2,000 degrees.

For the past six hours, I had been preparing for this moment, focusing my mind on a single objective: to cross 14 feet of burning coals without injury or pain. I believed I was ready, but now, with the heat rising to sting my face, I hesitated.

Doubts began to flicker across my mind as I tried to maintain my concentration. “You’re too old to do this.” “Maybe you should wait.” “You’re not ready yet.”

I almost walked away. Then I heard the quiet, steady voice of my teacher. He gave me a simple but profound instruction that has become one of my greatest lessons in the business of life: Focus on the end, have faith and take the first step.

Are you facing a moment of decision? As you envision the year ahead, is there something you’ve been waiting to do, something that you know would take your life to the next level of success and fulfillment, but now you are hesitating?

If so, your challenge is not in knowing what you want, it’s in taking action to make it a reality. As I was in the moment before my fire walk, you can be tempted to wait, postponing your dreams for another day.

You may be telling yourself that the time is not right, or that you need more preparation, or, even worse, that your chance to be or do what you’ve dreamed of has passed you by. These are the lies that fear whispers in the moment of decision, and if you listen to them, they will keep you from beginning.

Think for a moment of the most significant things you’ve accomplished in your life, whether it’s rising to a certain level in your career, mastering a skill, or nurturing and guiding your children.

Although you succeeded in the end, each of these accomplishments involved thousands of hours of effort, required you to adapt as a result of unexpected challenges and included the painful lessons of failure. If you had focused on all of this effort and challenge in the beginning, you might never have begun.

Instead of thinking about all that your new goal will require of you, focus on the end, on all that you want. Develop a compelling vision, then hold a clear and vivid image of the deep satisfaction you will feel when you’ve accomplished the goal. Focusing on the end will give you the energy and confidence to begin.

In each of the accomplishments you just thought about, was there a single one that you were completely prepared for when you began? Was there one for which you had already mastered the skills, had the experience, or didn’t have to adapt to things you would never have expected?

Of course not, because what makes these accomplishments so meaningful is how much you grew in the process of achieving them.

Understanding how far you’ve come strengthens your faith in where you can go. As you face your new goal, know that you will again be guided in each step along the way, that you will again grow and develop and, most important, that you will persevere. Have faith in yourself and in all you believe, and you will have the courage to begin.

Ultimately, everything you want comes down to your willingness to take the first step. All that you have accomplished so far, and all the joy and fulfillment it has brought, was only possible because there was a moment when you finally began to move forward.

My first step crossing the burning coals, with the intense heat all around me, is all I really remember before I arrived on the other side, unharmed. But the joy of that accomplishment, and the inner strength it created, has changed me forever.

When you finally realize that all the possibilities of your life are waiting for you to take the first step, you will have the strength to begin.

JIM HULING is CEO of MATRIX Resources, Inc., an IT services company that has achieved industry-leading financial growth while receiving numerous national, regional and local awards for its values-based culture and other work-life balance programs. The company was recently named one of the 25 Best Small Companies to Work for in America for the second year in a row by the Great Place to Work Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management. In 2005, Huling was awarded the Turknett Leadership Character Award for outstanding demonstration of integrity, respect and accountability. Reach him at Jim_Huling@MatrixResources.com.

Monday, 22 August 2005 07:24

Finding your balance

Recently I had lunch with Susan, a successful managing partner at a large financial services firm. After she recounted closing a major deal with a new client, celebrating her 10th year of marriage, becoming president of her nonprofit association and agreeing to serve as room mother for both of her kids’ classes, she paused and looked at me with eyes filled with tears.

“I’m exhausted,” she said. “I feel like I’m running as fast as I can, but I’m not really getting anywhere. I’m not sure what it all means anymore.”

Her story illustrates a key lesson for all of us. We can live our lives doing all the right things all the time. We can fill our days with endless good works, selfless dedication to our family and our causes, and a desperate need to say yes to every request. And yet, we never stop to ask ourselves the most important question underlying every activity in life: Why? Without this answer, even the noblest of activities can lose their meaning and leave us lost and exhausted.

Here’s a simple exercise that can bring profound insight. On the left side of a page, list every activity in which you engaged in the past seven days and the amount of time you spent doing it. I know this can be tedious, but be sure to include everything.

Now, use the right side of the page to define why you did each of these things. You don’t need to write a long explanation, but be candid. How many times did you have to really think to answer the question of “Why?” For any of these activities, did you have only a surface-level answer such as, “Part of my job,” “Needed the money” or “Somebody had to do it?” An even clearer picture will emerge if you have the honesty to take this exercise a step further.

Beside each activity, write one of two letters — O to indicate an obligation, P to indicate that the activity is something you choose freely as a part of your purpose in this area of life. Once you’ve done this, you can sum up the total time you’re spending fulfilling your obligations as opposed to living out your purpose.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am in no way implying that you should immediately drop all the activities you do out of obligation. In this exercise, we’re only trying to illustrate the balance in your life between obligation and purpose-driven choice. If the things you do out of obligation dominate your life, you can feel victimized and lost, asking, as Susan did, “Why am I doing all this?”

On the other hand, if you know what you want from your life, if a clear and compelling vision guides you, you can gradually begin to make the choices that fulfill that vision. The difference is not in the activities, the difference is in why you do them.

If too much of your life is filled with obligation, here are two questions you need to consider.

  • Is this the life you want to live? If not, then it’s time to do the hard work of defining who you are, what you really want and what you are prepared to do to make it happen.
  • Do you have the courage to redefine your life? The hard truth is that many people don’t. It’s simply easier to abandon our lives to the frenetic, sprint-like activity that is demanded by all the external forces that surround us.

Tonight, I want you to try this exercise. When you climb into bed and finally ease your head toward your pillow, imagine that a simple question is whispered in your ear — “Was today what you wanted?”

Be quiet and listen. Your heart will answer the question. For many, the painful answer will be no. A few will know the joy of saying yes.

And this is the mission of The Business of Life, to enable all of us, from the heart, to know that we are living the lives we want, and to confidently answer with our own yes.

Jim Huling is CEO of MATRIX Resources Inc., an IT services company that was recently recognized as one of the 25 Best Small Companies to Work for in America by the Great Place to Work Institute. Reach Huling at Jim_Huling@MatrixResources.com or (770) 677-2400.

Thursday, 26 March 2009 20:00

Build solid ground

“It’s so frightening,” said Kim, one of my coaching clients during our weekly call. “We all know that the company is struggling and that others in our industry have already conducted layoffs, but no one will tell us the truth. It feels like we just don’t matter and that any minute the ground could fall out from under us.”

Like many today, Kim’s company was in a challenging time. Because the company was privately held, very little financial information was publicly available, and the senior executives were being extremely cautious about what they shared. While this strategy was likely designed to avoid creating fear and uncertainty, it was actually having the opposite effect.

Kim and the other leaders at her level were beginning to panic. Not only did they fear losing their jobs, they also interpreted the lack of communication as a sign that they were no longer trusted. Sadly, at the precise moment when their loyalty and their commitment were needed most, the company was literally driving them away.

Even more importantly, the ripple effect of their disengagement was spreading like wildfire. Not only was it affecting the morale and productivity of the employees, it was also undermining the company’s outward reputation and brand with its customers. Before long, these internal and external forces would create the very outcome the senior executives feared: an accelerating downward trajectory that would feed on itself — a true death spiral.

The real tragedy in this story is that the senior leaders of the company could easily have had the opposite effect. Instead of creating an environment of fear, they could have built the solid ground of trust and loyalty, no matter what financial challenges they faced.

Build solid ground by talking straight.

As a leader, it’s tempting to withhold bad news. You worry about how your team will react and about the fear and lost productivity it will create. But the reality is that by withholding information, you actually make things worse, not better.

Like seismic sensors, people quickly detect the subtle warnings of an impending quake, especially in challenging times. They know there are more closed-door meetings, urgent analysis requests and worried looks, and when you withhold information or try to maintain a false image of normalcy, you lose your most valuable asset: your employees’ trust.

The loss of trust is what escalates a business challenge into a personal crisis for those you lead.

Be honest, no matter what the challenge. State the facts as clearly and simply as you can without being overly optimistic or needlessly pessimistic. Be willing to answer questions often and to say that you don’t always have all the answers. These simple practices will not only affirm that you can be trusted, they will inspire your team to help you meet the challenges you face.

Build solid ground by being loyal.

In difficult times, relationships are tested. People who have been allies and even friends may be seen by the company as part of the problem rather than the solution. When this happens, you may feel the desire to distance yourself from them, hoping that their perceived weaknesses will not also be projected on you by association.

Instead, remain loyal to the people who work for you and always speak about them in the same way you would if they were present. Offer to help them and support them through your candid feedback, even if you must ultimately make a difficult decision. When you do, you not only teach everyone else that they will be treated with the same respect, you create a team that is equally loyal to you.

Build solid ground by producing results.

Producing results is ultimately the greatest job security. But the surest way to deliver nothing is to focus on everything. When you’re facing a big challenge, you can drive your team to attack everything as a top priority and, in the process, ensure that nothing will be given the focus needed for exceptional results.

Instead, narrow your focus to the one or two priorities that are truly most important and make sure you and your team deliver. Exceptional results on a few important projects will be far more important than a chaotic scramble to work on everything.

JIM HULING is an executive consultant, a national keynote speaker and a professional coach. His leadership experience spans over 30 years, including a decade as CEO of a company recognized four timesas one of the “25 Best Companies to Work For in America.” Jim is also the author of “Choose Your Life!a powerful proven method for creating the life you want.” He can be reached at jim@jimhuling.com.

Friday, 26 October 2007 20:00

Enriched friendships

Iwas driving home late one night, my mind filled with a troubling challenge I was facing at work. A series of unexpected problems in a major project had rocked my team and caused my confidence to falter. With each new challenge, my fears had increased, and I could feel myself spiraling into a mind-set that I knew would only make it worse.

As I waited for the traffic light to change, my cell phone rang. Despite my inward cringe that the call would only bring another new problem, I pressed the button to answer.

“Hey man, it’s Steve!” said a voice I had known for over 20 years.

In one miraculous moment, my state of mind changed as I reconnected with one of my closest friends. Throughout the next hour, we shared the latest events in our lives, including the challenges I was facing.

When I described the problems and my concerns about the team, Steve reminded me of similar challenges I had faced in the past and had successfully overcome. When I confessed my worries that I wasn’t leading the team well enough, he spoke of his confidence in me and reminded me that others believed in me, as well. We also laughed about all the things we had been through together and at ourselves for all the times we thought our challenges would overwhelm us, only to see them resolved with patience and hard work.

Our call came to an end as I arrived home that night, but thanks to my friend, I was ready to make a new beginning when I drove to work the next day. This experience and many others like it have taught me one of the most important lessons in the business of life — the power of friendship.

Is your life enriched with real friendship?

Here’s an exercise that can provide a revealing answer. Make a list of your closest friends on a sheet of paper. Now, place a star beside those whom you would call if you were sick and needed help in the middle of the night. Put another star beside those whom you would ask for money if you were in financial trouble and had no other options. Finally, place a star beside those you would confide in if you had made a major mistake in life — a mistake that might carry serious emotional consequences if it became known.

How many “three-star” friends do you have?

If you have even a few, you are blessed with one of the greatest gifts in life. Although there are many levels of friendship, these three questions are good indicators of the deepest level because they reveal the friends you can count on when you are most vulnerable. If you want to create this level of friendship, here are three things you must do.

Become the friend you want to have. If you want friendships at the deepest level of trust, then be absolutely trustworthy, never revealing a confidence shared with you by a friend. If you want friends who are there for you in times of difficulty, then make time in your schedule this week for a friend in need. Begin to model the characteristics you want most in a friend and you will soon find friendships that return them to you.

Invest in the friendships that matter.

Friendship can deepen over time but only if you invest the emotional energy to be vulnerable, to listen and to share the things that really matter. Although it takes time to make this investment, even one friendship at this level of depth is more valuable than a hundred surface-level acquaintances.

Choose friends that expand your vision. Remember that your friends are a model of who you will become because, over time, their influence will shape your ideas and your character. There is real truth in the ancient teaching that says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one friend sharpens another.” If you choose friends that reflect your own values, such as integrity, fairness or compassion, they will challenge you to stay true to who you are and what you believe.

JIM HULING is CEO of MATRIX Resources Inc., an IT services company that has achieved industry-leading financial growth while receiving numerous national, regional and local awards for its values-based culture and other work-life balance programs. The company was recently named one of the 25 Best Small Companies to Work for in America for the third year in a row by the Great Place to Work Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management. Huling is also the author of “Choose Your Life!” — a powerful, proven method for creating the life you want. Reach him at Jim_Huling@MatrixResources.com.

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