Month: June 2015

Leaders and followers

There’s two types of people in the world; people who run screen passes on every play in Madden, and people who aren’t steaming sacks of garbage.

I think I said that wrong.

Not to get too deep, but there really are two types of people in the world; leaders and followers.  From a very young age, my parents instilled this mentality into my everyday train of thinking, and I’ve grown up knowing the difference between what it takes to be a leader, and when people are followers.

Recently, I’ve been really pondering what exactly it means to be a leader.  If you’re like me, you probably always assumed “being a leader” and “being in leadership” are the same thing.  In a way, they are, because people who display the attributes often find themselves in positions of leadership.

Do you get what I’m saying?

Being a leader is a mentality, a passion, and inherent set of desires that pushes themselves and others to succeed.  Being “in leadership” is simply a title.

When I was 19, I started working in this small pizza restaurant in my small hometown.  It didn’t take long, but after a while I was promoted to a managerial position, which was awesome since I was only 19, but kind of intimidating because I was “in charge of” people older than me.

I’d never had a leadership position before, at least not where it mattered.  I was captain of my high school soccer team, but that’s an honor afforded to pretty much anyone provided you’re a senior and not riding the bench.

Up until this point, the only leadership positions I’d seen in practice were in the eight months I’d been working in this restaurant and the year before when I worked in a different restaurant.  I don’t want to speak for restaurant management across the board, but what I encountered at these first two places wasn’t exactly role model material.

You see, when I saw what it meant to be a leader in the professional world, it was kind of discouraging.  I saw grown adults yelling at other grown adults to complete tasks while they sat back.  At my very first job, the kitchen manager (who was a tremendously nice guy) was a buffet cook, who usually hung around the back and barked orders at people.  He wasn’t intentionally crass (he was from New Jersey, after all) but he had the look of a guy who was simply fulfilling a leadership position, not that of an actual leader.

At this other restaurant (the one where I was named manager) I thankfully was provided the blueprint of how exactly NOT be to a leader.  The owner’s wife and a 20-something year-old girl were my first superiors in this job.  Thanks to them and their awful customer service skills, miserable personalities, and questionable talent acquisition skills, I knew what I had to do to succeed in my new position; simply be myself.

I don’t want to be too self-indulgent, but if I list it on my resume and LinkedIn profile, I’m perfectly fine listing it here: I am a leader.  Fortunately, I didn’t have to do this alone, as I had the groundwork laid and examples provided by my mom and dad and then years of trial and error to figure out the best path to take.  Sure, I did things I thought were “cool” to help myself fit in; I listened to music I hated, watched television shows I didn’t like, hung out with people I wasn’t friends with, but by the time I was 17, I’d pretty much determined what it meant to be a leader.

So I think a 600-word introduction is probably a little redundant, but with that said here’s some advice to prospective leaders on how to become a leader yourself:

Compassion and Empathy

Truthfully, if you aren’t compassionate and empathetic, you’ve pretty much failed as a human being, but for a refresher, let’s go over the importance of displaying these factors.  For starters, you’ve probably heard the oft-used “I’m your boss, not your friend” quote when applied to leadership.  And personally, this is one of my favorite quotations of all time because of how utterly wrong I believe it to be.

You see, too often positions of leadership take the term “superior” way too far.  To some, leaders are the upper echelon of human capability, and anyone lesser is the scum of the earth.  Wearing a title and maker more money them someone may classify you as technically superior in an economic sense, but as far as humanity is concerned, equality rules.  In a business or professional setting, the ability to relate your co-workers, regardless of titles, displays humility, compassion, and kind-heartedness.  If you’re in a position of leadership, ask yourself if you’d rather answer to a cold, sociopathic dictator, or a warm, gentle friend who you can go to in a time of need.

Inspiration

Pretend for a moment you’re fighting in a battle.  You’re standing on the front lines, sword in hand, and ready to charge into combat.  It will be a difficult fight, perhaps even a futile effort, so morale is already at an all time low, and gets even worse when your commander, sitting on a horse near the safety of the back line, orders you to charge into battle while he waits.

Now pretend like you’re standing in the same position and your commander rides up to the front lines, dismounts his horse, and leads to charge into the battle.

Ask your, who do you want fighting by your side?

A leader isn’t the guy in bright colors, standing on the stern of the ship waiting to make ground, he’s down in the row house with his men pushing the boat onwards.

Being a leader has nothing to do with being in charge.  Titles, pay grade, and esteem are meaningless when it comes to displaying the mentality of a leader.  The guy who mowed Steve Jobs’ grass is more of a leader than Jobs because at least he didn’t steal ideas from his best friend and then discredit him.  Steve Nash has never won an NBA title, but he’s more of a leader than Kobe Bryant because he aimed to make everyone better (and actually passed the ball).

A leader will ensure everyone reaches the finish line, even if it requires going back and carrying the stragglers themselves.

Boss ≠ Leader

Being in charge isn’t the same as leading the charge.  A boss shouts commands and demands results.  A leader facilitates change and cultivates success.  At some point, changes will need made, and the acts of followers will need to be adjusted.  Where it’s an incorrect food order, a dropped pass, or a misaligned decimal points, mistakes happen.  Offering constructive criticism in the form of a passionate helping hand can go a long way in guiding someone through a successful process.  Likewise with the cultivation of success; breeding change and orchestrating positive objectives helps preferable results arise.

Stand up

Leaders, whether they like it or not, are the voices of followers.  If a culture of blame, negativity, and cold behavior arises from the leadership, how can the followers expect to learn anything?  Restaurants are the worst for this, because restaurant management tends to throw blame around like an oil fire (pun totally intended).  If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, you can undeniably attest to this fact.  When managers throw each other or employees under the bus, it establishes a culture.  Restaurants, for example, are infamous hotbeds of gossip and trash talking that rivals even the most sinister 10th grade lunch table.

Before I became a restaurant manager, the place where I worked had literally 10 employees.  10.  You would not believe the level of NBA-level smack talk that came out of this place.  WITH 10 PEOPLE.  And who was usually the one leading the charge?  My manager and the owner’s wife (who also talked a supreme amount of trash out each other).

When I became the manager, I put an end to this really quick.  The catty, sophomoric drama that plagued this tiny pizza store were eliminated because we established a culture of openness, accountability, and sharing.  We shared blame and took responsibility for our actions.  I’m not advocating being a great leader is about taking the fall for someone else, but when someone is being singled out and screamed at for a minor issue, sometimes it’s okay to jump in and say, “hey, we all messed up, yell at everyone.”  Which brings me to my last point:

Don’t overdo the emotions

I’ve been working since I was 18 years old.  I’m now 24, and for each of those years in between I’ve been employed by a restaurant.

If you were to ask me how many bouts of tears, screaming matches, or outbursts of vulgarity I’ve heard over the last six years, I would laugh in your face and tell you to bring a bigger calculator.

I don’t want to entirely besmirch restaurants, by the way, because I’ve worked with some amazing people with good hearts and great personalities.  I’ve also had some great managers.  But, I’ve also dealt with overly emotional co-workers, unless drama, ruthless finger-pointing, and hilarious micromanagement.

The point is, establishing an identity of chaos (like so many restaurants find themselves being with) is poison to employees of the organization.  This is true across the board whether you play sports, work at a doctor’s office, or work in construction.

I don’t care if you’re the CEO of the company of the fourth-string fullback, overdoing the emotion is a mistake for any organization.  Obviously, I’m not advocating being a drone, but I am saying achieving balance is okay.  There’s probably times where an emotional breakdown in the bathroom is advisable, just like laughing for 15 uninterrupted minutes at the “Deez Nuts” videos is play.  However, being to spring-loaded in your emotional response is seriously one of the worst mistakes you can make when it comes to being a leader.

If someone insults you, do you instantly want to cry?

If something goes wrong, is your first response to scream like a moron?

If you see someone in need of help, do you giggle like a child while you talk to them?

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then I’m afraid I’ve got some troubling news; you’re going to have to fix a thing or two before you’re worthy of being considered a legitimate leader.

If (and yes, I realized this is the fifth consecutive line I’ve started with ‘if’) you learned anything by reading this, I hope it’s the difference between being a leader and being in leadership.  Being a follower is easy: All you have to do is wait for someone to tell you what’s up and you’re good to go.  Being in leadership is easy: Just wait until enough other people quit until you get promoted.

But, being a leader isn’t easy.  It’s not for the faint of heart.  It requires a commitment to an inherent set of values that push you to consistently strive for your personal best while also seeking to influence those around you.  Being a leader is a mentality and fortunately, can be learned.

Go out and see what changes you can make.  Be a leader.

A Four-Tiered Hierarchy for determining humanity’s awfulness

It’s a wonderful time to be alive.  Just think, as a society, we’ve survived a pair or World Wars, the Great Depression, Jimmy Carter’s presidency, Jimmy Carter’s toiling in Israeli-Palestinian relations, and Y2K.  And that’s just in the last 100 years.  I’d say we are doing pretty well.

But, even as society evolves, it seems segments of our population lag behind.  Of course, this is to be expected, but sometimes this perceived lag begins to have actual, real world effects on the surrounding citizens, and I won’t stand for it!  This influx of horrible people needs to be addressed.

However, we are all brothers and sisters on this earth, so simply discounting another living, breathing specimen as a waste of oxygen is neither neighborly, nor does it maintain any semblance of politeness.  Thankfully, I’ve come up with a solution to deal with some of the world’s most awful segments of humanity, and the only way to do so is by placing people in appropriate tiers based on awfulness.  Awareness is our best defense.

Tier One: The Onlooker

Unless you’ve been entirely consumed by misery, you’re probably finding yourself looking at the above photo and thinking; “wait a minute, that’s just a sweet old lady.  There’s no way she’s inherently evil.”  In fact, I would be wont to agree with your rhetorical statement; Gladys, I’m sure, is a fine member of society and undoubtedly voted Republican.  But, I couldn’t find a better stock photo to suit my argument.

Let’s take a trip to hypothetical town:  You’re at the grocery store buying almonds, baby powder, and a Batman mask when all of a sudden a fellow shop patron parks his or her cart and their gluttonous person directly in the middle of the aisle.  You can’t pass them, and your very obvious nonverbal conveyance suggests you would prefer they move.  No dice.  This isn’t an isolated incident either.  Whether it’s a guy texting as his car idles at a green light or a woman standing too long at a sporting event, the utter disregard for the comfort or accessibility of their fellow human beings is staggering.

Of course, I realize inclusions in the Tier One category aren’t inherently awful.  Sure, they maintain absolutely no self-awareness and often place themselves (or others) in uncomfortable or even dangerous situations, so the Tier One participants, more than anything, are just annoying.

The Cure: Usually some sort of auditory disruption to return their wandering minds from dream land.  Whether it’s a quick “excuse me”, a light tap on the car honk, or a thunderous drop-kick to the coccyx, the onlooker usually just needs to be reminded they aren’t the only human beings inhabiting the planet and often move on to other things.

Tier Two: The braggart

In the realm of class hierarchy, there’s not many things worse than someone who has achieved great success and then mercilessly reminds everyone of how great they are.  Take the above subject, Richard Sherman, for example.  Mr. Sherman is unquestionably the best defensive back in the NFL, and he’s gotten there by being a tireless worker, a rigorous student of the game, and possessing a plethora of God-given ability.  And to top it all off, he recently became one of the richest players in the league.  For most, climbing the ladder of success to the very top, pausing, building another story and then putting a bell on top would be enough, but not for the braggart.  You see, for some, like Mr. Sherman here, success isn’t good enough: he wants to succeed AND make sure no one else can compete.

Listen, I’m 24-years old and understand the complexities of today’s job market.  Even in college I was unreasonably competitive with classmates because I knew someday Jeff might end up competing directly with me for a job.  Sorry about you and your family Jeff, but I need that job.  No hard feelings.  So, it’s not as if the braggart is being competitive.  How could they, when they’ve already ascended to the pinnacle?  Even Donald Trump, a man who competes in the most cut-throat industry in the world and is a roaring success is always quick to remind people of his humble beginnings.  You see, Mr. Trump wasn’t lucky like you and me.  When he graduated from the Ivy League college his dad put him through, he was only spotted $10 million to start a business.  $10 million!  Why don’t you just put him directly on the streets, Mr. Donald Trump’s father?  You monster.  But even in Trump’s tales of humble beginnings arise incessant bragging; he’s basically saying, “look what I once was, and look how awesome I’ve become. No one is like me.  I’ll spit on your breakfast.”

While success is awesome, (and I hope everyone I know finds it), maintaining some level of modesty once you’ve attained it is really the difference between being a good and not good person.  I haven’t talked to Gallup recently, but I can’t imagine public opinion of Sherman or Trump is too high, so maybe try to be like them from a success standpoint, but not a personality standpoint.

The Cure: With the braggart, it’s usually best to ignore them.  The cocky types love attention, and once that’s gone it’s like starving a flame of oxygen.  When there aren’t cameras in Richard Sherman’s face or Donald Trump forgets his Twitter password again, all seems quiet, so maybe take that advice to heart.

Tier Three: The internet troll

We’ve all seen it.  You go to your favorite cooking website to find a recipe for braised short ribs, and you decide to scroll down to check the comments to see if any fellow members of the braised short ribs community approves of this recipe.  After several inclusions regarding whatever short-ribbed trivial pursuits you may be seeking, you see it: “Bush caused 9/11 and Obama is gay.”  Clearly, this individual has no interest in acquiring knowledge of appropriate pork-based stovetop cuisine, and simply wants to portray his ill-aligning political ideologies to the recipe seeking world.

It’s even worse on YouTube.  I once saw a guy call a little girl the N-word on a video about a kitten.  It doesn’t make sense.  A few months ago, a particularly heartless individual posted some extraordinarily offensive comments about Dr. Martin Luther King on Twitter.  After he was called out, he continued on a tirade of moronic insults that made less sense as his conversation wore on.  He actually got so tired of his trolling he gave up.  But the internet trolls are everywhere; Facebook, Twitter, Walmart.com, every news site ever.  I can’t even click links on certain news sites anymore because I (foolishly) like to check the comments to see what the internet community thinks about a particular issue, and every single time there’s always several people who use comment boards for no other purpose than to incite controversy and just be all around terrible people.  Are you a Christian?  An internet troll with find a Christian site and spew atheistic hate speech.  Did you vote for President Obama?  A troll will seek you out to tell you some (usually racist) nonsense about how Obama (or Lucifer, as they say) is ruining America.  Do you like puppies?  “WELL TOO BAD, HERE’S A PICTURE OF KITTENS!” says the internet troll.  “Oh, that’s actually quite pleasant, I like cats,” you foolishly retort. *Instantly sends 100 photographs of a gazelle being torn apart by a lion*

You see, the internet troll isn’t necessarily a bad human being because they say outlandishly, intentionally offensive things.  In fact, it’s my opinion most people who troll the internet don’t actually hold the outrageously offensive opinions they portray online; they are simply trying to ignite an argument online.  An internet troll may love his mother, but he will say disgusting things about yours if it means you will engage him in a battle of words.  And this is why there’s a special, higher tier for internet trolls; baiting people into argument and intentionally trying to hurt feelings is sociopathic, borderline bipolar behavior.  Sure, some comments are so stupid it’s impossible to take them seriously, but a few years ago a girl named Nicki Catsouras was killed in a car accident when she wrecked her dad’s Porsche into a concrete embankment in California.  Somehow, photos of the utterly gruesome crash scene (seriously, don’t Google her name) found their way onto the internet, and some people actually emailed these photos to Nicki’s father.  That’s an entirely new realm of messed up.

The cure: Entire, total, complete ignorance.  To combat the internet troll, you can’t engage them, you can’t acknowledge them, and you can’t even click on their name.  If an internet troll gets any indication you are ready to fight back, then they’ve already won.  Literally the only way to fight back is by doing nothing; which in the end makes you an infinitely better human being for doing so.

Tier Four: the Idealist Extremist

Everyone has an opinion.  Its one of the most beautiful things about our society.  But isn’t it funny how sometimes the loudest opinions are the ones that are the most outlandish?

I was checking Twitter the other day when a sports journalist I follow asked if anyone could give her a recommendation of “American Sniper”; in my opinion, one of the best movies I’ve ever seen.  If you aren’t familiar, it’s a movie about Chris Kyle, a former Navy SEAL sniper who apparently has more confirmed kills than any US sniper in history.  Obviously, not everyone is going to enjoy the movie of the message, but one person replied to the journalist’s message by stating he felt the movie was propaganda.  I’ll stop there, because while I don’t agree with this opinion, per se, I do feel like he has a legitimate point and I cant totally understand why he feels that way.  However, he went on to call Chris Kyle a “mass murderer”, which really made me take a step back and think.  The act of murder, by definition, is the killing of another person without justification.  And even that term is loose because you can apparently shoot an unarmed teenager in Florida based on a bogus “neighborhood watch” and a shaky Castle Doctrine, but you can’t kill someone for, say, eating the rest of your ice cream.  Chris Kyle killed people during a war, which you might recognize as a situation in which the people he was shooting at were trying to kill him right back. Adam Lanza is a mass murderer.  Adolf Hitler was a mass murderer.  A guy who served three tours of duty in a war isn’t a mass murderer.  If this random Twitter user wants to live in a world where the United States military is entirely condemned for actions that allow him to speak his (“unpopular”) opinion, then his ideals seem a little flawed compared to the rest of society.

Groups like the Westboro Baptist Church are even worse.  Not only do they want a world without soliders, they want to ensure homosexuals, Democrats, Republicans, hip-hop listeners, professional lawnmower jugglers, freelance bass fishermen, Macy’s loss prevention specialists, and Ron Howard never set foot inside the pearly gates of heaven.  While all major religions have ideals in which they would prefer the world operate (including mine), it seems like everyone employs a “live and let live” attitude in terms of cultural tolerance.  And that’s awesome.  The Westboro Baptist Church is not awesome.  Who knows, maybe I’m misreading them.  Maybe they’re just the ultimate internet trolls.  But when you attend a fallen solider’s funeral bearing a picket sign stating “God loves Dead Soldiers” maybe you’ve entirely lost sight of your faith.

The WBC is entirely too easy to pick on, but different segments of society possess extremists who ruin everything for everyone.  Take feminism for example. (which should literally be a complete non-issue because we are in the 21st century, for God’s sake; treat everyone equally)  On both sides of the feminism spectrum you have groups who are either so in favor of feminism they hope for the extermination of the male species entirely while the other end possesses the mindless idiots saying “LOL make me a sandwich hurr durr derp.”  No wonder we are seriously still arguing about an issue which should’ve been resolved almost 100 years ago.  If you can look past an argument as stupid as determining if men and women should be treated differently, there’s plenty of other opportunities to see just how mindless some arguments have become.  Just when I thought politics was starting to gain a more moderate following, the racial tensions that have been plaguing the country over this past year have really enlightened me on just how far apart Democrats and Republicans really are.

The thing is, when everyone has their own version of “the perfect world” sometimes the needs of others tend to be phased out.  As much as I would love to live in a world that was perpetually 67 degrees fahrenheit and no one fought about politics I realize that’s not convenient to a pretty sizable subset of our society (looking at you, Michigan).  I don’t like to borrow quotes often, but I’ll use one from Donald Glover: he once said, (during a hilarious stand-up comedy special, and I’m paraphrasing a bit) that the two factors that make someone a good person is the presence of empathy and sympathy.  Since a lack of sympathy literally makes you a monster, empathy is more of a relevant area of focus, since it refers to your ability to see both sides of a scenario and understand the plight of someone else.  If you seriously can’t stand back, exit your dream word, and consider the feelings of a fellow human being, then you’ve totally failed your purpose.

The cure: I don’t care what religion you belong to, who you voted for, how much money you make, or how hot you junior prom date was (that’s seriously gross anyway, you’re like 30 now, you pedophile); always be a decent human being.  The second you lose sight of the feelings of another individual then it’s time to pack it in and maybe try this whole humanity thing from a different angle, because clearly something is off.  Remember; although you may have your own perfect version of the world, there’s another seven billion who might not be totally okay with you uprooting their situations.

Unless