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Accountability.

I used to work for a major retailer back in college. Loss prevention. My mission was to protect assets from both external threats, like shoplifters, and internal threats, like employees that either stole time or expensive cologne.

There was plenty of both.

I learned very quickly about profiling, and while not ideal in many situations, it almost always rang true when checking the cameras or sales floor for potential would-be shoplifters.

They were always teenagers, always in pairs, always daring each other to act, and sneaking around so explicitly that it was easy to hone in on their behavior without much effort.

“Is this your first time?” we’d ask back in the office, recovered clothing in hand, about to make a phone call to Mom or Dad.

“Yes.”

Almost always, it wasn’t.

Mom or dad would show up, not surprised it had happened again, and wanting to take vengeance immediately. “Uhm, not here, sir or m’am. Not on our property. But after we release your son/daughter…”

No one had held them accountable. Much.

One girl, in particular, had a pattern so bold that once I caught on, it was easy to track her previous months of using our store as a rental closet. She wouldn’t steal, per se; she would just use our liberal return policy and carefully knot back on tags to get a new dress for Friday night and drop it back off on Monday or Tuesday for a full refund.

She was very upset when I asked why, what she was doing, and for how long she’d been at it. A trespass notice later, and I bet she found another chain to abuse with her scheme.

I accounted for her outstanding balance and store card. She was pissed off!

One time, I came in early to observe some of our long-time employees. The late-night cleaners worked alone and were never supervised, and yet no one bothered putting two and two together regarding missing merchandise.

It wasn’t difficult to record a video of a bottle of cologne traveling from underneath the counter, in a trash bag, out the back, and into the dumpster for later retrieval.

When I asked why, there was no answer, just a smirk and something about a “young fella who should’ve looked the other way…”

“How long?” I said.

“Oh, ’bout twenty years, I recon…”

I had a hard time calculating the overall loss, including clothing, jewelry, cologne, housewares, you name it.

Accountability catches up. Sooner or later, someone’s gonna notice, and when they do, get ready for some consequences.

Lehman Brothers, anyone?

I tell the kids on the bus that “this ain’t a carnival ride” and neither is life.

Keep your hands inside the vehicle at all times, do the right thing, and when things go south, and you’re in charge, you better claim ownership and take responsibility.

Even if you catch the guy who’s been with the company forever, doing something wrong.

Hold the conversation. Explain the impact. Set an outcome. Move on.

If you don’t, those around you will notice, and realize they can take you for a ride anytime they’d like.

And you’re not the village bicycle, are you?

Be accountable.

To those you lead. To those you work with. To yourself.

If not, why bother at all? No one will follow you anyway.

And yes, taking accountability is hard stuff. No one likes hard conversations. No one wants to follow the rules, policies, and guidelines all the time. Cutting the corner is so much easier.

But don’t be surprised when someone new rolls in with a different lens, and isn’t afraid of a little friction. Holding people to a standard is what allows us to measure forward progress. And if we can’t measure, it ain’t happening. Both losses and wins. Right?

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The other story.

Here’s the story you probably know nothing about.

I was…

Born in a fishing village during the Cold War.

State TV, two channels, no cartoons on Saturday mornings.

Parents divorced, no therapy.

Chernobyl blew up. Iodine pills for everyone!

Relocated to the US at age 17. Ended up in high school with 2,000 kids, speaking a different language, no ESL. What’s a guidance counselor?

Managed to get into Kent State.

Joined National Guard to pay for it all. Worked almost full-time throughout.

Called to active duty after 9/11. Had to drop all my classes, graduate late. Worked tech support job over the phone to make ends meet.

Interviewed with the CIA.

Decided to go back to school to become a teacher.

Ramen noodles to keep debt low.

New job, first child, new house in same year.

Another job. Finally at destination. 3 years.

Lost job. Filed for unemployment.

New job, less than half the pay. Now two kids.

And so on…

You get the idea. It’s not all a dance on roses. People struggle. Often unseen. Often without telling anyone. Often, by themselves.

Why am I telling you this? And why does it matter?

We took a cooking class the other day, and a few other folks were there. Most of them older, retired, happy-go-lucky, let’s drink some wine, “we’ve been getting together for 20 years” kind of a crowd.

I heard another accent, and shared a story with Sergeyi. Worse story than mine, out of Europe. Still conflicted. Ongoing conflict now. And I appreciated making the connection.

This country, after all, the land of the free, and home of the brave. And the story that comes with it… And those who live here? Often not from around here, if you bother to ask.

“What’s with the sob story above? You’ve had so many great things happen and been so lucky!”

Sure have.

It’s all about perspective, right? I could choose to focus on the bad parts, and I try hard not to each day. But some of them weigh you down like a fuckin’ anchor.

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Silly math problems.

Imagine you’re on a line, and your goal is on the other end, across from you. A single plane. You’re in 2D world. At the end, there’s a door.

How do you get to your goal and open the door?

Take a step. That’s half the distance between you and your goal.

Your goal is now 1/2 the distance away.

Take another step.

Now, your goal is 1/4 of the distance away from where you originally started. Each step halves the distance.

Of course, by now you’ve figured out you’ll never reach the goal if you continue this way. Each step, only half-way closer… 1/2, then 1/4, then 1/8, and so on, ad infinitum.

But.

This is only theoretical in nature, of course. A hypothetical, silly, math problem. In real life, all you have to do is extend your arm, touch the handle, open the door, step through, and reach your goal.

Then on to the next one.

One step at a time…

Math can be silly. But remember—you still have to move forward constantly to reach any goal you set for yourself. I hope you brought your keys, too, because sometimes the doors are locked.

Start with your left foot. Off you go!

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Triage.

How do you know what to do when you’re overloaded?

Yesterday, I arrived at work with an almost empty calendar, and thought, “this’ll be great, I can catch up on a few things, get some emails done, and it’ll be a great day…”

And then all hell broke loose.

So what do you do?

You triage your decisions and actions.

Here are some questions I find helpful:

What’s most important? What will have the most impact? What will happen if you don’t do something?

Start there.

In the ER, or in the hallway, we think in colors – green is good to go, yellow is walking wounded, red needs your full attention, and black is too late.

All the other stuff is small potatoes, and there’s plenty of time to deal with it later. Probably. Focus on the reds, and get going!

What about that email from last week about a request from someone that you still haven’t responded to because it’s a bit out of your lane, and someone else should probably do it?

If it’s really important, they’ll ask you again.

You see… others have to learn how to triage, too. ;-)

Pushing dirt down the road to someone else isn’t triage. That’s avoiding doing something altogether and shows a lack of skill, ownership, and drive.

Now, get to sorting and start executing! I dealt with a red first thing this morning before coffee.

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Non-traditional.

I was always the kid wearing a hat on the playground when it was cold, even though the other kids said I wasn’t cool. I didn’t care. I was cold.

I always carried extra gear to stay warm, dry, and comfortable. Sure, I paid the price of weight, but a cozy slumber was worth it on January nights under the stars.

I’d rather do my own thing than follow the crowd.

So I pay the price.

The price is extra effort, the non-conforming ways of ridicule, dismissal, and ultimately, the fringe benefit of being who you are.

So I’ll take it.

I’d rather that, than the mainstream, the common, and the “follow the herd” mentality.

I like to look up, in, far away, full zoom, and examine, ponder, question, and do what I want. I don’t care what the popular kids say, do, or think.

They can have their suit and tie, in-crowd, nods, and networks. I roll heavy with skill, experience, creativity, and drive.

You know where to find me.

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People.

I’ve learned more about, and more about working with people in the last three weeks than all of last year. Working through some really tough situations, both with students and staff, has helped me recognize additional strategies for helping those in need and holding others accountable.

It used to be that when I taught US History back in the day and we discussed the downfalls of communism, the kids all asked why the near-perfect system didn’t work.

“People,” I said. “People are greedy, they want what they want, and you can’t control them.”

You can have a perfect system of behavior charts, HR manuals, or laws and regulations, but as soon as you mix those with people, you’re on your own. Things will happen that you didn’t account for. Stuff will take place that you never thought a rational person would do.

Because people.

And guess what? People are what make it all happen. People wrote the guidelines and made those behavior charts, too.

Perhaps in vain, perhaps in search of some unreachable vision of utopia, perhaps to set some order to their already chaotic world.

With people, it gets messy, difficult, and, for sure, unpredictable. You never know what will happen from one day to the next.

As a leader of people, every day is a new challenge. You adjust, tweak, try some self-deprecating humor, and give folks a second chance, or a third, or a… when they don’t follow the norm or take a left turn when they shouldn’t have.

And then the people change, and you have to start all over again.

That’s the nature of working with people. Nothing is perfect, nothing is constant, and nothing will cease to amaze me. Or surprise me.

But remember. People make it happen. Without people, we’d be just a collection of HR manuals and theoretical underpinnings in a dusty locker. Why not see what the people can really do?

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Options.

Options. I’d like to have some.

When communicating with my team regularly, often via text messages on the iPhone, I find the lack of options needing an update.

I feel like I’m limited. Here’s why.

The current options to quickly respond to a message in iMessage by clicking and holding on a message are “thumbs up or down,” “heart,” “double !!,” “haha,” and the question mark.

Helpful. Sometimes.

I would love to have an “OK” or just a check mark, as in “received.”

Why?

The thumbs up or down connotes judgment. Feeling. I like it. I don’t like it. You get the idea. It doesn’t say, “I got it.”

The heart?

I just took care of that thing for work you asked me to do…

Heart emoji.

Not appropriate from supervisor to employee, perhaps.

A response to a kind message from a close friend. Then yes.

The double exclamation marks? Who writes like that? Russian bots, that’s who…

Not only is it an incorrect use of language, but what does it mean? Awesome work? What the hell happened? Outrage: That’s cray-cray!! Just no.

And the question mark? Does that question the reply? Do you have a question? I have questions. Why?

So here’s the idea…

Just like in Gmail, when I mark messages for follow-up, let me customize my response options.

  • Checkmark
  • OK
  • Heart Emoji
  • HAHA
  • YES
  • NO

That’s it. Who can help me?

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When?

“Let’s push that meeting up a bit…”

“Can we meet after the week of Easter?”

“I need to reschedule. What about next week sometime?”

Sure.

But when, though?

Many tend to anchor their construction of time with other, seemingly available, events in time. Like Easter. Or Christmas Eve. Or the first Tuesday of the…

What about being a bit more exact?

I often find myself asking for exact clarification for meeting times and dates. People have varying reactions to that.

Here are some, perhaps, better ways of doing it.

“I can’t meet at 10 AM today. Can we reschedule for 11 AM?”

Ok.

“I’d like to schedule my vacation during week 10. Is that okay?”

Yes.

“Let’s meet Friday, the 29th or March, 2024.”

Also good. And close to Easter. I guess.

Some of us don’t connect various holidays, epochs, or seasonal festivities with our actual schedule. So if you say you want to book some time with me after ‘spring break’ you’ll have to be more specific.

Give me a date. And time. And a place.

And why aren’t we using week numbers yet in this country? Maybe for the same reasons we can’t seem to embrace other logistics, like the metric system, real 24-hour time (without the need for AM/PM), or just adding the sales tax to the listed price instead of the ever-present surprise at the end.

Yes, I know… this is America, home of the brave. We landed on the moon, and you didn’t. We get to pick our own ways of doing things…

All I’m saying is, that maybe, there’s a better way.

And isn’t that what this country is all about? Forever improving, making things better? Where’s the next moonshot? It ain’t Mars, I can tell you that.

I mean, have you tried measuring your flour in grams instead of cups when baking? Did you know it makes a [profound] difference? And why? Because flour is a dry good, not measured by its volume, but by its weight.

A cup measures volume, only. Need to be convinced? How much does a cup of flour weigh? Now weigh a cup of water… Are they the same? Be specific. How much corn in a bushel?

How many meters in a Nautical Mile? Do you know why? That one actually makes sense… Compare that to how many yards are in a mile. Just sayin. ;-)

A more humorous look at all of this nonsense:

Our land of liberty. Where we continue to reference things the hard way…. Let the struggle continue. For us immigrants, we just patiently learn all the conversions to a chaotic system.

Here’s to a new year. Week 1 starts on Monday, the first day of the week. You have 24 hours each lap around the sun to get some structure in your life. Enjoy!

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1%

I check the news, read emails, and ensure our staffing levels are okay for the day first thing in the morning. Usually, while still in the bathroom…

This morning, I noticed the battery indicator on my iPhone drop from 100% to 99%. At 4:47 AM.

“Well, Johansson…,” I thought. “What are you gonna do with the other ninety-nine?”

There’s only so much juice in a day.

And sure, you can plug in your phone for a quick boost anytime, but what about yourself?

I’ve been exhausted lately when I get home, and I feel like I’ve been burning the candle at both ends. Maybe it’s time I plug in and fully let myself recharge this weekend.

So, what’s it gonna be? How are you spending the rest of your battery life today? On something productive? Something fun? Something difficult?

I’m doing something for the first time today that will likely drain my emotional battery a bit. I hope I can recover.

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Time travel.

Time travel might not be a thing of reality. Yet.

But tracking where an object has been, is quite simple.

To track a cat for example, all you have to do is check for an open window. Or a balled up piece of paper, perfect for chasing, left on the ground. Or a blanket spread on the couch.

The cat has been there.

It isn’t there anymore.

But at one point, the cat manipulated a human being into opening the window, sat there for a while, and then left.

So.

Can you predict, or even control, the future by examining the past?

Almost certainly.

Open the window proactively, and I bet the cat will arrive. On its own time, naturally, but at some point, it will make its way over there to smell the outside.

Knowing what has happened, by thoroughly examining events in the past, you’re more likely to know what’s about to happen in the future. Events may not be exact, but patterns repeat themselves over, and over, and over again. Always.

And people, in particular, are predictable.

Know someone who’s always early to work? Someone who always shows up for the hard challenges? A colleague who’s always ready to go?

It’s likely, based on your examination of the past, they will continue to perform in the future. After all, they have a history of doing so.

Just like the cat you’ve been tracking by the trail of open windows in your house, if you start paying attention to people’s patterns and habits, you can learn a lot about how the future will unfold.

And like so, as I was writing this, a tail brushed my leg, a window was opened, and not one, but two cats appeared. As predicted. See? It’s true…