Sunday, May 10, 2009

Don't Lose Your Attractiveness

A Little shoeshine boy never gets low down

But he's got the dirtiest job in town

Bendin' low at the peoples' feet

On the windy corner of the dirty street

Well, I asked him while he shined my shoes

How'd he keep from gettin' the blues

The past couple of weeks have included some interesting conversations with owners, managers and executives of a number of organizations, small and large, in product and service industries, all hit by the economy. Odds are they will be touched by now-in-the-news more-to-worry-about health scare. No one is immune from these conditions. We don’t live in vacuums. We are connected.

Reflecting on the conversations I have some concerns, though not regarding the economy or the flu.

First, in a number of cases there’s a substantial degree of fault-finding and self blame in their voices, “What did I do wrong? I should have known better? How could I not have seen?” It’s as though each has an invisible rubber mallet, with which he or she is pounding their own head.

Second, they are hard at work pushing to change what’s so. They are working to find ways to rectify current situations. That’s good - there’s nothing wrong with honest hard work. Yet, knowing them and their work ethic, which in every case is very high, it’s the tired tone their voices that’s bothersome. I see their shoulders heavy and laden, and their eyes with dark circles.

Third, and this is most alarming, I’ve noticed a degree of withdrawal from contact. Withdrawal from the people that surround them from the outside their organizations, people who could and would provide support.

National Public Radio recently reported on companies cutting their advertising budgets, and how this withdrawal not only impacts the buying public, but also the electronic and print media that would otherwise run the ads. What a shame. Because at same time they are cutting, someone else could be seizing an incredible opportunity to fill that void.

Any withdrawal creates a void. As the void grows it leaves fertile ground for someone else to walk in, fill the void and promote their product, service or cause. Radio, TV and print media are in need of advertising right now, and may be willing to make deals. The buying public depends on advertising. Ads that “stick” have an advantage as we move through and emerge from the rough economic waters that we’re in. Bet on it, we’re going to move through this sooner or later. I hope whoever takes advantage of the void will have honorable products and services to sell, because the public will be affected. What sticks? Tone and simplicity. (Some reading this can recall the Oscar Meyer ditty or the “Winston tastes good like a ---.” Remember?)

In the midst of the storm there are many things to jettison, but your attractiveness is not one of them. For better or worse, you are your own advertisement. Don’t’ lose your attractiveness.

I’m not going to question motives to look back and work hard and withdraw. Not in the least.

On the one hand, self-reflection is a necessity. It’s good and natural to examine self for things missed. Similarly, hard diligent work is important, especially now. Roll up the sleeves. Get going! Yes, we all feel defeated now and then, and at times want to withdraw from contact throughout our lives.

But right now, particularly in these times and for these people and those who depend on them, remember something: regardless of the industry, everyone is in the sales business, and nobody can sell anything – from resume’ to idea to cars to homes to going out for a date - when they are overly self conscious, down in the mouth and living in withdrawal. On many occasions my mentor would say, “Every conversation is a buy/sell process. Think about it.”

Isn’t everyone, regardless of job or position, somehow selling something even when they don’t know it? Teachers, preachers, lawyers, politicians, hair stylists, radio talk show hosts, janitors, soldiers, carpenters. You name the job, the position or the person, something – an idea, product, service, future position, desire for a new relationship, whatever – is being suggested or offered. And if the offer is absent a healthy or vibrant or hopeful or positive possibility, then an opposite possibility will be suggested. And in that case, whatever downward spiral is happening will be perpetuated.

We are constantly marketing ourselves, even when we don’t know it. Others are noticing. It’s human nature. This is important. Why? Because the vast majority of people assume that others have what they themselves don’t. They seek “what’s missing” from those they perceive as having a larger capacity for that something – guidance, assurance, and leadership, whatever. This weighs heavily on people at the top – managers, owners, execs --- mom’s and dads.

As rotten as things are, what got us here is water under the bridge. This is not a to imply we shouldn’t take a look back periodically. But what’s most important is to remain present and focus on the future. My high school track coach, Gene LaVelle, would admonish us when he caught us looking back too often. “Stop it,” he’d say, “and get your eyes on who’s in front of you and on the finish line.” My football coach, Gerry Peters. Same thing. I played (not very well) guard, and would glance to see if the ball carrier was behind me when I would be running a pulling play. “What are you doing?,” he’d yell. “Get your eyes on where you’re going! You’re job is to create the path!” There were days as a kid when our family didn’t have money to buy things. Mom took us window-shopping. It was fun; it got us out of the house; and it was physically healthy too. We had to walk to do it. It got us dreaming. We have to look forward; we have to dream.

Before a home is constructed blueprints are drawn. Blueprints are temporary; they can be changed anytime and often are. Your mind is always looking for a picture to create. If you don’t know what the future looks like, or if the picture in front of you is dismal, then make up something, anything, worth looking at. At least for one day at a time; look at it, if only for that day. Go to sleep looking at that image. Give your mind something worth dreaming about.

Keep asking future oriented creative questions. Right now there are human beings looking for the goods and services that every one of these companies, whose leaders I spoke with, provide. Who are the people doing the looking? Where are they located? What do they look like? Where do they come from? They are out there. The particular goods and services these organizations provide have been in demand for a long time, through past recessions and depressions and scary times and wars; the demand will continue to exist in some form well into the future. These organizations fill valid needs; needs that will not disappear.

Employees, staffs and venders are just as worried. They are looking for people who have the capacity to hold on – but not sinking ships. The employees, staffs and venders want to believe that their leaders are fundamentally OK. This is a heavy burden for those at the top; one that takes strength to carry. None of us makes it on our own. We are social beings. We look for strength in others. And that’s worth remembering, because strength is attractive.

Hard working, good people right are now on the job market seeking to be around others who have good products and/or services – and who are willing to display strength. While a leader may not now be in a position to hire, he or she is certainly in a position to be heard. People are listening. What are they hearing from you?

During times of stress, what do others seek? Relief. Confidence. Creativity. Flexibility. Dignity.

Yes, they seek money. True, true, true. But money is a result of action, and what it solves is temporary. Systems tend to move toward disorder, and systems involving money are not exempt from this. It is always on the move, and daily it moves into and out of our lives faster than anything else. The sound and constructive qualities that attract the people who generate the energy that produces the money, these are up for grabs all the time. These qualities of strength are especially built and sustained during stressful times.

I’m in the midst of reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, written with one question in mind, “Why do some people succeed far more than other?” In case after case Gladwell documents examples of real people who came from humble backgrounds, went through hard times and succeeded in life. He points out that they didn’t succeed in spite of their humble backgrounds and hard times, they succeeded because of their humble backgrounds and hard times. And they succeeded because they were surrounded by people from similar humble backgrounds and hard times, who provided them continual intellectual and emotional support.

Yes, look back. But don’t make it a self-defeating habit. Talk about and go to sleep on strengths, not faults.

Yes, withdraw now and then. But remember, no one makes it alone. The people that really matter are the ones who show up in your life for more than a celebration or a party. They are there when the manure hits the ventilator, and they don’t leave because of the odor. They are available for you to extend into when times get tough and you want to withdraw. So don’t’ withdraw! Take advantage of their presence. Maintain contact with them – at all costs.

Yes, work hard. But take care not to work yourself to exhaustion. Remember that every muscle must periodically relax or it will break down. That physiological fact reflects a universal principle. You have to take care of yourself, especially under stress. Gene LaVelle and Gerry Peters also used to say - when we were tired, or we lost a meet or a race or a game, “Shake it off! Take a break! See you at practice.”

People are seeking you. Someone is looking for you. They won’t be able to find you if you are absent or too wiped out to stand up.

Don’t Lose Your Attractiveness!

A Little shoeshine boy never gets low down

But he's got the dirtiest job in town

Bendin' low at the peoples' feet

On the windy corner of the dirty street

Well, I asked him while he shined my shoes

How'd he keep from gettin' the blues

He grinned as he raised his little head

Popped a shoeshine rag and then he said

Get rhythm when you get the blues

Come on, get rhythm when you get the blues

A jumpy rhythm makes you feel so fine

It'll shake all the trouble from your worried mind

Get rhythm when you get the blues

1 comment:

Mark Walsh said...

I hereby vow to remain attractive :-)

Greetings from Brighton,