Archives For April 2013

I recently attended a father daughter weekend with my 13-year-old daughter, Clara. We had a great time, and grew closer to each other in the process.

Saturday night we had a special dinner with just she and I sitting at a small table. We ate, laughed and enjoyed our food.

After dinner, the camp director announced that we would be learning some dance moves and then hitting the dance floor with our daughters. I immediately tensed up. Me? Dance? This is not exactly an area of strength in my life.

Bigstock Dancing Couple 422723

Well, after some instruction, Clara and I took to the dance floor. We had a blast two-stepping through several songs. While I won’t be dancing with the stars any time soon (or ever), the time together was priceless.

This experience illustrates some important leadership principles:

1) You cannot lead, or improve, if you never start. Although a little hesitant, we stepped out on the dance floor and started to mimic our instructors.

As leaders, once we start the project or major initiative, we create opportunities to lead and improve ourselves and others.

2) Good leaders appreciate the process while they advance toward the goal. About the third time around the dance floor, I realized that this was more than trying not to step on Clara’s feet.

I was able to enjoy the grandness of learning how to dance with my 13-year-old and appreciate the moment for what it was – a special time to be with her.

Leaders know that progress comes from employing the right processes. Embracing the process helps the leader create an atmosphere of joyful engagement.

3) Leaders succeed by continual improvement. As we shuffled to the music, our steps gradually synchronized and we began to see improvements. Confidence in the basic steps allowed us to branch out into some fancy spins.

Business is like that. We secure our future success by improving upon yesterday’s performance. Leaders know the power of continual improvement.

The music is playing. The time is now. How will you dance today?

 

Today I Will…

April 25, 2013 — Leave a comment

Bigstock Football Field 1987413

 

 

Today I will…

 

Step onto the field. The Coach is waving me off the bench.

I have a position to play in this game called life – and oh, by the way, I can play any position that I chose.

 

Start.  Any journey remains just a dream until the first step.

 

Do. Doing is essential. Plans on paper are usless without action.

 

Learn. The best and deepest learning comes from doing. Reasearch and reading are important,

but they take on a life of meaning and purpose when we take action.

 

Today I will _______. How will you fill in the blank?

 

 

The number of usernames and passwords that we have to keep up with is crazy. We have passwords for our online banking, investment accounts, retail shopping sites, health insurance, college payments and services, hobby forums, Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, — the list goes on and on.

Bigstock plate safe lock combination 17669243

It is challenging to keep everything straight when it comes to the area of passwords. Some people handle this issue by simply choosing one password for all accounts and services. Initially, this sounds like a good idea. Choose your mother’s middle name and append your high school graduation year to it and, wah lah, you’ve got yourself one killer, alphanumeric, easy to remember password!

This solution, however, is like taping a “kick me” sign to the back of your shirt in middle school. You are asking for trouble. Once a hacker cracks the code on your simplistic password, he can quickly gain access to all of your other accounts using the same password.

How can we tame the beast of password management?

I have found a solution for my username/password needs and I think it would help you too. I use the software program  “LastPass” to generate and store my passwords for everything online in one place. (click here to go to their website)

With LastPass, I can store all of my passwords and private information in one place. I log into LastPass once, and then I have easy access to my stored usernames and passwords as I use my browser and log into various sites. LastPass even recognizes when I go to a previously visited site and automatically fills in my unique username and password for that site.

LastPass has a password generator function that can generate a strong password each time you need to choose a new password. This enables you to get away from your simple and repeated mother’s middle name plus graduation date.

You can even store unique sets of contact and purchasing information in the profiles section of LastPass. This comes in handy when you are filling in a form and it asks you if you want to use, say, your home profile to auto-populate the fields in the form that’s currently displayed on your computer screen. One click of the mouse and your name, address, phone number, and email address are automatically populated into the blank entry form.

LastPass is free for use on macs and pcs alike, and you can easily access your password database from both platforms. If you want access to your stored password data while using an iPhone or iPad, you are required to upgrade to their paid version.

Since moving to LastPass, my passwords have become more unique, more secure, and I have saved many hours of work through more efficient password management practices.

There are other password managers available, and some may be better than LastPass for your needs. Of course no single piece of software or password manager can guarantee that you won’t fall victim to identify theft. LastPass has decreased the likelihood of identity theft of my online information and increased my efficiency at home and work.

What system  do you use to store and recall you usernames and passwords?

Recently, I sent an Amazon gift card via email to my brother-in-law for his birthday. I decided to upload a picture taken from the deck of his lake house to customize the image of the card. This did not take long, and I thought he would like the personal picture better than the Amazon logo that is emblazoned on their standard gift card.

Communication Breakdown Tin CansAfter I pressed send on the e-gift card, we called him, asking him to check his email inbox for the incoming gift-card email.
“Did you get it?”,
“No”.
“Why don’t you check your junk email folder, it could be in there.”
“No, I don’t see anything.”
“Check your email trash.”
“Nothing”

“Well, maybe Amazon has not sent it out yet.”
“Maybe”
“Let’s give it some time and see”

Days later I remembered to check back — still no email!

I decided to investigate. I logged onto Amazon and checked my list of completed orders. Sure enough, the gift card order was at the top of the list.

I began to scrutinize the original gift card order and message. I checked the ‘send to’ email address that I had used and compared it to my contacts database on my computer.

Uh-oh, I found two slightly different email addresses for my brother-in-law. I quickly resent the card using the other email address and called to see if it went through.

Success! The belated gift had finally arrived at its destination – the inbox of my brother-in-law.

I learned three things from this experience.

1) Small details make a huge difference on our ability to communicate. It turns out that I transposed just two letters in the entire email address. This one mistake prevented me from **any** communication with the intended party.

Certain things we say or do can totally mute our message as we try to communicate and connect with others. One racial or otherwise inappropriate comment or joke can effectively send our targeted messages strait to the trash can in people’s minds.

2) If you’re not connecting with others, it is most likely your fault. My first response is typically to assign blame elsewhere. That is what I did with the gift card situation.

I only looked at the area under my control as a last resort. If we focus on others behaviors, we are focusing on things that we can not inherently control. Also, I wasted a lot of time looking for other’s mistakes when the source of the problem was right under my nose!

It is far more effective for us to look first within and evaluate our own thoughts, beliefs and actions. This is the area that we can control.

Good leaders take ownership of the situation at hand. This means leading and guiding by example. When we focus on our own thoughts and behaviors, we become a powerful role model to lead and guide those who follow our lead.

3) Small things can make a big impact on our ability to communicate. My brother-in-law loved his customized gift card image.

It took a couple of minutes to find the image on my computer and upload it to Amazon, but it made a special impression on the recipient.

This one small customization transformed the gesture from merely communicating to connecting. Communication delivers information, connection touches the recipient at an emotional level and has far more impact.

How do you communicate and connect with those around you?

 

I woke up and started into my planned activities for the morning. Lift weights, check. Shower, check. Head to my office for reading, oops! I ran into my 5th grade daughter, Anna Grace, on my way to my office. “Dad, I need that piece of wood for our catapult project at school today.” The best laid plans of mice and men….

Wood workshop Hand saw cuttin 23149682 copy

“You need it today? This morning?” She assured me that she did. We proceeded to the garage to rummage through my various stashes of wood. Sometimes being an investor and rehabber of rental homes has its perks. Not exactly pleased about my derailed morning plans, I continued to pepper my daughter with questions as we searched the garage. “Who needs it? Who are ‘they’? Why didn’t you tell me yesterday that you needed the wood this morning?”

I proceeded to back my truck out of its slot in the garage. This was necessary because of my unique ‘organizational system’ which requires space to bend and stoop, push and pull, lift and shift, etc. We found a piece, but it was too long. No problem, I can cut it down to size with the saw… — I had taken my power saws to a rental rehab project across town. “Oh, I don’t have a saw here”. Looking up at the peg board on the wall, my daughter said “you can use that saw Dad”. Sure enough, she had found the old hand saw that I had owned for about a quarter of a century.

“I’ve got to get my coat” I muttered because I was cold and because I needed the time to think about my next step. I returned to the garage with my daughter padding a half step behind me. “Ok, let’s do this.” I clamped down the wood, measured and struck a line for the cross-cut, and proceeded to hand saw the custom catapult base for my last born.

“Thank you so much Dad. – and I’m sorry that I did not tell you earlier.”
“No problem, Gracie, just give me more notice next time – I love you.”

Later in the morning, I realized that I was uniquely equipped to meet a specific need in my daughter’s life. I had the supplies, the tools, the knowledge and the skill to help her with a class project. Pretty special.

What skills, perspectives, knowledge, aptitudes and attitudes do you posses to meet the needs of others? You have them. You probably take them for granted. Are people asking for your help? Can you hear them? How are you responding to their pleas?

 

Bigstock House for rent

Over the past few years, I have invested in a variety of opportunities, and rental real estate has become one of my favorite investments. Specifically, I purchase, rehab and lease single family homes. The following four reasons explain why I invest in this area.

1) Real Estate does not promise overnight success. Late night tv advertisements not withstanding, real estate rarely offers quick returns. It may sound odd to you that I list this as a positive reason to invest in real estate. I have learned that many times, the investments offering the ‘hockey stick’ shaped growth in sales and profits carry with them a high chance of failure. There is a wisdom in slow and steady growth.

The slow buildup of equity and the cumulative appreciation of value associated with real estate remind me of the Proverb that states:

Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.

2) Rental real estate generates a positive monthly cash flow. In this day of almost zero percent interest on cash investments, it is quite satisfying to collect a monthly paycheck from each of my rental properties. Some of the other investments that I have made have no hint of ongoing cash flow or dividends and shift all of the potential returns to a future cash-out event like the sale of a company. Sometimes, those other opportunities pay handsomely, and sometimes they don’t. The steady cash flow of rental homes allows me to generate income today and build value for the future.

3) Real Estate is an investment that I can control. Unlike most other investments like stocks, bonds and mutual funds (which I have no control over), I can have a significant amount of control over my real estate investments. I can choose the neighborhoods that I wish to invest in. I determine what improvements are made to the property. I decide how to market the property to potential renters, and, perhaps most importantly, I can establish effective tenant screening procedures.

4) Rental real estate is not highly correlated with other investments, like the stock market. This means that the returns on real estate do not fluctuate with the financial markets. Have you ever worried about the balance of your brokerage or mutual fund accounts because of the volatility of your investments? I have found real estate to offer more stable returns. The principle of diversification is important, and rental real estate offers a tried and true opportunity to increase the diversity of your investments.

Well, there’s the top four reasons that I invest in rental real estate. I should remind you that this post reflects only my opinion. Your situation is different and your outcomes may differ from mine. Any type of investment, including real estate, can be risky. In other words, as the EPA says, “Your mileage may vary”. That being said, the merits of real estate are worthy of your careful consideration.

Do you invest in real estate? If so, what are your reasons for doing so?

Hands of a driver on steering

“Awe, Dad, you’re going crooked again! – I wonder how many times it will take you today?” My 17 year-old son Zach kept up with the good-natured ribbing as I backed our boat down the ramp at a local lake. Zach loves to fish and this trip was part of his master plan to spend as much time as possible on the water in pursuit of fish.

It’s spring time and that means crappie fishing. Zach and I had invited my dad to join us and he quickly accepted the invitation.

We drove to the lake, launched the boat at a public boat ramp, and headed across the lake. (By the way, it only took two attempts to get the boat and trailer lined up and eased into the water in the center of the ramp!) The wind was 20-25 miles per hour and there were white-caps on the lake that made for a wet, bumpy ride.

We finally tied up to an oil derrick and started fishing. About two hours fishing yielded two small fish. Not exactly a great fishing expedition, but spending time fishing with my dad and one of my sons is priceless. We headed back across the lake toward the boat ramp. I drove the boat and it took three attempts to be the boat onto the trailer amid the wind and the waves.

We pulled the boat up and parked the truck to secure the boat for travel. I was walking up to the driver’s door when I heard the request “Dad, can I drive the truck home?” My immediate answer was “No” and I proceeded to get into the driver’s seat. Then, for some reason, I reconsidered, “Sure” I said and walked around to the other side of the truck to climb into the back seat.

Zach did a fine job driving us home while pulling the boat and trailer behind along the way. He even backed the boat down our driveway and into its normal resting spot in our driveway. He learned and got to experience towing the boat with my truck, and I learned something as well.

You see, as leaders, our natural tendency can be to stick with the status quo. It is “safe” to climb into the driver’s seat and deny those under us the opportunity to stretch, lean and grow. We almost subconsciously decide that the way we’ve always done it is the best way. Often, we think it will take longer if we delegate a task or train someone to take over in an area or business segment.

It was easy for me to say ‘no’ to Zach’s request to drive home. There was three generations of Beshear’s in the vehicle, for goodness sakes! This was some precious cargo. Saying yes took more thought, and some intention. The results were worth it, though.

Good leaders allow those under them to learn and experience personal and corporate growth. Great leaders intentionally design opportunities for those they lead that will teach, stretch and grow them.

The people under our leadership will best grow when we give them opportunities to step up to the next level. Ask yourself – “How am I preparing those who will come after me?”

As leaders, we have the responsibility to educate, inspire and guide those who will fill our shoes in the future. The training takes wings when we allow folks to slide over into the driver’s seat and take the wheel of a major endeavor. The results will often-times surprise you. By the way, Zach backed the boat into our driveway more proficiently that I ever have!

How do you empower others to grow in their leadership?

 

Ruler_tapemeasure

I stepped on the bathroom scale this morning and blinked in disbelief. The number staring back at me did not represent the trim, svelte image that I hold of myself. WOW – I need to make some changes. I immediately began to form an action plan to reduce the number on that rude little digital display.

It’s been said “You cannot manage what you cannot measure”. I pondered what I could measure to bring about the changes I desired in my weight. I thought of two broad types of measurement that applied to this and other challenges.

The first is a measure of process. I set some goals for the number of times I exercise in a week and the number of desserts that I consume. I can break it down further by specifying the types of exercise and my average daily caloric intake. These metrics gauge my daily routines and activities. I call them process metrics.

The second type of measure is an end-result measure. This is my target weight and represents a simple number of pounds. I can further refine this goal by assigning a date by which said weight will be achieved. I call these end-goal metrics.

Most any desire or goal that we have can be assessed using these two types of measures. End-goal metrics force us to envision a desired future and quantify what it looks like.

Process metrics help us develop daily habits and processes that, when faithfully performed, will lead us to the end goal metric.

Both types of measurement are essential to choose and reach meaningful goals.

What do you do to set and accomplish your goals?

Time Flies

April 5, 2013 — Leave a comment

I wrote the following post a couple of months ago before I launched this blog.

Father Son Hands

I said goodbye to our oldest son yesterday. I helped him move into the junior college on-campus housing while he completes a program in machining technology. The college is in a smaller Texas town about 5 hours south of where we live. That’s the thing about Texas, you can drive for several hours and not cross any state borders.

Meeting his new roommate brought back memories of my first roommate at Texas A&M, Randy. It is the start of a time of compromise, adjustments and sometimes frustration. Randy and I did not become best of friends, but we lived together with minimal friction or argument. While I studied, Randy usually read a Dune book. I think that he managed to read all of the Dune books, which may have been why he was placed on scholastic probation, and shortly thereafter moved back to his hometown.

We got Ben settled into his new apartment-style dorm, then stocked up his kitchen with a trip to the local Walmart. Ah, the simply pleasures of being a student: Wolf brand chili, ramen noodles, mac and cheese, chips, and frozen diners— that about sums up the contents of his basket at the end of our shopping trip. We celebrated the successful move-in with a tasty meal at a local Bar B Q restaurant.

Growing up is good. Maturing is good. The process of becoming independent is healthy. I am so proud of him as he opens this new chapter in his life. It takes courage to start a new learning adventure that is located 5 hours from home.

There were so many things that I wanted to say to him that day. There was a light rain falling when we said our goodbyes. I wanted to say so many things. To affirm him, encourage him, guide him.

I asked to pray for him. He graciously accepted. I started to pray, and was unprepared for the emotions that welled up within me. My voice clamped down to a whisper.

Childhood memories of our firstborn collided with my prayerful hopes for his future. I want so much for Ben. Not stuff, or power, or notoriety. I want him to fully develop into a man of character— a man who knows who he is and Whose he is — a man whose love for those around him is evident.

I had to stop and regain my composure before continuing to pray. Silence, deep breaths, then a few more words would spill out. The struggle to communicate eased with an amen. Ben I love you and am proud of you…

A rainy, tearful goodbye was followed by a long ride home. Memories of a boy, wearing a coon skin hat and perched high in a tree kept flooding into my mind. Only faint lines of that boy are now evident in my six foot tall, deep-voiced son. Memories fuel hopes that lead to prayer, and the pools well up again to cloud my vision.

As our kids get older I am struck with the realization that they, alone, hold the keys that will unlock their future. We cannot live or craft their lives for them. This is how it should be, even though I selfishly entertain thoughts of control from time to time. The time that we have with our children is a stewardship, a responsibility whose effects will ripple through generations. Raising children is about slowly letting go. It must be done wisely, and with care. Today is seems that this release is perhaps the most poignant when our fingertips last touch.

 

Squirrels in the Attic

April 3, 2013 — 3 Comments

Eastern Grey Squirrel

 By BirdPhotos.com (BirdPhotos.com)

 

**squir·rel **
/ˈskwər(ə)l/
Noun
An agile tree-dwelling rodent with a bushy tail, typically feeding on nuts and seeds.

Ah, the joys of land-lording! I received a text from one of my tenants last weekend. It read:
> “There are some squirrels living in the attic. They seem to be getting in through a hole above the electrical box on the side of the house. Also, the outside electrical outlets and the outlet in the garage have stopped working…”

I responded back to the tenant that we would address the problem. Early in the week, I grabbed a tube of construction adhesive, my air compressor and stapler, and some masonite to cover the hole. It did not take long to seal up the point of entry.

As I worked to patch the hole, I noticed that the neighbor’s shrubs had grown way over into my property. I had a sneaking suspicion that the squirrels were using this overgrown shrubbery to gain access to the attic. A couple of days later, I sent my son up to trim the offending shrubs.

I stopped by the next day to inspect. I was not ready for what I saw- the squirrels had eaten through my nice patch to form a hole in the exact place of the original portal! It was almost like I had never been there.

I’m still dealing with the problem, but already, I’ve learned some lessons from my little furry woodland friends. We are regularly presented with problems in our daily lives, the more we learn about how to tackle them, the more effective we will become.

1) Small problems, left unchecked, create other, more significant problems. Do you think that the squirrel problem and the non-functional electric circuits are unrelated? I don’t. I will have a significant electrician bill to pay when this is all said and done. The little fellows are known for their tendencies to gnaw on wires.

If we try to ignore problems in our life, they simply emerge with a greater vengeance and spawn related, often more severe problems. Effective leaders focus on problems as they surface and therefore prevent potential problems in the future.

2) You can’t properly address a problem without addressing all of the underlying issues that create the problem. I made a pretty good patch, if I say so myself, but patching the hole was only part of the problem.

Because I did not trap and remove the animals in conjunction with the patch, my work was in vain. As leaders, the responsibility for analyzing a situation often falls on us. Activity does not constitute leadership. We must take time to think through a problem and the issues that surround it.

3) Planned prevention is much easier than reactive repair. Imagine if I had trimmed the shrubs before they thoroughly invaded the space between the neighboring house and our rental home. Less time, less work and less expense. We can take little steps today to maintain our minds, souls and bodies that will help us avoid big problems in the future.

Do you struggle with how to deal with problems effectively? How do you handle problems in your life or business?