Getting The Work Done

“One boy is a boy.  Two boys is half a boy.  Three boys is no boy at all.”

–     Loren F. Stark (1899 – 1985), my grandfather

Sometimes, when you’re a kid, it “makes sense” to invite a friend to help with some work on the farm.  Think Tom Sawyer, only without the whole delegation theme.

Grandpa’s theory was simple.  With one kid, the work might get done.  With two, the odds dropped to 50%, and with three, the whole plan went out the window.

In the corporate world, it can work the same way.  We team when we need to team.  We partner when 1+1= > 2.  Most of the time though, we just have to get our stuff done.

In times of great change, a few other bodies around us can bring comfort.  Unless they also speed up results and drive to outcomes, though, we ought to heed “Starky’s” warning.  Larry the Cable Guy might be a good voice to consider, too.  “Git’r done!”


Great Teachers

“Wax on, wax off.”

–     Mr. Miyagi in “Karate Kid” 

Experience can be a great teacher, but great teaching usually comes from a more direct source.  An actual great teacher.  As in another person.

Great teachers not only teach lessons that make a difference, they teach them in a way that reduces the friction that most students naturally apply to the learning process.

“Wax on, wax off,” seems stupid until the big kid in the tournament  takes a punch or a kick at your noggin, and you “wax it off,” right?

The same is true of lessons that apply to our business.  They’re often learned outside the boardroom, and outside the classroom, and they almost always involve a great teacher.

Some lessons great teachers taught me:

  1. “Get your a** around behind you!”  (Dick Heston)  I was about nine years old, wrestling with a scoop shovel in one of our grain bins, when Dad repeatedly barked this directive at me.  As a nine-year-old, I thought he’d lost his mind.  After all, where else could my a** possibly be?  Sometime about three years later, I figured out that there was a right way to use a scoop shovel — and about ten years later I realized that what he taught me was that there is a right way to do most things, and it’s usually easier and more effective.
  2. “You’re a shooter.  Shooter’s shoot.”  (Herb Justmann)  Herb was my high school basketball coach, and he’s still a dear friend.  His point was, play to your strengths.  Defense and rebounding were not things that I was awful at — ok, rebounding was not something I was awful at, but my role on the team was to shoot the basketball, and he’d get much more upset when I passed on open shots than when I forced or rushed one.  In business, almost 40 years later, if I feel like I am “playing out of position,” I hear Herb’s voice, and I settle back in to where I know my gifts lie.  (Our son plays some of his best ball when Herb comes to watch — and Friday night Herb will be in attendance…can’t wait!)
  3. “YOU have to strike THIS man out!”  (Jim Peterson, my high school baseball coach, and a scary, grumpy guy, by most assessments.)  The reason to this day that I feel most comfortable when the stakes are high is because every time I faced a runner at third and less than two outs, he would, in front of my parents, grandparents, girlfriend, etc, bark out this command.  Twice.  (No, seriously, two times. He would not let me throw a pitch to the kid without saying it, at the top of his lungs, twice!  Because evidently someone three counties over didn’t hear him the first time!)  It was his way of focusing me on the piece that I could most directly impact.  The batter, not the kid that was already at third base.  Great teachers help us focus when the stakes are high.
  4. “Most things in life are neither good nor bad, right nor wrong.  Most things just are”  (Tom Graff, PhD)  Dr. Graff uses a series of “pictures” to illustrate this one.  “You win Powerball!  Good news?  Bad news?”  “GOOD NEWS!” everyone shouts out!  “Ok,” he would continue, “every member of your family and your closest friends disown you because they don’t think you give them enough money.  Good news?  Bad news?”  You’re doing it right now, aren’t you?  “Well, Steve, that would be BAD news…”  He goes on, and within about three minutes, everyone in the room realizes first hand that “good” and “bad” are labels that aren’t really productive.  When we realize that most things just “are,” it helps us deal with them in more practical terms.  It helps us separate the important from the urgent.  It helps us do our best, right now.

There are at least eleven or twelve others that come up for me almost daily, because I’ve been blessed with great teachers.  I’ve also been blessed with a career in which I regularly get to act on the lessons they taught.

What are the lessons we’ve learned that we either forgot, resist, or don’t seem applicable when we’re wearing a tie or staring at a computer?  Who were the teachers that taught those lessons?  What would they do, say, push for or remind us of that would make a difference here — now?

Editor’s Note:  Reprised from 2008, 2012, 2016


As Time Goes By…

“Don’t wish your life away!  There will come a time when you’ll wonder where it all went!”

          –     Dick Heston (1933 – 2002), my dad, and still the wisest man I’ve known

Mom and Dad loved to dance, and they were good at it.  The old Dooley Wilson standard, “As Time Goes By” was one of their favorite songs, and I always think of it when I hear Dad’s voice in my head — “don’t wish your life away.”  Baseball games at Fairfield High School were Mondays and Thursdays, basketball games on Tuesdays and Fridays, and I always wanted it to be “game day!”  That’s when Dad would say, “don’t wish your life away…”

Like many of his admonishments when I was a kid this one struck me as a sure sign Dad had lost his mind.  (We’ll touch on another one in Monday’s DD…)

In retrospect, man, did he get it!

Look, here’s the deal.

On our worst day, there are at least ten million people on earth that would trade places with us for every one person that wouldn’t.  We.  Are.  Blessed.  Not perfect, just blessed.  We’ve all known loss, hurt, sorrow, betrayal, fear or doubt.  Most of us have known those things from a warm home, with the next meal fully accounted for, and with someone to love or someone who loves us even when we might not be so loveable.

There does come a time when we wonder where it all went, and for starters that time ought to be the end of each day, when we marvel at the opportunities the day presented, and revel in the prospect of a tomorrow that holds great hope.  In case that tomorrow never comes, though, being thankful for today is the best we’ve got to offer.

If a deal didn’t close today, it’s not the end of the world.  If a presentation went squirrely today, the world probably won’t / didn’t notice.  If a client fired us, or a lover left us or — heck, fill in the blank with any of the icky things that might have happened — let’s don’t wish our lives away.

Dad was a farmer.  By the very nature of the work, that made him thankful, even though he put his livelihood in God’s hands every day, prayed for rain or for the rain to stop and did the best he could with whatever he had to do next.

If there’s a better business lesson out there, I’ve not yet found it.





Resolution? Intention? Resolve!

“May all your troubles last as long as your New Year’s resolutions…”

          –     Joey Adams (1911 – 1999), American comedian and columnist for the New York Post

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

–     Lyric from Semisonic’s “Closing Time”

The scoreboards reads “0-0” this morning.  The White Board in the conference may well be blank and freshly cleaned.  What’s past is past and today is the first working day of 2020, for most of us.

“What are your new year’s resolutions?” people will ask and answer repeatedly today.  The gym will be packed today and every day for the next two weeks, tailing off until about February 10th, when we’ll be back to parking close enough to auto-start our car from the lobby while we tie our shoes.  Cigarette sales will fall off sharply until about Sunday afternoon, then rebound nicely.  Decaf coffee sales will spike, running shoes will be dug from the back of the closet and church attendance will rise…

Only for a few moments, days or weeks in most cases.

Why is that?

The Difference Between Resolution and Resolve

Because resolve and resolution are two different concepts. tells us that resolve is to “deal with conclusively. To settle; solve…”  On the other hand, resolution is “a formal expression of intention.”

Intentions are great, and they can set us on a course.  Resolve keeps us on course.  We join the Health Club on January 1, with a resolution — the intent to lose “x pounds by June 30,” only to stop going to the gym by about January 23rd because we’re too busy and lack resolve.

The old saying, “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions” is too flippant for my taste.  I prefer concrete examples.

The Road To Hell vs The Highway Home

I had a extremely weak boss once who constantly asked me to assess whether “so-and-so” had bad intentions.  We rarely really know another person’s intentions, so I was left to assess his resolve — behaviors are borne out in resolve — rather than speculate about what he intended.  I’ll never know if ol’ so-and-so had bad intentions.  I can look back at the Health Club metaphor and say with certainty, however that his behaviors made it clear that he wasn’t gonna be on the elliptical or the squat rack tomorrow.  Intentions or not, the resolve was not there.

The Difference Between Intention, Involvement And Commitment

We have to have good intentions, and I bet 99% of us do.

But without the resolve to see things through, our outcomes will be just another resolution — a membership card in our wallet that never gets scanned as our never-gets-skinnier butt drags it around with us.

Replace the gym in the metaphor with the office in real life, and the concept still holds.

Intent is a lot like being involved.  To be resolved is to be committed.  This morning, I had bacon and eggs for breakfast.  The chicken was involved.  The pig was committed. 

Yes, it’s the first work day of a new year.  Fresh intentions will give us hope and energy.  Resolve, commitment and focus will give us the outcomes we’re seeking.

There Is No “Line” in Las Vegas on this matter…

…so I’ll just put my $50 on resolve, and take a hard pass on resolution.

Good News of Great Joy, 2019

“Do not be afraid, I bring you good news of great joy…”

     –     Christopher Shea, as Linus van Pelt, in the 1965 Classic, “Charlie Brown Christmas”

     –     Some guy named Luke, in a letter to some guy named Theophilus, some years before TV

Reprised version of the DD’s Annual Christmas Post…

For those who can / will, let us remember the first six letters of today’s holiday. Let’s remember the Reason for The Season in between trying to find a danged iThing or xThing or some silly danged thing to shtuff in a shtocking.

Where was I? Oh, yes…

Whichever version you picture in your mind, the Ricky Bobby version (“sweet, little, 8 pound, 6 ounce baby…”), the Cal Naughton, Jr. version (in a tuxedo t-shirt) or another, Wednesday is His birthday.

Did you know that the quote above, when Linus is describing the “real meaning of Christmas” is the only time in the entire run of the Peanuts cartoon series that he dropped his security blanket?  He didn’t need the blanket.  That’s what Faith does for us.

Without faith, without belief, none of the other skills and talents we’ve been blessed with add up to “a hill of beans” (thank you, Dick Heston!) And without Faith, there ain’t even any beans with which to make a hill…

Be safe. Celebrate with abandon. Call your parents if you can’t be with them, and know that while hard work, great teamwork and faith in one another can get us through tough times, Faith will get us through anything.

God Bless you all, and Merry Christmas!

PS  If your particular Faith means you don’t celebrate Christmas, may you celebrate your chosen Faith and it’s observances with the same fervor and passion that I’ll apply to mine!

Editor’s Note:  The Daily Difference, in deference to Christmas, will be on hiatus until Monday, December 30.  In the meantime, Go Hawks! 

Rivals Part II: Competition

“Rivalry of scholars advances wisdom.”

          –     Hebrew proverb

Same quote as Friday’s post?  Yes.  Because competition makes us better.

On the heels of Waukee’s big win over their rival Friday night, tonight the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers play their rival, some team that wears purple, in a game that means a lot, even though both teams are already in the playoffs.  A potential home playoff game hangs in the balance, and the likelihood that the two teams might play each other again in the playoffs is actually fairly likely.

The energy level and competitiveness run hot when rivals meet, which begs the question, “what kind of outcome should we expect when we square off against our rivals?”

One where both rivals learn and get better, where both teams “leave it all on the field” and have no regrets about their effort.

Why not do that every day, every time we engage?


What if we defined a rival as something that’s holding us back from being the best we can be?  If we do, how often would we discover that our rival, our primary competition, lies within us, not on the other side of the conflict?  That way, when both sides get better, we’re on both sides.  That way, when the energy level amps up, it’s always our energy.  That way, we win, learn and get better every day.



Rivals Part I

“Rivalry of scholars advances wisdom.”

–     Hebrew proverb

Tonight, The Tallest and his teammates take the court against their arch-rival high school.  Monday night (Part II coming on Monday), the 13-time-World-Champion Green Bay Packers travel to their arch-rival’s city to play a key matchup.

We all have rivals.  In business, in sports, in whatever competition we’re engaged.

When rivalries bring out the best in both sides, “wisdom is advanced,” each side gets stronger, the fans / supporters become more connected and the game is more fun to watch or engage in.

In times of great change, it can become easy to believe we have rivals within our own team.  I suppose sometimes we even might have rivals within our own team.

Leadership’s job is to make sure that internal rivalries serve the greater good, and advance wisdom, commerce, growth or whatever the good side of “The Force” intends.

In healthy rivalries, competitors make each other better.

The Tallest and his teammates are very, very good this year.  Their rival will try to play slow, play “ugly” and play in a manner that favors them.  Both coaches like each other.  Many of the kids play together in summer ball.  Tonight’s rivalry game should be a good one.

It’s will be a great one if both rivals allow the rising tide to lift all participants — and the same is true wherever we’re “competing” today, as Difference Makers.


Scratch and Bump

“I will recruit a quarterback when I can look his mama in the eye and guarantee his survival.”

–     An anecdotal quote attributed to Hayden Fry, coaching icon and folk hero, who passed away Tuesday at the age of 90

For anyone who grew up in Iowa, or who follows college football, Hayden Fry is a household name.  “Scratch where it itches,” Fry’s approach to coaching, may be the phrase for which most Iowa fans remember him.  The quote above is attributed as Coach Fry’s response to a booster, who asked “When are we gonna get a great QB?”  It might be urban legend, but it’s not difficult to imagine Fry’s slow, Southern drawl sounding out those words.

A Man of Many Talents

He was an exceptional coach.  The University of Iowa had endured 17 consecutive losing seasons before Fry arrived from Texas.  He recruited big linemen (to protect the quarterbacks he’d bring in a bit later, among them Heisman Trophy runner-up Chuck Long), started throwing the ball in the famously “three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust” Big Ten conference (“scratching where it itched”), ran trick plays and lined up in “funky” sets, among them the now almost trademarked “standing-twin-tight-ends” formation.

He was a marketing genius.  The University of Iowa’s Tiger Hawk logo?  Hayden Fry’s creation.  The “ANF” (America Needs Farmers) sticker on the Hawkeyes’ helmets?  Hayden Fry’s creation. (Today, it would be appropriate to remember it as “America Needed Fry…”)  The “Swarm,” Iowa’s manner of coming onto the field as a single unit, holding hands, closely, side-by-side?  You guessed it.  Hayden Fry’s creation.

He was a master psychologist.  Fry had the visitor’s locker room at Iowa painted pink.  If there’s a Sherwin-Williams name for the color it should be “Passive Pink.”  The visitor’s locker room remains passively pink to this day under Fry’s successor, Kirk Ferentz, and Iowa remains one of the most difficult places in the nation for opposing teams to play.

A Man of Conviction

He was a civil rights role model.  He became the first coach in the old Southwest Conference to start an African-American football player by putting Jerry LeVias in the lineup, not because he was black, but because he earned the role.  The fact that he was on the roster at all in 1966 earned Fry death-threats, but he remained silent, understanding with great empathy that LeVias’ treatment was far worse than his own.  He did the right thing, and society ultimately started to catch up.

He refused to hire assistant coaches who didn’t aspire to be head coaches themselves.  Which is why…

An Extraordinary Developer of Talent

No fewer than 15 NCAA Head Football Coaches are or have been from direct branches on Fry’s coaching “tree.”  The number climbs when you consider the legacy handed down by those 15.

It’s this fact about Coach Fry that means the most to me, not as an Iowan, but as a business leader and difference-maker.  Second only to his recruitment and support of Jerry LeVias, Fry’s successors (and their success!) are the truest measure of the public man.

Editor’s Note:  That link is to a column on Coach Fry by the best sportswriter in the USA.

Why Does That Matter?

As leaders, we ought to measure our accomplishments over the duration of our careers by the growth, development, and accomplishments of those we are charged with leading.  And that brings me to a second tribute to another Iowa / Big Ten legend who passed just over a week ago, Chalmers William “Bump” Elliott.  Guess who hired Hayden Fry at Iowa?  “Bump” Elliott.  Elliott also hired Dan Gable, Lute Olson, C. Vivian Stringer, and Dr. Tom Davis.  This blog would become a novel if we dove further into that coaching and mentorship tree.

As an Iowan, a sports fan, and a leader, Elliott and Fry had an immense impact on who I am, who I aspire to be and how I want to be measured someday when I move on.

The DD is about Difference Makers.  In the world of sports, I challenge you to find two so closely connected who combined to make a bigger difference.

A Last Sip of Perspective

Bourbon was invented 399 years ago Thursday.  Besides my Faith, my family and my teams, a sip of superior Bourbon is right up there on my list of favorite things.  Bourbon gets a line-and-a-half today.  Coach Fry and “Bump” Elliott get the rest of the blog.



“Paranoia — the destroyer!”

–     Lyric from The Kinks “Paranoia”

“Man, I tell you what.  I’m so paranoid, I quit going to football games.  Every time they went into the huddle, I just knew they were talking about me!”

–     Chris “Pearlie Man” Knight, a dear friend (too long out of touch!), former colleague, and one of the funniest dudes I’ll ever know

Guess what?  They’re not talking about us.  Leadership is a lonely place, and if we’re gonna worry about what someone says or writes, we’re not fit for the role. Leaders have to decide.  Sometimes, those decisions are difficult.  Sometimes they’re flat-out wrong.  That’s the gig, and we ought to simply accept it and deal with it.  Not only will paranoia destroy ya, it’ll paralyze your team.

“Pearlie” still goes to football games.  He really does know they’re not talking about him.  It was just his way of saying paranoia was a waste of time.

It’s a lesson I was taught early in my career and one that I see reinforced all around me to this day; in politics, media, sports and pop culture.  It weakens good companies and dominates truly awful ones.   It’s sad, and it will cost us our best people if we allow it to take root.

If we’re servant leaders and difference-makers, virtually none of it is about us.  Before 1991, I’d been a manager for several years, but I thought my successes had more to do with me than they did.  It’s a maturity thing and great leaders coach it out of their teams.  In May 1991, I got my first real leadership shot from a mentor, the late H. Roger Dodson.  “This is a really big deal,” he told me, “but you’re not, and neither am I.  It’s about the teams we build.”

Lead fearlessly.  Learn relentlessly.  And when people that don’t matter “go into the huddle,” don’t worry about what they say.  Press on.  Make a difference.  They’ll still be huddled when you cross the finish line.

Editor’s Note:  This post went to press just a few moments before I got word of the passing of Hayden Fry, the legendary University of Iowa football coach.  Coach Fry was, and remains, a Difference Maker, for reasons we’ll detail in the next couple editions of the Daily Difference.  In fact, it fits the pattern I started a couple of months ago, calling out by name some of the people who’ve had a positive influence on me.  Randy, “Chape,” Tom, Owen, “Pearlie,” Tony, Bill, Herb, Pete, Marty, Roger — others, for sure and more to come, starting Thursday with John Hayden Fry and Chalmers William “Bump” Elliott. 




Fast No vs Slow Maybe

So you’re telling me there’s a chance!”

–     Jim Carrey’s character, Lloyd Christmas, in the movie “Dumb and Dumber”

Sales pros hate the word “no.”  Everything we’re taught — or at least everything we were taught back in the day — was about how to combat that word.  “I don’t believe in accepting “no,” a candidate recently told me.  No, “no” has historically been unwelcome in Salesville.

Whoddathunk it could be our best friend?

Why This Affection For A Negative Outcome?

A quick fact check reveals the following:

There are still only 24 hours in a day.  By and large, in the white-collar world, there are only five selling days in most weeks.  In any market, for any product of consequence, there is a finite number of people who are in the market, have any intention of buying or that ultimately will buy, no matter how skilled, persistent or awesome we are.

Let’s don’t waste any more time on the rest of the market than we absolutely have to.

The “fast no,” is a sales pro’s best friend, because it frees up time for those that will say “yes!”  Traditional sales training focuses on what I call the “Dumb or Dumber” strategy.  If you’re hoping against hope that there is still a chance, there probably isn’t.  This concept is along the same line as yesterday’s post.  Closing, cajoling, pushing — they’re not part of the game we play these days.  (By the way, if you’re hoping against hope there’s still a chance, ask!  But ask wanting and expecting an honest answer, and prepared to hear it.  Don’t pull a Lloyd!)

Surely You’re Not Suggesting We Should Only Call on People Pre-Disposed to Buy From Us?

That’s not the point.  Now, is sales still an “argument” at its core?  Yes.  If the buyers already believed what we want them to believe, we’d be obsolete.  Someone could just process the inbound calls and Willy Loman us right out of business.  Of course, the buyers aren’t all “ready to pull the trigger!”  We have to convince them that we have a solution to their problem, and the time to do that is upfront.  By asking questions.

Questions like:

“Have you been able to quantify how much ________ is costing you?”  “When __________ happens, what does that look / feel like inside your operation?  For your customers?”  “What would it be worth for you to have this challenge behind you?  How much more revenue would you drive, how much lower would your costs be, how much less time would you have to spend convincing your regulators, board of directors or owners that they shouldn’t be concerned at all about __________?”  “Does __________ drive overtime up?  Has it ever cost you a valuable employee?  Has it had any impact on recruiting talent?  Has it affected how referenceable your customers are?”

So, Just Bail at The First Sign of Rejection?

Nope.  Instead, step away when it becomes clear there’s no pain of remaining the same for the prospect.  If there’s no pain, there’s little chance of a sale.  If there’s no payback, in terms of hard dollars or peace of mind, there’s little chance of a sale.  If there’s no pain in remaining the same, why would the prospect change?  And if there’s little chance, why would we spend all our time being Lloyd Christmas when we could be setting up a better Christmas for the people on our list?

I’m not suggesting we give up.  I’m suggesting we play “less often, but more better.”  It improves our chances of making a difference.