Sharp Tools Are the Most Effective

Fall 1994. I hired on as an apprentice carpenter for a company that built staircases and hung trim.  Thus began, for me, a lifelong enjoyment for working with wood, especially hardwoods like red oak and poplar.  I was privileged to learn how to build curved staircases and these now fill quite a few houses in lower Michigan, where we lived at the time and have since migrated back to.

A carpenter learns very quickly that it is critical to keep his tools in good repair in order to do fine woodwork.  Chiefly, this means sharpening cutting implements regularly.  You may be surprised to find that dull tools—saws, chisels, router bits, etc.—not only do inferior work, marring the wood, but they are also dangerous.  You risk injury using chisels with dull blades.  A sharp saw does the work quickly, effectively, and safely.

In life, we have tools that we use to mold our lives and become effective and reach our potential.  Like planes and gouges, they must be kept sharp to be effective.  Here are a few:

  • Vocational Skills – What talents and acuities do you have that you can sharpen now and in the days ahead? I work in Information Technology and am a musician.  I try to read up on the latest technological innovations as well as become more proficient with the software apps I use in my work.  And with my instruments, I practice and learn new stuff.  Do you have a plan for skills development?
  • Relationships – “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” (Jim Rohn) What kinds of relationships do you cultivate to 1) add value to others and 2) help in your own development?  If you walk with wise and ambitious people, you fuel your passion to grow and develop.  But if you make a practice of hanging with people who are pessimistic and complacent, like it or not, it will affect you.  Enthusiasm is contagious.  So is discouragement and criticism.  Choose wisely.
  • Reading ­– That readers are leaders is axiomatic. And you are called to lead.  What kinds of books do you plan on reading or listening over the next year?  Here’s a good place to start: The Magic of Thinking Big (David J. Schwartz); How To Read A Book (Mortimer Adler & Charles Van Doren); Spiritual Leadership (J. Oswald Sanders); Emotional Intelligence (Daniel Goleman); Talent Is Overrated (Geoff Colvin).  Possibilities are endless, but whatever you do, develop a reading plan for the next year.
  • Physical Fitness – Your effectiveness is charged or limited by your physical fitness—or lack of it. Regular cardiovascular exercise 1) improves your focus, 2) makes you feel better because of endorphins and 3) increases your longevity.  Also, there are numerous other benefits to staying fit, fighting the national epidemic of obesity.  Your career and its growth are one of these. As some have said, “Your shape will shape your future.”

Now go sharpen your tools and build.  You will be astounded at what they produce.

 

Suggested Resources:

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change (Stephen R. Covey)

Stay Sharp: 52 Ways to Keep Your Mind, Not Lose It (David B. Biebel et al)

 

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If You Have to Correct, Be Decent About It

Correction with graceThree years ago, I changed departments within my company. I accepted the new assignment, welcoming the chance for advancement as well the challenge of learning a new skill set. I’ve learned a lot in the past three years.

I work in Information Technology. IT is a field that is characterized by regular innovation and obsolescence, multiple problem-solving opportunities and, if done well, precision. I work in the Quality Assurance department of our company. It is the task of my very able colleagues and I to assure that the product we deliver to our clients (Fortune 500 companies and others) is of the highest quality and functions flawlessly. In a word, our work has to be perfect. Or as close to perfect as is humanly possible.

This means that the regular requirement of my job involves inspecting the work of my colleagues and calling them over to my desk to go over what they’ve submitted, praising wherever possible, but also pointing out errors and mistakes, how to correct them and improve the overall quality of their work.

We have an office full of winsome and intelligent professionals who take their work very seriously and are sensitive to any shortcomings in what they produce. I’ve watched as some of them look crestfallen —furrowed brow and all—when I’ve brought an error to their attention. I try not to be calloused when dealing with people. Ask those who know me. They’ll tell you. Especially when I have to look in the eyes of the one I am critiquing. I fall all over myself, feeling bad that I have to take some sunshine out of their day.

Real correction is not a picnic. Real, meaning when you have to look square in the eyes of someone and smell their perfume, cologne or even their breath.

I must tell you that this has given me an entirely different perspective on the often irresponsible practice of criticizing another human being who doesn’t happen to be in the same room, out of earshot and eye contact.

I try to critique those for whom I’m responsible with as much grace as is humanly possible. I have to look them in the eye when I do it. It’s really easy to be a critic when those who are the target of your criticisms will never be within breathing distance. That’s like shooting fish in a pail. No challenge. No intelligence needed. And often, given the nature of the criticisms, no intelligence involved at any stage.

Maybe this should be the benchmark for our often glib and sloppy criticisms of people and stuff. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21) the Scriptures inform us. Can you look the person in the eye? Would you….?

Think about it: How quickly would I criticize someone (a politician, a performing artist, a minister, a member of my circle) if I was required look them in the eye when critiquing? Just like I have to do each day with my co-workers. I’ve found that showing genuine appreciation wherever possible creates life. In others and in me. And it makes the corrections a lot more palatable.

As a man named Paul once wrote, “…speak the truth in love.”

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Criticism and Graciousness

criticismTwo years ago, I changed positions within my company.  I welcomed the chance for advancement as well the challenge of learning a new skill set.  I’ve been at this for about twenty-three months now.

I work in Information Technology.  IT is a field that is characterized by regular innovation and obsolescence, multiple problem-solving opportunities and, if done well, precision.  I work in the Quality Assurance department of our company.  It is the task of my very able colleagues and I to assure that the product we deliver to our clients (Fortune 500 companies and others) is of the highest quality and functions flawlessly.  In a word, our work has to be perfect.  Or as close to perfect as is humanly possible.

This means that a regular requirement of my job involves me inspecting the work—essentially, architectural drawings of computer equipment–of my colleagues and calling them over to my desk to go over what they’ve submitted, praising wherever possible, but also pointing out errors and mistakes, how to correct them and improve the overall quality of their work.

We have an office full of winsome and intelligent professionals who take their work very seriously and are sensitive to any shortcomings in what they produce.  I’ve watched as some of them look crestfallen—furrowed brow and all—when I’ve brought an error to their attention.  I try not to be calloused when dealing with people.  Ask those who know me.  They’ll tell you.  Especially when I have to look in the eyes of the one I am critiquing.  I fall all over myself, feeling bad that I have to take some sunshine out of their day.

Real correction is not a picnic.  Real, meaning when you have to look square in the eyes of someone and smell their perfume, cologne or even their breath.

I must tell you that this has given me an entirely different perspective on the often irresponsible practice of criticizing another human being who doesn’t happen to be in the same room, out of earshot and eye contact.  A practice, unfortunately, that comes easy to human beings.  And easy to me.

I try to critique those for whom I’m responsible with as much grace as is humanly possible.  I have to look them in the eye when I do it.  It’s really easy to be a critic when those who are the target of your criticisms will never be within breathing distance.  That’s like shooting fish in a pail.  No challenge.  No intelligence needed.  And often, given the nature of the criticisms, no intelligence involved at any stage.

Maybe this should be the benchmark for our often glib and sloppy criticisms of people and stuff.  “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” says a proverb from the Bible (Proverbs 18:21).  Can you look the person in the eye? Would you…?  How quickly would we criticize someone (a politician, a performing artist, a minister, a member of my circle) if we were required be in the same room when giving a critique of their work?  Just like I have to do each day with my co-workers.

I’ve found that showing genuine appreciation wherever possible creates life.  In others and in me.  And it makes the corrections a whole lot more palatable.  If you must critique and correct, do so with grace, tact and love.

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Going Forward

I work in Information Technology.  As many of you know, IT is a rapidly advancing and highly competitive field that has the additional quality of regular innovation and improvement.  If, for example, you have iTunes, you know that this application is regularly updated.  You have to be on top of your game to keep pace with technology.

One of the things I learned early in my career in IT is the phrase “going forward.”  I’d see its use in memos and emails a lot.  It’s an intensely positive concept.  It is usually used in lieu of things like “from now on; starting now; in the future…” etc.

Life moves forward.  We’ve all sang some version of “If I Could Turn Back Time” at different removes in our lives.  If only I had done this or not done that.  Met this person.  Taken this job.  Moved to where I live.  Ad nauseum.

But I did.  Or I didn’t.  And you can’t turn back the clock.  And if you or I swim in regret, we will drown.  Water under the bridge.  It’s past.

Jesus once said, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”  You know that driving your car looking backward will get you into a wreck eventually.  A team of horses or a tractor moves slower than a car, but if you’re plowing a field, you rows will be crooked and you’ll eventually end up in a ditch.

You can only look forward.  And go forward.

My wife and I remind ourselves of this with the phrase “upward and outward” with respect to our thinking and attitude.  Inward and backward looking—except for times of self-evaluation—is ultimately counterproductive.  You can’t go forward looking backward.

Life is what we make it.  We can go nowhere looking back.  We can only look ahead.  And move ahead.

Because the best days are right ahead of you!

Looking In the Eyes Of Those We Criticize

Recently, I was given the opportunity to change positions within my company.  I accepted, welcoming the chance for advancement as well the challenge of learning a new skill set.  I’ve been at this new task a couple of months now.

I work in Information Technology.  IT is a field that is characterized by regular innovation and obsolescence, multiple problem-solving opportunities and, if done well, precision.  I now work in the Quality Assurance department of our company.  It is the task of my very able colleagues and I to assure that the product we deliver to our clients (Fortune 500 companies and others) is of the highest quality and functions flawlessly.  In a word, our work has to be perfect.  Or as close to perfect as is humanly possible.

This means that a regular requirement of my job involves me inspecting the work of my colleagues and calling them over to my desk to go over what they’ve submitted, praising wherever possible, but also pointing out errors and mistakes, how to correct them and improve the overall quality of their work.

We have an office full of winsome and intelligent professionals who take their work very seriously and are sensitive to any shortcomings in what they produce.  I’ve watched as some of them look crestfallen—furrowed brow and all—when I’ve brought an error to their attention.  I try not to be calloused when dealing with people.  Ask those who know me.  They’ll tell you.  Especially when I have to look in the eyes of the one I am critiquing.  I fall all over myself, feeling bad that I have to take some sunshine out of their day.

Real correction is not a picnic.  Real, meaning when you have to look square in the eyes of someone and smell their perfume, cologne or even their breath.

I must tell you that this has given me an entirely different perspective on the often irresponsible practice of criticizing another human being who doesn’t happen to be in the same room, out of earshot and eye contact.  A practice, unfortunately, that comes easy to human beings.  And easy to me.

I try to critique those for whom I’m responsible with as much grace as is humanly possible.  I have to look them in the eye when I do it.  It’s really easy to be a critic when those who are the target of your criticisms will never be within breathing distance.  That’s like shooting fish in a pail.  No challenge.  No intelligence needed.  And often, given the nature of the criticisms, no intelligence involved at any stage.

Maybe this should be the benchmark for our often glib and sloppy criticisms of people and stuff.  “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21) the Scriptures inform us.  Can you look the person in the eye? Would you…?  How quickly would we criticize someone (a politician, a performing artist, a minister, a member of my circle) if we were required be in the same room when giving a critique of their work?  Just like I have to do each day with my co-workers.

I’ve found that showing genuine appreciation wherever possible creates life.  In others and in me.  And it makes the corrections a whole lot more palatable.  I think there’s a reason Paul the apostle told us to “speak the truth in love.”