Lessons Learned from the Road
With the completion of our December staff meeting for SigEp, I am now halfway through my year as a Regional Director and Volunteer Specialist. Our team learned a lot before hitting the road to serve in our roles as we went through a ten-week long process called the Maddox Summer Development. This is an intense process that focuses on sales, consulting, project management, and strategic communication skills. While the summer training was transformative, what was even more impactful was applying what we learned throughout the summer on the road. As Dale Carnegie once said, “knowledge isn’t power until it’s applied.” This application reinforced what we learned but also led to some key lessons learned along the way.
Our team often reflects back on our year through big wins and lessons learned from our service on the road. Below are a few lessons that have resonated with me so far. Enjoy.
1. Life is results or it's bullsh*t.
This is a concept I had heard about from mentors in the past, however, I didn’t fully appreciate or understand until spending some time on the road. This takeaway originates from the book Napkin Notes: On the Art of Living by G. Michael Durst. In the book Durst explains this concept as, “You either spend your time producing results, or you spend your time producing bullshit to explain why you didn't produce the results.”
At first this mantra seems rather blunt and abrasive, but I think the reason it does is because it’s a hard pill of truth to swallow. When living the “road warrior” lifestyle of a Regional Director it’s very tempting at times to succumb to a victim mindset and produce bullsh*t reasons for why you didn’t deliver results. Picture this, your back is killing you from sleeping on a questionable couch, you consume yet another peanut butter sandwich for breakfast, you’re homesick, tired, and the last thing you want to do is another workshop. It would be extremely tempting to use the conditions you’re operating in as an excuse to explain why you didn’t produce the desired results. That’s the easy route though and you have to fight that urge and go out and deliver results, regardless of the conditions. At the end of the day, you can either have your desired result or you can have some self-serving rationale as to why you didn’t achieve your desired result. This is critical because history, organizations, and people are rarely if ever impacted by the person that spends their time making excuses.
I found out on the road that this doesn’t just apply to goals you have in your occupational role but in all aspects of your life. Whether it is a spiritual, financial, physical or emotional goal. For all of them, you can have results or bullshit. To some this might seem like an extremely binary mindset to have, but I think it is an empowering one that leads you to take ownership of everything in your life. In our post-COVID world where professionals have grown accustomed to making excuses or finding a scapegoat, this mindset can truly be a differentiator. At the end of the day, you can either have results or you can have bullsh*t, the choice is yours.
2. Structure Creates Clarity, Clarity Creates Action.
While on the road, I found out that human nature drives us towards taking the comfortable route or the path of least resistance. This is especially true when the conditions are far from ideal. As a result, it’s easy for us to drift towards what I’ve dubbed “pretend activity.” Pretend activity is the low-hanging fruit tasks that don’t move the organization forward or move us closer to key metrics. These fake alternatives to work are mindless tasks such as emails, scheduling, etc. Important tasks but not the essential work that drives organizational progress. In the end, you just need to do the work because it’s the only thing that matters.
My portfolio has many high-level goals so I found that one of the most valuable components of my job was ruthless prioritization of work to avoid “pretend activity.” Soon I found myself looking for the smallest component of progress and how I could execute on them. As I reflected on this, I realized how impactful this was on me and my ability to reach the variety of goals our team was working towards. As I reflected more, I discovered that this ruthless prioritization changed the way I approached my work. I now looked for ways to create structure on the work I was doing to avoid the easy route and “pretend activity” so I could focus on the work that really matters. To headline, structure creates clarity, and clarity creates action.
3. Your Coalition is Your Greatest Asset
We’ve all heard the cliche African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together.” The reason it’s become cliche is because it’s so true. It doesn’t matter how talented, smart, or capable you are, if you can’t build a coalition or generate buy-in from others around ideas and projects you will not be able to accomplish anything.
In my time on the road, I’ve been amazed at the stretch goals we could accomplish when we rallied our members behind a vision and created a coalition of talented individuals. Investing in relationships ended up becoming one of the most important things I could do. To build this valuable coalition you need to be able to build influence and buy-in. This seems straight forward but building trust is not a process you can rush. You need to make the investment of time to find out what is important to people. We all have differences, especially when you're a small-town Iowa farm boy in Southern California, that influence what you value and your viewpoints. Although it seems unproductive, you need to invest the time to figure out what people care about, show them that you care about them and build trust. If you can do these three things you’ll be able to build a coalition that will be instrumental in achieving your goals. Regardless of how talented you are or how hard you work, without a coalition in your corner, you’ll simply be spinning your wheels.
4. “Iowa Nice” is definitely real and the world needs more of it…
Full disclaimer on this point, in my time in California I have met some of the most outstanding undergraduates and volunteers in the entire country. With all of the relationships I’ve built with fantastic people in California I have made a general observation between folks in California and those back in Iowa. It took me a while to figure it out, until I realized that the difference was the Midwest lore of “Iowa nice.”
California was a culture shock to say the least and I had some learning moments. (Note to self: Don’t wave to people when driving. They really don’t like that.) As I got over this initial culture shock, I began to notice that the concept of “Iowa nice” is absolutely real. Until you leave the state you don't realize how impactful it is. Throughout California, people are so caught up in their own world that they forget that other people exist. In the hustle that the state is known for I think it’s easy to forget to have compassion for others. I know generalizations can often be inaccurate and unfair. That being acknowledged, after spending nearly half a year in the state traveling from campus to campus this generalization was continuously reinforced.
Until you leave the midwest you don’t truly appreciate the small acts of kindness that are just a normal part of the culture. Kindness still matters and in today’s world and is genuinely a competitive advantage in the workplace. Therefore, the world could learn a thing or two from the “salt of the Earth people” in the midwest and our Iowa nice.
Iowan’s might think that the Iowa State Fair Butter Cow or Casey’s breakfast pizza is the greatest thing about our state. In the end though, it really is the “Iowa nice.” It’s truly special and needed in our world more than ever.
There are many, many additional lessons I've learned along the way that I could include on this list. Altogether, this position has provided countless opportunities to try new things and forge lessons learned like the ones outlined above. I'm thankful for this role and the opportunities it provides to apply what we've learned in training and to learn so many invaluable lessons. I'm looking forward to getting back on the road in 2022 and to see what lessons lie ahead as I wrap up my year with SigEp.