22. Not Taking it Personal

Here is one story that explains yesterday’s post on not taking the frustrations of others personally.

One day while working at Lockheed Martin Space, our project manager asked me to attend a customer update meeting. I never shy away from speaking with the “big wigs” so I accepted.

On this occasion, I knew that I would be required to represent a project that we were working on which had not made much progress and anticipated it being a fiery discussion.

When the conference call began, I was asked to provide status on where we were with migrating and executing software code written by another vendor.

“We have made changes to the code, necessary for running in our environment, and we should be executing today…”

After about 60 seconds of speaking, the colonel cut me off and sounded quite bothered.

“What you are saying really has me concerned. Let me explain why.” – She said.

“Sure” I said with no concerns for what was coming next.

When someone is frustrated, it is a great idea to be receptive to hearing them out.

“It seems like we missed our opportunity to run the code” she started.

“I have already told my superiors that we were going to make progress.”

It turns out that she had been eager to tell them that not only were we going to make progress, but that during this tiny window of opportunity of 2 days, that we’d be able to show something for it.

“I see” I said, thinking about what I had heard, but not taking what she said personally.

And then the fears and assumptions started coming out…

“What I’m really concerned about, is somehow the vendor making it impossible for us to run.” (A ludicrous idea)

“I have this feeling that they are talking behind closed doors right now, about how we can’t get this to run.”

On she went, with one concern after another. Even though I was the primary person involved with migrating over and doing this work. Because I had kept my cool, and focused on really listening to this person’s frustrations, the frustrations were never aimed at me, even though I was the primary person involved in the work in question.

People want to vent frustrations, not start a fight.

Just because a person is venting frustrations, even to the person that they might be frustrated with, they are not attempting to pick a fight. They want to be heard.

The more I listened to the colonel’s concerns, the more I realized her concerns came from things that had nothing to do with the work we were doing.

“I understand what you are saying Mike, but what am I supposed to show them? How can I show them that we’ve made progress?” – She said.

It was clear, that we had not helped our customer be able to articulate that not only the expected progress was happening, but great things were around the corner.

Had I become defensive, I never would have made it passed “the work hasn’t been completed.” Instead, I received considerable amount of insight into how our customer thinks and how to empower them. In turn this would give us breathing room, to do the actual work needed to accomplish the mission.


21. Influencing from the frustration of others

Let’s put aside hypothetical heated conversations you might fall into for the moment. When others come to you in frustration you should understand something important. They are not frustrated at you, even if it makes logical sense to be.

These people are stuck with the feeling of frustration.

Frustration is a feeling. It ought not be reasoned with, nor explained away. It is a real physiological feeling that, in fact, feels terrible. So terrible, that it will cause people to vent their frustrations in an unbelievable number of ways.

Frustration is the feeling that things are no longer moving forward as they “ought to” and the person in front of you feels that.

In most cases when people come to you with frustration, they are seeking to remove this affliction, and they’ve chosen you. If you are not aware of what is going on, you may get sucked in to their feelings, and become defensive. If you do that, you will lose the opportunity to earn influence, by being present.

You have a choice. Earn influence, grow and gain in your life or “defend yourself”, lose influence with others and go nowhere.

These opportunities present themselves to those who have internalized they are invulnerable.


20. Putting Down Roots

In this fast paced world, it appears that many within society no longer see the value of putting down roots. Instead of investing in their local communities, people decide to stay mobile and “move where the money is” or where it is “exciting.”

But this comes at a cost.

Communities become a monoculture in age (usually only old folks) and they lose the precious talent needed to help keep things vibrant and growing. Worse even, is the indoctrinated culture of “its someone else’s problem.”

People who put down roots, make it their business to pick up the trash on the side of the road, while those just passing by wait for the government to do it.

When people settle down in an area, and make somewhere their home, they take pride-in-ownership. When people settle “just for the money” they give as little as possible and take as much as they can, why else are they there?

Those who do not put down roots, instead of planting trees in their backyards that could feed themselves and future residents, they wish that others had planted them for them.

Imagine what it would look like if everyone waited on someone else to be responsible for where they live.

Every year, the youth coming-of-age leave their homes to far away places to learn, often for the first time, how to do things productive. At universities they often learn from people who are far and away from the real world work and are stuck in the imaginary land frozen in time 50 to 100 years ago. Once they’ve completed that foundational knowledge, they travel somewhere else, usually an urban setting, in hopes for finding a job related to the abstract and dated information they now possess. Once they’ve started going in life and learn how to be productive, they remain where they are, or bounce somewhere else, usually never to return from whence they came to invest and build up the capital there.

Instead its always somewhere else that gets that renewed investment.

Is it really a surprise that so many systems are on life support?

Maybe it’s time again that people developed a sense of responsibility for one piece of ground and make sure that its truly valuable, for now and in the future.


19. Death Cults

For some it may be hard to believe, but there are death cults just about everywhere. While this may seem shocking, when you detach from the things that make you to pay attention about what makes others, it becomes much clearer.

While there are certainly plenty of people who hang out at “death cult” clubs (online), or wear the “death cult” tshirt and stickers, usually death cult people look like everyone else.

What makes them part of a Death Cult, is their obsession with doom and gloom, and their diseased view about everything.

The world is always coming to an end. This thing or that thing is going to kill us, or is currently killing us always. There is nothing that anybody can do in life, but just accept the fate that “it’s all in the process of being over.”

That is what people who obsess about death want you to think.

Just because someone can analytically or categorically break down to show you its true, does it make it true.

  • Global Warming will kill us all!
  • No its actually climate change that’s killing us!
  • We’ll all be dead soon because the energy is going to dry up, and we’re dependent upon it.
  • A meteor is going to hit and there is nothing we can do about it.
  • The stock market is going to crash and the whole economy will be ruined forever.
  • Society has completely collapsed, just look at all of the bad things on the news!
  • They is too many people on earth!!
  • A disease is going to get us. See how many people its killed!!!!

And on and on it goes.

But life continues on. As it always will.

Human beings have never had it easier than they do today, this is why they worry so much. Becoming obsessed with imaginary, analytical and categorical bad, makes one forget about the simple reality that we have the ability to craft and mold our destiny.

Leadership is so compelling because of this.

People who are surrounded by “the sky is falling” really attach themselves to people with a purpose. With a plan. Something that they are striving towards. This is truly compelling.

Sure if you want to group everything into these abstract structures, and then want to be upset about them when they “are threatened” you can do that.

Or you can build relationships with people around you, to make something better.

Never forget, for those who really know, people are the greatest asset. Learn to empower, channel them, and release them from death cult obsessions.


18. Strengths and Weaknesses

Know Yourself and Seek Self Improvement

– Marine Corps Leadership Principles

Leaders know their strengths and leaders know their weaknesses. They spend the time maximizing their strengths and learn how to mitigate the negative affects of their weaknesses.

People become a leader when they delegate their weaknesses to others whom are stronger to them. These people do not become weaker by acknowledging their weak areas, they become stronger personally, and as a group.

Weaknesses should never outshine your strengths, and if they do its because you haven’t discovered and focused on your strengths.


17. Permission is Optional

Permission is optional in life.

You don’t need permission to be you just as much as others don’t need your permission to be themselves.

In a world where you treat people with respect, you don’t need to ask their permission. In fact, those who feel comfortable not taking permission usually know

Asking permission puts you at the mercy of the person being asked. This social relationship, should be your choice, be intentionally on your terms, and should never be out of fear.

Scenarios where you might need to ask permission, shows your lack of strong connection to the person you are asking. Consider building a relationship so you do not need to ask permission to be you.

The strongest teams don’t ask permission to exist, instead they cultivate and value the contributions of those on the team.

Instead of asking permission, state what you are in the process of doing and be open to shifting course based on the feedback of others.

This is the path to influence.


16. Elongating Your Horizon

Most of us live in a very busy world with very busy demands. We all have 24 hours in a day, but some of us use every second of that time to take care of the past, the present, and a little bit of the future.

We wake up, we may exercise, eat breakfast, commute to work, spend or 8 to 10 hours at a job, commute home, spend time with family or friends then go to bed, only to do it all again the next day. Some are even squeezing in entrepreneurial endeavors in their office hours.

Living this kind of life, rarely does it put one into the position to seriously think about the future, whether that is 20 years, 30 years, 50 years, or 100 years in the future and yet, that’s exactly how one can gain perspective on one’s life.

Have you tried planning for 300 years from now?

This may seem really far out there, but do you not think that your actions today could direct action that far in the future? What about setting a family trajectory, a narrative of growth and value building that lasts at least that long?

Even if what you do, doesn’t make it that far, it raises your trajectory. To consider how far that is in the future in reality, (it’s really not that far), you gain a deeper appreciation of what it took to get you here over 300 years. Thinking about these things, begins building Legacy, one of “The 21 Laws of Leadership”, a book written by John Maxwell.

Just the effort alone is worth it, even if its for an occasional solo night out with a notebook thinking about the future.


15. Question What You Hear or Read

People are influenced by all sorts stimuli whether that is hearing and reading or seeing and smelling. These influences shape the way we think about the world and the way we approach what we do, daily, weekly and beyond.

My time spent in Marine Corps Intelligence and working intelligence at the FBI taught me well to question the sources of information that I ingest.


Information, is not the same thing as knowledge

Unless we remain vigilant, information that we see printed or heard unduly influences us to believe that something is true. Without having performed any work, we naturally want to take information and call it knowledge.

Yet, this is an assumption that has many layers of assumptions that work against you. Here is a small list of assumptions that can back fire:

  • The organization that provides the medium hasn’t modified or held back relevant information before making it available.
  • The writer or reporter does not have ulterior motives that benefit them by providing you with that information over others.
  • The writer or reporter actually has access to the information that they are providing.
  • The writer or reporter is consistent in keeping the facts straight.

The military is stringent about who’s information is trusted, should be too.

Trust forms the bed rock of our relationships. Military intelligence provides “source bylines” that, depending on your clearance, will provide you will insight into who or what is providing the information. In the world of human intelligence (humint), these source bylines are the life and blood of whether or not a source’s information is trusted.

These humint handlers, as they’re called, manage the source to make sure they are collecting what is needed for the people that need the information. It is their job, to provide accurate information about the source itself. These human intelligence professionals, even request the sources provide proof of access and information validity if they want to maintain their relationship. Here are a few questions they answer.

  • Has this person reported information before?
  • Does this person have first hand access to the information reported, or did they hear it?
  • Has the information this person provided been verified either now or in the past?
  • What are the reasons they are providing this information?

Intelligence goes to these great lengths because they know how bad information actually is.

Information, is just information. It doesn’t mean its true. It doesn’t mean its helpful. Just because its information doesn’t mean it helps you make decisions about how you ought to think of the world you actually occupy.

It’s just information.

Intelligence agencies guard certain information because the information is actually valuable, yet majority of information is not.

Upon arriving home from Afghanistan in late 2009 after spending nearly a year conducting intelligence (collection and analysis) on state and local government officials, tribal leaders, and local war lords it was a major wake up call to see how those back home accept the information they receive. Any information, is valuable information, and the information that caters to what is already believed, the more credible.

When information matters, this is a dangerous behavior.

A simple tip. Raise your standards of what you know, and value what you know over what you have read or heard.


14. Marine Corps Leadership Traits

When I joined the Marine Corps in 2004 I got my first experience really cramming “knowledge” into my mind. Shortly after you arrive at boot camp you are given a small three ring binder that is full of Marine Corps information.

Everything in this binder you have to memorize by heart.

They give you the rank structure. The history of the Marine Corps to include famous figures and famous battles. There were basic medical steps. Your general orders as a military man. And they provided you with the Marine Corps Leadership Traits.

To this day I still know the Mnemonic phrase that goes along with them.


  • Judgement
  • Justice
  • Dependability
  • Initiative
  • Decisiveness
  • Tact
  • Integrity
  • Enthusiasm
  • Bearing
  • Unselfishness
  • Courage
  • Knowledge
  • Loyalty
  • Endurance

Throughout boot camp knowing “J J DID TIE BUCKLE” was life and death

In boot camp you have inspections. During these inspections you have a drill instructor screaming in your face while you are supposed to recite some bit of Marine Corps knowledge, or you demonstrate mastery of manipulating your weapon.

“TELL ME JJ DID TIE BUCKLE” – The drill instructor would yell.

And immediately you’d have to launch into saying all of the words that make up the Marine Corps leadership traits. And you better not mess up because the drill instructors are definitely listening.

Memorizing is the first step to knowing them by heart

By being able to recite all of the leadership traits from memory it starts to bake in the ability to choose to value these traits when the time comes for them to be relevant. It is very difficult to have initiative if you don’t even know what the word means. It is also difficult to be decisive, or have good judgement.

The leadership traits point in the direction of how one becomes a leader. These traits happen to be the traits relevant for leading. Those whom demonstrate them earn influence with all those around them, consistently.

And for those that become Marines, soon to be young leaders, this fact is beaten into them at an early age.


13. People Value What They Do

If you ever want to know what a person values, just look at what they do. One doesn’t need to do a deep psycho-analysis to peer into their subconscious, just simple observations and making true statements.

Below are a few observational tips for discovering what a person values.

What Do They Actually Do?

If you’re trying to understand a person take a look at what the person physically do.

Do they talk often? (Ignore for a moment what they actually say) That probably means they enjoy talking.

Do they constantly clean and organize? They must value an organized living space.

Do they frequently make self deprecating statements? They must value high self-consciousness.

My Wife Christine Values Cooking and Lone Time

If you met my wife Christine very quickly you would find out that she values cooking. She cooks and prepares food every single day for breakfast, lunch and dinner for her family. If given a large list of activities that need to happen, if being in the kitchen is one of them, then that’s what she will choose.

The other is valuing her lone time. This kind of value, can be difficult to observe without getting to know the person. However, my wife is an introvert who is surrounded by a rambunctious family. As a result, she spends most of her day in the service of others and having to listen and respond to people. By the end of the day, once the children have been put to bed, you will find her huddled up on the couch reading a book. It turns out that’s what she would rather be doing than the many other activities in her life.

What Do They Say?

Trying to understand what a person values by what they say is a tricky endeavor. When people speak it is not uncommon for them to state what they want their public “persona” to be. When what they say does not match what they do, people often call this a “do say gap.” There is figuratively a gap between what they say and what they do.

However, that can even tell you much about them.

Even a say do gap will tell you what they believe you will value about them.

“That guy doesn’t know who he is missing with. If he would have said something back, I would have given it to him.”

This tough guy statement is made by many males to their friends. It isn’t to say that this is a say-do-gap but that this person values the idea of them being tough in a moment that they would need to be. This isn’t to say this person has courage, decisiveness, dependability or initiative (all valuable traits in the time of physical duress). It just says that this person values the idea of them being able to “handle it.”

Verbalized values, tend to be what we want others to believe about us.

It is rare that people will adopt beliefs about you based on what you say, versus what you do. However, it does give them insights into what we think we value about ourselves. If you value courageous people, saying so makes it plain to other people that you value courageous people. This in turn might make people a bit aware of times to be courageous. Whether or not they will be more of that, such as to “win your favor” is another story. The fastest way to get others to adopt values, is by exhibiting the behaviors of a person who much have those values.

Do you know the values of your friends, family and yourself?

Consider putting together a list of what everyone you know values. By calling conscious attention to this effort it will make you more effective with communicating with them. In the end, it will make you more able to earn and spend influence with them.