“Focus on Your Execution, Not the Outcome….”

There are certain instances when information crosses our paths that knocks us over. It could be a billboard. A bible verse. A flash of video on our phones.

For me, a lot of times, I get my inspiring information from voices.

I had one of those mind-blowing moments last week.

I wanted to share a voice with you. The voice might not yet be a well-known voice, but in the Podcast world, it will be. The words that this voice gave me were the words I’d wish, as a young construction engineer, I’d have heard 20 years ago.

Personality Tests

We’ve all been exposed, at one time or another, to personality tests. Myers-Briggs. The quizzes that ask you 50 questions that “best describe you” kind of deals. Pick a bunch of answers and then, statistically, you are dropped into a categorical pen of sorts. This is now your identity.

I took one of these tests a long time ago. Say what you want about having yourself pegged into a hole. The tests are interesting. They at least validate what you probably already intrinsically know: We all have personality proclivities, the tests just put some algorithms together to peg you with a few traits.

ISTJ – “The Logistician.” That’s me.

“Highly Practical. Pragmatic. Down to Earth.”

“Tends to have strong habits and focus on what is happening or has already happened.”

“Individuals focus on objectivity and rationality.”

“Prefers structure and planning to spontaneity.”

All these traits have served me well, to some level, up to this point in my career. All of the Organizational Behavior-type MBA stuff that I learned about decades ago, carried out like ingredients in a Manager’s Soup.

For decades, I carried myself more like Polyanna instead of Patton. I’m sure the “Old Mild Manner Bob” was a nice guy to work for. Maybe even a push-over. Leadership wasn’t carried out by force, it was easy-going, still-water, kept the peace.

But you know what: I’m changing. Call it seasoning. Years of scar tissue are building up on my resume. Maybe it’s born from the way the industry is changing. I’m becoming less tolerant of lousy behavior. My expectations for people taking personal responsibility are heightening. I don’t deal with slackers. I just want to be around hard-chargers.

ISTJ – I think for me, it’s the abbreviation for a different personality type – The Old & Crusty Logistician….

A New Voice

Andy Stumpf  has been a frequent guests on a lot of Podcasts that I listen to, and recently, he started his own. Andy is a former Navy SEAL turned civilian. He is one of those voices that has a punch behind it. He’s a little younger than I am. He’s frank. He’s direct. He’s on-point. Many of his views on life dovetail with mine. He’s the kind of guy I wish was my next door neighbor, because I know the conversations on the patio would be great.

Recently, Andy did a podcast about his trials during an elk hunting trip that he was on. I’m not a hunter, so the subject matter wasn’t necessarily in my wheel house. He was telling the story about, what he considered to be, a failed hunt. He shared his frustration with his performance and the mental gyrations he was putting himself through to try to correct his situation.

At the end of his podcast, he was summing up his perception of his failure. He made a statement that blew my mind. At 28:30 into the podcast, he said this:

“Control yourself. That’s all you have. Focus on you and the things you can control. Focus on your execution, not the outcome. Let everything else fall away. That’s all you have control over at the end of the day.”

Cleared Hot – Episode 13 – Failure

Read that again. A couple of times. Let it really sink in. Click on the link and give him a listen yourself.

Now, that set of statements might not hit you in the forehead like it did me – It’s hard to step into a conversation and get the complete gist. Let me take you through why it impacted me so deeply.

The Gates are Broken….

So this summer, I got volunteered to oversee a small project in a western suburb of Chicago. The job entailed $400K worth of backyard downspout sewer work, and a R&R of the parking lot HMA pavement. The people from the condo association were, for the most part, a very good group to work for. We had a small-scale asphalt company who took the job as the general contractor, and they secured a couple of solid subcontractors.

Part of the project reconstructed the brick paver entrance to the condo complex. After the pavers had been completely installed, we noticed that the one set of entryway gates wasn’t working. Prior to brick paver installation, the condo association’s gate maintainer had installed preformed detector loops below the paver stone. The likely culprit of the malfunction: A saw. The loops weren’t communicating with the controller. There was a break in the cable….somewhere….

It turns out that the one of the brick paver installers was squaring up the existing curb face and accidentally cut through the loop wire. Shyt happens in construction. Nobody breaks things on purpose. The brick paver subcontractor copped to it. No big deal.

The fix was a simple one: We coordinated the gate guy and the brick guy to exposed the break. Repairs complete. There was a minor charge for the gate guy to make the repair. The brick guy said he’d pick up the tab. I bought the coffee that morning. Done

But I wouldn’t be telling this story if the ending with such ease, right?

The electrician tested the loop: It was now communicating, but he noticed that one of the gate leafs wasn’t getting power.

Uh oh. The underground power line to the gate, also installed below the paver stone, must have gotten broken. How the hell are we going to find that break? The loop fix was isolatable. This power problem wouldn’t be as easy to find.

Who broke that line? The concrete guy when he demo’d the existing brick pavers? Or the brick guy when he was grading for the new pavers?

I wasn’t on-site during much of the brick paver work – Our budget only allowed for part-time site check-in’s. I couldn’t provide any information regarding what happened. The GC would have to answer for it.

Well, emails started flying, phone calls were bouncing around. Nobody on the Contractor’s side of the gate was admitting fault. Somebody is going to have to pay for the repairs, and it wasn’t going to be the Condo Association.

The fix: Install a brand new power feed using an underground sleeve below the driveway. Cha-ching. Not a cheap fix.

“Logistician. Tends to be quite sensitive to external stimulation

Somebody is not going to be happy. WE (collective voice) have a problem. I wish I knew how Logistician’s say YOU have a problem…..

Writing “That” Email

So, the damage needed to be repaired. While it would have been great if the General Contractor would have just stepped up to the plate, done the responsible thing, and got the power feed fixed on his own volition. he didn’t. The Condo Association would ultimate hire an outside electrician to repair the damage. The GC would be backcharged.

Guess who got to deliver that message? Yup – The Logistician.

Mike, the GC, is a good dude, but he’s a fire cracker. We had a good relationship all throughout the project (and still do…), but this gate deal was a thorn in all of our sides. He was in denial that he had any obligations to deal with the gates, even though one of his subs damaged them. Delivering the message that a $2,300 backcharge was coming his way would have a little bit of a stinger in it.

I thought about the email that I’d have to send him. I was unsettled. I don’t like delivering bad news. Days passed. I woke up one morning at 2:00am with the whole situation on my mind. How stupid am I for letting this ridiculous scenario cause me to stress myself like this?

This would push me into a place that I don’t often have to go: I have to be the Bad Guy. I don’t do well in that role.

And then, it happened.

I was driving to work the next morning and listened to Andy’s podcast. 6 or 7 sentences changed my whole perception of the situation. They changed how I was feeling.

They changed me.

For 30 employable years, I’ve lived a working life trying to keep everyone motivated. I’ve sacrificed my sanity for the betterment of the team. Keep the working environment in tact at the expense of my better-judgement. I’d often times find myself appeasing people instead of being curt. I would bend my credos in order to preserve a relationship. I would let bad behavior, detrimental to our team, go by the wayside because I didn’t want to engage, avoided tipping the apple cart on its side. For so long, I’ve strived to want everyone to get along so that I wouldn’t have to be the Bad Guy.

And then I heard Andy:

“Focus on your execution, not the outcome…..That’s all you have control over at the end of the day.”

Absolute Gold – Why should I be worried about things that I can’t control??!! I didn’t create this situation, I’m just trying to solve it!!!

You know what – TODAY IS A NEW DAY!!! Worry about MY execution. Do the job right. Let the other people worry about their response.

I typed-up the email to Mike. I told him that the amount of the backcharge. I told him it would be on the next pay estimate. Short. Sweet. Factual.

I hit SEND. I didn’t just hit SEND: I drove that damned mouse button into the base of the laptop! Done. Off my mind. Task executed. I didn’t, FOR A SECOND, give a hill about how Mike would react.

For the first time in my career, I didn’t feel obligated to worry about the outcome. If it pissed Mike off, well, I can’t control “his” response. I’m not going to worry about ANYTHING that I can’t control. No more mental clutter. No more lost sleep. I executed. Now it’s time for others to execute. My work on this issue is done.

It was an ABSOLUTELY liberating feeling.

About 15 minutes later I got Mike’s reply.

“OK. Thanks.”

Done. Task executed. Time to move on to the next issue…

After Action Report

There is a time and place to be Mr. Nice Guy. No, I haven’t completely lost my scruples – I can’t completely turn off my innate personality roots. But I’m transitioning. I can’t make everyone happy AND be an effective leader at the same time.

Learn to detach. Execute what you have control over. Do your job. Worry about the things & work & tasks & feelings & emotions that are 100% in YOUR control. Bust down the door and deal with them to the ABSOLUTE best of your ability. Control your execution, and let others deal with theirs. Don’t spend a SECOND worrying about the outcome, or their reaction, or the trajectory of an issue, or jobsite problem, or situation that you can’t control. So long as you have done all you can to try to effect a positive outcome, you’ve done your job.

“Focus on you and the things you can control. Focus on your execution, not the outcome. Let everything else fall away. That’s all you have control over at the end of the day.”

It’s scary that it took this long in my career to learn this lesson – Old Dogs, New Tricks. #nevertooold

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