Wellness that Works

Wellness and work usually are not thought to go together.  Phrases such as “You will work yourself to death” and “work/life balance” have slipped into our lexicon.  The Japanese even have a word for it  – Karōshi which translated literally means work yourself to death.    Beyond these terms,  most have experienced stress eating or skipped workouts because we were either too tired or had an early morning call.

I used to think like that!  I was the literal work iron man or so I thought.  Before I changed my ways, I would work 16 hours days while eating Plucker’s fried wings and macaroni washed down with cupfuls of peanut M&M’s and Starbucks.  I thought I was masterful but I was being mastered.  It did not work out.  By the end of 2014, I was an over-stressed, overweight, and disgruntled man trying to keep my head above water.  I was neither felt well or worked well.

I began to realize that it was neither work over wellness or wellness over work.  The key to working at your peak is to enact wellness that works!  What do I mean by wellness that works (beside it being the new name for Weight Watchers)?  It is the synergistic effect that wellness and work can have on each other.  Get more healthy and you can work more efficiently.  Work more productively, then you have more time for wellness.  Sounds too good to be true?  Well, my story is a testament to the potential positive effects that wellness and work have on each other.

Let’s roll back to where I started off – the end of 2014.  I had put work over wellness for many years.  The end result of this exercise occurred in October, 2014.  I was walking out of the delivery center at 3 AM – the last man out the door.  Tired and sleepy, I missed a step, tripped and was knocked myself out.  When I came to, I could not lift myself off the ground with all the weight I was carrying.  I ended up crawling until I could get to the bumper of my car and use it as leverage.

Then and there I vowed that I needed to do something different.  So among other things (joining WW, going to the doctors), I enacted Don’s four rules for wellness that works:

(1) Well rested, well tested, never bested! – The first thing that I did was to get more sleep.  Sounds easy?  It wasn’t.  At first, I thought I would miss something if I was not on each and every late night call.  I was driven to be in the know and show the “manager’s flag” on every call.

But that attitude was making me unhealthy and also was not the best leadership style.  Sure it is important to get on critical calls at critical times for support of your team and to add to the solution.  But not every call and not all the time.  Hovering over everyone makes them think you do not trust them and may even detract from the solution.   It also makes you tired and unable to think.

It was really hard at first checking off the phone after providing guidance.  But when I did, three things begun to happen.  I sometimes came up with the answer as I rested and slept on it.   My team realized I trusted them but was there when they needed me.  Lastly, I was overall less stressed and unkind during the day.  My team appreciated my new disposition and I appreciated feeling better.  Bottom line: when anxiety starts to creep, go to sleep!

(2)  Workout and Work Go Together! –  I used to know this back in my Army days but forgot it as a consultant.  As a soldier, we were paid to work out each morning.  It was a necessary and important part of our job.   Being fit helps you not to quit!

But as a leader in the private sector, I forgot that important point.  My convenient excuse was that I couldn’t work out because I had to go to work.  It was only after I again realized that you can work out while working and that working out helps you work that my life begun to change!  I begun to block out time at least three times a week to workout and refused to take calls at that time.  Also, I got an app on my iPhone that notified me every hour to do a simple set of exercises for 3-5 minutes.    The best way to get rid of stress is to sweat it out.  It also helps you stop the negative talk in your head as I wrote in this previous blog  Stop the Negative Talk and Take A Walk.

(3) Work Hard, Play Hard!  This is an old saying and a good one.  But I give it a slightly different bent.  Most people think you first must work hard to get to play.  Others note that when you play too hard, you can’t go to work the next day!   But you can have fun at work and playing hard can make you work harder.  Take sometime to talk and joke with your team to break up the day.  Find a hobby that helps you unwind.  For me, I love Karaoke.  I sometimes even sing in the woods, as this blog attests Why Not? I’m Singing in the Woods!

(4) Join Wellness that Works for wellness that works!  The last rule is perhaps the most important.  If you want to learn additional ways to increase your wellness and you work productivity, join Wellness that Works (the organization formerly known as Weight Watchers and still goes by WW).  The weekly meeting provide more lessons on how to mix wellness with work such as mindfulness and goal setting.  I could go on and on about WW (and I did in this blog The Why’s of Weight Watchers!), but rest assured it is wellness that works!

I will end with a picture that shows that work and wellness can go together.  Here is me at Devil’s Lake in Wisconsin taking a call that ultimately resulted in us getting additional work.  The old Don would have take the call in the hotel and skipped the time with my daughter.  Instead I took it from the top of this mountain.  If I was not well I could have not climbed up to get reception and do my work!  Be well, do work!

Man hiking at a scenic location
Getting my walk in while working at Devil’s Lake

 

 

Getting the Iron Out Door – Lessons from Big D for Developers

This is the first of a series of Father’s day blogs.  The leader that I learned the most from (which is probably similar to a lot of you) was my Dad – Big D.  Yes believe it or not I am Little D or Donnie, Jr. to my family . Here is a picture of Big D and Little D.

big-d

One of my Dad’s favorite sayings was you have to “Get the Iron Out the Door”.  Coincidentally, that is the root of the title of the Quarterly Professional Services newsletter, “Getting the Iron Out the Door”.  Two of the lesson I learned from Big D relates to getting the iron the door.

What is the Iron?  Where is the Door?  The iron refers to large turbines that reside in dams to generate electricity.   Big D was a steelworker/machinist and later the manager of Turbocare in Houston, Texas.  These turbines would come in the “door” of Turbocare from all over the world (Columbia, US, India, etc.) for maintenance or emergency repair.    As soon as the turbine came in the door, it was Big D’s responsibility to drive his team to get the repair done as quickly as possible while fixing the root problem and maintaining quality.  You can imagine the pressure to get these turbines back repaired.  They powered cities like Detroit or Bogota.  Every day that the turbine spent being repaired, part of the electrical capacity powering the city was out.  A brownout could occur or even a blackout.  In addition, they could only be carried by a train or ship and for some of these places the ship or train schedules where tight.

Now “Getting the Iron Out the Door” did not mean rushing around and slapping a fix in, as Big D explained to me.   It was too costly to send a half repaired turbine out the door.  The shipping costs alone are enormous.  You first needed to physically and electronically inspect the turbine to determine the root cause of the problem which was usually a blade bent a fraction of an inch. Then and only then you could precision machine or weld the blade or rotor with the problem.  Lastly and most importantly, you needed to test the balance of the turbine to precise specification.  The whole while the clock was ticking and the ship or train was waiting.  If you made the right decisions on balancing speed with quality, the Iron went Out the Door and did not come back.  See the picture of a turbine going out the door of Turbocare below.

turbine 1

How do I take Big D’s lesson in leadership to my life as in Accenture overseeing IT engagements?  Maybe our systems in Public Service do not power cities but they help feed hungry children (SNAP), keep a family afloat in an emergency (TANF), and help care for people with urgent medical conditions (Medicaid).  Our job each day is to “Get the Program Checked In”, so we can meet the deadlines of our client.  In so doing, we cannot sacrifice quality for speed.  The “shipping costs” using our analogy are families not being served.  How do IT developers like Big D see the clock ticking but not hear it, “Get the Iron Out the Door” without it coming back in.

  1.  Do a careful analysis to find the root cause of the code problem or a careful impact analysis to perform a comprehensive design.  This is analogous to finding the blade bent by a hair or the hair line fracture in the Turbine.
  2. Next follow the design and analysis precisely.  Use precision code and tools to fix the root cause of the problem or make the new functionality first time right!
  3. Lastly, test your application to specification.  A program not to specification will be subject to warranty (come back in the door) or worst yet cause a family to miss the benefits for which they are eligible.

I miss Big D each and every day.  Let us heed his words of leadership well and Get the Iron Out the Door and not allow it back in!

Leading Up Front – Lessons from Leaders

I learned from many leaders as I grew up through the ranks in the 9th Infantry Division, Motorized – whoo-ah (see my graduation photo from Airborne School in Fort Benning, below).  I had the pleasure to talk to General Schwarzkopf as he pumped iron at the gym (he was strong!!!)  and General Shalikashvilli (former Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff) when I was Deputy Division G3, but the best leader hands down in my book was Colonel  Dolan.

Man on Parachute Jump
Picture at Ft. Benning

I first served under Colonel Dolan when he was the Commander of 3/60 Infantry as his Battalion Military Intelligence Officer (oxymoron).  I would like to relate two of the many things I learned from him with some brief stories:

  1. Be confident in your area of expertise.
  2. Lead Up Front

Be Confident, You are the Smartest Person in the Room!

Let me set the stage.  I had just had a successful command as the Platoon Leader of a Tactical Intelligence Platoon.  Although part of an Infantry Division, my platoon of Korean Linguists and military intelligence analysts were more akin to the doctor’s on MASH (the famous TV show), then the gung-ho ground soldier.   They were more Hawkeye Pierce than GI Joe.  I was now moving from being the officer of a platoon of unconventional but brilliant, Military Intelligence soldiers, to being the only non-Infantry Staff Officer for a battalion of battle hardened soldiers that just came back from a tour in the Mid-East.  And the person that I had to provide intelligence on the enemy among other things had the reputation of being the toughest one of all – Colonel Dolan.

I was in Military intelligence reason for two reasons.  The good reason is I had a reputation of being able to analyze intelligence and figure out what the other side was doing.      The not so good reason is I am not as adept with typical military tasks such as firing a weapon, so being in the infantry now was a bit intimidating.

I was about to give my first briefing with the rest of the staff to Colonel Dolan and I was nervous.  I had studied my presentation the night before and could tell you the number of people, the deployment tactics, and the weaponry of the enemy battalion down to the last detail.  I also prepared a detailed briefing book.  But when I got in front of Colonel Dolan, I became nervous and spoke too fast on those few occasions when my dialog was not punctuated by um’s and ah’s.   But worse yet, in my eyes,  I forgot one fact that I wanted to present.  Altogether, not a good start.

Colonel Dolan called me in later the day and now I was scared.  I felt certain that he found out about the one fact I missed.  Instead, he started off by saying he read my briefing packet and thought it was A+.  He then asked me a few questions that I responded to.  Relieved, I was ready to go when the boss told me he had one more thing to say.  “Lt. Grier that briefing book and the content of your briefing were excellent, but the whole time you were speaking you acted like I was going to fire you.  You are the smartest person in the room when it comes to Military Intelligence.  So let me be clear.  The only time I will fire you is if you do not act confident when you are the smartest person in the room.  Now go out and do great things.”

These words are still ingrained in my mind more than 25 years later and I try to remember them each time I need to give an important presentation.  Many of us discount how well prepared we are in our area of expertise when we need to manage up or speak to leadership.  We try to remember every detail instead of being confident in the knowledge ingrained in our mind.  The bottom line is each of us our paid to be an expert in something.  Those things that you are expert in don’t be scared of missing a fact.  Do not hug a tree and miss the forest. Be confident.  You are the smartest person in the room.

Lead Up Front

The commander of a Battalion is sometimes affectionately know as the Old Man or Woman.  That is primarily a term of endearment, believe it or not, and is based on respect for the knowledge and prowess they gained over the years.  Only secondarily is it based on age.

Colonel Dolan was the quintessential Old Man.    He proved his prowess on the battlefield where he was awarded a Silver Star. He was also old in terms of Army standards having just turned 40.  Due to this milestone, the Brigade commander made him get a physical before he could run in the Brigade run.  This did not sit well with the Old Man much to our chagrin as you will see.

The day after he got his physical, we had a report by the equivalent of the battalion HR lead that a bunch of the enlisted guys and an officer or two did not do well on the practice Army Physical Readiness Test.  The APRT is the equivalent of a java certification for a developer.  You had to pass it to do your job.

The day of the Brigade run arrived bright and early.  I liked Brigade runs, normally (this was in the days when I myself was not an old man).  The only hard thing is that being an MI officer and the only non-Infantry officer on the staff I got the duties that the Infantry staff officers did not want.  In this case, I had “fall out” monitoring duty.  This meant I had to circle around the four companies in our battalion (each with about 150 people) the whole time we were running.  I had to report to the Old Man how the companies were hanging.  Usually this was not too hard because I was many pounds lighter then and a great deal faster.  Also, Colonel Dolan kept a steady pace and he usually was not so fast.

But today was a different story.  A perfect storm had hit with Colonel Dolan’s physical and the report of soldiers being out of shape.  The old man was out to prove a point.  He began at a brisk pace and proceeded from there.  On my first lap around the battalion, the Captain  of C Company yelled out, “Hey, Don what is the Old Man doing?”  I said, “I don’t know but let me check”.

As I ran around the battalion, some of the more out of shape soldiers were getting winded.  I myself was breathing hard especially since I was running double the distance.  Back at the front of the battalion, I told the Old Man that several of the company commanders had asked what was going on.  All he said with a face of sheer determination was “The Go Devils (our nickname) are meant  to go fast”.

So on a subsequent lap around the battalion  as I was gasping for breath, I told Captain Gerras that I did not know what the Old Man was doing.  He yelled to me “Tell him to slow down, a quarter of the battalion is falling out”.  I yelled back, “Sir, you are welcome to tell him.  I am just trying to make it back around.”

I made it back up front just as we were nearing the gate of the parade field.  Now custom is you stay in formation behind the battalion in front of you.  Not today.  Colonel Dolan decided to pass the Second Battalion!  He yelled Go Devils Coming Through and he passed Second Battalion in a dead sprint.  Colonel Dolan asked me how the battalion did.  I told him one gasp at a time “Not …..(Gasp) ….all ….made….. it, but ….there …… will…… not……. be………anyone…..failing…… the ……. APRT … any …. time … soon. “

And those gasping words rang true.  The Battalion got the point and for weeks all the soldiers could talk about was how fast the Old Man had sprinted. And he still had it!

The lesson in leadership is that sometimes the Old Man or Woman has to show the team how it is done.  In the Army, being fit is a work necessity.  Colonel Dolan showed the team how it was done.   He led by example.  This does not mean that every time when a team member needs an extra boost to complete a task, the leader has to do it for them.  No! What it means is that at some critical junctures it is important that the Old Man or Woman lead the way and show the prowess that got them to the position in the first place.  It is not enough to manage a spreadsheet.  You need to lead up front and pass the competition.  Go Accenture!  Lead the way!