leadership, personal

Squeezing Problems

I saw and heard a great message last week in church, about the paradox when we try harder to “fix” our problems, they don’t get fixed and can get worse.

My pastor used a bar of soap as a prop. He related the soap to our problems, and the harder you try to squeeze the soap (control the problem), the harder it is to hold the soap. The problem gets worse, not better.

If you are wondering the religious connection, the message is to hold your problems loosely in the palm of your hand, hold them up to God and say, “God, I give this to you, it’s bigger than me and I trust you to work in my life.” Randomly I saw a tweet that captured the idea in the past week since I heard the message: “Try to stop stressing, overthinking, trying to control. Know that He has got this, he’s got you, release the grip and breathe.”

If you don’t prefer the religious connotation, I think you can easily relate to the idea of understanding that there is a bigger world out there than ourselves and the things we can reasonably influence, and things aren’t always in our control, so we sometimes have to let things take their course, do our best in the situation, and let come what may. We might describe either the religious or non-religious approach to this as “having perspective.”

I have always been a problem fixer, and don’t like to feel like there isn’t a plan – in other words, I prefer controlled situations. This makes me squeeze the bar of soap.

I feel lucky that I have recognized this in the past and have adapted. I have been able to move past certain constraints and issues, have been able to “let go” of certain things. But as life goes, there are always new challenges ahead that you have to overcome, new issues to address. Some examples:

  • Have you ever played golf with someone who throws their clubs, or curses themselves out when they don’t hit a good shot. That was me 20 years ago. Then I somehow realized that all that action and energy wasn’t going to fix the problem. I learned to have perspective, a view of the situation bigger than the situation itself. Putting things into perspective always seems easy when you aren’t in the situation (imagine a poker hand where two other people are playing and it seems obvious to you what both players have). But when you are in it, it becomes more difficult. In this case, I was able to realize that I would never be a professional golfer and I was missing the best parts – precious time in fresh air and precious time with my friends.
  • I recall a time several years ago when I was starting out in a new job role that had a lot of interaction with other departments. Our company culture also wasn’t as mature as it is now, and I saw folks putting other departments down to gain advantages, and I followed that behavior; demeaning other departments in public settings/meetings where they weren’t there. Once a mentor pointed the behavior out and we discussed it, I made a commitment to never do that again and I believe to this day I have not. I also made it a team effort, setting the expectation for my entire team that we would be the “bigger” person. The perspective was again obvious later – we get much more out of life (and in this case work) when we put our effort into building others up; it takes a long-term perspective, because in the near term maybe our team didn’t get as many resources or were viewed less positively by senior management. But in the long run, we built better relationships and achieved more of our objectives by building bridges.

A common theme again about having perspective. I read an article recently about Steve Kerr, the head coach of the Golden State Warriors. Among other great leadership attributes and behaviors, Steve always tries to have a bigger perspective than the “thing” itself. He puts his job and his “industry” into a larger perspective, understanding how lucky he is by considering others’ situations and realizing that as important as some make the NBA out to be, it is infinitesimal compared to other aspects of life.

Today, I am dealing with things I haven’t dealt with before. A parent passes away unexpectedly. My other parent is losing her brain health seemingly before my eyes, and I am not sure what to do. It has affected my personal relationships – I have yelled at my wife twice in the last few months (and for petty things); something I literally hadn’t done once in our four years together. We have talked about it, and it is clear why I did it, and it is also clear the solution – don’t squeeze the soap. Be willing to accept that I can’t “fix” my mom’s brain, or bring my dad back to take care of her. Understand that life is going to take its own course. I can do the best I can but the situation is bigger than me. There is a bigger life at play (perspective) of which my wife is an absolute critical part. So let her help you and bring her closer, don’t isolate myself and push her away by reacting negatively to little things.

I haven’t been the leader I want to be at work either. Ironically, given the magnitude of personal issues one might assume that I would be much more “forgiving” and relaxed about issues at work. Phrases like “we’re not curing cancer” and “this isn’t rocket science’ come to mind. You might think I would have been able to find perspective. So a minor delay on a project should be met with a soft reaction, given how insignificant that is compared to losing a loved one. Unfortunately, human nature is difficult to fight, and if a bar of soap in your personal life squirts away, it can be common to squeeze a different bar of soap – in other words, we take out our frustrations and sorrows on others, in this case those at work.

Part of the perspective here is time – as I come to grips with the personal issues, my leadership behavior would likely modulate back to a “center.” Part of the perspective is leaning on those who want to help instead of pushing them away or hiding from them – trying to “fix my problems” on my own – see above re: wife. Part of the perspective is that those who I am hurting are going through issues of their own, and instead of taking my frustration out on them, I should embrace them and we could support each other. Then I could actually let go of the little things we all mess up sometimes, given they pale in comparison to “real” life problems.

So I am working on getting my perspective straight. I believe in myself to get the right perspective given my past examples. I believe in the last week I’ve done well in several key areas for me (supportive tone, ask questions instead of giving answers, respecting input). I want to build trust in those around me to know that I have that perspective. I want to bring them closer not push them away. If I continue to learn not to squeeze the soap, I will be more at peace with myself. Then my energy and passion can lift others up, not bring them down.

I’ve written before about talking to each other, working together on leadership development. I will be seeking a lot of guidance to accomplish the above changes and will be asking many folks for some forgiveness, some support, some straight talk, some regular feedback. This is how it gets done if you want to be a better person. It starts today, and the same thing will be true for every today to come.

personal

The Best Golf Courses I Have Played

There are lots of rating systems out there, and they obviously change each year as new courses open, etc. So I won’t reference specific ratings, but just mention that these courses generally are ranked in or near the top 100 in the US or similar rankings.

Pinehurst #2 and #8

Totally difference courses, design style, one old and one new, etc. But I group them because Pinehurst as a whole is just an amazing place. The resort and town are so cool, great service and amenities. I have never felt so comfortable. And it’s incredibly reasonably priced for a high0end golf resort experience.

The #2 course is fabulous because it’s the kind of difficult course I like, not tricked up just hard. I played with one ball the entire round there once, and shot 100. Never out of play, just challenging. Fazio’s #8 is classic Fazio, feels just like Shadow Creek to me, each hole feels luxurious with swooping curves and great foliage.

Torrey Pines South Course

Played most recently, and I loved it. Similar to Pinehurst #2, nothing tricky, it’s right there in front of you but good luck hitting in the narrow fairways and the greens are full of subtle breaks. Can’t beat the views.

PGA West Stadium Course

Kind of the opposite, this course is really tricked up but that’s what made it famous. And at least on each hole there is a way to play it safely. Great photo ops for sure.

PGA West Nicklaus Course

For some reason you don’t see this course ranked in most overall rankings, but I love it, probably like it better than the stadium course. Devilish table-top fairways will grind you down through the day.

La Quinta Resort Mountain Course

Finishing off the Palm Springs route, this is one of the older courses at La Quinta, but it’s a great solid test of golf. The resort at La Quinta is really well done also, huge spa, grass tennis courts, and great villa-style rooms.

Cabo del Sol Ocean Course

A great course, with several holes right on the water (watch out for folks walking the beach). But this one for me is a winner due to the best on course amenity I’ve ever seen – a taco stand at the bend of the dogleg on the 11th hole.

Shadow Creek

A rare treat if you can get in, it could be the perfect golf course. Tom Fazio is pure genius when you give him an unlimited budget! Picturesque doesn’t even begin to describe it, and the course is always in pristine shape.

Cascata

Totally different than Shadow Creek, this one uses the mountains and desert with lots of elevation changes and great views. Lucky for me that I work at MGM Resorts that owns Shadow Creek an it’s rated higher than Caesars-owned Cascata. 🙂

Old Sandwich

Played this with some of our MGM Resorts sponsored golfers. I’d never really played with pros before so that was a treat and the course is unbelievable. As is the tie-breaker green after 18, and the skip shot on the way back to the over-the-top clubhouse.

Merion

Got to play for my friend’s 40th birthday weekend. Fun track, narrow and really small greens. No cell phones allowed and better take your hat off in the clubhouse. The soup is worth taking your hat off for.

I’m surprised the three courses at Pauite in Las Vegas don’t get rated – three Pete Dye courses that are everything you can handle with the constant winds. Also there are several fantastic golf courses in St. George, Utah.

I’ve also played these course that the pros play: TPC Scottsdale, TPC Las Vegas, Innisbrook Copperhead, the old Desert Inn.

Courses I should really have played and will hopefully get added: Pebble Beach, Spyglass, Spanish Bay; Bandon Dunes; Wolf Creek in Mesquite, NV; Wynn Las Vegas; Troon North (though I’ve played the Boulders and loved it).

personal

Health advice for me (and you)

I recently did an annual physical. First advice for any of you that don’t do that – START. I don’t know about you, but I have already had way too many stories in my life where folks I care about have had medical issues that weren’t caught early enough (or could have been caught earlier) and weren’t “typical” issues for their age. You just don’t know until they start poking around inside that body of yours.

I am lucky enough to go to a place where they do lots of consultations along with the physical tests. I got some great tips for me, yours would of course be unique to you. But I feel like a couple might be widely relevant and were “a-ha” moments for me.

Relaxation

I have tried – and failed – multiple times to implement meditation in my life. I feel like I would be a poster child for its benefits if I could just get into the habit. The wellness coach at my physical gave me (and made me practice) a simple breathing ritual which she didn’t even call meditation. I really liked it, as it was reminiscent of breathing I learned in yoga. Basically laying on your back, with progressively deeper breaths while lying down focusing on nothing but the depth of the breaths. Only other thoughts are to relax face muscles and to have your back muscles “sink” into the bed/couch.

I am going to give this another shot to make it a habit.

Eating

Simple tips for me – eat Greek yogurt as a snack, have a piece of fruit with every meal or snack, eat fish 3-4 times per week, focusing on the meals I eat out to get a double benefit (less steak, more fish basically).

Biggest tip was to plan for my snacks. Pre-portion them, always have them available. This way, I don’t “panic” if I have to work late and just start eating anything within arm’s reach. So there is yogurt and berries in my work fridge now…

Exercise

Change your “routine” once a month or so, so it doesn’t become a routine. Even within an area like cardio training, mix interval training in with steady jogging. Do your chest routine for maximum weights and muscle development one week and then do conditioning (less weight more reps) the next.

I also learned that we should all be doing those leg curls where you lie down prone to work your hamstrings, because our hamstrings just never get enough exercise.

Hopefully these are useful for you as much as for me.

leadership, personal

Get feedback, and talk to each other

Thank goodness for people giving me feedback. I am surrounded by team members who are not shy about telling me when they see me making strides in my leadership plan and doing good things, and also not shy about letting me know when I don’t do so well.

Recently one of my team members let me know that I’ve got to address an issue between me and someone else in our group. I am not reacting right to address their growth opportunities, and need to just sit down and talk to that person and start a positive path to a better relationship, their growth, my growth, and our team’s results.

I recently took out some frustration on my wife, yelling about something stupid for no reason associated with that stupid thing. Rather, I was just feeling “lost” bout my mom’s situation and instead of asking for help or explaining how I felt, I lashed out. Keeping things in for the short term never works, it comes out eventually and usually not how you want it.

I expressed frustration in email, about the speed of a process and my perception of my team members’ lack of ownership of the process. And I violated a key rule of feedback by not “praising publicly and giving critical feedback privately.”

So I spent this week and will spend the coming weeks “talking it out,” using the great people around me at work and at home in a more productive and collaborative way. We are so much better that way, but sometimes we forget – for me I have to stop when it happens so I don’t “spiral” into solitude and silence. Me alone is not my best, I am my best self when I am working WITH others and focusing on lifting them up. My leadership coach gave me a great tip about how to think about using phone calls to trusted advisors in these situations, as well as a tip on how to leverage my team instead of getting into the weeds – so I can be a “leader” not a “manager.”

The root of this goes back to the beginning of the post – feedback. We are not going to be our best selves every day, or every week, and sometimes we have seasons where we just aren’t our best. Get input from others so you can course-correct early and often and get back on the path you want for yourself.

 

leadership, personal

Philanthropy

Philanthropy is on my mind for a few reasons lately. For one, I just got back from our annual strategic retreat for the UNLV Alumni Association. Also, I was the Honorary Chair of our annual leadership auction for the MGM Foundation this year, which just happened this week. Lastly, we attended the Power of Love gala for the Lou Ruvo Brain Center last week, one of the biggest charitable events of the year.

I always think the key to philanthropy is passion. Like I always say you should try to work in a job/profession/field that you are passionate about (but knowing it isn’t always that easy), it is even more important to align yourself with charitable causes that you have a strong association with and can rally yourself and others around. This is largely because it is voluntary, so requires much more self-discipline than work.

I get jazzed by the notion that I and others with similar interests can accomplish more together than alone, and we can do it for those who most have written off or don’t think can be helped. Even at UNLV, my alma mater, I always feel like we are the underdogs so I want to try to make a difference in the lives of alumni and students.

For me, there are a couple of ways of participating that particularly inspire me to be philanthropic. For you it may be different; but if you know what it is for you, then you should focus your energy on causes that hit those marks, because you will bring much more to the table. I find that I am inspired by my friends, such that if they are involved with something I will want to help them out. And if there are events involved that my friends can come to, I will work my butt off to make a great event. Speaking of events, I really enjoy organizing and “producing” events, versus other ways of contributing. I find pride and pleasure in seeing the outcome, and I really enjoy the process of working with others to make an event come to life.

Philanthropy doesn’t just mean giving money. Most of you know that, but also worry about trying to give time, since we all seem to have none of that either. But you can contribute no matter what – your ideas, your moral support, your participation in events (like fun runs, etc.); these are all so meaningful to not-for-profits.

My request to all of us would be to just “give’ a little more than we do now, and if we all do that we can make a huge difference.

 

family, personal

Dealing with (a parent with) dementia

Heavy sounding topic. Pretty heavy in reality too. As predicted, my dad was the easy-going person, and died in an easy-going way. My Mom is going to be the challenging one.

She started having some short-term memory loss a few months before my Dad died. I meant to ask him about it after they came to visit in February. I never got the chance. I know he knew, he was so helping and caring he just shielded her from the effects and everything was “fine.”

It’s gotten much worse quickly since he died. Her doctor gave her some pills for anxiety, and wanted to wait until her physical in July to evaluate further. He “figured” it was just due to the stress of the death and might get better. Nope. So I am pushing the issue with him and now he is going to start getting some tests done and refer her to a specialist.

Weird thing is, since she’s in good shape physically, and has not lost much of her “institutional” memory, she can get by in daily life. Not great mind you, but ok. I am reading up on “the conversation” – you know, about some form of assisted living – and a lot of the guidance I’ve seen presumes some long runway (plant seeds, keep planting seeds, see if something grows, wait until a small accident happens then use it to sell the idea). But I am worried I don’t have the luxury of time, and since I am across the country, I don’t get the consistency of interactions to properly “plant seeds” and such.

Besides, given the short term memory issue, every conversation I have with her is largely forgotten by the next one…

Not only do I not know much about trying to get your parent into the proper care, I don’t even know much about brain disease and dementia and Alzheimer’s and related issues. I might have titled my blog incorrectly, maybe she has something other than dementia. More studying to do.

The other thing that I have noticed is my own self-awareness of mortality and memory, given what my two parents have gone through lately. I am thinking more about ensuring I maximize time now, given that I’m well over halfway through my life if I were to pass when my Dad did. I’m reflecting more on my own memory – its fine to say that I need to write things down so I don’t forget them – there is a natural process in there somewhere. But the time to take care of your brain is now, not later. So I am going to investigate ways I can bolster my own brain. In looking some things up for Mom I noted how eating the right foods can help, and I actually do ok on that one without even knowing it.

I feel so bad for my Mom, sometimes her mind gets totally clear and she realizes something is not right, other times she’s embarrassed by what she has forgotten. Other times it is just frustrating to see someone you love be so lost, like imagining her husband is still alive and then having to go through the loss all over again when she realizes she forgot.

I hope others are having more success than me – it’s early in the process so I am hoping I can find some small wins to indicate I’m heading the right direction. This seems like a long, difficult road. For my mom, it’s a road I will follow until it ends.

Finally, my brother recently gave me some great encouragement, and it reminded me that in situations like these, once again you are not alone and should rely on the support of others.

travel

In praise of small airports

I know all the reasons small airports are impractical, and why bigger airports are good for the airline and related businesses. Allows for the hub and spoke model, leverages infrastructure investment and scarce land resources better; attracts more flights from more destinations.

But I love small airports. You know who you are – John Wayne in Orange County, Burbank, Nashville. I’m sure there are many others you’ve been to that I haven’t that fit the bill.

I recently flew in and out of Sarasota’s airport (SRQ) to see my Mom; we usually fly to Tampa and make the longer drive because flights are more convenient – Southwest even has non-stop from Las Vegas – and prices are way better. But this time I changed it up. I had a typical small airport “amazing” experience that those who use these airports all the time probably take for granted. Dropped the rental car off at 7:35. Was at the gate with Starbucks coffee and snack in hand at 7:50, for a 7:55 boarding time. Given I was one of the few folks in the security lanes, even the TSA agents were pleasant and helpful.*

If I could do that at JFK or ATL, I’d be a happy camper. But just the train from one terminal to another would take longer. And in New York, the commute time from the city to the airport instantly makes this journey one of the worst.

I wonder how much longer some of these airports will be around. In some areas, where the small airport is the only airport around, my guess is they will continue to be justified. But Sarasota (and Fort Myers for that matter), and the LA area small airports could become obsolete, if just from a cost perspective. Among many reasons I admire Southwest Airlines, there strategy to serve these smaller airports – and in the case of Dallas and Houston and Chicago to embrace them as a strategic advantage and invest in them – is good for the customer, and therefore good for the airline. Heaven forbid, a company knowing that happy customers equals profits.

I certainly hope these small airports can survive. The ability to spend a bit more time with friends and family on vacation, or even to sleep in a bit instead of waking up three hours early to make a flight when on business, is priceless to me.

* No offense to TSA agents at bigger, busier airports; I get that the job takes priority and it’s a pretty damn important job. It’s just a fact that the business makes it harder to engage in positive interactions with folks – not impossible and plenty of them do it well, just more difficult.