Kevin Eikenberry

Many who read this will be celebrating Thanksgiving in the coming days. While on different dates with different origins, many countries celebrate some sort of Thanksgiving during the year. For those of us in the United States, this holiday has come to represent a chance for families to gather, eat too much, watch football, and perhaps prepare for Black Friday shopping. Oh yes, and to give thanks for our blessings.

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I take notes in most every learning situation I encounter, including at church. It is a way for me to stay engaged and learning during an important 90 minutes of my week. Aaron Brockett, the lead pastor of Traders Point Christian Church outside of Indianapolis, has said something that has made it into my notes several times and stayed in my mind. It is a simple but powerful idea expressed as a mathematical equation.

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I grew up on a farm. We raised a variety of crops, had a fertilizer and seed business, and we raised hogs. For most of my growing up, our hog operation was pretty small, and feeding was done somewhat automatically. Feed was prepared every few days and loaded into feeders, and gravity fed the feed to the animals as they ate. While you didn’t want them to run out of food (we were trying to help them grow as fast as possible after all), it wasn’t an everyday task.

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There is a free public workshop on public speaking for leaders currently available on network and cable TV every day. This workshop is being led by two unwitting workshop facilitators. Their credentials are impeccable — they have spoken to groups of all sizes for many years. They have honed their craft to the point that it is one of their most important professional skills. And they have been coached on these skills for years, right up until today.

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I travel enough to have a lot of travel and airline stories. Overall, I have as many positive ones as negative ones. In fact, I am typically very productive on airplanes, even when the seating space is tight. Today, however, I want to talk about one of “those” travel days. This particularly interesting travel happened about a year ago, but recently I was reminded of it. My day was supposed to be relatively straightforward – fly from White Plains, N.Y., through Chicago to Phoenix, arriving there about 12:30 local time. But that isn’t how it went.

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I live in Indianapolis, Indiana. When I travel and people find out where I live, one of the questions I get asked is, “Have you ever been to the Indianapolis 500?” The answer is, yes I have. I’ve been purely as a spectator. In 1986 I was there as a part of the Purdue All American Marching Band, marching on the track before the race and playing “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Back Home Again in Indiana” before the race.

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Why do you hire new employees? OK, this seems like an obvious question, and no, it isn’t a trick. We hire people because we have assignments that need to be completed, sales to be made, and products to be created, manufactured, shipped and billed. We hire people to be productive; to get work done. Yet, that is too often not how we judge them. Too often, we judge them based on hours worked. Let me explain …

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We all find ourselves in social situations or at networking events, or perhaps even on airplanes, and people ask us, “So, tell me about yourself.” Most of us answer that question the same way – we provide some labels or hooks for who we are. For me it would include some of the following: I’m a husband and a father of two. I own a company and have for the last 19 years. I am a speaker. I am an author. I blog. I do a lot of training. I coach and consult on leadership. (I could go on, but you get the idea.) You could, and would, likely do the same thing. But are these labels who we are?

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Some time ago I was delivering two workshops in Toronto. During the first, there were a couple of comments about professionalism, along the lines of, “I want my people to act like professionals.” Others in the room nodded their heads, and while I considered asking a follow-up, clarifying question, I opted to move on with the workshop. The question I could have asked would have been something like, “And what does professionalism look like?” While I didn’t ask it, I think it is a good question and one that I received an emphatic answer to later that evening.

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There are plenty of things that can go wrong with meetings, and the litany of complaints about them is long. In my 25 years of attending, observing and facilitating meetings, one of the biggest challenges I’ve seen is groups staying on topic. The problem is a natural one – if you put a group of intelligent, interested people in a room, they are going to have thoughts that aren’t completely in line with the current topic, and when they get voiced they can put the group off task or topic.

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