A year ago before Covid-19 was on anyone’s radar, I made the emotional decision to run my first marathon. I am not sure what inspired it. I have never done one. My typical running workout for years has been three miles at a time…max. Two years ago I attempted a half marathon which I completed successfully at the sacrifice of a severe leg injury. That was it for my running career so I thought. One day, I happened into a triathlon store and mentioned my leg injury in passing to the store owner who immediately identified the problem, the wrong shoes. He introduced me to Altra zero drop running shoes. I decided to give them a shot and sure enough, the leg injury healed and the pain was gone. Problem solved.
With a literal new spring in my step, I committed to the marathon. I followed conventional wisdom and signed up for a local marathon and paid for it in full months in advance as a way to keep my commitment. As luck would have it, it was scheduled on the same weekend when several of my older daughters and their friends were coming into town for a wedding. They all were excited to cheer me on. The plan was set, the date confirmed, training gear in place, and the workouts began.
Then the pandemic hit. Marathon canceled. Or at least the official one. I will admit that I had thoughts of throwing in the towel on this one and waiting for another day. But then again, anyone can give up. That’s the easy thing to do. So, I decided to continue training for marathon day…as scheduled.
Anderson Marathon: No crowd. (Wedding was canceled.). No official course. No running buddies. No official time clock except for my Nike Running Club App. It was a pretty lonely 26.5 miles (I added .3 miles for extra measure to do more than required!)
While my daughters who were going to be here were not able to come, I did have @AbbyAndersonMusic playing on my phone as I ran to keep me going and when I started down the literal “home” stretch down the driveway, I could not help but smile when I saw the surprise finish line banner designed and sent via FedEx Office from New York by interior designer daughter, @AshlinAlmquist. The medal? Well, it was my Eagle belt buckle I use when motorcycle riding, tied to a ribbon creatively designed and bestowed by son Owen.
Mission accomplished. Goal achieved, despite the change in the world. Even when the world gives in, we don’t have to give up!
Reactions? The one that surprised me most from family and friends was that I was able to run the whole race alone – without a running crowd to carry me, cheer me on, or create the momentum. Others asked why I kept training when I knew the race was canceled. Then there the congratulations for which I am very grateful.
It’s no secret that the pandemic of 2020 has been and continues to be a new experience for all of us. There is really nothing in our lifetimes to which we can compare it. I was looking back at suggested webinar topics we were considering in February of 2020 which included the title “How to recruit and hire in 4% unemployment market.” 90 days later, we were considering the topic of “How to operate your business in a 20% unemployment market.” Even the 9/11 and 2008 financial crisis pale in many respects to what we have gone through. Everyone has gone through the stages of grief multiple times: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, depression, depression, and acceptance – multiple times. When we are going through a crisis, we sometimes miss the true reality of what is going on until we are on the other side. Sometimes we just need something to hold onto, like a goal to get us through.
Maybe that is why I kept training, just to have something consistent to hold onto in the midst of change and upheaval. In any case, it gave me a lot of thinking time and reading time. (I am an avid Audible subscriber so I burned through quite a few books in the process.)
So here we are, ramping up into an altered reality. While we can hold onto some of the goals we had before and keep pushing forward, many of them need to be updated, changed, and modified based on things as they are now. In that spirit, I accepted an invitation and challenge by one of my twin daughters, Emily, to run another marathon. This time, together. We signed up in advance and trained together, her from college and me at home in Dallas. We compared notes as we worked. Just like the first time, the race was canceled, and we decided to run it anyway. This last weekend we met up in St. George, UT with both my twin daughters and I running together while Ashlin and her husband Skyler competed in a 60-mile bike race across town. It was a goal-achieving weekend for team Anderson filled with fulfillment and lessons that will last for years to come.
As you consider and reconsider your own goals in light of everything that has transpired so far this year, I invite you to consider what I call four “F’s” for remapping your goals and the path forward. Those four F’s are Flocking, FIO, Focus, and the Future.
Flocking: Nothing teaches us more about the people in our lives than quarantine. If you were all alone, you discovered who you missed the most. In contrast, you may have spent more time with some family members than you have EVER spent before. If you are like many of the teams in our family of companies, you spent long hours working together virtually. If you are like many dental practice teams, you were separated for weeks from those you work with. Whatever your situation, it has taught us a lot about who we flock with…positive and negative. As the saying goes, birds of a feather, flock together. Flocking causes birds to be of the feather, so you have to be very careful who you flock with! Let me suggest a flocking example that has had a dramatic, positive impact on me. Perhaps it will do something similar for you.
Earlier this year as things were shutting down across the country, I received a phone call from a good friend who explained to me that he was putting together his “posse for the pandemic.” In case it has been a while since you have looked up the word posse in the dictionary, let me give you a quick refresher. A posse in historical times was a body of men, typically armed, summoned by a sheriff to enforce the law. The more modern definition is a group of people who have a common characteristic, occupation, or purpose. It was this second definition to which my friend was referring!
The purpose? Make it day to day through the chaos and help each other sort through fact and fiction to determine what to do next. The format? A phone call every morning first thing to be each other’s sounding board. I was all in.
As the mornings progressed, I realized that much of managing life is not just strategy but emotional management. More often than not, we discussed what we were each feeling about what was going on and how we were going to manage through it. For that, I am so appreciative. It kept both of us moving forward. For me, it was one of the motivators that kept me training for the marathon. In fact, one of the calls took place on one of my early morning Saturday long runs. Those calls have kept me going in more ways than one.
In contrast, I had a professional associate who kind of dropped off the radar for about thirty days who later confessed that he had gone through some depression, like many people, and had gone into hibernation. It was a pretty rough thirty days.
In the motorcycle riding world, a term has been borrowed from the flight world. That word is “wingman.” The wingman is a pilot whose aircraft is positioned behind and outside the leading aircraft in a formation. In motorcycle riding, it is a rider who is positioned behind and outside the bike in front of him or her. They ride in tandem because two are more visible than one and they can watch out for each other. It is much safer.
I’m grateful to have been invited to be part of a posse or to be an emotional and psychological wingman. It has kept me on track in so many ways and taught me the value of having a posse or wingman moving forward. It is one way of flocking that can dramatically influence the flight pattern of both. So, who is in your posse? Who is your wingman?
Then there is the posse at work! There is nothing like a crisis to bring out the best or the worst in people. Let me share two examples of bringing out the best; two professional posse’s that have done remarkable work through the crisis who also employed the second F – FIO
FIO – Earlier this year, our team at the Total Patient Service Institute was clear that everyone was headed into uncharted waters. We have a motto at ToPS originally taught to us by one of the winningest coaches in sports history; rugby coach Larry Gelwix. That motto is – FIO – which stands for figure it out.
While our team typically spends most days on the road working with dental teams around the country on-site, in their offices, as things started to come to a grinding halt around the country, it was clear that we needed to do something different. That something different was circling the wagons every morning to determine our WIN. WIN is an acronym first introduced to me by Dr, Bill Dorfman that stands for What’s Important Now. Each morning we would share insights based on our conversations around the country from the day before with clients. Trends started to emerge and ideas formed. Each day it became clear what we needed to do to be of the most help to our clientele right now. Over the weeks, our team created and disseminated more content, faster than we have ever done. What took us months in the past, we were doing In days and sometimes hours. The ToPS posse moved faster than ever before. It was remarkable to experience and I will be forever grateful to the team for making it happen.
Jim Collins in his book Good to Great, emphasizes “Frist who – getting the right people on the bus.” In many cases, it is more important who is on the bus than where the bus is going initially because the people on the bus will determine the direction. When there is synergy on the bus, the bus is going places! The second flocking lesson from the pandemic is reviewing who is on the bus. Who is in your posse? When it is the right posse, the right group of people, it can accomplish great things. Re-evaluate and reform your posse!
The second example of a great professional posse comes in the form of our Crown Council team. Earlier this year as updated CDC, ADA, and local government recommendations were handed down, it was clear there was going to be a problem. With the increase in Personal Protective Equipment recommended in the form of N-95 masks and other PPE, and the shortage around the country, no one knew where they could get the required PPE.
Here comes FIO again – Figure It Out. Joey Smith on our Crown Council team had professional connections that could provide certified PPE at a very reasonable price. Our Crown Council team put our heads together and decided to make it happen for those who needed it and do the whole thing at cost. It just seemed like the right thing to do. The orders rolled in and the PPE rolled out! The Crown Council is not in the PPE business, but thanks to a great posse and a FIO attitude, Crown Council offices were able to get back to work when the time came and help patients who needed treatment. A great posse with a “Figure It Out” attitude. Two lessons reinforced from the pandemic that I will carry forward: Make sure you have the right flock or posse and keep figuring it out!
Now it’s onto the third F.
Focus. One of my all-time favorite business success stories comes from Amarillo, Texas, the home-base for The Donut Stop, a locally-owned donut shop chain. The Donut Stop successfully ran Crispy Creame Donuts out of Amarillo in the early 2000s with a well-executed counter-strategy based on its unique recipe and product offering against which Krispy Kreme could not compete. While I am not a big donut fan, I do love the philosophy that it represents. It’s what I call the Donut Discipline and it is all about focus.
In the donut discipline, the part of the donut that you eat represents everything in life over which you have little or no control. Things like the traffic, weather, the economy, how other people act, and a worldwide pandemic. One of my first “out-of-control” memories was learning to snow ski with my dad when I was in my early teens. Those first few trips up the mountain were disastrous when we got off the ski lift. Without the skills and experience, we both ended up at the bottom of the ramp in a pile of skis, poles, and twisted limbs. The first trips down the mountain were not much different. When we experience or focus on things in life over which we have no control, we subject ourselves to the emotions of anger, fear, depression, frustration, and the like; all negative emotions. It is a miserable existence.
Then there is the donut hole. Smaller than the donut, the donut hole represents things in life over which we do have control. Things like what we wear, who our friends are, what we do choose to do each day, our own attitude, and the like. At about the same time that I learned to ski, I also joined the large Boys’ Barbershop Choir at school lead by Julie Hewlett, a militant taskmaster who we all loved because she expected nothing but the very best. The choir was made up of mostly the football and basketball team members at our school. Each day Mrs. Hewlett drilled a pretty non-musically educated group of pubescent boys through the complexities of barbershop harmony. She was relentless and we were nearly impossible. Each day we focused on building on what we had learned the day before. Our skills gradually expanded one step at a time, note by note. When show time came in the form of a national choir competition, it was no surprise that the performance was flawless. It was truly an exhilarating experience and one of the highlights of our early education.
When we focus on the things over which we do have control, we subject ourselves to the emotions of confidence, courage, enthusiasm, hope, and happiness. When we focus and act on the donut hole, we find that it expands as our influence does. The more responsibility we take over the things we can control, the more things we find that we can influence and control. The donut hole expands.
During an event like a pandemic, it seems like the donut is huge and the donut hole non-existent. Earlier this year, an article appeared in The Washington Post featuring Lucille Ellson born in 1917, at the out-brake of the Spanish flu. Over the last few months, I have cited this article repeatedly. Lucille lived through the Spanish Flu and World War I, The Great Depression, WWII, the Korean War, the Civil Rights protests of the ’60s. , Vietnam, 911, the Financial crisis of 2008, and then at 102 years old, a world-wide pandemic and economic shutdown. Of the pandemic, Lucille said, “To cope with this virus and all that is going on, I would tell people to not get stressed about planning too far ahead. You can’t do it. A long time ago, I started making a list every morning of what I had to do. It was the only thing I could control, and I stuck to it.” It is obvious that Lucille loves donuts or at least subscribes to the Donut Discipline too. So, focus on the donut hole or what you can control, not what you can’t. You’ll feel better and the world around you will feel better too.
The Future. So where do we go from here? Clearly, things have changed and are changing. They always do. The one thing that never changes is that there will always be change. When they do, there are some things that we can hold onto that will get us through that a goal that we can still accomplish by following a different path. Then there are the goals that we can and should change. New realities present new opportunities. What does not change, however, is that:
It takes the right flock to get us where we want to go. Flock carefully.
We always need to FIO or figure it out. The better the flock is at FIO skills the faster the flock will fly to the goal new or existing.
The focus for the starting point is always in the donut hole, not in the donut. Working from the inside – out, by staying focused on what we can control today will always yield better results than trying to work from the outside in.
Flocking, FIO, and Focus. Three skills that will lead us all to a brighter future.
Four F’s you can use to…take it to the top.