Book Review: Finding Success in Balance

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Finding Success in Balance

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Author: Apryl Schleuter

My Journey To The Cheerful Mind

I’ve read a number of books that talk about work / life balance but never a book as focused on it as this one.  The author, Schleuter, includes her life story and tells of her many challenges of learning and finding the life balance she now has and teaches as a life coach. I found this book is more about Schleuter’s journey to find her own life balance than it is about the “how to” aspect of work / life balance.  She certainly includes advice but it takes quite a while to get to that by eventually having steps and recommendations after her stories of discovering these for herself.  It’s definitely a different style of book where the advice is given along with a detailed description and story of the author’s challenges and in most cases, failures to accomplish what she was after.  Schleuter does overcome these challenges, but her own evidence shows this takes her years and many jobs to ultimately find what she is after.  I had a hard time taking this in, since over and over I thought to myself, the author doesn’t know what she is doing, what can I learn from this?  In the end, there is good lessons learned and teachings by the author, but I’m not sure the journey of getting there helped me in any way, as this is something that would be unique to any individual and each person will find their own path if they continue on such a trial and error as the author here does.

There is sections on career and life, relationship, finances, fun and free time.  All are good and worth the read for, but depending on how much back story you want to know, you can probably skim through these sections pretty quick to get to the meat of the book, which is the advice, her lessons learned and her now active practice as a life coach running her business, the Cheerful Mind.

Also, there is a lot of discussion dedicated on managing stress, as it seems to be the bane of Schleuter, through her life.    I’ve always been fortunately to enjoy many hobbies, sports and pass times that seem to kill my stress levels.  I’m also quick to engage in any work I do, so its easy for me to enjoy a LOT of activities, so I really struggled to relate the many stress inducing challenges the book describes and wants to help with.  The author goes through quite a journey to find ways of reducing to only a tolerable level of stress in many cases, but it seems that stress is still a continuous barrier for the author.  I guess if one struggles with this, it would be easier to relate to, but for me, stress is just a non-factor as I handle and eliminate stress very successfully.

However, there are techniques to learn and some of the methods that work for her are:

  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Acupuncture
  • Massage
  • Chiropractic

Aside from meditation and yoga, these all require outsite intervention, which I don’t believe is really handling the problem of stress at all.  My methods are completely different and easier for me to do without outside help so I didn’t put much though to these as they don’t do the same thing for me at all.  However, the journey to handle stress and manage it for yourself will always be unique and knowing more ways and possibilities for that useful if you need to explore this for yourself.

Despite not connecting closely with everything in this book, just because Schleuter’s lifestyle is very different from mine (even though we are both engineers), the book covers some great topics, provides sound advice and explores a journey of the author’s story in getting to her point of work / life balance, which I commend and recommend anyone to strive for.  So, its easy to recommend this book, its a fast read and helpful in many ways.  I hope you enjoy it as well!

 

Book Review: Cameleon

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Life-Changing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has a Personality or Knows Someone Who Does
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Author: Merrick Rosenberg

Well, this book is quite interesting and a very different than so many than I read.  Although I don’t care for the subtext on the cover, I do believe that the underlying content of this book can be life changing and the wisdom has certainly helped me a tremendous amount in my life.  Ultimately this book is all about behavioral styles, specifically, the DiSC model that is often hard for people to learn, remember and apply.  I am fortunately to have learned and applied DiSC from Manager-Tools many years ago and I’ve used it heavily in my career and life to work with others much more easily and understand them.  So, while I can’t say I learned much new ideas behind these styles in this book, I can say that this book teaches them VERY well, demonstrates through excellent examples and uses stories to teach the content, which is going to be a very good way to learn them for many people.

DiSC ultimately has four behavior styles and while everyone has some combination of all four, and uses different styles at different times, we also tend to have stronger most natural tendencies in one of the quadrants or styles of DiSC. Rosenberg uses birds to be metaphor’s for each style and they are:

  • Eagle
  • Parrot
  • Dove
  • Owl

Eagle

A bird of action, that is quick to take charge, look at the big picture and be in control of any situation, no matter what the circumstances.

Parrot

An often excited, forever optimistic and easily distracted bird that enjoys story telling, simply enjoying flight and to socialize with other birds.

Dove

A peaceful and kind bird that cares about others and wants to see everyone getting along.  Dove’s don’t like to be in the spotlight themselves, but love to bring out the best of a whole team.

Owl

A super logic bird that will take the time to think, reflect and decide what to do, only after considering all options and having all the information at their wingtips.

Overall Thoughts

Rosenberg includes 22 separate stories with the birds learning and realizing various lessons about understanding and working better with one another.  Throughout these fables, the Chameleon character reminds me a bit of Yoda, he seems to always be in the right place at the the right time with words of wisdom and questions that drive all the birds to new levels of understanding of the various styles.

The book is very easy to read, short stories, with simple but powerful lessons in them all, that are very easy to relate with in the real world as well.  In some ways the stories and characters seem a limit childish at times, but it never really takes away anything from the book, just because it is simple and easy to understand, which I can’t say DiSC is easy for people using its classical models of learning it.

Rosenberg also summarizes every chapter with tips from that story and there are TONS of great couple line points to remind you of the various benefits of using and applying DiSC methodology to help you with your relationships, your career and life.  All in all, its a good book with good lessons and I personally love the DiSC model so the content earns a 5 stars from me but the book overall is a solid 4.

Book Review: Rapid Teamwork

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5 Essential Steps to Transform Any Group into a GREAT Team
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Author: Sean Glaze

I love fables for making a point and I like how much easier it is to connect with the characters, to engage in the book, and to ultimately learn something from it.  I’ve read some other great fables such as The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and The Goal and I really enjoyed this one as well.  Rapid Teamwork wasn’t quite as breakthrough in the guidance and story as those examples but hits on a great topic, teamwork and does it in a setting where the teamwork isn’t all that bad in the first place, but not nearly as good as it CAN be.

The story is about a manager, Greg Sharpe, who’s quickly thrown into a new challenge to take his team to an offsite rafting trip for some ‘unconventional’ lessons to learn.  Sharpe’s new boss and mediocre business performance have him rather worried on on edge, but realizes through the teaching from the guide during the trip, what he and his executive team need to do to become highly productive and with stronger relationships and unity in their workplace.

The 5 Essential Steps

  1. Goals and Gear
  2. Rapport and Relationships
  3. Expectations and Encouragements
  4. Accountability and Adjustments
  5. Toasts and Transfer

These steps are not just described like many self help books, but instead experienced by Sharpe and his executive team during their rafting adventure.  Their guide expertly teaches them as their experience unfolds on the waters and they all seem to realize how the steps can make a real difference for them as a team.

Overall, I think the book is great. Its a pretty short read, teaches valuable lessons and the adventure of rafting is one I could quickly relate to.  My adventurous spirit hoped for much more excitement and descriptions of the events on the water but nothing will compare to reading the Emerald Mile for a water adventure book. Perhaps a lot of people think that these type of “offsite teambuilding” events can be a bit cliche and unsuccessful in the real world, and while I don’t disagree, I do know they depend highly on a skilled coach / guide or teacher to make them work, and this book shows an example of that, where it just works.  I’ve experienced some of the same teambuilding, so I know there are many such events that do work.

Anyway, if you’ve needing or wanting to understand how you can improve your own team, I’d recommend grabbing this one for your next flight or session out in your hammock (which you should have one, by the way, haha).

DIY Learning – Experimental Solar Air Heater, Part 1

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LearnThis has always been about discovering and learning new skills and helping others to do the same.  Those skills can be learned in a variety of formats, where a blog normally consists of reading and writing, I’ve always been an advocate to practice skills, learn by doing and whenever possible, put those learned skills into action on a regular basis.  I do exactly that by building things and fixing things that I can learn about myself. Home repairs, renovations, handyman.  I’ve done a lot of carpentry, metal work and several times now, small solar energy projects.  In this three part series, I’m going to outline 3 home solar projects I’ve done.  Hopefully they serve as an example of how you can use a do it yourself (DIY) approach to learn a lot about a subject.

First DIY Solar Experiment – Battery Backed Photovoltaic

The first solar experiments I did about 15 years ago with a small solar panel that I used to mount on my home’s roof to power a vent fan that would help to cool the attic, using air exchange anytime it was hot and sunny out.  I used a 15W 12V panel, to drive a 12V high volume fan and wiring it up to an old mercury thermostat.  The cool thing about an old mercury thermostat is that it works on gravity, so you can mount it upside down to reverse its operation. What normally activates the heating cycle if the temperature drops, upside down it behaves as a cooling unit, activating the cooling when it gets above a specific temperature instead.

I quickly realized that my 15W panel was a LOT more power than the 5W fan was using for air exchange. I figured I could try to extend the use of this power with a battery pack.  I did quite a bit of research and was a regular reading the magazine “Home Power” to find some ideas and sources of information.  I looked at and purchased a simple circuit board kit that I could solder and build myself, since it was only about $20 to buy.  The board was a charge controller, with low load protection and over voltage protection that I hooked up to a small 7AmpH 12V gel battery.

The additional 10W took a few days to fully charge the battery, but then I was able to use that to operate several compact fluorescent lights in my basement laundry room.  I used a small 175W inverter that was nearly zero no-load draw. I was able to drop the wiring down from the attic along side the house plumbing vent stack right to the basement so I could put the charge controller, battery and lighting in the basement for the roof mount solar panel.

I ran it for quite a few years and it kept the attic at least 5-10 degrees cooler with the active cooling fan and the added light in the laundry room was great to operate for essentially free from the battery.  Overall, it was a great experiment and fun to build, yet I never proceeded doing photo voltaic again, due to the high cost and low efficiency of the panels. I sold the panel and battery used when selling the house, to another solar experimenter to hook up and play with.

Second DIY Solar Experiment – Active Solar Air Heater

I’ve always been interested in efficient energies from the sun.  The most common is solar photo voltaic, however it continues to be a fairly costly solution. Capturing the sun’s energy with photo voltaic unfortunately has very poor efficiency. However, cost of panels has reduced rapidly so for DIY-ers, they have become much more affordable. Commercially installed PV systems are still very expensive still with around 20 year payback periods.  One problem with PV panels is that their energy efficiency is only around 15% for most commercial panels.

I looked into building a passive solar air heater for additional heating on our tack room / barn.  It is heated by electric baseboard heaters to keep the room from freezing (and the cats warm) in the winter.  I found some examples of home built popcan solar air heaters on youtube so I decided to start with one of those.  I picked up a bunch of free windows being given away on a local classified site, and so had a 2 foot by 3 foot glass panel to start a small heater from.

Next, I built a simple plywood box to house aluminum cans which when painted black, could collect the sun’s heat nicely and act as a heat exchanger.  This DIY concept is very simple, cold air comes in the bottom of the box or panel, which has a glass front facing the sun, with black cans inside to absorb and radiate the heat into the air inside the panel.  That hot air rises so can exit out a top vent to create continuous heat output.

I built and tested this in the sun and while a passive design worked to raise the temperature of the air by over 30°C (86°F) continuously, the air flow was very low.  I decided to add a couple of small 12V computer fans to blow the hot air out into the room where I needed the air.  It worked great and I exhausted the hot air into the barn through a window which I built a sealed panel for with insulated air ducts to reach it.

The heater’s fans were mounted in a series circuit with a $2 snap disc I found on ebay.  These engage the circuit whenever the temperature was above 25°C (77°F).  A cheap 12V power supply (also from ebay) ran the fans whenever there was heat in the box.  I enclosed the end with tin to seal it all up from weather and to connect my air duct vents to the barn when it was actually installed.

Overall, the heat was great on a small DIY device like this, considering I didn’t even insulate the box.  Its surface area gets about 660W of sun radiant heat (about 1KW/m2). My estimate of efficiency after doing some math on the air flow and heat increase as well, was about 65% so this device was able to output a continuous 400W or so.  Not bad, for a diy experiment that cost me about $20 to make since I had most of the parts already.

Outputting 400W for 5 hrs a day, meant it produced about 2KW per full day of sun.  Saving $0.18 per day of operation, it only needed 111 days of operation to pay off.  I installed and had it operating for 4 yrs.  This equals about 125 days per year of sun so it more than paid off and even saved me an extra $70 on electric heating for the barn.  SWEET!

12 Leadership Tips for When You’re Not the Boss

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leadership tips

In most companies, employees are promoted using a criterion that has been put in place by the managers of the organization. Typically, an employee that has been seen to exhibit leadership qualities is given priority when promotions are being handed out. So it is likely, that if you were part of the applicants that were recently hired, you will not be getting promoted any time soon. However, this should not leave you discouraged because patience is critical for a new hire. These leadership tips will help you exhibit your leadership without having to be the boss, in any position:

1. Be goal oriented

Goals are very important for anyone that aspires to be a leader. When your goals are clearly defined it makes them much easier to achieve whether in life or career. Most times, when you are focused on achieving your goals, you are likely to influence others to do the same and they end up achieving theirs too. This should be quite rewarding if you enjoy helping others see their goals come to fruition.

2. Practice humility

A true leader is humble and this is often seen even before a person begins to speak. Always carry yourself with a lot of humility which makes you open to anyone regardless of their position in life. When people perceive you as humble they are able to take direction from you in the office whenever you are working together, thus making you a leader.

3. Always see the bigger picture

Work on achieving the end goal of any project regardless of the many channels that will be used in getting it done. Allow the team to work in a way that they are comfortable but always reminding them to keep focused on the end result. If the final result is satisfactory, then the process used to get there will not matter much.

4. Have excellent communication skills

Say what you mean in a clear and concise manner. Many times, people appreciate getting all the information beforehand to help them get things done as they have been instructed. On the other hand, avoid getting upset when things don’t fall into place but rather communicate what should be done to get things back on track.

5. Be dependable

Although you desire is to rise to the top, do not get there by stepping on others along the way. Whenever someone seeks your help for a task, ensure that the assistance offered brings value to them and the project that they are handling. If you are considered to be a reliable person by colleagues or group members, they are likely to support your projects as well.

6. Embrace your slip-ups

It is always hard to admit that we have failed in one way or another. In most cases, we shift the blame whenever we make a mistake instead of acknowledging it. As a potential leader, try and accept correction when an error is pointed out, even by a subordinate, and seek out ways to improve yourself in that area.

7. Talk less. Listen More.

True leaders allow others to speak their mind at all times regardless of their position in the company. Listen intently and ask questions in areas where you may need some clarification. If you need ideas on the project that you are working on, then ask for suggestions but it does not mean you have to use them. You can then give your input at the end while acknowledging the information already presented by others.

8. Be a risk taker

Taking risks even when they have no idea of the outcome is common for leaders that want to scale new heights and succeed in their profession. However, it is important to evaluate every situation before taking the risk as this will increase the chances of success and even if you fail, the damage will be minimal. Calculated risks always have a way of paying off in the long run if the lessons learnt are used well.

9. Ask for help

Seek help whenever you start feeling overwhelmed by tasks so that you do not make mistakes you might regret. If possible, avoid being the one that has to fix every situation that goes wrong and let others offer solutions as well. Most times, the help offered will stop you from panicking and making the situation worse as you work to find the solution together. Don’t be afraid to ask for leadership tips from other leaders in your organization as well.  Showing interest help you learn and get recognized.

10. Recognize the effort of others

Nothing is accomplished alone and this should be your mantra when seeking a leadership position. Most tasks are achieved through group effort and it is only fair that every team member be acknowledged for the role they played in the success of a project. In most cases, this recognition makes other members feel appreciated and will most likely look forward to participating in other projects.

11. Always speak up

Be firm and respectful whenever you have to disagree with another person and do not let them walk all over you. When addressing people in an uncomfortable situation, aim to speak slowly and clearly while explaining the reasons for your decisions. When you treat people with respect, they are likely to do the same during your interactions in and out of the office.

12. Avoid asking for favors

You will always gain a lot of respect when you earn everything you have through hard work. Most people will consider you a leader because they have seen you put a lot of effort in your office work. Therefore, it is advisable to avoid looking like you are being favored by the boss, whether true or not. In general, leadership is not necessarily connected to a certain position but to the amount of influence you can have over other group members. When you have the power to direct them towards a certain direction without having to be the boss, then you are a true leader. This is the type of leadership that every employee should aspire for when working for their preferred organization.

 

These leadership tips were submitted as a guest article, written by Aaron Ramsey of eapplicants.com.  If you’d like to see more of his helpful tips and articles, you might want to check out his target interview tips here.  You can find other resources for job seekers on his site as well.

Book Review: Hidden Strengths

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Unleashing the Crucial Leadership Skills You Already Have
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Author: Thuy Sindell and Milo Sindell

This book is a concise and straight forward leadership development book with a bit of a twist to the normal personal development focus.  Most of us know that focusing on weaknesses can be less fruitful than focusing on our strengths, as in “Now, Discover Your Strengths” and I’ve certainly used that coaching people for personal development.  This book adds the advice to also not focus only on your strengths but instead, find the ‘hidden strengths’ that you can develop and gain more broad capabilities with less effort and time.  This is done by the help of a skills assessment by the author and then a breakdown of 28 skills in 4 main categories:

  1. Leading Self
  2. Leading Others
  3. Leading the Organization
  4. Leading Implementation

The Sindell authors provide descriptions of each of the 28 skills, advice on how to use and develop them through numerous stories or case studies of business development where the characters develop hidden strengths to improve their roles in leadership.  These hidden skill stories give believable evidence of how everyone has more hidden strength to draw upon and use in our personal development journeys.  The only thing I didn’t like about these short stories is that they seem too easy in some of the cases where skills focus made significant impact in just days or a few short weeks in most cases.  I personally haven’t ever found this to be the case, they usually develop and cause impact over the course of many weeks, or even months or years.  Skills just don’t have that immediate of impact in organizations and in all the people I’ve coached, it typically takes longer for them to even practice and develop the skills.  Hidden strengths I think is a great place to find opportunities for personal development, however, lasting skill development should not be understated, it needs to be practiced and practiced to get good at to truly develop into a strength that can be applied in one’s leadership.  This is especially true since leadership skills reveal themselves often at the point of adversity and challenge.

The book is in three main parts to lead your through these discoveries and examples:

  1. What are hidden strengths?
  2. Finding your Hidden Strengths.
  3. Hidden Strengths into action.

So, overall I enjoyed reading the book.  Its 78 pages is  a pretty quick read and the free skills assessment with the book will have you thinking carefully about how you can too, develop some of your hidden strengths.

Copyright © 2017 Mike King