7 Life Lessons You Really Ought to Know:Keys to
Managing Problem Employees, and
As I have gotten a little older, I have found that there are several nuggets of wisdom, or ‘life lessons,’ that I wish I could have acquired earlier in life. Herein, I pass on seven (7) of them — lucky 7 — in the form of 7 keys to life. Some of these lessons deal with obtaining money and success. However, as we shall see, some of the most important of these keys do not necessarily call for money, at least not in large amounts.
Key Number One: Wealth.
A key to wealth is … saving and investing — not just making a lot of income! This is because of two factors. First, the weakness of a focus on simply making more money is that what we spend can match — or even overtake — what we make. The second factor is the power of compound interest.
First, many think that they can grow rich by simply earning or making more money. The problem with this approach is that, all to often, as our income goes up, we allow our expenses to go up as well. The increased expenses may cancel out the higher income, leaving one no better, or even worse off, than before. This is why one hears of even upper-middle class American families struggling to get ahead: they are earning more but spending more. But one hears of this not only regarding the moderately wealthy but about the very rich. Professional athletes and celebrities, in particular, are notorious for making perhaps millions of dollars, but then going broke. Cher and Michael Jackson come to mind. This may be because they allowed their extravagant lifestyles, and corresponding expenses, to outpace even their outsized income. Hence, building wealth is not just about making more money. It is about saving what you make.
Factor number 2: what really makes the case for saving and investing is the power of compound interest. By “compound interest” is meant not only drawing a return on your investment but reinvesting your return to gain greater and greater returns on the previous returns. The classic case for compound interest is the hypothetical of the two twins. Suppose that, with all other factors equal, one twin invests $4,000.00 a year, every year from ages 20 through 40, in a tax-free environment. Suppose twin number one makes a 10% compounding return each year on such investments. Now, in contrast, juxtapose the second twin starting to invest the same amount ($4,000.00 per year) when the first twin stops and continues to add to the investment until retirement age, holding all other factors equal. In other words, twin one has invested for 20 years (ages 20 to through 40), while twin 2 has invested for 25 years (ages 40 through 65). The question becomes, if each twin retires and begins withdrawing their investments at age 65 — which one will have more money?
One might be tempted to guess that the twin who put in more money (twin no. 2) would get out more money. In fact, twin 2 would end up with under $400,000.00 while twin no. 1 would finish with over $2,000,000.00 — over twice the amount of twin 2! This is the difference that saving and investing from an early start makes. It can give your investments that much more time to compound. Twin number 1 is the clear winner, showing how much of a difference the power of compound interest really makes.
In conclusion, a key to wealth is saving and investing money over time, in order to avoid the trap of expenses rising with income and to harness the incredible power of compound interest.
Key Number Two: Saving Money.
A key to saving . . . Saving early in the month . . . not leaving saving until the end of the month.
Now, the advice above on the importance of saving and investing may sound all well and good, but one may ask: “how do I save money in the first place?” The best way(s) to save money will depend on one’s particular circumstances. However, a good start in general for most people would be to make arrangements to have money saved (or invested) before the end of the month, without even thinking about it.
I can testify to these approaches from personal experience. After getting married to a wonderful woman, I traded in the pirate-like career of a contractor for the relative stability of a permanent employee at a law firm. This was not an overnight process, and it had its hiccups along the way. However, I did manage to move from a life of temporary contract gigs to what looked like more steady and stable employment. And, my expectation at the time was that I would look after my wife and self by saving money every month. It didn’t work out so well. At the time, I thought that saving was something one did at the end of the month. I thought that one paid one’s expenses, and what was left over could go into savings. You can probably guess what happened instead. All too often, expenses were too high, leaving virtually nothing left over. So, when the end of the month rolled around, I became too nervous worrying about an overdraft in our checking account to transfer anything to savings. Saving became something to do ‘next month’ — always ‘next month’ instead of this month.
In contrast, while employed at this position, I signed up for my employer’s 401k plan. Under this plan, I had a deduction taken out of my paycheck twice every month and invested, mostly in stocks. As a result, by the time I concluded this job after six years, my 401k account had grown to several thousand in investments. The contrast is clear: leaving saving till the end of the month led to no significant savings; deducting money every paycheck led to thousands of dollars.
And, one can still make arrangements to save before the end of the month without a 401k type device. For example, one could set up a saving account and set up recurring transfers from one’s checking account to one’s savings account. The easiest time to make such transfers would probably be on the same day, or shortly after, you are paid. That way, you may not notice the deduction as much, and so it will hurt less.
For a more thorough treatment of this subject, I strongly recommend “The Automatic Millionaire” by David Bach, also available on iBooks.
Key Number Three: Happiness.
A key to happiness is: gratitude.
I would like to share a story that much impressed me about the power of gratitude when it comes to one’s happiness. According to the story, a young woman on a religious pilgrimage saw a man that stood out. This man was very old and had a face lined like a walnut. But what was most remarkable about this man was how happy he seemed. He seemed to simply radiate joy.
So, the pilgrim struck up a conversation with the man. He said that he was a priest and almost 100 years old. She asked him about how it was that he looked so joyful. He replied something to the effect that, when he was a boy, he had noticed that people would often make themselves unhappy complaining about any little thing. And so, he had promised God to never complain about anything for the first 100 years of his life and to always be thankful for the gift of life. The pilgrim thanked him for sharing this with her, but she pointed out that he would soon reach the end of his promise. He replied that his promise had made him so happy that he would gladly make it again for another hundred years!
A few points or questions come to my mind thinking about this account:
#1. Do you really want to be happy? This story suggests a way to happiness through gratitude — but it sounds like extraordinarily hard work. Just think of the self-discipline it must take to never complain about anything and to always be thankful. Would we be willing to do the work it takes to achieve such happiness?
#2. This person was grateful not for material things but for life itself.
#3. This approach needs to be applied carefully when it comes to persons suffering persecution. If a person is actually being victimized by injustice, such person does right to complain and/or protest. But, it should be noted that there may can a difference between unproductive complaining . . . and productive protesting.
In conclusion, the secret, or at least one of the major keys, to happiness is gratitude.
This may lead to an additional question: how can one become more grateful? One might try playing the ‘no, it’s good game.’ This is a game based on the following story.
Once upon a time, there was a king who had a friend who was in the habit of saying “No, its good” to any bad thing. This habit could be annoying, but the king still liked his friend.
But, one day, the king was chopping some wood, and he slipped and chopped off the front part of his hand. The king howled with pain and said how awful it was. But, his friend said: “No, its good; you’re lucky you didn’t chop your whole hand off!”
That did it. The king was so mad that he ordered his friend to be thrown into the dungeon.
Some time later, the king was out hunting by himself, and he was captured by cannibals. Terrified, the king thought that he would be eaten alive. However, as fate would have it, these particular cannibals had a superstition that they were not permitted to eat a body missing any of its parts. So, when they examined the king and found that he was missing some of his hand — they let him go!
Back home, the king was, at first, very relieved. However, then the thought occurred to him: “Oh, my poor friend! He was right all along; losing part of my hand was good! And look how I treated him!”
So, the king immediately released his friend from the dungeon, explained what had happened, and apologized profusely. However, to the king’s surprise, the friend once again responded: “No, it’s good! If I hadn’t been in here, I would have been out there, hunting with you, and the cannibals would have got me! And, you they let go, but me they would have eaten!”
A couple lessons can be drawn from this story. One is that it may not be a good idea to say ‘no, its good’ to others when they face misfortunes. That may only make them more upset. However, it can make for an exercise in gratitude to find a reason to say ‘no, its good’ to YOURSELF when you encounter something that troubles you. I call this: playing the ‘no, its good’ game. For example, not long before this writing, I acquired new shoes that put a bloody sore on my ankle. But, I told myself ‘no, its good! It means you still have feet!’ And, that made me feel better about the situation. Moreover, I sometimes get headaches. I like to tell myself: ‘No, its good! It means you still have a head!’ So, I can attest from personal experience that performing exercises in gratitude can make a person feel better. However, I will add the caveat that the ‘No, its good!’ game had tended to give me a quick sarcastic thrill rather than the sort of saintly happiness that the priest seemed to enjoy.
However, my conclusion remains that a key to happiness . . . is gratitude.
Key Number Four: Communicating Persuasively.
A key to communicating persuasively is: to make a hamburger!
‘Making a hamburger’ is a key to effective persuasive communication, generally speaking. And, by a ‘hamburger’ I mean not a literal hamburger but building the metaphorical ‘hamburger’ of communication: an introduction (the top bun), the substantive middle (the meat of the burger), and the conclusion (the bottom bun).
US President Ronald Reagan is said to have had a motto for his speeches: ‘tell ’em what your gonna tell ’em, tell ’em, tell ’em what you’ve told ’em. This approach invokes the idea of ‘primacy and latency’ — people tend to remember best the first things they are told and the last things they are told. For our purposes, I am thinking primarily of written communication, but this formula can also apply to other forms.
First, think of the best arguments supporting whatever position you wish to advocate. Try to come up with at least three (3) good arguments. If you can think of more than three good arguments, consider using only your three top arguments, because people may forget more than three. Begin with an introduction (the top bun). Such introduction should lay out a guide map for the audience regarding your assertion — what you are going to tell ’em — and an overview of your arguments.
Second, follow with the main body of your message laying out the argument(s) supporting your assertion (the “meat” of your message). Provide the three good arguments for whatever it is you are asserting. I would suggest writing a paragraph of at least three sentences for the middle part of a short message, one sentence for each reason. You should consider three separate paragraphs of at least three sentences each for a longer message.
Finally, close with a summary of your arguments to remind your audience of what you have told them and to reinforce your message (tell ’em what you’ve told ’em / the bottom bun).
In conclusion, the key to communicating persuasively is to make a hamburger: introduction, middle, conclusion. Tell ’em what you’re gonna tell ’em. Tell ’em. Tell ’em what you’ve told ‘em.
Key Number Five: Power.
A key to power is: conviction.
Current events may leave one wishing for power: the power to make a difference in the world. This will be an old observation about a means of obtaining such power, but I think it bears repeating.
In what is regarded as a classic American text on self-empowerment, “Think and Grow Rich,” Napoleon Hill recounts the story of the power of a young African-American girl with the power of conviction.
Allegedly, a young man and his uncle were working in his uncle’s mill sometime in the 1930s, when a young African-American girl came in the door and said that her mother needed thirty-five (35) cents. The uncle, a man of notoriously bad temper, ordered the girl away. However, most surprisingly given the social context of the period in American history in which this event occurred, the girl refused to leave. The uncle stalked toward her, weapon in hand, and the nephew feared that he was about to witness a murder. The uncle must have expected the child to flee — when the unthinkable happened. Instead of cowering, the young African-American girl faced him down and screamed: ‘My mam needs thirty-five cents!’ Apparently caught off-guard by such resistance, the uncle found himself giving in and give the child her coins. Supposedly, the uncle spend some time afterwards just staring into space — apparently wondering what on earth had just happened.
Some commentators might explain what happened in terms of ‘the power of desire,’ or ‘the power of positive thinking.’ What contemporary readers are at risk of missing is the danger that child put herself in. Given the history of the day, the bad-tempered uncle probably could have gotten away with her murder. This child was not just “thinking positively” — she was literally risking her life.
Hence, it seems to me that this child had more than just “positive thinking.” She had conviction. She was convinced that she had to get that money for her mother. She had such conviction that she was willing to risk her very life.
Now it makes sense; now it sounds familiar. History has many examples of persons who did not outwardly appear powerful but who had had conviction: such conviction that they were ready to risk their very lives.
Martin Luther King Jr. had such conviction that he was willing to risk his life. The proof is that he eventually did give his life. He was assassinated, shot and killed.
Malcolm X had sufficient conviction to risk his life. He too was assassinated.
Mohandas Ghandi had such conviction. He was assassinated, shot and killed, by a Hindu nationalist.
If you are willing to go further back, you could even say that Jesus Christ was such a person of conviction.
In each case, conviction was a part of what gave each individual the power to change the world.
So, the lesson to be learned may be that, if one wants the power to change the world, a key to such power may be . . . conviction. But, as is so often the case in life, this power does not come without cost. There is a price to be paid for such power, and that is that one has to have such conviction that one is willing to risk one’s very life for it. And, eventually, one may have to actually give up their life for their chosen cause. But, in doing so, one just might change the world.
Key Number Six: Managing Problem Employees.
A key to managing troublesome employees is: to go through the following steps …
This particular life lesson came out of conversation with someone who had a career as a corporate executive. I knew of someone with persistent issues managing troubling employees, and I had asked this person something along the lines of: “When someone working for you is not doing their job, is there anything you can do more than just yelling at them?”
Their professional advice was: do NOT yell at them; take the following steps:
1. Sit down and hold a 1-on-1 meeting with the person in question.
2. Review with them, in detail, their job responsibilities and make sure that they actually understand what they are supposed to be doing. Many times underperforming employees may simply not understand some aspect of their job.
3. Go over with them where and how they are falling short of meeting their responsibilities and what they intend to do to improve on these areas going forward.
4. Obtain a commitment with the employee to meet again to review their progress after some time, perhaps 2 months.
5. At the end of the time period, meet with the employee to review their performance and decide whether the issues have been fixed, whether further changes are needed, or if the employee needs to leave the organization.
In conclusion, the way to handle employees who are not giving you the results you want is not to yell at them but to hold an intensive meeting with them to improve their performance.
Key Number Seven: Eternal Salvation.
The key to Eternal Salvation is … accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. I don’t have any clever arguments for this one. You just have to look into your heart and to consult your own conscience. My best personal recommendation for you is to accept Jesus Christ, preferably in the context of an established Christian church.
Well, there you have it: seven (7) key lessons, seven pieces of advice for building wealth, saving money, being happy, exercising power, handling employees and receiving salvation. Thank you for joining me for these; please shoot me an email if you have anything to add.