Alex Hoffer

The Power of Intentional Connection

I am often asked how it is to lead Hoffer Plastics with my two sisters. My response is that while our relationships are healthy, there are challenges. I then often ask back, “how would running a business be with your sibling or siblings?” This often gets an awkward chuckle. 

Leading the business with my siblings has given me the opportunity to learn, and practice, healthy relationship skills. This starts with learning to navigate difficult conversations with each sibling. To date, the three of us have succession planned, navigated COVID, and dealt with almost every issue in-between. While our relationships are not perfect, nor is perfection attainable, I can say that our relationships are deeper today than when we started working here. Further, we have vacationed and done many holidays together. 

Having relational skills, however, is only half the battle. The other half is intentionally engaging. To that end, we made a pact to meet weekly this year so that we prioritize time to connect. Otherwise, it is too easy to go on auto-pilot and only connect when it is absolutely necessary. This runs the risk of issues getting buried and possibly grudges being formed. 

So, with what is left in this post, I am going to share the format we use when we meet weekly. You probably do not work with siblings, but this format can still be used with other leaders that you work closely with. As the format we use indicates, the point is to intentionally connect. 

Weekly Meeting (my explanation in parentheses): 

Goal: To maintain strong, loving, family relationships while becoming better leaders. 

Rules: 

  1. Consistency trumps duration  
  2. Phones on airplane mode. 
  3. Longer explorations of specific topics reserved for other meeting. 
  4. Stick to the agenda below

Part 1: 15 minutes (5 per person): The Personal Side 

(As siblings, we have learned to start with the personal side because our family relationship takes priority over our working relationship). 

  1. What support do I need from the other members personally? 
  2. Is there anything the other two should know about my family situation this week (between us there are 7 kids with ages ranging from 15 to 5. Further, life always comes with everyone to work which is why it is important to get any personal issues on the table. Obviously, this will look different if the meeting was between non-family members. Still, I would recommend that those relationships aim for mutual support). 
  3. Accountability: This week I was in the Bible _____ days. (Our faith is paramount, so, we use this meeting for spiritual accountability as well). 

Part 2: 15 Minutes (5 per person): The Business Side

(My temptation is to always start here. But, the personal side is critical. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care!)

  1. What is the biggest challenge with my direct reports, if any? (This question leads to an overview of what is going on. Most weeks there is not a major issue to discuss). 
  2. What am I doing about this issue? (We aim to be accountable, not people that blame others). 
  3. Optional: Something I would like feedback on is ________? (When used, this question leads to good information about your own leadership). 

Part 3: Wrap Up 

  1. Based on what has been shared, is there any action the group needs to take (i.e., schedule a meeting to discuss a topic in greater detail)? 
  2. Are there any other questions needed for clarity? 

Part 4: Prayer 

(I close the time praying for our business, customers, and suppliers. This may not be for everyone, but it is for us). 

Leaders can customize the agenda to fit the needs of their team. The point is to take action and be intentional about your personal and working relationships. 

Doing so won’t necessarily be easy, but, as I have learned, growth happens when you do what is uncomfortable in the moment! 

The High Cost of Silence

When was the last time you felt prompted to say something to someone and for one reason or another you did not? This could be something large or small. It could be a problem you see in the relationship, or some help you need from this person. Whatever it is, there is enough behind it that you are tempted not to say anything because saying something could, at the minimum, bring tension. Not handled correctly, the tension could lead to an outright conflict, which is why you are tempted not to say anything at all. 

As someone who has struggled with the above scenario, here is what I have learned: There is a tax to silence. 

First, there is a tax to living with this scenario in your head. As I have said countless times before on this blog, until we get whatever is in our head out, either written in a journal, shared with a friend, or addressed with the person we have the issue with, we will not live in peace. This reality is true, but it is not the point of this particular post. 

The point of this post is the second point. The longer we allow the issue to fester, the greater the chances are that we blow. “Blowing up,” as Patrick Lencioni teaches on his “At the Table” podcast, can make us a capital “J” Jerk. Conversely, handling these moments as they come up might make us a jerk, but only the little “j” kind. (I would highly recommend episode 83 of “At the Table” as it shaped my thinking on this post. 

To drive the point of this post home, that the tax on silence can be becoming a big “J” jerk. I am going to rip the band-aid off of my own scars to show how this happens. Here is an example from my past that I am embarrassed about: 

One example that comes to mind is a blow up I had with an old girlfriend. I start here because “blow ups” in dating relationships are depicted frequently on television and relatable to real life. Most have experienced some kind of argument in a dating relationship. 

I was in my early twenties at the time, and had believed that she was the “one.” We had previously dated in high school and had rekindled that relationship after re-meeting at a bar in Chicago. It had all the makings, but, it just was not meant to be. I am sure she would agree in retrospect, but there were a lot of little differences in our personalities that we did not address. For one reason or another we never got around to addressing them either. That is, until one night, with the aid of a couple of adult beverages, I blew. It was a relatively short eruption, but I was harsh. A couple weeks later we were through and the occurrence was not the best look for me. I learned that I should have had several conversations prior to that eruption. That would have been the right thing to do. 

As the years have gone by, I notice the tax of silence showing up just about everywhere, but especially in the workplace. I write blogs about leadership, but that does not mean I don’t succumb to the tax of silence here. I may not blow up at people like I did in my early twenties, but I can do something that is perhaps even worse: make passive aggressive sarcastic comments. 

Here are some examples: 

-A project is late all the time, so instead of challenging why it is late, I make a snarky comment that shows my displeasure, but does not address the problem. Worse, I do this publicly, rather than privately.  

-A person comes in late all the time, so I poke fun at their tardiness rather than talking with them directly. 

-I walk the production floor and find part containment and cleanliness that is not up to par. Rather than having one-on-one conversations, I default to sarcasm to others about how bad things look.  

None of these behaviors addresses the real problem. In fact, all increase the danger of the tax of silence coming due for payment. 

As I wrap up, I hope you get the point that you are better off addressing issues in the moment. It is the kind, even loving, thing to do. We are tempted not to do it out of protection of our self. Ironically, addressing issues in the moment is both the uncomfortable thing to do and the most protective thing to do for YOURSELF and others. 

The tax paid to conversation is less than the tax paid to silence. In fact, there is often no tax at all.  

I am nudging myself in the direction of having more conversations. I say nudging because it is hard. The easy thing to do these days is to avoid having difficult conversations and default to passive aggressive behavior, like venting on social media. 

Direct conversations, however, take intention and effort. We must persist in doing this kind of work. So, let’s be the kind of people that love others and ourselves, enough to talk about issues as they come up. 

Accountability is an Act of Love

I have been doing a lot of thinking about accountability lately. Holding others accountable is not something that comes easy for me. I have often struggled with the desire for the approval of others. So, it can be difficult to give people the kind of feedback necessary to hold them accountable. That said, holding others accountable is the loving thing to do. In essence, it says that you love them so much, you are going to help them get better. Realizing this truth has been helpful because the last thing I want to be is unloving, yet, that is what I become when I stay silent. 

Holding others accountable is one of the main reasons we follow leaders. I have always known this to be true because a leader does the things that are hard, and the things that most other people do not do. But, what I have come to realize is that this is only partially true. What I mean is that people are much more inclined to follow leaders who hold them accountable. I have found that people are willing to jump through hoops for the few leaders that nurture accountability in an uplifting  way. Here are some examples to illustrate what I mean. To differentiate, I will refer to the kind of leader that uplifts others as the “indispensable leader” for the remainder of this post. 

First, the indispensable leader holds others accountable in private, not in public. While this is obvious, it is absolutely critical. While some public accountability around the “what” is unavoidable (public metrics like sales figures, operational metrics, etc.), no public accountability around the “how” should ever happen. By the “how” I am referring to the activities the individual person engages in to perform their task. All discussions about the “how” should take place privately so the individual is not embarrassed publicly. 

Second, the indispensable leader encourages more than criticizes. There has been a lot written on the 5:1 ratio, or 5 messages of encouragement for every 1 message of critique. I have found that I am at my best when I do this at home, work, and everywhere else. Admittedly, it is easy when performance slips (mine or others) for me to be overly critical. I am a terrible leader when I do this.

Third, the indispensable leader processes an accountability issue with the person they are holding accountable. This sounds obvious because it is, yet I have succumb to the temptation of processing an issue with others in the past, so I note it here. While I continue to be a firm believer in perspective gathering because I often have the wrong view of a situation, it is important to keep this to a minimum within the organization. If it is absolutely necessary, be sure to process an issue with someone of equal organizational status or a superior. Secondly, make sure that you recount the situation in such a way that you would not be embarrassed if every word got back to the person not present. 

Finally, the indispensable leader is indispensable because they persist. I use the word persist intentionally because I have discovered that holding others accountable is not a one time event. The older I get, the more I realize how long change takes in myself and others. The only way this happens is through persistence. 

I turn 40 in the weeks to come, so I am doing a lot of reflection on my personal leadership as well as many other topics. If you come back to this blog you will probably notice a lot more reflections in the posts to come. I make mention here, however, because holding others accountable is an area I need to grow in, especially as it relates to peers and siblings working in the business. I am being ruthlessly honest here because the biggest takeaway for me has been learning that I am actually unloving when I am not holding others accountable. 

Said differently, the deepest longing of my heart is to be loved by God and loved by others. Therefore, it can be said that I desire being held accountable by others as well. To that end, may all our team members reading this post hear the invitation to my office when I need to be held accountable. Please tell me. And, please remember the 5:1 ratio when you are giving me the feedback I need to hear. 

I will do likewise. 

Let us be an organization where iron sharpens iron. 

I am Not What I Do – and Neither Are You

My Executive Coach encouraged me to read Terrence Real’s, I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression. The post that follows is indebted to this book. 

There is desire inside me that craves being fed. Reading the latest book satisfies it. Writing a blog post does as well. Exercising is another way to earn a check mark. 

Such is the reality of performance-based esteem. 

Ever relentlessly check your email? 

Ever fail to officially stop working? 

Do you rationalize that this is what you have to do? As if what you do is not replaceable? Take it from me. You are replaceable. I know I am. Hoffer Plastics had one of its best months ever the month that I was in the hospital for a week and gone for two more. This realization is not depleting. It is actually freeing. 

I do not have to hide. I am not what I do. Neither are you. 

The things that we do to conceal the inner-self, the addictive defenses, are often shields. But what are they shielding? 

All the “to-dos” that I do, especially the good ones, what are they hiding? 

Perhaps, nothing? 

Perhaps, everything? 

Shame?

Why is it that when I hide my true self I am tempted to show grandiosity externally, and yet feel shame inwardly? What am I hiding? 

My inner-self wants to hit delete rather than “post” this right now. It feels like the plank is coming to its end and it is time to jump. But, where does the jump lead? Does it lead to the deep end? Is the deep end safe? Or, is the preoccupation with being safe the problem? 

What is the point of all this anyway? 

Why do I care so much about what others think? Acceptance, and popularity, actually never satisfy. 

So, I will ask again, what is the point of all this anyway? 

My self-critic just said that is what you all, the readers, are probably wondering, “what is the point?”

Am I the only one that has a self-critic inside my head? I doubt it! 

I was not depressed when I started reading this book, but it uncovered something. Maybe this post is doing the same for you. 

If so I am sorry. 

Ok, maybe I am not sorry. 

I have discovered that much of my doing is nothing more than a vain attempt to placate the noise of my self-critic. The reality is that I am self-critical and at times shameful. I am more aware of my inner-dialogue now. Some say this is enlightenment. 

Perhaps. 

It feels like there is a lot more discovery that needs to happen for that word to be used. Maybe that is the self-critic winning again. But, this is a start. 

As I peak inside, there is also pain from the past. Some of it brought on by my own decision making, some brought on by others. 

Lord Jesus, help me forgive both myself and others. 

Help me be restored. 

Help me find peace in you. 

Help me realize this peace comes from “being” with you, and not “doing.” 

Help me stop. 

A final note. 

Wherever you are …….. stop. 

Ask yourself where you are on the continuum of shame and grandiosity. 

What are you hiding? 

Anything? 

If not, just be. 

If so, what is it? 

Next week we can go back to focusing externally, but for now, have the courage to look inwardly. 

I feel the discomfort too. 

Let your emotions out. Get help if you need it. Discover you, the authentic you. 

The point in doing so is not to end there, or even to be fixated there. But rather to be begin living outwardly, focusing on others. 

It is brokenness to wholeness to otherness. 

It is the start of healing. 

It is the process of self-leadership. 

Reflections on My First Decade as a Dad

10 years ago today, I became a father. 

10 years ago today, I held a baby boy in my arms while I watched the Chicago Cubs on T.V.  

I wondered whether any of it was real? 

Two days later I drove us all home. I could not believe the people in charge allowed us to leave, but they did. And, for some reason the ten minute drive to our house took twenty minutes. 

A day later we went back to the doctor’s office and forgot to bring diapers. Our newborn then did what newborns do. 

We learned our lesson then and have been learning everyday since. 

Six weeks later Starbucks reported its fiscal Q4 results for 2011 were up significantly. Coincidence? 

Nah… 

Over the years, God blessed us, and our son, with two wonderful siblings, another boy and a princess, or at least that is what she tells us she is these days. And she will always be one in my eyes. 

As Will celebrates his tenth birthday today, I could not be prouder of the man he is becoming. Much to the credit of his mother, Will has taken on responsibility of many of the household duties these days. I have observed that this is what leaders do: they pass on authority to others and let them develop. Will is one who his siblings follow because he is gentle, kind, and loving. I have learned much from observing him. In fact, I sometimes follow his lead. 

The scariest moment came when he broke his arm for the second time in a matter of months. Weeks later we were at a doctor’s appointment at Lurie Children’s Hospital ruling out all the scary things. By the grace of God, none applied. Years later I can attest God has protected Will in ways that I cannot adequately describe. May the Lord protect him these next ten years in the same fashion. 

I also realize, all-too-well with friends close to us, that not all have the same experience as we did. Our friends’ scary moment led to an even scarier diagnosis, a battle, and the loss, at least in this life, of a little girl. They have courageously proclaimed God’s goodness despite the brokenness of this world, a brokenness they have felt all too well. As I continue to mourn with them, I am reminded to take no moment for granted. 

While the last paragraph may feel out of place, the reality is that it is not. If parenting has taught me anything, it is that there is no single path in life and you have control over virtually nothing. All amounts of goodness, tragedy, and everything in between are present in this today broken, someday perfect, world. This is the world and everything in it. 

I vividly remember one day growing up playing outside from sun-up to sun-down with my best friend at the time. We must have been around Will’s age now. We played everything from football to baseball, and closed the day going fishing. The Fall sun was radiant as it began to go down, and I vividly remember longing for that day to never end.

But, life does not work that way does it?  

Many of those moments have since come and gone. And I suppose if I were to compare Will’s childhood to that day, his time is already in the early afternoon. God willing, his life has many days left, but his childhood’s “day” is already waning. There is a part of me sad about that. But, just like I had to accept the nighttime those many years ago, I have to accept that Will is going to leave the house one day. And that day will be a good day, despite the sadness I will most assuredly feel and the tears that I will probably shed.   

In the interim, I am going to continue hugging him every night before he goes to bed. Especially when he starts to hate it in his teen years. I might just hold on a little longer then. My mom did that to me after all. And like most things, she was right in doing so. 

I know that my readers come here to learn about personal development and leadership. So, here is the best advice I can give on both… 

Hug your kids. 

Hug your spouse. 

Get that right, and you will always be someone worth following. 

Cherish life and celebrate each moment. 

Happy Birthday, Will. 

I love you more than words can tell. 

Doing the Hard Work

To be someone worth following, you have to first be healthy yourself. While the physical part of your health is critical, I want to focus this week on the emotional state.

What follows are questions I am asking myself so that I know the state of my inner being. I have listed a lot of questions below. The expectation is not to answer all of them, but only those that stick out. Be honest. Do not hide. This is difficult, but worthy work. 

Before diving in, I would encourage you to talk through selected questions with your support groups. For instance, I am talking about them with my Executive Coach, Accountability Partner, and group of men I meet with twice per month. I would also be inclined to get professional help if it was needed. There is no shame in this. The goal is to get real, know yourself, and heal. 

These questions are listed in no particular order. 

What about my past am I embarrassed by? 

What event do I want nobody to know about? 

How often do I think of that event? 

Is it something I should talk to someone about? 

How do my childhood dreams, if I can remember them, compare to the life I am currently living? How does this make me feel? Really?

Who wronged me in the past? 

Who do I need to forgive? 

Who have I wronged? 

Have I forgiven myself? 

What, or who, sets off my anger? 

What does that anger look like (imagine you were just observing it)? 

How does that anger probably feel to others? 

What am I really angry about? Is it really the situation I described above, or is there something deeper going on? If so, what? 

Is anger what I really feel? Or, is some other emotion present (sadness, fear, anxiety, or something else?). If so, what is it? 

What does my eating say about my emotional state? 

How often do I self medicate? 

Do I turn to alcohol, or other mind-altering drugs, for an escape? 

Really? 

Could I live without my drink of choice for a year? 

Do I need to talk to someone about my drinking? 

How much sleep do I get? 

Is it restful?

Is it enough? 

What would enhance my nighttime routine: Less screen time? Going to bed earlier? Setting the alarm later? 

Do I sleep through the night, or wake up many times throughout? 

Is sleep positively, or negatively, impacting my emotional health? 

Do my credit card statement(s) tell a story about the state of my emotional health? 

Am I buying things unnecessarily? 

Do my thoughts turn frequently to positive experiences, or things, that I could purchase? 

Do I search google for the best deal so that I can justify the need for buying whatever it is that I am buying? 

Do I search Amazon at odd times for odd things? 

Do I buy things when I am also engaging in some other activity like drinking? 

Am I in debt? 

Do I have a plan to get out of debt? 

Do my eyes turn frequently to social media? 

Do my posts portray an inaccurate version of my life (either good or bad)? 

Do I evaluate the posts of others in comparison to my life (their “highlights” to my “lowlights”)? 

Do I get angry, anxious, or sad while looking at social media? 

Have I setup any time limits, or safeguards, around my use of social media? 

Would this be helpful? 

Do I show up to work with energy? 

Does my hard work mask some insecurity? 

Am I judgmental of the success of others on the team? 

Am I secure enough in myself to give others credit? Really? 

Do I want the best for my coworkers, or do I secretly want to be number one? 

Does my work get the best energy I have to offer while my spouse and kids get what is left over? 

Or, is it the other way around? 

Do I have a real stop to my work, or does it just gravitate back to home in the evening? 

Have I informed my mind of the stop time? 

Do I resent those that do not work as hard as I do? What does that say about me? 

Will I be able to really retire? Or, is retirement predicated on some sort of external factors that aim to bring a lavish lifestyle? 

Would I be okay just being? No experiences or toys, just being with others? 

Am I afraid to die? 

Have I come to grips with my own mortality? 

Is this something I should talk to someone about? 

What are my thoughts about what really matters in this life, its origins, God, and salvation? 

Have I decided? 

The list of questions above are not easy. My goal in asking them is to get the readers of this blog to know thyself. Like everything else I write about, I am spending 2021 asking myself these questions. 

It is hard work. 

But, it is necessary. 

To lead others you have to first lead yourself. 

These questions are part of that journey. 

In a Funk? Shift Your Focus.

I have been in a little bit of a funk lately. I have felt more anxious than normal. My sleep has been less than desirable. I am tired. I feel like I am sort of at the end of my rope. And, I also feel like my emotions range from depression, to happiness, back to feelings of sadness all over the course of a twenty-four hour period. 

Before I get a bunch of emails, I have talked to my doctor about all this. I have also relied heavily on the social support systems I have built over the past decade: a couple’s community group, a devoted accountability partner, and a group of guys I meet with every other Thursday to talk about life. If you can relate to anything I have already shared in this post, but have not talked with your doctor and/or your social network, please start there. These are very important steps. 

Continuing on with my story, I discovered that the more I focused on myself, the more anxious I felt. The same could be said for all the emotions above as well. The doctor even prescribed medication to help me stabilize my moods, but to no avail. For me, and what I was experiencing, medication did not help. 

In my daily time of prayer and silence, I was reminded to get outside of myself. My Bible reading plan was going through the Gospel of John, and among other things, I was constantly being reminded of the One whose primary objective was to lay down his life for all. 

The disparity struck me. Jesus gave his life, while I sought, and even clung, to mine. While I do not fully get how it works, my life has been a reminder that real life comes when I let go of it. 

“Letting go” can sound too spiritual for application. So, here is what I mean: 

Rather than focusing on myself, I start looking for others to serve. 

Rather than looking to feed my ego, I look to encourage others. 

Rather than sulking, I look for someone to give love to. 

Rather than hiding, especially when that is what I feel like doing, I lay down that preference and engage with the community around me.  

Rather than seeking measures to reduce, or even take the edge off my pain, I sit inside my grief, fear, and sadness. 

Rather than run, I sit and rest. 

This is all counter-cultural. For, we live in a world that puffs up, explains away, and promises that happiness is on the other side of following your heart. 

My life suggests that following my heart has often led to me losing any sense of life altogether. This does not mean that “dreams” and “aspirations,” are wrong. Rather, it means that “dreams” and “aspirations” rooted in the exultation of self are tricky at best, and dangerous at worse. So, proceed with caution. 

I have rediscovered that “whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:24). For, the extent I focus on loving and serving others is often the measure of peace I have in my soul.

You might not be a follower of Jesus. All this talk might have you wondering what this blog is even about. It is about encouraging you to live your best life, be someone worth following regardless of your position, and to find peace in doing so. 

We seem to live in a selfie, me first, world.  

The invitation is to live for something bigger by loving others first.  

Join me in doing so. 

Together, let’s brighten the days of those around us. 

Give Yourself Some Grace

I write these words towards the midpoint of another year. A year that was supposed to be easier than the previous one. It is not. It is hard, and the challenges may be different, but they are still present.

I have noticed a shared fatigue setting in with our team. Burnout is real. People are often on edge. I think this is because we were not created for sustained long-term stress. In short, nothing about life is easier today than it was a year and a half ago. So, the tread on the tires is showing. 

I see the tread when I look into the mirror. My face looks tired. I am aging. Of course, I am always aging. But, I am in the express lane right now. 

Last week I had a good talk with my doctor. It was just a check-in. They asked about my experience during this whole deal, and talking about it was almost out-of-body. There has been a couple deaths, a hospital stay for me, and various business challenges. And that only takes the story up to last October! 

The doctor looked at me and said two things worth sharing. First, he said that the mental toll of this ordeal is far greater than anyone presently realizes. Second, in this doctor’s opinion, we are collectively experiencing “post traumatic stress disorder.” 

I have to be honest with you. I have yet to take full stock of this reality. Last year, I gave myself a lot more grace and despite the hard challenges mentioned, was better for it. This year, on the other hand, I have gone back to being hard on myself. The result? I am more tired, anxious, and stressed, than I care to admit. I share this because many of the subscribers to this blog are similar to me in being “Type-A” driven leaders. 

Together, we need to give ourselves some grace. 

Ponder that for a minute. 

Let this sink in: 

Give yourself some grace. 

And here is the personal realization that led to me writing this post. It is a truth that you and I need to own in order to move forward in 2021. 

The most important muscle right now is our “showing up muscle.” Regardless of how hard things are, we need to keep showing up. People like us show up for people. People like us show up to love those people. People like us dust ourselves off when we fall down. We even put a band-aid on the scrapes and cuts. But, we keep showing up. Day after day, we keep showing up. When we are sad, we show up. When we are anxious, we show up. When we are joyous, we show up. We just show up. 

This is what counts these days. In twenty years, we won’t remember all the intricacies of 2020 and 2021. But, we will remember whether we showed up. So will those who follow us. 

So, go easy on yourself. Simplify your expectations for what can, and even needs, to get done this year. But, above all else, keep showing up. 

It is the most important muscle to flex in 2021. 

Taming the Email Beast

I often come home bragging about all the killer emails I wrote in a day. I tell my wife, “you would have been so impressed if you could have read the works of poetry I was dishing out to the team on email”.

Not exactly. 

Not only is the fake scenario above a little creepy, it also is not true. Email is not the best part of my day. In fact, as I have shared often on this blog, the best part of my day is meeting one-on-one with others. Meetings are humane, efficient, and one of the signposts of effective leadership. 

All that being said, we live in a world of email. Since the onset of the iPhone, email has been in our side pocket whenever we feel the urge. Think about that, for centuries managers tried to find effective ways to manage workers around the clock, but it took Steve Jobs (et al) to design something really cool for it to happen. Obviously, you accessing your email is not the same thing as you being managed, but, here is a question to ponder, who is in control when you “have to” check your work phone around the clock?

I know the answer to that question because I am writing this blog post on an iPad. It might not be the weekend, or at night, but it might as well be. When I am on this device, it is not long before my thoughts turn to work. This is not always bad—I like what I do—but, working 24/7 is not sustainable, nor, is working 14/7.

So instead of pontificating any longer about email, I have decided to break the rest of this post into three sections about email: What am I going to stop? What I am going to start? What am I going to keep? The idea is to lead yourself in email, so that you have the energy and attention to lead others in person.

Stop

The best thing about email is that it is asynchronous. You can send me an email today, and I can respond later. Therefore, I am going to stop checking it around the clock. I stop responding after 5 p.m. (unless the email is an emergency or from a friend that I want to connect with) and I stop checking altogether at 8 p.m. I also stop checking at all times throughout the day. For example, when I am having a one-on-one meeting, I turn Outlook OFF. It is silly, but it reminds me that I control email, not the other way around. Determine what is best for you, but keep in mind it helps to put limits on your email. There are things you just have to stop. 

Start 

During COVID, I started having all the memos I write (shared via email) proofread by others. This sounds simplistic, and it is, but it is an important behavior to start because email comprehension is on the decline. What I mean is that as the average number of emails rise, and as the amount of time during the day stays constant, people are reading email faster than ever before in order to simply to get through all the email. Hence, there is a great likelihood for misunderstanding. So, the wise thing to do is to write important emails carefully. Words matter and can easily be taken out of context. 

The even better thing to do, therefore, is to say all important things in person when possible. In fact, I often ask myself this question before writing an email: “Is this a conversation I would dread having in person?” If the answer is yes, it is usually because there is conflict. 99.99% of the time, I am better off having that conversation in person. If, on the other hand, I am letting my sisters know of an upcoming vacation (a conversation that I would not dread, and is just a reminder of sorts), then an email is sufficient. 

Keep 

A number of years ago, I stopped responding to a lot of emails. I know this makes me sound like a jerk, but I simply cannot respond to over 150 emails each day and the number keeps growing! The point is that I am going to keep NOT responding to all emails. This includes text messages, LinkedIn messages, and all other messages electronically. Please hear me, I do not intend to be a jerk, I intend to build directly into the lives of those I lead. This takes time and attention and email often robs me of both. 

I have found these email strategies to be helpful in creating time to do what matters most in leadership, which is meeting one-on-one with those you lead. I challenge you to determine what you can stop with email, what you can start, and what practices you can keep. Then you will manage email rather than letting email manage you. This will create the time necessary to build into other people.

alex hoffer

Midpoint Musings: People, Plastics and Purpose

This is the mid-2021 post, and as such I am going to refocus on what matters. People, plastics, and purpose, are three components of our mission statement at Hoffer Plastics. They are also instructive to this blog. 

People

In this world, there is nothing more important than people. They are God’s masterpiece. Yet, the masterpiece often makes a mess of this world. This starts with me, as the biggest problem with the world is the person I look at each morning in the mirror. That is not me virtue signaling, it is reality. I fall short. I confess. I repent. The only person I can somewhat control is myself. Hence, the assertion. If, on the other hand, you are the biggest problem in the world, my locus of control is null. To lead well, I must start here. I must be ruthlessly accountable. 

So, should you. 

I hope the future of work is humanity. This last year has reminded me how vitally important the lives of human beings are. I cannot speak for you, but I am willing to sacrifice. I am willing to cut my pay, work long hours, pray through the night, and do whatever it takes to help people. This does not make me a saint, and I also do not want to mislead that my passion for people is always on point, because it is not. Yet, this is what I come back to: People are what matters most. 

I cannot leave here without digging in some. I am for people, not tribes. I will take a stand against the nonsense being tossed around about how some people matter more than others. So we are clear, I am talking about the “us” vs. “them” mentality. We need to leave our trenches and come to our Father’s House where ALL are welcome. This starts with me. This starts with us. People matter because they are all divine image bearers. 

Plastics 

Plastics is now a dirty word. Let’s address the elephant in the room, plastic waste in the ocean is awful. We need to figure out how to be better stewards of our excess (plastics, food, and every other excess). We also need to get to the root cause of the problem. To be someone worth following, we must tackle the toughest issues. 

Plastics, however, should not be a dirty word. Not only does the material help increase everything from fuel economy to food storage, it also impacts the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people through the jobs it creates. So while plastic waste is a problem worthy of our best energy and effort, plastic material continues to be a life-saving, and prosperity making, material.

Many of the readers of this blog do not work in plastics, so they should replace the word “plastic” with whatever their work is. But regardless of what that work is, the point remains that it matters. It matters because work directly impacts the livelihoods of others, creates new things, and helps sustain the planet. While aide is important during times of recession, it should never be permanent. Human beings matter, and so does the work they do. We should never incentivize anything less. To do so is to lack humanity. 

Purpose

This is the question of our day, isn’t it? At the risk of sounding like a cultural commentator, could it be that our biggest problem is lack of vision? Could it be that we are now being defined for what we are against, and not what we are for? Where does “against” take us in the end? Please hear me that there are legitimate things to be against these days, but the point remains, where are we headed? 

I cannot speak for others. But I echo what Joshua said to the tribes of Israel at Shechem, “We will serve the Lord our God and obey him” (Joshua 24:24). This means that I can work with anyone and am commanded to love EVERYONE (emphasis mine). This (still) is the greatest commandment. It is also my mission.

Obedience might be an even dirtier word than plastics these days, if that is possible. But, it is important not to overlook it in the statement above. So I am clear, allow me to clarify my belief on this matter: I am saved by grace, not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9). I am also “God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (Ephesians 2:10). So, as a Christ-follower, I was created to do good. Being obedient to this call is a major part of my purpose. 

I have discovered, therefore, that my best moments at the workplace are when I am obedient to the call of loving others through the work of plastic injection molding. For me, purposeful living starts with people. 

This is who I am. 

Who are you? 

What matters to you? 

I invite you to do some soul searching this summer and come to clarity on what matters most. 

Then, live purposefully in the second half of 2021.