Step 1: Get over yourself

The four little words you need to embrace in order to be your best?  “I LOVE TO FAIL!”

Until you are comfortable with this concept, your greatest accomplishments will be just beyond you reach.  You simply cannot be your best if you are doing it all right all the time.

The challenge we face is getting out of our own head and developing the willingness to be wrong.  We are all products of our environments and from kindergarten through college we were rewarded for being right and punished for being wrong.  We were graded every step of the way and we learned to only hold up our hands if we knew the answer because the last thing anyone wanted to hear from the teacher was “you are wrong”.  We were taught to feel shame for this and it is something we learned very quickly to avoid.

The problem we struggle with after school is that the world doesn’t work like this but we are too fragile to do it any other way.  We seek and are comforted by the approval of those we perceive to have authority over us.  The list is very long and includes our parents, friends, spouses, significant others, bosses, co-workers, etc, etc.

Don’t get me wrong, it is not their fault…IT IS OURS!  We give them the power and then become angry, frustrated, and even bitter when they use it.  We look for people to blame so that we never had to look at ourselves in the mirror and admit we gave up.   We are disgusted that somewhere along the line, we lost our self-worth and allowed the world to tell us our value.  This is why we avoid failing and take no chances…we are afraid that what we do defines who we are.  We are not confident enough in ourselves to commit to action unless it is a guaranteed success because we cannot withstand criticism.  Our fragile egos cannot handle someone’s opinion because we are somehow totally dependent on what others think instead of evaluating our own actions against our own standards.  Before you listen to anyone else consider these questions:

  • Why would you give more weight to someone’s opinion if all they are doing is telling you all the reasons you should not have done something?
  • What have they done to earn the right to offer your their opinion?
  • Did you ask for it?  When is the last time they tried something and failed…and tried again?
  • Is anything they are saying the slightest bit positive?
  • Is everything they are sharing coming from their own fear and shame?
  • Are they recommending you give up and accept your fate?

If they are, maybe you should stop talking to them!  Maybe your problem is that you have surrounded yourself with people who do not strive to learn and grow?  Maybe you are now just like everyone else and have become so delicate that you cannot withstand any shock to your ego?  I want to stress that this is only a problem if you want to achieve your potential.  If you are completely happy with your current level of performance in all aspects of our life, then please disregard everything I have shared and enjoy the rest of your charmed life!

If reading this has made you uncomfortable and upset, then you get it and I hope you are willing to do something about it.  If you want to, here are a few things you can try:

  1. Quit worrying about your “image” and what others think of you
  2. Spend some time figuring out who you are (or most specifically, who you were) and understand what that means to you and those close to you
  3. Figure out how to be more “you” than you have been in recent years
  4. Find your strength in you and not from others
  5. Begin acting in alignment with who you are and see how that feels.  There is no right or wrong (so long as it’s legal) so don’t be afraid to take some risks
  6. Find ways to FAIL more quickly and you will soon find that it feels quite good because at least you TRIED
  7. LEARN from your mistakes and continue to pursue your own version of excellence
  8. Find people who believe what you believe and create your own “tribe”

I leave you with these two thoughts from Teddy Roosevelt because he said it much more eloquently than I can…

“It is not the critic who counts; nor the one who points out how the strong person stumbled, or where the doer of a deed could have done better. The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who does actually strive to do deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotion, spends oneself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at worst, if he or she fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”  “

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”


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Filed under Futuring, Leadership, Learning, Looking in the mirror, The Human Condition

Do your damn job…don’t just talk about it!

Here’s the thing, no one wants to really take accountability for “doing” the work so we spew platitudes like:

  • “Our people are our most important resource”
  • “We value our customer/client relationships”
  • “Our vision is…(fill in the blank)”
  • “Our values are…”
  • Any sentence that contains any form of the word strategy, vision, or leader

(If you would like a comprehensive list, Scott Berkun put together a pretty good one and Eric Jackson also created a killer list of things to say that would all score pretty well if you were playing “buzzword bingo”)

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said “Your actions thunder so loudly, I can not hear what you are saying.”.  I believe that if we spent less time thinking about how to tell people what we are doing and simply did it; our lives, and the lives of others, would be more meaningful (for us) and impactful (to them).

Here are some thoughts on how to get shit done:

  • Have a vision for each of the people who report to you and not just a vision for the company
    • Share your vision of them with them and challenge them to see it…and then get buy-in from them to work towards it. If you do this one thing, retention takes care of itself
  • Talk to people and not about them
    • If someone’s name comes up during a meeting in terms of performance demand there be a meeting date set and action plan created to address the issue with measureable goals and then move on
  • Ask customers/clients/employees what they think and don’t assume or spent time trying to figure it out
  • Step out from behind your desk and venture into the world to find out what your competition is doing and where your industry is headed
  • Ask questions you don’t already know the answers and truly listen to the responses AND then take actions based on what you have learned
    • Show your people that you are learning every day which creates the expectation they do the same
  • Focus on creating a sustainable organization and not just making as much money as you can right now (this requires balance and sacrifice in equal measures)
  • Create engaging work that pays well and stop worrying about morale or making people happy (happiness is choice each individual has to make)
  • Be clear and concise with your expectations and write it down
    • Victims love vagueness
  • Hold yourself and others accountable for commitments
    • This one action, if consistently applied, will change people’s lives because it shows them what they are capable of achieving
  • Understand what winning looks like for you, your team, and the organization and ensure there is alignment
    • I don’t know about your company but not many are in business just for practice
  • Focus on output, not time
    • Don’t reward people who work longer hours but get less done
  • Teach your team how to manage their energy and focus (once you can manage your own)
  • Create an environment where people engage in meaningful conversations about important topics because they care about each other
    • If you are uncomfortable having these types of conversations, then you don’t really care about your people…end of story
  • Ensure people can separate themselves from their work so when there are discussions about performance it is constructive and not a personal attack (again because if people care about people, then they will want to help them by telling them the truth)

One last platitude to consider…

“If it were easy, everyone would do it.”

It is not and that is why not many do. 


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Filed under Leadership, Looking in the mirror

Inertia is a bitch

Sir Isaac Newton figured out this out in 1686.  That is 331 years ago and we still haven’t come to terms with it!

His First Rule of Motion states, “An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced force. An object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.”

So I ask you:

  • How has this impacted your life and career up to this point?
  • What are you willing to do in order to overcome it?
  • Would you be willing to be “acted on by an unbalanced force”?
  • Why or why not?

If you decide to seek an unbalanced force, remember Sir Isaac’s Third Law of Motion that states, “For every action there is an equal and opposite re-action.”  I can share with you from experience that those who seek an unbalanced force will find “equal and opposite re-action” from two main sources:

  • Themselves (because they overestimated their own willingness to change)
  • Those close to them (because it would require they change as a well and they did not sign up for it)

Here’s the rub, you should never stop evolving because once you stop moving forward, you being sliding backwards…there is not status quo in life.  As it is with all things in our lives, this is a choice and, as William James said, “When you have to make a choice and don’t make it, that is in itself a choice.”

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Filed under Learning, Looking in the mirror, Thinking about thinking

Only 162 Days Left…

SandsOfTime2I am sure you are wondering how there are only 32 weeks of work left in 2017.  How can that be you ask incredulously since that would mean the year was 40% over but we just finished Q1?

The way I figure it our work year grinds to a halt on the Friday before Thanksgiving.  Once we hit Thanksgiving, everything is more or less on hold until sometime mid-January.  So that means that we have from Monday, April 3 until Friday, November 17 to ensure we make shit happen!

Being candid and honest about our work helps dramatically when it comes to establishing our collective sense of urgency.  I believe the challenge is determining how to work both efficiently and effectively in the time that we have.  We cannot manufacture more time, we can only use the time we have and that takes maniacal focus.

Here are a few things to consider when planning out the balance of our year:

  • Say “NO” often and emphatically –  Wildly successful organizations say NO far more than they say YES.  Once you have clarity on what you will do, it shortens the conversation about things you could do…and that saves both time + energy for everyone.
  • Relinquish “control” (you never had it to begin with) – Much energy is expended when we continue to “make things happen” that are simply not going to happen.  It is like we are standing in a hallway full of doors and continue to bang on the one door we think should open all the while a number of other doors up and down the hall are opening and closing but we just can’t see them because we are too busy trying to make “our” door open.
  • Be brutally honest about your expectations – Don’t screw with your team and have a goal + a stretch goal…stretch goals are stupid and a waste of time.  Clarity is the single biggest gift you can give to your team.  Don’t confuse everyone with multiple goals with dumb names.  Tell them what you expect, provide them with the resources and training to achieve it, and lead them to it!
  • Push people to their limits…and beyond – Provide safety but not comfort…that’s it!
  • Have ONE PRIORITY – The word priority was never meant to be plural.  In fact, it was not pluralized until sometime around the 1940’s!  Pick the most important thing and ruthlessly pursue it.  Once you achieve that, then move on to the next thing.

In the next 162 days, what will you accomplish?

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Filed under Decision Making, Leadership

5 Questions Every Leader Needs To Ask…themselves


There are obviously more than just 5 questions for business leaders but I think the following speak to the core challenges of those who are tasked with driving revenues in our hyper connected and data rich world.

  1. Where is your industry headed? Don’t get myopic and lose of sight of the world outside your four walls because, as Bob Dylan lamented, “The world…it is a-changing.” How are your staying abreast of the change and innovation in your world? When was the last time you looked at your customer’s business? What is in store for them will eventually impact you! It all flows downstream…
  2. What visibility do you have of the actual costs and their growth rates in your business? I am often shocked at how little C-level folks actually know about their costs first-hand. They see things on a P&L but often they have delegated (read this as abdicated) responsibilities for managing these to others who may lack the context and understanding to see the conditions forming that might produce that rogue wave that decimates the bottom line.
  3. How are you addressing the gaps in the skills of your executive team to ensure they can meet (exceed) the challenges in your business now and in the future? Notice that the question is not about identifying them…they are already there. What are you doing about them? Have your formally discussed them? Are they written down? Do they even know they have gaps? What is the plan to address them? What is the timeline? If you are you not moving forward, you are sliding backwards because there is no neutral when it comes to talent development.
  4. What is your organizational decision making process? How does your team identify and make critical decisions? Do you know how each member of your team identifies challenges? Do they wait for someone else (like you) to bring it up or are they proactively seeking out “disturbances in the force”? When they do sense something is wrong…what do they do about? What is your organizational process? (check out the root of “decide”) Are you comfortable with each person’s process? If not, what are doing about it?
  5. If nothing changes, how likely is it that business succeeds? I think we all know the answer to this…

Just remember, if it were easy everyone would do it (it’s not and they don’t) so be in the minority and be proud to call yourself a pragmatic malcontent (you will understand this if you have read my other posts…if not shame on your for not reading my other posts;)

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Filed under Decision Making, Leadership

Embrace your darkness

We all have our “demons”.  Those parts of our personality that might not be the very best side of us at times.  Society tells us we should shield and protect others from that part of us and we should actively suppress those thoughts and actions when we are with others. While I agree that we should not walk around being an asshole just because we feel like it and, I do not agree that we should try to remove that part of ourselves in its entirety.  I have another idea.  I believe we should tame our darkness and here are the reasons why.

Channel The Beast (use it as fuel) – Carl Jung possessed some serious badassery when it came to understanding the dark side of our nature as you can see when he said, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”  This is much easier said than done and requires a great deal of focus and humility.  Humility may seem like a strange word in this context but you have to be able to recognize your own weakness because allowing the dark side of your nature to rule is just that.  Once you understand that you contain both light and darkness, you can begin to understand how being your complete self requires the fuel that your darkness often provides. Anger and fear can be powerful motivators so long as you do not let them lead.  Once you take away their power but harness the energy, you can tackle whatever lies ahead.  Again Jung provided some serious insight into just how difficult this can be when he observed, “People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own souls.”  It is my belief that not everyone has the desire to tackle their beast and that certainly is a choice each of us has to make.  As Jung said, may folks will blame fate for their actions and resulting outcomes. I think this stems from some inherent belief that certain parts of us are “bad”.  There is a paradox here because outside of ourselves we fight the fallacy of control and believe we can make people do things and make certain events happen by sheer force of will…which is lunacy (which is funny because this word means “from the moon” which is what we used to believe caused certain conditions like epilepsy and mental illness…again something external that was out of our control…but I digress).  Yet when it comes to our internal machinations, which are the only things we might exercise control over, we claim we are powerless?   I think the following little gem sums up my thoughts on that…


Project The Beast (use it as a mirror) – Jung nailed it again when he observed that, “Knowing your own darkness is the best method for understanding the darkness in others.”  Imagine how many times you have been frustrated, angered, embarrassed, or hurt by the actions of another person.  We feel this way because we are emotional creatures and we have the unrealistic expectation that everyone will always like/need/want/desire/respect us so when these needs are not met, we experience internal conflict and our world crumbles.  Our first reaction is almost always to project out and blame others for their behavior and sometimes we never get past that and the experience is chalked up to mistakes of “the other”.  This is well researched by smart folks like Maslow and his thoughts on our needs for “Love & Belonging” and also McClelland and his theory on our need for “Affiliation”.  Whatever theory you want to ascribe to, the results are the same…we need to be loved and wanted (for a more comedic take click here and see what Silvio has to say about Seinfeld and his need for attention).

Once we not only understand but embrace our own darkness, we can begin to better understand what lurks inside of others…which makes it much easier to process their behaviors.  Since we know our own motivations, it would seem to reason that others share the same insecurities.  Jung also addressed this with the following, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”  Imagine the change this drives when we must now evaluate someone else’s actions in context of our own insecurities.  We can no longer view them as an antagonist who said or did something with malice aforethought but now they are just like us…insecure, emotional, and desperate for acceptance (again for a comedic take, check out when Coach Klein loses his irrational fear in “The Waterboy”).  I am not proposing you imagine a cute baby’s head on your arch nemesis…but merely accepting that everyone is wrestling with their own darkness just like you.

You have every right to think and/or believe (as those are two very different things and you should decide for yourself which you engaging in…head versus heart) that this is all psycho-babble but consider this parting thought from Jung, “I must have a dark side if I am to be whole.”

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Filed under The Human Condition

Heroic Leader or humble gardener?

Serendipity…that is only way I can explain it. How else can you describe Joi Ito and General Stanley McChrystal both saying that being a leader in the 21st century is more like being a gardener?  I was finishing “Team of Teams – New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World” and starting “Whiplash – How to Survive our Faster Future” and the analogy of “leader as gardener” is prominent in both. I was not shocked to read it from Joi Ito as the Director of the MIT Media Lab but I was somewhat surprised to see that General McChrystal, a retired four-start general whose last assignment was commander of all American and coalition forces in Afghanistan, embrace the idea.

I think what led them both to this concept was their understanding that we work and live in ecosystems and the very nature of an ecosystems makes the “command & control” theory of leadership obsolete. (If you are interested, you can read what Harvard Magazine, Forbes and Accenture all have to say about business ecosystems.)

Following is what General McChrystal wrote about the challenge inherent in addressing a new paradigm and I think it will resonate with many of us.

“Although I recognized its necessity, the mental transition from heroic leader to humble gardener was not a comfortable one.  From the first day at West Point I’d been trained to develop personal expectations and behaviors that reflected professional competence, decisiveness, and self-confidence.  If adequately informed, I expected myself to have the right answers and deliver them to my force with assurance.  Failure to do that would reflect weakness and invite doubts about my relevance.  I felt intense pressure to fulfill my role of chess master for which I had spent a lifetime preparing.”

I think Joi Ito’s transition was a bit smoother due to his background but here is how he described it.

“In fact, in many ways, the word leading probably invoked the wrong image, since we often think of our leaders as having a tremendous amount of control and direct power.  Leading the Media Lab is more like being a gardener than being a CEO – watering the plants, tending to the compost, trimming hedges, and getting out of the way so that the explosion of creativity and life of all of the plants and wildlife in the garden are allowed to flourish….We have to become comfortable with the idea that we are not in control, that we can’t anticipate or even know everything that is going on, but we can still be confident and courageous. This allows us to embrace a diversity in thinking, approach, and timescales, and not force everything to be over-synchronized.”

These thoughts on leadership are not a stretch for me because I have long believed that the act of leading is like farming (gardening on a larger scale I guess) for the following reasons:

  • Control and ownership – You don’t really “own” the land as much as you work symbiotically with it to produce a result.  The only one in control is nature as many of the variables are far outside of your control and you can only develop a plan and contingencies but what actually happens is well beyond your ability to control.  It is much more about stewardship that anything.  You are entrusted with resources and the goal is to care for it while you are there and leave it better than you found it upon your departure.
  • Preparation & perseverance are key – There is definitely a cycle you follow and you have to be ready when the weather breaks and then you work till the work is done.  Your timeline really does not matter because the crops are ready when they are ready and not when you have the time to take care of them.  Prepping the soil, planting, fertilizing, and harvesting happen when all of the conditions are right and not before or after regardless of what you might have going on.  Also, once the works starts there is no stopping until the task is done…that’s why there are headlights on tractors.
  • Nature & nurture – It is obvious early on that you need to be aware and understanding of the “signs” that nature gives you if you are to be successful.  If you are aware, you can develop an understanding of the natural process and also accept that it happens on its own schedule without regard for your needs and wants.  That does not mean you can abdicate your responsibilities.  It means that you sense when opportunities arise and you continue to nurture the crops in an effort to produce the best possible outcome.  Nurturing is delicate work because you must strike the balance between ignoring and smothering.
  • Doing all the right things but still failing – There is nothing more frustrating than knowing you have the right things on the list and checking them all off…and still failing!  This is the ultimate lesson because it is when the universe lets you know that there is a master plan and you are not the master planner.  This is also when you finally realize that you cannot “make” anything happen and sometimes the harder you try to worse it gets.

I could not agree more with General McChrystal and Mr. Ito.  The interconnectedness we experience today will only continue to increase so we have to develop the skills that will enable us to succeed in an ever widening ecosystem and these are not the industrial age management and leadership skills we still see employed today.  Ecosystem leadership skills will be:

  1. productively disrupting the system
  2. internalizing feedback
  3. reorienting and recalculating
  4. leveraging energy (generated from the disruption) to move ahead
  5. rinsing and repeating

Question:  Are you ready to transform from “heroic leader” to “humble gardener”?

Answer:  It doesn’t matter because the ecosystem is not waiting on you because you are not in control.



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Filed under Emergence, Leadership, Looking in the mirror, Organizations