Category Archives: Looking in the mirror

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.”

Advertisements

Leave a comment

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. 

 

Leave a comment

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.”

Leave a comment

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

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.

 

 

Leave a comment

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

Relentless, Passionate, & Heretical

Late last fall I began what I thought was a branding exercise with Ryan Magada at Brave Little Beast.  Now, nearly six months later, my existential crisis is in full bloom.  Let me be very clear that not only am I embracing this journey but believe that everyone hits it at some point…only the many never put a name on it nor do they meet it head on. Not only am I still working on my “brand” but I am now also engaged with Jim Vaive  who is guiding me along a journey to identify my “noble goal”.  This effort is framed by investigating, assessing, and discussing (at great lengths) my emotional intelligence…which is not for the faint of heart by the way.

I did not realize when I engaged in these 2 very different efforts that the paths would not only cross but actually merge into the same series of questions (…these all stem from the aforementioned existential crisis):

  • Why am I here?
  • What do I believe?
  • What am I willing to do about it?

It became apparent that in order to answer any of the questions, I had to answer all of them and ensure that there was alignment.  The other challenge was that I mistakenly imagined that at least one of the journeys was strictly intellectual and I would do my best to keep the other as much in my head as I could (insert evil laugh here).  Well….that did not work.  I could not reason my way through either one so that left me with but one choice…I would have to…”gulp”… feel my way through.

I have now confirmed the adage that states, “The longest journey you will take is the one from your head to your heart.”  That said, I can also attest that it is a trip worth taking – if you are into that type of thing…don’t attempt it if you are not.  I offer this caveat with all sincerity because it is challenging work that is certainly not easy but it is simple.  Always remember, clarity has a cost.

Interestingly enough, I  also realized (in retrospect) that all of the books I have read over the past 18 months were variations on the same theme.  Some of them even referenced each other – which was a bit spooky.  Here is list if you are interested.

  • Ego Is The Enemy (Ryan Holiday)
  • The One Thing (Gary Keller)
  • Triggers (Marshall Goldsmith)
  • Nonsense (Jamie Holmes)
  • Essentialism (Greg McKeown)
  • Humble Inquiry (Edgar Schein)
  • A More Beautiful Question (Warren Berger)
  • The Power Of The Other (Dr. Henry Cloud)
  • Deep Work (Cal Newport)
  • Start With Why (Simon Sinek)
  • Rapt (Winnifred Gallagher)
  • Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned (Kenneth Stanley & Joel Lehman)

So what about relentless, passionate, and heretical?  These are the 3 core traits that speak to me as a person and that help me to more succinctly communicate to others what I believe and what they can expect.  In all honesty, they are there to help me “get to no” more quickly.  I want people to be able to determine immediately if they even want to engage in a conversation with me about my noble goal.  I am fully aware that these words might turn some people off but the flip side of that is that they will “speak” to people who believe what I believe…and those are people I yearn to connect with.

We all have something very special to offer the world but…

  • do we clearly understand and embrace what it is?
  • are we willing to sacrifice the trivial many to focus on the vital few?

I will leave you with the following that Greg McKeown shared in Essentialism:

  • Once an Australian nurse named Bonnie Ware, who cared for people in the last twelve weeks of their lives, recorded their most often discussed regrets.  At the top of the list:  “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
  • “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver

I am relentless, passionate and heretical…what about you?

Leave a comment

Filed under Looking in the mirror, The Human Condition

Malcontents unite!

malcontent-banner-color-padded-2015-01

Would you embrace the label of “malcontent”?  Maybe you would be prefer “rebel” or “disrupter” or “contrarian”?  I prefer malcontent because of the definition (you can read the entire definition for yourself by clicking here).  “One who is in active opposition to an established order” resonates with me because it defines my stance for better or worse.  For years  I have actively sought “peace” in my life.  I thought I wanted to be “content” but what I have recently realized is the dissonance I was feeling was the subconscious effort to “fit in” and be what I thought I was supposed to be.  I was trying to extinguish my natural inclination of being discontent with the status quo and just be normal…by generally accepted societal standards.

What I have come to realize is simply this…that is not who I am and now I am at peace.  As Popeye was fond of saying, “I yam what I yam”.  The real value in malcontentedness (I just made this word up by the way) is that by its nature it seeks out other malcontents and other types of malcontentedness.  There is no right or wrong way to be a malcontent!  There is even research that indicates the seeking out new people and ideas is the foundation of learning and growth.  Amazingly enough, it has been proven in several studies that people learn better in heterogeneous groups and there is also research that indicates heterogeneous networks are stronger than homogeneous ones.  What this means is “different” is a good thing.  We need different…we need change…we need less sameness.

We are, however, challenged by our very nature.  Humans seek homeostasis because it enables us to conserve energy (both mentally and physically).  It is all too easy to settle in and switch on auto-pilot.  We also have to be wary of success because that is yet another trap we can fall into.  We begin to think we know more than we do and end up with an overdeveloped sense of control.  Remember what John Wooded said, “Success is never final…”

Would you identify yourself as a malcontent? Why?  Why not?  I believe we should all be who we are and that means if you are a malcontent, then revel in your malcontentedness just as someone who is content should embrace contentedness.  There are also degrees of malcontentedness so sometimes malcontents are difficult to spot…one might even say subversive.  Just remember that what might be normal for you might be outrageous for your neighbor.  I think the best gift we can gift people is the permission to be who they are.  Understanding that do have a basic social contract  so there are some norms we should abide by if we expect to be welcome by people as a whole.  That said, there is plenty of grey area to be exploited as the social contract can (and should be) broadly interpreted.

The easiest way to determine if you are a malcontent is to ask yourself why you do certain things and then evaluate the repercussions if you choose a different course of action.  These are all very personal decisions and must rest solely with the individual and there can be no judgement.  Each person determines their path with their own compass.

 

head-heart-signI think it is an old Native American saying that goes something like this…”The longest journey you will ever take is the one from your head to your heart”.  We all travel the same road but some might be invigorated by heading south of the neck more frequently.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Looking in the mirror, The Human Condition

My number is 10,950…what’s yours?

timeflies

In about a month, I turn 50.  That is not the precipitating event for my thoughts here but it did provide me with the foundation for the calculation that led the “number” mentioned in the title of this post.  The precipitating events that led me to the conclusions I will share were my efforts at determining what 2017 holds for me and those important to me.  I had been seeking out some help with developing my personal brand, pursuing some coaching in my own emotional intelligence, and had also recently revisited some personal insights from the Predictive Index.  All of these combined nicely in support of my focus on what was to be in 2017 & beyond.

I have determined that given me family history and current age, on February 17, 2017 I will have about 10,950 days (365 days/year x 30 years) left on this earth (or you could say 262,800 hours or 15,768,000 minutes).  Some folks might think this is morbid but I have found it to be both freeing and anxiety-inducing.  These are connected because it gives me anxiety to think that I know have a finite amount of time left and freeing because it provides me with a clear justification for actions I must take.

I am committing myself to spending each day adding value to the lives of those I care about and doing the most good I can with each action I take.  The key will be developing my ability to say “NO” more frequently than I say “YES” because I believe this is something none of us do enough of.  I think our main problem is we try to be nice and are afraid of hurting people’s feeling.  I also believe it is because we are afraid to commit to a course of action and stick with it.  We want to do everything which actually leads us to doing nothing (of any importance).

More than anything, this type of thought process has given me tremendous clarity.  I know now that there are a finite number of “tomorrows”.  It has also given me a very deliberate sense of urgency to hold myself accountable for focusing on the only thing I can and that is my daily activities.  I am striving for 100% alignment in what I do and who I am.  I have committed to being who I am because I believe that gives others permissions to do the same.  I will live each day being true to my values and I will not compromise because the clock is ticking.

I also want to empower others to get to “NO” quicker as well.  I want to be clear and unambiguous about what I stand for in every conversation I have.  I believe we should all do this so that we can create, nurture, and maintain as many meaningful relationships as we can in the time we are here.  It is these relationships that define us and not the stuff we accumulate or achievements we strive for.  Legacies are what we leave in the memories of others:  nothing more, nothing less.

We can’t wait until some imaginary point in the future to live the life we want because, as Cervantes said, “The journey is the inn”.  My goal is to create a life I don’t want to retire from.  I would aspire to be a “master in the art of living” as defined by Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand.

“A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his pplay; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation.  He hardly knows which is which.  He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing.  To himself, he is always appears to be doing both.”

Do you know your number?  More importantly…will it matter if you do?

Leave a comment

Filed under Looking in the mirror, Real Life, The Human Condition