Be Interested in Intervention

Mamata making soap

Mamata making soap

My wife Suzanne and I recently spent a week with a group of Hunger Project investors attending celebration ceremonies for 3 epicenters that have achieved the exciting accomplishment of being declared "self-reliant," meaning communities that have demonstrated the confidence, capacity and skills to act as agents of their own development based on 53 distinct, rigorous measures. All told, nearly 42,000 people living in the 47 communities that make up the 3 epicenters have graduated to self-reliance in Ghana. Between 40-90% of the community members participate in one or more of the programs during the Epicenter Strategy journey which empowers community partners to go from a state of despair and resignation to self-reliance in on average, about 8 years.

During these celebrations, Mamata, a young village mother of 4 children who participates in The Hunger Project's Atuobikrom Epicenter in Ghana, Africa stated one of the most impactful leadership insights I've heard in a very long time.

When we arrived at her home, she was busy making soap outside in the yard. She never slowed her work down as we gathered around her and asked her questions about her life. She shared her very heartfelt thoughts with us as we probed for details about her family, the economics of her business, and how it all relates, (or doesn't), to the work of The Hunger Project. 

Intervention

She shared a number of fascinating insights and her response to the last question was the capstone! "From your own experience as part of the epicenter, what would you like the women of the world to know?" Without hesitation, she replied, "be interested in intervention." Based on her earlier comments, she clearly was not talking about intervening in other people's lives. She meant intervention in your own life.

An example of what she was talking about was her “before and after” participation in The Hunger Project questions about her vision. She said she had no vision before being part of the program. Now she is building her soap-making business and has become involved in farming with her husband. She will put all her kids through school instead of having them work in the home and farm and she knows the importance of the kids getting an education. With support, she intervened in her own life and now her future has a completely different trajectory.

Her intervention quote was particularly relevant to me as I had just recently had a conversation with a rising star woman leader who shared her frustration with what seems to her an obsession with training in her organization and all the consultants pushing training, none of which seemed to her to be making much difference. We had contrasted the desire for information and intellectual understanding with development, which requires rigorous and sometimes painful examination of your own self-image and world view, and, more often than not, having to give up precious notions from your past. The payoff is that it will provide you with new openings and unexpected opportunities.

Mamata experienced The Hunger Project’s Vision, Commitment, and Action Program, along with several thousand of her neighbor's in the 11 villages that make up the epicenter. She has used that work to re-invent her life and create new possibilities for herself, her family, and the community.

If you became interested in intervention in your own life, what would be possible? What could it mean? What might be the unexpected outcomes? What if you could do it at the “collective level” of your organization as Mamata experienced within her Epicenter?

Don't Get Caught Between the Dog and the Lamp Post

business leadership

It was traditional at the end of each course at the Harvard Business School that the professor would send us off with his own bit of wit and wisdom. One professor, whose name I apologetically don't remember, wisely suggested, "don't get caught between the dog and the lamp post." 

Recently, I found myself encountering repeated situations where Executives in my Vistage Key Group were suffering in seemingly unresolvable dilemmas. They were being held accountable for outcomes or promises they couldn't produce or keep. They either didn't have the necessary resources, permissions, or control over deliverables from other parts of the organization where they had little or no influence or control.

Each of the situations appeared different enough that the members did not map over previous case discussions to their own situation. After a series of clarifying questions from fellow group members, however, it became clear that they were indeed “between the dog and the lamp post.” 

In one case the member was expected to promise independent contractors timely payment as an inducement to do work for the company while the accounting department chose to drag payments to address serious cash shortages. When this member appealed to the boss, they were told to tell the contractor, the good old "check's in the mail" type of promise and urge them to keep on working.

In another case, an employee was given assignments by one of the company’s owners that the other owner would block by telling employees not to cooperate and/or to refuse resources. Both owners wanted to control the project, neither would back down, and they could not seem to have a productive dialogue to resolve responsibility for the work. The employee took the assignment from the majority owner in the good faith that he would be supported and that the owner clearly "was the boss." While there are many more details that further muddy the water around this issue, the bottom line turned out to be that the employee was caught between the dog and the lamp post and to make matters worse, the roles of dog and lamp post seemed to oscillate as the story unfolded.

The Lesson

The lesson we are working hard on learning here is not to accept responsibility or promise an outcome unless you have the necessary resources and support to deliver on your promise. Being heroic or a martyr will only get you crucified in the end, will allow others to be delusional about getting the desired outcomes until after the deadline has passed and you have failed, or until you collapse or explode in frustration.

Develop a checklist or process for yourself that allows you to be rigorous about the resources and time you need, the support you need from others, and any authorizations that must come from others before you say yes. Face any limiting beliefs you have about being able to be direct and sensitive about the subject, and communicate until you are clear that you can perform. 

If you find that you are repeatedly bullied into committing or just given the assignment by fiat, it might be time for a career decision.

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Reflections and the Strategic Mind

I was recently on a vacation and wrote this piece about self-reflection that I want to share with you now.

Having a strategic mind or the ability to think strategically is highly valued by many in the business world, myself included.  It requires the ability to look outside yourself, to observe and to think critically about the big picture in your current reality/marketplace, together with a strong intuitive sense of where markets are headed and where innovation can create big opportunities and strategic advantage.  For real effectiveness, this visionary component must be accompanied by the ability to identify the critical steps to be taken, in the proper order, to convert great ideas to action in a sustainable way. Such competence often makes the difference between the extremes of being highly successful and eventually disappearing.

While this strategic mind is highly valuable, it can also get in the way of some of the deeper reflection required to develop and master your leadership mindset. Check it out. Find yourself a quiet time and just try to shut it off long enough to gain some really good new insight into yourself.

Unless you have practiced yoga, meditation or other mind quieting disciplines, you will probably quickly find your mind in “action mode” going over your task list, your travel plans, remembering all the things you have failed to address, or if nothing else, planning your version of a grocery list.

As a case in point, I will report on myself.  I am currently bobbing on a mooring ball in a beautiful little anchorage call Salt Whistle Bay, Mayreau Island in the Southern Caribbean Islands.  The palm trees are waving in a luscious breeze, the temperature is about perfect, the water a beautiful turquoise as it laps up on the long, curving sand beach.  But I digress, the real point is that despite near perfect conditions for presence and reflection, my mind tends to constantly go to reviewing our cruise plan, double-checking distances, being sure we've planned all the necessary customs and immigration check-ins and check-outs that will be required, and checking wind speed and direction.  Are you kidding me? We're anchored. We're here for the night. We have no access to new weather reports from here, and the speed and direction hardly change much from day-to-day at this time of year anyway.  Later I'll be lying under a bright starry sky and that won't stop my mind much either!

So it's clear to me that perfect circumstances are not going to do the work for me and probably not for you either. As far as I know, the only real access to the "deeper work" that is required to really catalyze your leadership development is going to come from self-observation.  If I don't self-observe, I can't self-correct.  

I'm going to offer a couple of suggestions and then go practice them myself:  

1) Ask myself one or two really great questions to focus my reflections.

2) Reflect and be with them without rushing to “the answer” for as long as I can.

3) See if I can get quiet enough to hear the deeper answers, beyond the task list and action items level.

Life Is Curly

A highly successful executive and a recognized Vistage (TEC in his day) Speaker from a couple of decades ago, Renn Zaphiropolous, used to say "life is curly, don't try to straighten it out." About the same time in my career, I had the only woman of my executive group at the time become totally frustrated with the conversation. She implored the group. "Guys, stop it! Life is messy. Birth is messy, death is messy, sex is messy. Stop trying to sanitize it."

As the years go by I become more and more impressed with the wisdom of these two quotes for those who intend to lead really well. Both of these wise folks were speaking to the essential messiness of life and the necessity of addressing it head on if you are to be present in the moment (see our Operating Principle "Be present, stay in the game"). A long time favorite quote of mine is "the person who is most present to the way that it is AND the way that it isn't will emerge as the leader, regardless of their position." I have no idea who said it, (so let's say it was me. 😊)

Again, as the years pass, I see more and more bright young people getting MBAs and professional degrees with what appears to me as an unrecognized strategy of being able to fix the messiness they experienced growing up. Another favorite quote of mine is, "People get advanced degrees to avoid the experience of being human." - Author unknown.  (And yes, I can repeat this as I have one...). Later on in life, as the fixing or avoiding strategies aren't working, they may try having more money, more toys, a fancier title, or a new spouse. Today the fashionable phrase to acknowledge the situation seems to be "it's complicated."

So what are some of the costs of trying to avoid the messiness?

1) Not being present to what's going on for the people around you.

2) Making bad decisions about the people and relationships that surround you. 

3) Not being able to have truly productive interactions.

4) Being delusional in your leadership.

5) Seeing others as the source of all the problems you confront - being a victim.

6) Failing to step in when difficult conversations are required.

7) Failing to develop effective powerful strategic plans because you didn't understand the ground where you stand in the present.

8) Being in stress and suffering yourself - you can fool your head but you can't fool your heart and gut.

If you are finding yourself in any of the above predicaments, increasing joy, satisfaction and effectiveness in your life, leadership, and for those around you will take real courage on your part. You will have to take risks, be vulnerable and confront your own demons and limiting beliefs. The journey will seem perilous and the outcomes will be extraordinarily worth it!

Here are some ideas to help you on your journey:

1) Study speaking and writing by Dr. Brene Brown, a University of Houston Shame Researcher, who defines courage as, "Tell the story of who you are with your whole heart."

2) See our 2130 Partners work on the "Productive Dialogue Zone" in our leadership book, "Accelerate."

3) Get coaching and participate in personal development programs.

4) For many more ideas and strategies, connect with one of our 2130 Partners.

Simple Economics In Action

Salt Whistle Bay, Mayreau, is a tiny island in the Windward Islands of the Southern Caribbean, It's about as big as 4 or 5 football fields in either direction at best. As I write this, it is hosting a dozen sailboats with crews representing a number of different countries who are here for the night.  

The real fun is watching how a group of enterprising local competitors have organized themselves into what appears to be a successful,economic system without, I suspect, anything written down or enacted into law. The economy is broken into two main market segments 1) about a dozen Individual "boat boys" with brightly painted designs who dart about providing a variety of services to incoming and moored boats and 2) four or five on-shore "beach shacks" which offer island drinks, grilled food, and some with extras such as T-shirts, brightly colored towels, etc.

The first market interaction occurs when one of the "boat boys" spots a boat that looks like it will turn into the bay. He rushes out to greet an incoming boat. His first sale is to entice the captain to follow him to a mooring ball where assists in tying up. He gets a modest tip for the contribution. In most cases he will the proceed with the "upsell" to come to dinner at one of the beach shacks to which he is affiliated. The next boat in will be approached by someone else so it is clear that they devised a system of "ups" similar to car dealerships and real estate offices. It also appears that when such a transaction occurs the boat becomes their customer so the others lay off.

The next market interaction is usually the "boat boy" who comes by to collect the fee for using the mooring ball. Several other individuals will come by with an offering such as ice, baked goods, T-shirts, garbage collection, or fresh fish. Sometimes a small boat will come in to sell jewelry or other goodies not offered in the bay.

Beach shack "operations" require a whole team, of course. Someone goes out to check the lobster traps. Someone catches fish. Someone goes to town (or comes out) to deliver food and supplies for the evening's dinners. Presumably, these product offerings can be sold to multiple beach shacks or just gathered for their own use.While tiny in scope the beach shacks still seem to employ cooks, bartenders, waitpersons and clean-up help. Naturally any of the team can cover multiple roles even though there seem to be enough people involved to cover each job. One of the more outgoing, (perhaps one of the "boat boys" from earlier in the day), also handles helping customers each their dinghys or goes to get them from their boat, handling music, etc.

We are currently here for our third evening in the last five or six years and the joy is to see that on each visit we can see the upgrading of quality, service, and complexity of activities. The boats and motors are newer and more substantial, the onshore facilities are becoming more substantial, and the sophistication of the workings of "the marketplace" are increasing.

So what's the point?  Why a blog?

To me, this economic model clearly demonstrates how people who have opportunities can marshal their entrepreneurial instinct and drive, learn how to sell and cooperate for mutual benefit, and invest back into growing their businesses. They don't seem to need entitlements, government supervision, executive management or MBAs to make it happen. I wonder how much more of such creativity and drive can be unleashed in our business and communities if we get out of people's way and simply open the doors to opportunity?

"Over-chairing"

business communication

One of the Vistage Chairs I work with recently expressed concern that he might be “over-chairing.” The term caught my attention as it seemed to be another name for over-managing, over-parenting, or any number of other over-lording situations.

That set me to reflecting on the behaviors I have observed over the last couple of decades of working with Chairs, leaders and parents and there seems to be common traits and mindsets driving them. Most common of all is the often delusionalbelief that tightly controlling the conversations, processes and relationships will produce desired high-quality outcomes.  Generally, this assumption is false. It is driven by your needs versus the recipients’ wishes and points-of-view.

The delusional dimension is that you can be comfortable in your belief that you are doing your best and assuring the best outcomes, even in the face of data to the contrary. In the case of children, (especially teens), the contrary outcomes may be multiple while you continue to assert your right to say how it should go. Good luck with that!

So what’s really going on and what is actually being assured?  First, you can continue to ignore what’s before your eyes and feel comfortable that you are doing your best. Second, you can avoid the discomfort that your best is not necessarily producing your desired outcomes.  Third, you can avoid the discomfort or downright fear of having to "dance with the unknown” by including the other party as an equal partner in solutions, strategies and processes that get implemented. It’s unknown since you lose control of the outcome and probably have little to no idea of how to get to a productive outcome in such a dynamic.

Another discomforting dimension is that your “shame," or “original wound” will jump up and the seemingly real threat that you will be judged as your own personal version of worthless or incompetent. 

A powerful antidote that will give you the capacity to dive headlong into the unknown is our Productive Dialogue Zone (more about this in our book, "Accelerate"). Working with that approach, you will be required to articulate your vision or desired outcome for the conversation, summon the courage to go forward as you let go of how and when, be sure you are staying connected or in relationship with the other, and also challenging or confronting the issue(s) as you see it. Notice I said confronting the issue(s), not the person. Confronting the person has them withdraw from the relationship and you will have lost your ability to partner in producing the best possible outcome.

Study the model, summon the courage, and start letting go. Practice on easier challenges until you gain facility with engaging in Productive Interactions. Enjoy new and unexpected outcomes.

It’s 2016! Dream Big!

leadership leadership developmentTo move into a New Year powerfully and to create the results you want there are some key steps to take. The first is creating an “elegant ending” to the past. Last week we posted about “letting go of 2015,” and included a free download of a worksheet to help you do itNow it’s time to move on to envisioning and documenting your 2016 “Yonder Star(s)” and creating plans for fulfillment. (Note: The first part of this post talks about how to effectively map out your personal goals. If you want to move straight into planning for your business check out the last paragraph of this post. We’ve got a Hot Wired Strategic Plan template for you as a free download.) One way to help yourself succeed is to make your resolutions “public” to others. To put more wind in your sails, promise others that you will deliver! You can ask someone you trust to be a “committed listener.” This involves a commitment from them to listen to you as you talk about the status of your plans, your struggles, and your successes. It does not involve them giving advice or telling you what to do next, (unless you make a specific request for it).

Another way to succeed is to hire a coach. Someone who is trained to support people in achieving their dreams and plans.

If you are a bit more experienced at this process, take a step up in rigor and create a set of goals for the different areas of your life. Categories you might include are: 1) Career/Financial 2) Well-Being or Health 3) Relationships 4) Spiritual 5) Personal 6) Wild Card How bold are you willing to be setting your goals? If you are completely certain you can make the goals are you stretching yourself enough? Focus on designing the most catalytic, highly leveraged action steps you can. By “catalytic” we mean that your actions produce the intended results without your being used up in the process. By “highly leveraged,” we mean you produce very big results with minimal resources.

If you’ve been successful at this level of work and/or are ready to take on your first effort at a Strategic Plan for your company or affiliation, we suggest using what we call our “2130 Partners Hot Wired Strategic Plan.” We call it Hot Wired because it covers many of the levels and topics of an elaborate plan and yet you can produce a decent draft in a couple of hours. The next pass can then be developed to whatever level of detail you wish. The key, however, is to get the initial draft knocked out in as short a time as you can so that you shift your paradigm about goals and actions as you develop the more detailed plans. You can download the worksheet for our 2130 Partners Hot Wired plan by clicking here.

Ready for 2016? First You Need to Let Go of 2015

leadership developmentIt’s the time of year when many of us conduct annual rituals that may include everything from strategic planning sessions for business to making New Year’s resolutions or setting Bold Goals for 2016 and beyond. We’ve found any such process to be much harder to do when we haven’t completed and let go of the past. It’s very difficult, (impossible?), to really move forward when we are carting the past along with us. The process of letting go can include changing your attitude and perceptions about what the economy did to you, to digging very deep and letting go of some of the childhood stuff that shapes your life. On the fun end of the spectrum, we have for many years put flip chart paper all over our walls when we have a New Year’s Eve party with a simple question on each, such as “What did I start and not complete?” or “What did I accomplish that I haven’t been acknowledged for?” or “What did I screw up that I didn’t get caught for?” Guests write on the charts all evening with colored markers and sometimes get even more creative with a touch of artistic display as well. On a number of occasions, we have taken them all down at midnight and symbolically burned them.

On a business note, we do a similar exercise with our executive clients where we pass out a page with questions for them to fill out that explores accomplishments and failures in their businesses, practice of leadership, and lives. (We have a *free* download of this exercise sheet here.)  One of my favorites is “What must I communicate to be complete with 2015 and to whom?”

A few of the highlights from these types of executive discussions include discoveries of attachments participants did not realize were holding them back, people around them who they had failed to acknowledge, and places where they were not leading by example.

We also know that for many folks the holidays can include a lot of upset, ranging from anxiety around gift giving and office party attendance to remembrances of lost loved ones or unhappy childhood experiences related to the holidays. The latter is fertile ground for completion work.

Some of the comments we get about these exercises can be summed up as, “transition/transformation is a lot of work!” If you are intending to be powerful in 2016, have big goals, and produce great results, we highly recommend you spend the next couple of weeks completing and letting go of 2015, (and earlier if you need to), in order to create fertile ground for your 2016 vision to come alive.

If you would like to try our exercise format we have included it here as a free download.

Wishing you a happy ending to your 2015 and a fabulous 2016!

What Business Are You Really In?

Business LeadershipWe all have ways of describing our businesses. It usually involves a description of our services and products, and how they are delivered summarized in a snappy “elevator speech.” But these finely crafted and well-rehearsed statements are often a “red herring” in many ways and we get caught up in details instead of seeing the true bottom line of what we do. I was reminded of this when I read Google’s announcement of the formation of a new umbrella parent company called, “Alphabet.” What struck me was the line from one of the founders stating, “Sergey and I are seriously in the business of starting new things.” This is the bottom line of what Google’s founders have to say about what business they are in. They start new things. Tony Hsieh made a similar statement several years ago about Zappo’s, (and I am paraphrasing), “we are a customer service company.” It seems to me to be particularly powerful and important to see your business in such a deceptively simple way and also to be able to articulate it so clearly.

What I am talking about here is very different than the classic, “vision, mission, values.” I am talking about the deeper, underlying reason for the existence of your organization. As another example, I know of a home care agency that provides caregivers for the elderly and people with long-term debilitating health conditions. This company is really in the “trust and safety business.” My daughter is on the board of a non-profit that provides therapy dog training, education, and outreach. She will tell you they are in the “compassion business.”

If you could understand and articulate your organization’s existence in this type of way, what would you say? What do you really do? Understanding this should drive every aspect and layer of how you move forward. It should be the underlying anchor for strategic development and it should be taken into account as a critical yardstick when questions arise as to which direction the company is moving and how to proceed when there is a fork in the road.

How well do you think your employees and executive team members understand what it is you really do? Are they all aligned behind this cause?

Do you remember daily what your organization is really about? Do you walk that talk? Do you insist that others do as well?

What if you aren’t sure? Or have become unsure over time? There are lots of “bright, shiny, objects” and distractions that pull companies’ off of their true purpose for being. If you are reading this and your answer to “what business am I really in” isn’t top of mind and clear, it’s time to do some reflection. It’s time to remember. It’s time to get clear and use this clarity to refocus yourself and your team.

What is Your Kill Switch?

What is Your Kill Switch leadership developmentIt happens instantly, automatically, and from an unexamined place in your mind. It shows up in a sudden shift from open, happy, creative, and conversational to defensive, and, depending on your typical reaction, engaged in some form of fight, flight, freeze, or appease. I have heard it called by a number of terms. For me, nothing says it more directly than the “kill switch” that instantly cuts off your aliveness and puts you into survival behavior. Apparently all human beings have a kill switch. It gets set off by all kinds of circumstances and interactions. The common thread is an unwitting reminder of what you believe to be wrong with you. It not only reminds you, the "incoming" matches the story you have been telling yourself most all of your life and serves to confirm your limiting belief. At the level of your limbic system (old brain), it occurs as a threat to your survival. Since the limbic system can't tell the difference between a physical threat and a threat in language, the event has the same impact on your body chemistry and aliveness.

This underlying, deep-seated belief and all the stories you have collected up to this point in your life that seemingly validate this belief are being talked about more and more by leading speakers and authors. Dr. Brene Brown refers to it as your "shame." I've also heard it called your “Original Wound.” I simply refer to it as that first big rotten thing you said about yourself, very early in life, that you fervently believe to this day. It is some version of "I suck." Each of us has our own very personal version burned into our mental software.

From my observation of clients over thousands of hours of one-to-one work, this kill switch, or the invoking of your shame, whether realized at the moment or not, will dramatically limit your effectiveness and your ability to experience, love, health, happiness, and full self-expression. Other than that, no problem.

I have seen more than one marriage destroyed because one or the other has a kill switch that says I'm not lovable. I've seen careers severely limited or destroyed by switches that are things like, "I’m stupid" or "I'm not worthy." The challenge is that these nasty beliefs are buried deeply and generally not directly noticed. You have spent your whole life building an identity or persona to be sure no one ever finds out. I, for example, am automatically a really nice, good person so you don't find out that I’m "no damn good." When that "shame"' gets scratched, however, I am immediately on the attack or frozen depending on the situation.

If you have the courage, start noticing all of the times that you are suddenly upset (can be very mild to violent) and find the pattern. Practice catching your reaction more quickly as you learn to self-observe. Once you can catch the reaction you can correct your behavior to one that you choose. Good hunting.

 

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/33852688@N08/4319647290 Image has been adapted

Leadership: The Ivory Tower Paradox

leadershipThere is a paradox about leadership regarding your customers and potential customers and here it is. The longer you are a leader in your business and industry the more of an expert you will be seen to be.  Simultaneously, you may also completely lose touch with what it is to be a new customer to your product or service, what those potential customers are really wanting to buy, and how your customer service occurs for both your existing and potential customers. It doesn’t take long to be immersed in your own marketing and sales belief system and lose touch with the expertise that allowed your original success. If you succumb to this very normal pattern, you will lose insight into something critical to your success and sustainability and you will become an expert/non-expert. This is the “ivory tower of leadership,” or at least one of them. You will have hard-won expertise in knowing your product or service, your competitors, and your existing customers, but you will likely lose understanding critical desires and behaviors about those who are not buying from you - your potential new customers. A great example of this occurs in my industry. Within the industry, people talk about “peer advisory.” Do you think there is a potential customer out there who has ever heard of “peer advisory” or has a clue what that means? I can say fairly definitely that the answer is “no” unless they have been approached by someone in the industry who explained it to them. It’s important that those in my industry understand how people who need these services talk about it, not how we inside the industry talk about it.

As a leader you need to find a way to reconnect with those out there who want and/or need your product or services, but may not have heard of it before, or may not talk about it the way you talk about it. You need to find out how they do talk about it. How would they ask for it? How would they approach finding you? What is their need from THEIR perspective, (not yours)?

If you have gotten into the ivory tower it’s time to try to find a connection back to the real world of your customers. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Listen in to your customer service line or customer service phone calls on a regular basis. What happens there? What language are your customers using? What are their issues?
  • Look at the contact form submissions from your website. What challenges are your potential customers talking about? Where are they struggling? What problem are they hoping you will solve for them? (There could be new product, service and business opportunities here if you pay attention.)
  • Go to a marketing event that your team members are attending and just listen. Try to blend in and be as anonymous as possible so you can hear genuine conversations between your team and prospects.
  • Do focus or research groups led by trained research professionals who know how to facilitate them to get quality information.

I encourage you to think hard about the issue of the ivory tower. You are likely missing opportunities, key information and more by not being in touch with the outside world of potential customers. This is along the lines of the principle of “beginner’s mind.” You are vulnerable to market disrupters that you won't see coming. Are you willing to approach your business from that place to see how to best be of service?

Do You Trust Your Experts?

As a successfuleadership expertsl business leader, you are probably smart, have a strong point-of-view on most things, and you communicate in a way that has others follow you. Whether realized or not, you may expect yourself to have an opinion on most all of the issues that arise in your organization and you likely believe that your responses are correct. In fact, you may not even recognize them as your beliefs or as your own point-of-view. Maybe it's just "reality," after all, you have been successful, right? Also as a successful leader, you have hired team members that you believe are intelligent, qualified and talented people. You have also hired vendors and outside partners that you also believe are talented, intelligent and reliable. So, the question is "how well and how often do you actually listen to these people?"

Recently, I was speaking with a colleague about a recurring experience with one of his clients on this very issue. This client hired him for his expertise and skills and also had him find an outside agency to bring a very deep level of specific expertise. This client claims to be very happy with both him and the agency. He speaks frequently about how much he enjoys working with all of them. Yet every time a recommendation is made, he challenges it. Even after the initial challenge is worked through, he challenges and/or completely rethinks any revisions. He often personally rewrites things rather than providing new direction for the team. Simultaneously, he often repeats, “don’t let me push you into anything,” and “you know I’m not an expert on this.” The reality is, he does push the whole team into exactly what he wants.

As the boss, how much can your team members really push back with you? And if they do, do you really listen? Do you ever change your position to their recommendations?

My colleague finally said to his client “you know, the group is feeling a bit deflated because it’s been really hard to actually move forward on things. It seems like you are never really happy.” The client was shocked. “What do you mean?” he responded. He literally could not see that his deeply held belief in his own superior knowledge and expertise on every topic was becoming a roadblock to progress, even though he was speaking as if he did know that.

In a way, he was right. No agency or outside hire could ever know his industry the way he does, but that's not what these people were hired to do anyway. They were hired to bring their expertise in to help him build his business. His “insider” perspective is costing him his objectivity about what these resources bring to the table and how new and prospective clients are thinking, including their motivations and their needs. He also fails to see the expertise of this team is to be present to the clients' and prospects' perspectives and deliver appropriate proposals and services. He is unable to really trust the people he is paying quite a bit of money to every month.

So the question is – as a leader, where are you like this example? Do you listen to your experts, both within and from outside your organization? Do you really trust anyone besides yourself? If you don’t, maybe it’s time to rethink those you have put around you? Are they really the talented, smart, reliable team you need? If they are, then it’s time to look in the mirror. What is it costing you to hamstring your experts?  What are you really afraid of?

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Leadership Communication - “No Problem”

leadership no problemRecently I have noticed a trend in business communication. It’s the automatic response of, “no problem.” I have heard it from customer service agents, business bankers, computer/IT people and more. It happens in response to inquiries, questions, issues and just about any topic where one needs to communicate with someone else for mutual understanding.  It seems to be the widespread and currently fashionable answer to provide to customers, clients, and colleagues. While intended to make someone feel soothed and assured that whatever is going on is “under control” and will be addressed, corrected, etc. I find myself having the opposite reaction. I have noticed I often feel “cut off” in these conversations with the “no problem,” before I have even expressed what I have to say. I also notice that the “no problem” is usually repeated multiple times in rapid succession and seems to be a quick offensive to deflect whatever I might be about to say next. This only increases my annoyance.

There is also an assumptive quality to the “no problem.” It labels whatever I am saying as an issue, presuming that I am having a problem. What if I’m not? What if I just have a question? Is every question related to a problem? What if I am just trying to understand something? I don’t really want to hear that my effort to understand is “not a problem.” Why would it be a problem?

My suggestion to leaders is that it’s important to consider the type of communication that you encourage within your teams, particularly those that may be meeting with the public and clients. Are you encouraging this “no problem” approach?

We believe that the strongest leadership communication actually starts with listening. Rather than rushing to tell a customer, client or colleague that something is not a problem, it’s important to listen completely to their communication before responding. It’s also important to have a genuine response that is congruent with what the person has just said instead of having an automatic, programmed or scripted response that may or may not actually connect with what was just communicated.

In many organizations the zeal to have consistency in customer service leads to training that includes scripts. While this may seem to be a logical way to create quality interactions the inability of the scripted person to connect authentically can be frustrating and irritating. If your team understands the fundamental principles of presence, good communication and the key messages of your business, they should be able to connect with others in a way that creates genuine satisfaction.

Have you noticed the automatic “no problem” trend? What do you think? Is it annoying or helpful? Is it something you want your team doing?   

Leadership: Relief From Posing

leadership and posingDo you ever wish you could just be you, be yourself? Do you also struggle for balance in your life? One of my fellow Vistage Chairs recently used the term "relief from posing" in a conversation about one of the benefits members of Vistage Groups experience. I was immediately struck by how she captured an observation I have made about Vistage membership over the years and how simply and accurately that little phrase expresses such an important experience. The idea that you could have a place where you can just be you...the good, the bad & the ugly...may seem remote or even unachievable on a regular basis and yet, think how great it would feel to be able to regularly access that experience. 

As I have reflected on her phrase, I see how it also relates to the idea of an integrated life versus a balanced life. In the pursuit of a balanced life, you may spend a tremendous amount of effort trying to be all things to all people. You may also feel a high degree of stress at failing regularly. You may find yourself saying "I need to____" (fill in the blanks) and apologizing regularly. It's all about which constituency you are failing at the moment.

An Integrated Life

The antidote to the hopeless pursuit of a balanced life is to focus on an integrated life - being able to be who you are and be true to your values everywhere in your life. You don't have to pose anywhere. 

The first requirement to even approach an integrated life is to become comfortable in your own skin.  It means giving yourself permission to be the person that only you were genetically encoded to in the world. As the poet and management consultant David Whyte says "the soul would rather fail at its own life than succeed at someone else's.” It means being all you can be, fully self-expressed, and let the world choose how much of that it wants and where it wants it.

While you may at first be thinking about potential threats to your income generating ability. The surprise is that when you are doing what you love, the money will follow. One of the less obvious areas where you might appreciate relief from posing is within your own family. Typically you face a complex web of expectations coming from many directions in your family. For example, Dr. Brene Brown talks about a man who approached her at a book signing saying "my wife and daughter would rather see me die than fall off my white horse." What's your version of that story? Your job is to notice how you set that kind of experience up or how you collude with such an expectation unconsciously. If you stop the collusion and be yourself, what will happen? Will it really happen or is it just a fearful belief? Are you willing to go for it and find out?

Leadership: #Believe

seahawks leadershipThe Seahawks’ season was tough. During the first half, things did not go well for a variety of reasons. The team pulled it together and the second half of the season was very strong. During the NFC Conference Championship the rubber met the road. Although they won, it wasn’t pretty and serious injuries occurred. In the Super Bowl, despite nearly winning, they suffered a painful loss in the final minutes of the game. Although they lost, they are the first team in years with back-to-back Super Bowl appearances and overall they had an amazing season. They are also leading an utterly devoted legion of fans, the 12s, or “Seahawk Nation,” who did not turn on them because of their loss. Instead they have strongly embraced them. Clearly something special is going on here, particularly with the leadership of the Seahawks. Here are just some of the key lessons I see that you, and really all business leaders, could benefit from:

Leadership Lessons

  • Great Leaders Own Mistakes: The final Seahawks’ play call of the Super Bowl has been debated ad nauseam. The bottom line is, it didn’t work out. What did Coach Pete Carroll do? He OWNED it. This is what great leaders do. Regardless of what exactly happened, Pete Carroll stepped up and took responsibility. No blaming his team or his staff. No shaming or defensiveness. A simple and clearly stated, “it was me.”
  • Play for Each Other: This was something that sparked among the players during the midseason after the Kansas City game. The team leaders came up with this and developed a culture of playing for each other. Of course they wanted to win. Of course they are competitive, but the driving force was to show up for each other. When a player had a bad night, e.g. the kicker, Steven Hauschka against the Arizona Cardinals, the other players had his back. There was no trash talking and no turning on him. Players on the sidelines gave him support and raised him up during a critical game where he played the worst of his career.
  • Stay Humble and Be Consistent: This is a Pete Carroll and team mantra. Pete and the Seahawks organization take humility and consistency very seriously. If a player’s ego becomes problematic, they don’t get to stay on the team, (witness the Percy Harvin trade early in the season).
  • Let People Be Who They Are: While Pete doesn’t tolerate divas, he certainly loves characters. One of the most important dimensions of the team is that they let their players be who they are, idiosyncrasies and all, as long as they show up, play hard, and play for the team, not just for themselves or their own glory.
  • One Mission: There was a clear vision and mission to become repeat Super Bowl Champions. Just because they didn’t achieve it doesn’t mean that there wasn’t an incredible amount of alignment and focus that created a lot of unity and success.
  • Compassion: According to Jeffri Chadiha in ESPN.com, Carroll fully believes that compassion is a vital factor in winning football games. His mantra is “Always Compete” and he applies that mindset to everybody who works in the building. In the end, Carroll comes off as a man who ultimately wants to see the best come out of everyone, mainly because of how much joy he takes in seeing somebody else attain that level of success.” It is this approach, this compassion for the individual, and the genuine connection and affection he shows for his players, that have caused many not to take Carroll seriously as an NFL coach, yet he is creating amazing, undeniable results.
  • Include, Respect and Recognize Your Customer: In this case, that means the fans. The Seahawks are unique in truly embracing, connecting with, and understanding their fans. This is why they have perhaps the most ardent and respectful fan base in the NFL.

If you could apply these lessons to your team and organization, what might happen? What could improve? What might change that could create unexpected and perhaps extraordinary results?

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Leadership: Focus and Finish

10434538875_f376fa9981Recently I noticed two key themes that together have important applications to business leadership. The first was the Seattle Seahawks Coach, Pete Carroll's admonition to his team all season, "It doesn't matter how you start. It's how you finish!" The powerful demonstration of the value of his challenge was displayed in the NFL Championship game where his team came from a 16 point deficit in the last two minutes to a win and thereby qualify for the Super Bowl. The second was a mantra repeated by Navy Seal Chris Kyle in the movie American Sniper, "Aim small to hit small." The clarity this provided him allowed him to become the most successful sniper in American history. Without engaging in an argument about his role and job, let's ask how does this mantra translate to business? Focus narrowly to get specific desired results.

Merging the two ideas says if you want to produce reliable outcomes focus as specifically and rigorously as you can on the details of those outcomes and be sure to stay with your efforts until the results are produced -finish!

A number of other capacities occur in common between the two cases - presence, clarity, and constant practice are disciplines and the results are demonstrable. Success in both requires a very high level of individual self-expression and yet an equally high level of collaboration with the team. Special forces are known for these capacities and so are the Seahawks football players.

What Does This Mean for You as a Leader?

  • Have a very clear target - vision/mission, goal, or objective and keep describing the attributes in increasing detail as you proceed.
  • Be present - to "ground truth" or the way that it is and the way that it isn't as you proceed.
  • Develop clarity - keep identifying and displacing roadblocks, potholes and distractions that can obscure the target.
  • Nurture self-expression - Commit to each team member, (and especially yourself), to develop and bring their unique talents and skills to the work.
  • Foster collaboration - be "all in" (another Pete Carroll-ism) for the shared goal and for each other.
  • Keep refocusing - "reality" blurs your line of sight to the goal on a regular basis and it is far easier to drift off course than to stay on it.
  • Finish - Stay with it, even if observers have written off your success

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Where’s Your Leadership Mojo?

leadership mojoRecently, I have encountered a number of executives who are working extremely hard, yet seem listless, and lacking passion. When I investigate, I find they are allowing themselves to be defined by their task agendas. They grin when I ask them if they've lost their mojo, but it is the grin of someone who just got caught in a little white lie rather than a grin of joy. The conversation immediately turns to "shoulds", "oughtas," and "need tos." Highest on that list are things like get more sleep, eat better, cut down on the wine, and exercise more, none of which are likely to happen given their mental state. The lack of changed behavior gets blamed on the holidays, quickly followed by "I'll get right on it after the first of the year,” yet not much has changed.

If any of this sounds familiar to you, I recommend re-grounding yourself in your vision, purpose or what we like to call your "Yonder Star." Take some quiet time to reflect on the "why" in each area of your life and then sort your task list based on what is truly important to you. How does each of the items fit in with what your life is really about? Pick the key pieces and commit to them. Schedule your exercise, eating, sleep, and family priorities in first and then make the rest of your tasks fit into the remaining time.

If you are "deep in it" this recipe might sound “Pollyanna” to you. Stop for a moment and consider the alternative. Where are you without your health? What are the long run implications of poor self-care habits? What master are you serving when you get buried in the task agenda and how efficient are you when you are in a worn out state anyway?

I'm seeing clients who have restarted themselves with their Yonder Star in mind and re-sorted priorities and tasks accordingly, quickly revitalize. Life suddenly gets a lot lighter, important things get done, and much that seemed urgent falls to the bottom. To be sure, that may mean having to deal with some upsets and disappointments for folks who didn't get their email answered, the immediate action they wanted and so on. When you’re feeling fired up and pleased with what you are getting done, however, it's far easier to deal with the noise.

The remaining challenge is dealing with the thoughts in your own mind. Note what that "little voice in your head" is saying to you. Are you fearful of what certain people will think, worried about disappointing them, feeling fearful about what you may have missed? Pay attention to the monologue in your head. If you watch the patterns of what it says you will gain insight about what stops you so you can begin to handle your "gremlins.” In the meantime, you'll have your mojo back! 

It’s 2015! Dream Big!

leadership development 2015To move into a New Year powerfully and to create the results you want there are some key steps to take. The first is creating an “elegant ending” to the past. Last week we posted about “letting go of 2014,” and included a free download of a worksheet to help you do itNow it’s time to move on to envisioning and documenting your 2015 “Yonder Star(s)” and creating plans for fulfillment.(Note: The first part of this post talks about how to effectively map out your personal goals. If you want to move straight into planning for your business check out the last paragraph of this post. We’ve got a Hot Wired Strategic Plan template for you as a free download.) One way to help yourself succeed is to make your resolutions “public” to others. To put more wind in your sails, promise others that you will deliver! You can ask someone you trust to be a “committed listener.” This involves a commitment from them to listen to you as you talk about the status of your plans, your struggles and your successes. It does not involve them giving advice or telling you what to do next, (unless you make a specific request for it).

Another way to succeed is to hire a coach. Someone who is trained to support people in achieving their dreams and plans.

If you are a bit more experienced at this process, take a step up in rigor and create a set of goals for the different areas of your life. Categories you might include are: 1) Career/Financial 2) Well-Being or Health 3) Relationships 4) Spiritual 5) Personal 6) Wild Card How bold are you willing to be setting your goals? If you are completely certain you can make the goals are you stretching yourself enough? Focus on designing the most catalytic, highly leveraged action steps you can. By “catalytic” we mean that your actions produce the intended results without your being used up in the process. By “highly leveraged,” we mean you produce very big results with minimal resources.

If you’ve been successful at this level of work and/or are ready to take on your first effort at a Strategic Plan for your company or affiliation, we suggest using what we call our “2130 Partners Hot Wired Strategic Plan.” We call it Hot Wired because it covers many of the levels and topics of an elaborate plan and yet you can produce a decent draft in a couple of hours. The next pass can then be developed to whatever level of detail you wish. The key, however, is to get the initial draft knocked out in as short a time as you can so that you shift your paradigm about goals and actions as you develop the more detailed plans. You can download the worksheet for our 2130 Partners Hot Wired plan by clicking here.

Ready for 2015? First You Need to Let Go of 2014

2014-2015 leadership developmentIt’s the time of year when many of us conduct annual rituals that may include everything from strategic planning sessions for business to making New Year’s resolutions or setting Bold Goals for 2015 and beyond. We’ve found any such process to be much harder to do when we haven’t completed and let go of the past. It’s very difficult, (impossible?), to really move forward when we are carting the past along with us. The process of letting go can include changing your attitude and perceptions about what the economy did to you, to digging very deep and letting go of some of the childhood stuff that shapes your life. On the fun end of the spectrum, we have for many years put flip chart paper all over our walls when we have a New Year’s Eve party with a simple question on each, such as “What did I start and not complete?” or “What did I accomplish that I haven’t been acknowledged for?” or “What did I screw up that I didn’t get caught for?” Guests write on the charts all evening with colored markers and sometimes get even more creative with a touch of artistic display as well. On a number of occasions we have taken them all down at midnight and symbolically burned them.

On a business note, we do a similar exercise with our executive clients where we pass out a page with questions for them to fill out that explores accomplishments and failures in their businesses, practice of leadership, and lives. (We have a *free* download of this exercise sheet here.)  One of my favorites is “What must I communicate to be complete with 2014 and to whom?”

A few of the highlights from these types of executive discussions include discoveries of attachments participants did not realize were holding them back, people around them who they had failed to acknowledge, and places where they were not leading by example.

We also know that for many folks the holidays can include a lot of upset, ranging from anxiety around gift giving and office party attendance to remembrances of lost loved ones or unhappy childhood experiences related to the holidays. The latter is fertile ground for completion work.

Some of the comments we get about these exercises can be summed up as, “transition/transformation is a lot of work!” If you are intending to be powerful in 2015, have big goals, and produce great results, we highly recommend you spend the next couple of weeks completing and letting go of 2014, (and earlier if you need to), in order to create fertile ground for your 2015 vision to come alive.

If you would like to try our exercise format we have included it here as a free download.

Wishing you a happy ending to your 2014 and a fabulous 2015!

Expressing Authentic Appreciation

In our ever faster mleadership authentic appreciationoving results-focused business world of communication that is sometimes reduced to 140 characters or less, it is far too easy to go for days, weeks, months or in some cases years, without pausing to notice and recognize all there is to appreciate. From a leadership perspective it is easy to confuse social platitudes with what I'm calling “Authentic Appreciation.” For example, "Good job, Jane, you got that report out in record time," is fine and important feedback that recognizes and rewards performance. What it quite possibly overlooks is where Jane was coming from about doing the report, what sacrifices she may have made, the other team members she had to enroll to get the information she needed and a variety of other, human dimension aspects of Jane that she brought to her work.

At a deeper level, people want to be appreciated for who they are, for their commitment, their heart felt passion, and most of all to feel that their lives matter. To be able to authentically speak to that requires that you slow down enough to connect and observe another's circumstances, feelings and intentions. At its best, Authentic Appreciation requires you to allow yourself a heartfelt experience of another and the desire to capture that experience in a brief and sincere declaration made to that person and perhaps to a whole team. While your acknowledgement may still be made around observed behavior, it will be generated from your deeper experience. It will carry with it your appreciation and recognition of the person as well as the behavior.

The patience Authentic Appreciation requires may also serve as an intervention in your own tendency to be caught up in the rat race, the frustrations of work life, and the never ending emails and "could have done betters."

Start with focusing on what you can appreciate about yourself, especially if that brings up your internal dialogue about your own insufficiency. If you are unwilling to Authentically Appreciate yourself, it is very unlikely you will be able to Authentically Appreciate another, your environment, or life itself. Start a list of attributes you have that are worthy of appreciation. If you find it hard, unabashedly ask others to tell you. Odds are their list will be longer than yours!

We are approaching the season of giving thanks and enjoying each other more consciously than during the rest of the year. Too often the opportunity gets wasted or, at best, underutilized in the hustle and bustle of entertaining, gift giving, and socializing. Take some time in advance of holiday events to reflect on what you Authentically Appreciate about those around you and about life itself. Write down your notes, not to read out, but to remind you.

I will close with the last words we heard from one of my most beloved clients and Vistage members, Steve Haskell. He was in the process of passing on due to illness and after he slowly looked each one of us in the eye he asked, "do you guys know how beautiful clouds are?" It was such a striking statement, and so telling that in his final days, he was noticing the amazing things in life we often overlook or take for granted.

Wishing you a happy Thanksgiving holiday and hoping you take some time to notice the clouds…

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