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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Disappointment as a Diagnostic

leadership disappointmentDisappointment can actually be a powerful tool. Whether you are disappointed in yourself, someone else, or in an outcome, investigating it more deeply can actually provide a powerful access to increasing your effectiveness and producing outcomes you might have thought were no longer possible.

Webster’s defines disappointment as “the feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations.” I have also heard it defined as “politically correct anger” which suggests a higher degree of intensity to the experience. In any case it is an emotional response that can shape your thoughts and behavior in unproductive ways. Viewing disappointment as a diagnostic offers a different perspective, and perhaps a different way to deal with it.

I am not suggesting to think positively, ignore your emotions, or deny them.  Allow yourself the freedom to experience your disappointment and pay attention to its source. Ask yourself “what happened…or didn’t happen?”

The issue with disappointment is that you can feel like a victim of other’s choices, actions, or lack of action, and that leaves you powerless to leverage what has happened in a positive way. As a leader, feeling victimized by your team is not a leadership stance. You need to investigate your disappointment. Did you plan well enough to anticipate all of the challenges you would face? Did you communicate in a complete way and listen intently to the doubts and concerns of the rest of the team? Were you sure that everyone involved fully understood the goal, bought into the commitment, understood what it would take to fulfill it, and align on it? Is the disappointment in an outcome, (or lack thereof), or in a particular team member? How is that disappointment impacting your relationship with that team member? What were you expecting from the other person? Did they really know about your expectations? Did they ever promise to fulfill them? Without letting them know and/or getting their promise to fulfill the particular outcome, you are left to complain about their failures.

Take some time to reflect on the source of your disappointment and consider the questions above. Investigate where things broke down and see if you can identify your role in it. See if you can let go of wanting to place blame on circumstances or others’ behavior and try to be as objective about yourself and others in what happened as possible. See if you can honestly identify the gaps in your communication that contributed to the situation.

From this place of neutral observation and reflection you can course correct for the future.

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How Irrational Fear is Debilitating

leadership fearCurrently within our culture fear seems to be running rampant. Unfortunately, most of it seems to be some variation or another of the bogeyman. Fear can be empowering or debilitating to a leader. It can render you helpless to act, or worse, cause you to take really stupid actions that actually damage your situation instead of protecting you.

Substantiated fear, for example when your reptilian brain has you jump back immediately at the sight of a snake, can be very healthy. Rational fear expressed as heightened awareness based on facts showing that you are facing threats, can focus your attention, accelerate your pace, increase your team’s sense of connection, and increase your odds of successfully overcoming the challenge.

You will probably remember Captain Sully Sullenberger and his successful landing on the Hudson River in New York during a severe in-flight emergency in 2009. This situation is a practical example of rational fear. The flight crew got the information that their engines had shut down. They analyzed all data immediately, reviewed available landing sites, made a rational decision, and focused their attention on executing a safe landing for their passengers.

Irrational fear whether it be “communism” in the ‘50s, terrorism in its many incarnations in the last decade, or your own personal monster in the closet or under your bed, can be so out of proportion to the real facts and statistical odds as to be laughable unless you are the one who is freaking out. An extreme example occurred last weekend when a friend and I were attending an international conference in New York City. My friend arrived early and planned to stay with his brother well outside the city which he did on Friday night. As he left for the conference his sister-in-law announced that he was forbidden to return to the house that evening as there would be people from Africa at the conference and he would be bringing Ebola into their home. He would have to take his stuff and go find a hotel for the next two nights. The high drama on the news had driven this poor woman almost to hysteria.

Now, with no disrespect to anyone who has gotten this virulent and mostly fatal disease, the likelihood of my friend bringing it home that night was probably about that of being hit by a meteor. The point of this anecdote is to demonstrate how disproportionate a reaction can be and how the decisions that follow may not be good for you and the people around you.

One of our 2130 Operating Principles is “confront and deal with real issues.” We call real issues the ones that no one will talk about and that are often really old. As a leader, the real issues arising from your own irrational fears will often show up as explosions of dominance or anger.  They may show up as decisions that make no sense to your team as they are driven by your need to protect yourself. They may show up as an unwillingness to engage in conversations when you feel threatened. Almost certainly any of these reactions are driven by deep-seated fears that are not at all supported by the facts and data in the present day.

Are you willing to courageously investigate reality and contrast the facts with your fears? Are you willing to confront and deal with the fears that have been sucking the joy and satisfaction out of your leadership? It’s up to you.

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Are You Living Your Purpose or Are You Simply Busy?

leadership developmentbusyThats the armor everyone put on to pretend they had a purpose in the world.” -From the poem Red Brocade by Naomi Shihab Nye as quoted in the Sept./Oct. ’14 issue of Spirituality & Health

I don’t know about you, but that line landed dead center for me. I have been noticing the ever accelerating “busyness” in our clients’ lives and our own. Just because we can move faster and do more things today doesnt mean we should or that it is good for us, those around us, or life on the planet!

What if you only did a few things and those things were the most highly leveraged actions that would move you towards fulfilling your life’s purpose. Too busy to think about, let alone articulate your purpose? If so, you don’t have to question whether any of that busyness matters. You can just go on confusing action with meaningful results.

If your rebuttal is that you are busy fulfilling someone else’s commitments, for example the boss’s or the team you are on, have you looked to see if anything about that busyness fulfills your own purpose? If you are feeling very stressed out, good chance there is a big gap between your life’s purpose and the path you are on. You are out of balance, (balance being defined as being who you are and freely living your values in every area of your life).

Creating an intervention that has the strength to divert you from your current life to one that is consistent with your life’s purpose requires you to dig deeply into your purpose. I recommend asking the question “what is the intention that is wanting to use my life?” You may have to ask yourself that many times over and listen carefully to the soft voice that speaks to you about that.  You may even want to secure a coach/facilitator, take courses, commit yourself to learning to meditate, or consider other practices to build your contemplative capacities.

If you discover that you have given up on this lifetime and are living as if this one is practice for the next one when you will be really purposeful, dig deeply into what that is about. Be ruthless with yourself about giving up the story you have been telling yourself about how this one is not going to turn out. Every powerful life has to be invented and re-invented in the middle of life and all its messy circumstances.

An old Zen saying is, “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”  Consider that each day that you spend in the swirl is one less day you have on the planet to fulfill that intention. Consider that all your busyness is using up the irreplaceable world’s resource called “you.” Only you have been genetically programmed to deliver you, the purpose/intention that is your life. Get focused on unpacking the whole busyness drama and get on purpose.

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Escape Yourself

leadership developmentAs I write this, we are sailing a 28 mile crossing In the British Virgin Islands on a beautiful day with a steady wind and modest seas in a boat appropriately named “Escape Yourself.” The length of the crossing and the steadiness of the sea conditions give me pause to consider the name of the boat assigned to us.

At first I notice the immediate ways to read/hear the name:

  • Escape – escape what – my identity, the story I tell myself, the story I tell others?
  • Escape the necessity to defend my story or perhaps even buy it at all?
  • Escape, yourself – with a pause between the words it suggests going off by myself, escaping my circumstances, the usual cast of characters in my everyday life, my regular promises and commitments
  • Turning inward, escaping the mindset I bring to each of those areas of my life.

Does being “on vacation” with nothing but the seemingly infinite horizon, puffy white clouds, the rolling deep blue ocean and the wind in my hair to compete for my attention automatically unleash inner freedom? I think not. It’s too easy to compartmentalize travel experiences as the set of experiences I hold as special separate from the rest of my life, a physical place I went for a brief time and let off steam.

To engage my own mindset, which includes my leadership beliefs, style, and methodologies I employ every day “back home,” requires moving past the circumstances of the trip and into self-examination. After all, even the vastly simplified and yet impactful circumstances here on the ocean are still just that, circumstances.

One of the fundamental principles of our work at 2130 Partners and in our Productive Interactions workshops is that if you don’t shift your mindset, changing what you say or do will not make much difference. The paradigm you create with your thinking gives you your reality and will shape the actions of those around you and produce the same old outcomes. Nice to point out and what are you supposed to do about that, right?

What the boat name has allowed me to consider is what the rocketeers of our day call “escape velocity” or the velocity required to escape our gravitational field. If I use my current beautiful and yet very simple circumstances to provoke examination of my own mindset versus my external circumstances, the gravity field of my own beliefs and judgments seems lessened. The possibility of reaching escape velocity or intervening in my historic leadership mindset offers opportunities for new perspectives, clarified vision, new commitments, and new experiences for myself and those in every dimension of my life.

I suggest you do not need to be floating in the ocean to intervene in your own historic leadership mindset. Examine what strategies you might employ to lower your escape velocity so that you can enter a new orbit. Are there teachers, coaches, spiritual communities, or readings that unleash your ability to be reflective?  It’s time to get going.

That’s a Great Question!

leadership developmentHow many times have you heard a speaker, moderator, or meeting leader say “that’s a great question” in response to some of the questions posed by someone in the audience or a team member in a staff meeting? If you had asked an earlier question that did not elicit that reaction, did you notice what thought raced through your mind when you heard it? If you did notice, it might have sounded something like “so what am I, chopped liver?”

Although I hear it quite regularly, I have no idea why people say “that’s a great question.”  More than likely it is an instant, automatic, and unexamined space filler response that gives the speaker time to gather his or her response, kind of like a pause button.  The problem is it pushes a judgment back on all members of the audience. and directs the audience’s attention back to the questioner, at least briefly.  For the person to whom the response was directed it is an acknowledgment. To everyone else it will occur as a put down. It invites comparisons and other unproductive internal dialogue.

In our work we focus on productive interactions and are highly sensitized to conversations that create connection and call forth creativity and collaboration.  Naturally, that also sensitizes us to conversations that at best don’t create openings, and at worst crush possibility.

If you don’t have the habit of using the “great question” phrase, hurray!  If you do have it, examine what drives your habit if you can. Invent a new approach that keeps you as the responsible party at that point in the dialogue while still giving yourself a pause to gather your thoughts, and practice it until you can trust yourself not to fall back in the heat of the moment.  So what might you substitute?

In some cases simply don’t say anything for a few seconds. Silence can show the audience that you are actually considering the question more deeply. On the phone where your audience can’t see your reflective expression, offer something like “let me think about t (or reflect on) that for a moment before I answer.”  Again, it communicates thoughtfulness and respect on your part and keeps you with ownership of the conversation.  It tells the audience that you connected and are considering the question, rather than merely spouting a pre-set message.  Your approach will actually build mutual trust and safety.

Take some time to self observe how you deal with answering questions and how you can demonstrate your respect for each and every person’s contributions.  Watch the openness grow and the creativity flow.

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Do You Have Any Competitors?

leaders leadership business competitors business competitionIts interesting how often you can ask an entrepreneur if they have any competition and they will say, “no” or “not really.” They will be aware of others out in the marketplace, but believe that what they offer is totally unique, special, or different. They started their business because they saw an opportunity or a hole in the market place. They will also respond that “the market is so big and we only need a tiny percentage so we aren’t even impacted by the business cycle.” Because they look at their industry from an insiders perspective, the idea that they are totally unique may seem to be true. They may have come up with a unique product or service as Apple did when they essentially invented the smart phone category or they might be like the restaurateur who originates a food trend. Not surprisingly, “me toos” crop up incredibly quickly and often outdo the originators. Even more common now is the competition coming from “disruptors” from outside the industry.

There are two important dimensions to the issue of competitors that leaders must think about. First, its incredibly important to take the time to see your competition and the marketplace from a customers point-of-view as best you can. If you ask a potential customer whether or not you have competition, they will absolutely say “yes” because their perspective include choices and options that you probably have not have considered in the mix.

Customers don’t divide up the marketplace the same way that insiders do. They dont know and don’t care about the insider language and distinctions. They dont necessarily see, understand, or care about the details that the insiders care about when it comes to products and services. All a customer knows is that they have a problem, issue, or pain, and they want it solved. Is your product or service easily recognizable from their vantage point as the solution at the lowest cost/value point? If not, they will move on very quickly to a competitor.

The second dimension to be concerned about is – what is your real competitive advantage? When you ask an entrepreneur what their point-of-difference vs. the competition is, its amazing how often the answer is quite vague and actually fluffy. Something along the lines of, “well were the best,” or “we dont hard sell,” or “we have the best people.” While these features and benefits might be true, they are rarely what the customer is trying to buy.

Are you taking the time to find out why customers are really choosing your products or services, or maybe more importantly, why they are not? There are ways to get this information and its incumbent upon leaders to make the effort to find out these answers.

Make the effort to talk to outsiders. Ask your new employees and your customer service and sales people and be open to really hearing what they say about the marketplace. What are they hearing from your customers about the issues and problems they are facing? What are the questions they are asking? What are they really trying to buy? Learn how you can improve your products, services and how you are communicating about them. Ask people about who they see as your competitors, how those companies are reaching out to customers, and how are they presenting themselves. You might be surprised what you find out.

Is Your Attention on Yourself or Your Team?

executive leadership developmentResults-oriented leaders, particularly in our culture, are often driven by their own needs and wants. However, real power comes from providing the leadership that results from shared vision and shared focus.

A case in point, one of our clients was recently promoted to CEO. She has been asking how she can get her colleagues to want to work for her so she can lead the company to achieving its exciting vision. Suzanne, one of 2130’s co-founders, pointed out that the answer to her question is very unlikely to give her much access to the outcomes she is seeking. A much higher leverage conversation deals with focusing on enrolling everyone in focusing on the shared vision and unleashing their own creativity and self-generated accountability to fulfill the shared vision together.

A second very recent case involves an entrepreneur CEO client who is engaged in a startup, who has been attempting a type of alchemy. He has been trying to get his new technology company up and profitable with only his initial round of angel funding, thereby maximizing the return to his “true believer”investors. He has a high value product that requires a number of regulatory approvals, a clear marketing strategy, and well defined channels of distribution among other challenges. Even though the company is running on fumes, he has not been paid in months, and he is exhausted, initial market response keeps him believing that if he works harder he will be able to endure until his second round of funding is successful. And “therein lies the rub.

Second round funding sources seem to dance near the flame and then flit away, regulatory approvals that would open up new, additional sales channels grind on, and he has cut the team to the bone to try to survive until something breaks on either front. Now, he’s a very thoughtful and introspective guy with a very successful track record so when we really dug into “what’s the REAL issue here?he saw that his limiting belief is “I don’t deserve the money.A very painful and yet powerful insight that my experience has shown very few people are willing to experience, let alone share. As with the previous example, by reframing the issue he can now shift from trying unsuccessfully to enroll investors in him personally, to enrolling investors in the brilliance of the product and the company’s vision for the difference it will make to people’s health and well-being.

Similarly, in a recent Vistage Chair meeting one of our new Chairs was able to see that shifting his attention from his ability to succeed in the role was largely a function of focusing his attention on the success and well-being of his members and letting go of his concern for his own need for success.

Bottom line, if you are committed to being a highly effective and satisfied leader, do some reflection and be honest with yourself. Rigorously examine where you are focusing your attention. Are you hung up on your limiting beliefs about yourself and absorbed in your own success? (Be honest with yourself here.) Alternatively, are you creating an environment of mutual trust and safety, enrolling your team in the shared vision, and focusing your attention on how you can empower them to deliver the desired outcomes? Shifting your attention from your own success to the success of your team and your entire organization can help you be the leader you need to be.


Want to Change the Outcome? Give Your Brain an Assignment

mind thoughts leadership developmentHave you ever noticed that your mind is chock full of running monologues that are instant, automatic, and largely unexamined? These “thoughts”arise from what we refer to as your “Mental File Cabinet” and require no effort on your part to occur. They are patterns of thinking that started forming when you were very young and now run on auto-pilot.

The problem is, if you haven’t learned to self-observe, these thoughts will function as very unintended biases to both your listening and your speaking. These biases will very likely give you the outcomes that currently frustrate you, or even create upsets in others.

Effective leadership conversations, whether with an individual, your team, or a large audience require a shift to a more productive way of communicating with others.

Let’s start with your listening. Here are some of the more common automatic unproductive listening filters that people have:

  • Critical listening – “I’m listening for where you are incorrect.”
  • Solution listening–“I’m listening to give you advice and solve your problem.”
  • Impatient listening –“I’m listening for where I can jump in because I already know what you are going to say.”
  • Me too” listening–“I’m listening for where I can share how my story, my life, and my circumstances are just like yours.”
  • Competitive listening–“I’m listening for where I can one-up you or outdo you.”
  • Know-it-all listening–“I’m listening for where I can share my own expertise on this topic.”

I’m guessing that when you read this list you may recognize using one or more of them. I’m also guessing you would not enjoy someone else listening to you that way.

The antidote to your instant, automatic, and generally unexamined listening is to give yourself a “brain assignment.” This is one of the practices that we at 2130 Partners call “simple and not easy.”It seems simple because all you have to do is tell your brain that the way you are going to listen to “Gina” the next time you engage with her is using the “Brain Priming Recipe”below. It’s not easy because you have unwittingly been practicing automatic brain priming from your Mental File cabinet for many years without realizing it and your brain truly has a mind of its own.

Here’s the “Brain Priming Recipe” that will get you the outcomes you intend after you have practiced:

1)    Observe your default thoughts and reactions about having conversations with Gina before you engage

2)    Plan your next conversation based on your intended outcome(s) for the conversation(s)

3)    Carefully examine how the outcome(s) differ from your past experience

4)    What are you willing to commit to for the outcome(s), even if it takes extensive listening first?

5)    Just prior to the next conversation, consciously prime your brain with its assignment –  the way you intend to listen and your commitment to the outcome of the conversation(s), that differs from past experiences.

6)    Begin listening carefully and patiently for the content, feelings and intent in Gina’s part of the dialogue

7)    Summon your courage, your willingness to surrender your control of the conversation, and stay engaged with Gina until you have produced the intended outcomes together.

You may well find yourself  having failed in your intent to listen in a particular way in favor of your past thoughts about conversations with Gina. For example, if you intend to have a conversation with Gina about failures to accomplish promised results and you really like Gina, your “I really like Gina and don’t want to hurt her feelings” thoughts may overtake the assignment you thought you had put in place for your next conversation. As you might guess, there are many, many thoughts in your Mental File Cabinet that may come up and intervene in your success.

The solution is to keep practicing! Learning to be present and connected takes time.

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