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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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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