Viva the Naysayers

man with questionsMany business owners, entrepreneurs, and professionals are “visionaries” – independent minded self-starters with lots of creativity and ideas. They often have a deep belief and confidence in their own point-of-view. If you are one of these people and have been successful, these traits have served you well. The challenge is that, at some point, to increase your level of productivity and success, it will take a team around you. “My Team Are My Hands and Feet.” – Do you hire people as extensions of yourself? Meaning, you want them to just execute what you have in mind without questions - just to be an “extra pair of hands and feet.” If you have not developed the ability to clearly articulate your vision and goals in a way that is inclusive, everyone else is left wondering and waiting for you next set of instructions. This reinforces your sense of “I should just do it myself,” or, “if I could just do it myself.”

Rather than looking for more hands and feet, the real high leverage opportunity is to hire people who have their own skills, talents, and intelligence to bring to the table. Find people with approaches and styles complementary to your own. Develop your ability to explore their perspectives on what and how to do things. Be slow to understand rather than cutting them off or assuming you already know what they will say. Learn to create a shared vision or Yonder Star with them and them give them the power to execute based on their competence and understanding. If, as a leader, you can’t tolerate, let alone lead, people who think for themselves, bring added dimensions to the party, or approach things differently than you, you will drastically limit your organization’s growth and pay a lot of money for very minimal results.

“Wet Blankets and Naysayers.” – As your team grows, there will inevitably be people who ask questions, ask for clarification, ask for more information and potentially challenge ideas. Do you interpret these folks as “wet blankets,” “naysayers,” or “whiners.” Do you resent having your vision and creativity questioned? Perhaps that is not what is actually happening. Consider the following:

  1. People have different styles of learning, understanding and processing information. Rather than questioning you as a person, they may well be going through their process of understanding your thinking.
  2. The larger the team, the further you are as a leader from doing the actual work. During the “ideation phase” your team is likely to bring up important potential issues and consequences that are best thought through well in advance of jumping into execution. Since they are closer to the action than you, these conversations can present valuable intelligence and probably avoid serious mistakes later.
  3. Some people are just excellent at identifying obstacles. Rather than brushing them off or assuming they are being “negative,” pay attention. A good “obstacle finder” is actually a great addition to the team. They can save you valuable time by helping you identify and address issues in advance.
  4. Most of all, remember that what surfaces as a complaint or negativity is generally an access to what the individual is truly committed to and how they feel thwarted in that commitment. Flip the complaint over to a positive statement and you may be surprised by what you learn.

questions or decision making concept“What Are You Really Good At?” – No matter how gifted, talented, and intelligent you are, you still have a “zone of excellence,” (as author Gay Hendricks would say), and zones of competence and incompetence. Your highest and best use is your zone of excellence.

Richard Strozzi-Heckler of The Strozzi Institute talks about what he calls a “rhythm of excitement.” It is a rich topic that he reviews in his book, “The Anatomy of Change.” To paraphrase and simplify, essentially there are 4 stages where people feel energized or “excited.” The stages are Awakening, Increasing, Containment, and Completion. People tend to be energized largely in one of these stages. “Awakeners” are “idea people.” “Increasers” are people that tend to grab on to ideas and make them even bigger. They fill the ideas out. “Containers” take ideas and say, “let’s move on it.” “Completers” implement and get things done. There are very important skills and strengths in each area. Awakeners and Increasers tend to be entrepreneurs and business owners. This is their “zone of excellence.” It’s important to know where you are energized, know what you are good at, and then fill out your teams with the other stages. Find people you respect and trust who have the skills you are lacking, listen to them, and organize in such a way that each team member is in position to contribute their highest and best.

It's 2011 - Dream Big

dream bigTo 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 2010," and included a free download of a worksheet to help you do it. Now it’s time to move on to envisioning and documenting your 2011 "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.

outletIf 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.

Don't Tread On Me! The Powerful Desire for Personal Freedom in Business

In our last post we examined several important conflicts between the traditional “command and control” management paradigm and the new, collaborative leadership thinking.  Demand for more creative freedom, self-expression, greater distribution of power, and a strong say in how things are done, (which is being driven by younger workers in particular), are just some of the changes that are taking place in business. Although a rebalancing of the business paradigm to include new ratios of these elements is in process, the importance of liberty, freedom, and individualism are forces that have long been fundamental to our overall culture, and have been evolving in Western Europe and later in America for centuries. The Gadsden Flag

St. Augustine asserted around 400 that “…we do by our free will whatsoever we know and feel to be done by us only because we will it.”  St. Thomas Aquinas confirmed that idea and declared, “A man can direct and govern his own actions…” around 1250.

Those Europeans who left home, family, familiar surroundings and all the trappings of security to come to the “New World” were clearly the most passionate among their peers about seeking freedom. Early American flags and symbols included the Gadsden Flag and the first Navy Jacket which both bore the inscription “Don’t Tread On Me” along with the image of a rattlesnake. 

Clearly, a core element of what it is to be an American has been a fierce sense of independence and personal freedomIn business a very high percentage of entrepreneurs found their companies to escape the perceived tyranny of having bosses and "confining" structures and processes.  This is where things get tricky. These same fiercely independent creative visionaries then often want to control those around them i their own organizations. Part of this is certainly to create and maintain the quality of the products and/or services they offer, and to insure the execution of their vision, but part of it is certainly to maintain their own freedom. Collaboration requires that the idea of complete autonomy by a leader be "given up." How do leaders think they can maximize performance of a modern organization with top-down initiatives, myriads of centrally generated goals, constant demands for conformity with corporate directives and HR policies, and regular “Performance Reviews?” As we have seen one of the most foundational elements of our culture is personal freedom. The expectation that employees will give theirs up and conform is almost ludicrous when you think about it from the larger cultural push for independence and freedom. True collaboration requires that strong-minded business owners and entrepreneurs have a deep respect for others and recognize that while they have strong opinions theirs is not the only perspective nor the only way. This can be a very difficult pill to swallow. Often entrepreneurs become successful, (or at least think they do), due to their "single-mindedness." However, this approach is not sustainable long-term in the new business paradigm that is emerging.

We are not saying we have all the answers to what appears to us to be a major “fatal flaw” in many of the leadership/management teams’ thinking that we encounter.  Being an ostrich about such a fundamental problem with traditional corporate thinking does not, however, move us forward at anywhere near a fast enough rate to compete successfully in the modern business world. It is important that leaders recognize the powerful, cultural forces at work and that their own desire for freedom also exists in the hearts and minds of their employees and co-workers.

Obviously in the space of a blog it's not possible to go deeply into all the issues around collaboration. We have proposed a number of ways to maximize freedom, initiative, creativity, and productivity in our new book, “Accelerate: High Leverage Leadership For Today’s World” available here. We encourage vigorous inquiry and discussion and would love to hear your ideas on the subject!

The Powerful Role of Consequences When We Are Overwhelmed

dominoesI recently attended a presentation of "High Performance: How To Get It. How To Keep It" by Greg Bustin at a Vistage meeting in Orange County. Greg packed a lot of material into his three-plus hour presentation geared around formal planning.  The idea I really sparked to, however, was the notion of consequences. In designing accountability systems, one of the commitments Greg has people do is agree to accept the consequences of their actions or inactions.  I’ve been reflecting since on the implications of that simple statement. The dictionary offers two distinct definitions of the word "consequences" ; 1) something that logically or naturally follows from an action or conditions.  2) significance; importance.  Of most interest to me is that the dictionary does not associate any good or bad to consequences and yet in everyday language I suspect the word has a lot of baggage, (negatives), associated with the word.  I suspect many readers will even find the idea of "punishment" associated with the word consequences.

As I considered this idea of consequences, of accepting them, and of letting go of the "good/bad" judgments, I decided to play out this concept in my real life to see how it might apply.

The inquiry came to together for me around email. I get more email than I can handle and still have a life and my health.  I have struggled with that for too long now. I see virtually all of our clients and Vistage members struggling with it. Why? I didn’t ask most of the writers to send me the email. What makes me think I absolutely must answer it? head-in-hands

I realized that in my own internal dialogue there are messages that say something like “a good person would answer all of his email every day.” “People won’t like me if I don’t answer their emails.” “I won’t be respected if I don’t answer…” “I’ll be kicked out of the club if I don’t answer…” “There is one of those emails in that e-stack that has a zinger in it.  If I don’t handle it, I’ll be screwed!” Etc., etc., etc.  It's really an "inner critic" internal dialogue that is stirred up by the fear of negative consequences. This "critic attack" is part of the instant, automatic, and unexamined beliefs I have tied to performing and being liked or appreciated that are running the show.

I have not approached the outcomes of unanswered emails as simply outcomes - meaning consequences without baggage.  I have been reacting to a negative significance or importance that I am essentially "making up" about not answering email or being very slow to answer.   As a result of this exercise, I have decided I will give email my best shot within a larger set of priorities - attending to my work, my relationships, and my health and well-being.  For all those emails that are answered very late or never, I am completely willing to accept the consequences.  I will apologize or clean it up as necessary but I won’t sweat it.  Having made the "unconscious conscious," (a Pat Murray notion –renowned Vistage speaker from the San Francisco Bay area), I can consciously choose to limit my time and energy devoted to email and simply be willing to have the consequences, free of any meaning I have been putting on it all.

I have found this to be a very "freeing" exercise and it occurs to me there are probably alot of times we are "overwhelmed," and what is really going on underneath is some type of fear related to negative consequences.

So how about you?  Can you see any similar issues in your life that are driving a sense of overwhelm?