Are you asking for what you really want?

You would think that asking for what you want would be the easiest thing in the world to do. But it isn’t!

In my coaching work I often ask people, “So, what do you want?” or “What do you want the outcome to be?” or “What do you want to accomplish?” Many people, when confronted with this direct question, find it hard to spit out a clear answer.

Some say, “I know what I want” but as they attempt to describe it they get caught up in a long-winded conceptual description that is very confusing and vague even to them.

A few simple follow-up questions such as, “What do you mean by that?” or “How would you know that you achieved that?” are often enough to make people realize they really don’t know what they want.

When people work on articulating their personal or collective objectives they often say things like, “I should do this” or “I have to do that.” But, saying “I should” is not the same as “I want.” In fact, it is much easier and less powerful to say “I should”.

“I want” is a declaration. “I should” is a description. When you say: “I want,” you are expressing a commitment, staking yourself to an outcome. You are expressing your commitment out loud and by doing that puts it at stake. You are making it personal.

What are the biggest barriers to expressing what we want?

  1. Some people suffer from guilt when it comes to declaring what they want. They feel it is arrogant or greedy to want too much or to want certain things. As a result, they refrain from explicitly expressing their dreams and desires.
  2. Some are so afraid to get a “No!” to their request that they avoid asking altogether. They just convince themselves that “It’s not that important.”
  3. Some people were brought up to believe that it is impolite to directly ask for what you want. If their meal in a restaurant is not served the way they like it or their hotel room is not what they wanted, they simply suffer quietly and won’t say anything about it.
  4. Some people have deeper demons. They feel they are not good enough or not worthy of having what they really want. So, they stop dreaming altogether.
  5. Some people feel that what they really aspire for and desire is simply too big, unrealistic and out of their reach. Their mindset is “What’s the point of going after things that are not realistic”, “Why set myself up for failure, disappointment, and heartbreak?” So, they make sure to set their desires and expectations low enough in order to not risk failure.

Are any of these familiar to you?

There is also a spiritual aspect to this. The Law of Attraction, says that people who explicitly express and ask for what they want have a higher chance of attracting and achieving it.

In one of my past blogs “Three empowering quotes about Courage” I wrote about the power of taking a stand. That is a very powerful way to ask for what you want.

It takes courage to dream and believe that you can achieve it. It takes courage to declare what we want, ask for it and pursue it. Yes, you may fail or fall short and that could be disappointing.

However, would you rather go for it and fall short, or fail from not trying in the first place?! Unfortunately, I see too many people suffer from the latter.

Early in my career, I had a powerful mentor who kept telling me:

If you take on big dreams and then do the right things for long enough you will always get your desired outcome!

I took what he taught me to heart and saw just how true and powerful it is.

You can do the same.

Do you have enough honesty around you?

When I coach organizations I typically start by learning about the company; about its business, culture and team dynamic. I speak with people and get their insight and feelings about what’s working and what isn’t working.

Very frequently there is a dissonance between how senior managers view things and how their junior managers and employees do. While senior managers often paint a more rosy picture and claim that things are really going well, their people often highlight all the issues and describe things as not going that well.

In addition, employees often express frustrations about their managers. They often say things like:

We can’t be honest with our managers about the burning issues because they only want to hear good news. As a result, they don’t understand the full extent of the problem and we can’t address and change things…

If you want to fix or change things or take any aspect of your business to a higher level you have to promote honesty. You have to make sure employees and managers at all levels feel comfortable and safe to bring up the issues and problems, no matter how ugly or uncomfortable they may be.

Leaders who can stand in front of their superiors, peers, and people and acknowledge: “This isn’t working!” without discounting or sugar coating the issues have a much greater chance to turn things around and generate breakthroughs.

Unfortunately, so many leaders seem insecure in this area. They seem to be so concerned about how exposing issues would reflect on them, that their feelings hinder their ability to actually address the issues heads on.

When addressing issues so many leaders come across as diplomatic and politically correct. They say things like:

Things are going well, but we have an opportunity to improve…”

Their vague and watered down pronouncement prevents them from fully owning and addressing their issues. In addition, their lack of blunt honesty only hurts their credibility with their people, who usually know exactly how severe the issues are.

History is filled with examples of what I am writing about. Just reflect on any corporate scandal or breakdown that has been in the news in the last few years and you’ll see a similar pattern – customers experience a big issue – be it environmental, safety or quality issues.

Once the issues are exposed in the media, the PR department goes full throttle into damage control, the CEO makes a public apology and the clean-up begins, perhaps a stop in manufacturing and/or a recall of products.

However, the question that never gets addressed publically is – what was the root cause of the problem in the first place?

From many years of working with organizations, I can tell you with confidence that employees and supervisors on the shop floor pretty much know about quality and safety problems long before top managers become aware of them.

In a company where leaders are unafraid to hear the truth, employees tend to follow this example, becoming vocal and courageous themselves. Everyone at all levels makes it their daily business to make sure that things are working the way the need to. In those organizations, important information, no matter how sensitive or controversial, percolates up to the right places very fast.

However, in organizations where leaders are reluctant to hear the truth, people tend to hide and cover their behind. Finger pointing blossoms, people do as they are told but they are unwilling to be the bearers of bad news. When you don’t have honesty people remain oblivious and blind to the issues and as a result, they don’t own, confront and address them effectively.

Sometimes you need the courage to face reality. But, looking in the mirror and owning the situation, especially if it is uncomfortable or challenging, is a game changer. It moves you from being smaller than your problems to being bigger than them. When this shift happens, you always feel more empowered, eager and excited to take action and turn things around.

Honesty is the mandatory first step for taking the game to the next level in any area. And, as the saying goes,

The truth shall set you free.”

Even if first it will “piss you off!

Are your people your most valuable assets?

There are many philosophies and approaches associated with enhancing corporate culture. At a high level I would put them into two categories:

One school of thought represents the view that in order to create a strong culture and get everyone to row in the same direction you need to create clear metrics and KPIs (key performance indicators) in all key areas and then manage and control these with rigor, discipline, efficiency and a firm hand. As a result, people will fall in line.

Another school of thought says that in order to build a culture in which ‘the whole is stronger than the sum of its parts’ you have to ensure that everyone’s heart and mind is in the game. This means that people are motivated, they own the strategy and objectives, they feel empowered to take initiative and do what is needed to get the job done.

People often refer to the first approach as the “hard” approach and the second as the “soft” approach. Leaders tend to fit into one of the two camps, even though as is often in life, the best approach is probably a hybrid of the two.

But, no matter which approach you take, it is paramount to remember – your people are the most important part of your culture and success.

Many of the organizations I work with are highly technologically based. Many of them use the newest web-based, social media-type and digital tools to measure, track and assess the shape of their culture. Unfortunately, at times I see teams get so enamored with the tools that they lose track of what’s most important.

No matter how tech-savvy your organization is; no matter how many cool technology-based tools you come up with and use – your ability to create a strong culture and achieve your business objectives will always depend on your people. There are no shortcuts in this.

I don’t care how large your organization is, how dispersed or diverse it is. You cannot create a strong culture primarily based on technological tools, no matter how sophisticated and advanced they may be.

I am not against technology or technology-based tools, in fact quite the opposite! However, somewhere and somehow down the line leaders and managers have to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty with generating real human interaction, communication, trust, education, enrollment, and inspiration. This has to start at the top. There is no way around it.

I work with many global virtual teams who are dispersed all over the world, and who can’t meet in person very frequently. They have to heavily rely on technology in order to communicate, collaborate, succeed and maintain a strong identity and culture. I have witnessed impressive successes and dismal failures. The difference is that those who succeeded understood the limitations of technology when it comes to culture, hence they never neglected to always put their people first.

I find it disheartening that in some companies the most senior HR leaders either don’t seem to get this or they don’t seem to accept it. They seem to believe that they can manage their organizational culture through a digital dashboard showing high scores through online surveys and personality profile assessments. Well, that may be an effective way to present a good story to a disconnected CEO or senior team in an ivory tower. However, where the rubber meets the road, it is not how culture works or what makes people tick.

I have heard HR leaders explain this in terms of “You can’t scale through personal touch and interactions”.  But, I completely disagree. My experience is that at the end, personal touch and interaction are the only way to succeed in building a strong identity and culture.

Yes, if you have tens of thousands of people working in your company you have to create methods to distil the messages and equip your leaders and managers to manage, touch and inspire people. So, if you want to use technology, make sure it serves and enhances the human aspect, not ignores or replaces it.

Never forget: any technology or tool is only as effective as the culture within which it is being implemented. For example, if the culture is political the tools will simply enhance that, as people will do everything to present a positive front, even if that is not the case. However, if the culture is open and honest the tools will enhance this, as people will use it to express how they really feel.

There is never a substitute for good old fashion communication, building trust and motivating people. It’s what makes the world go round.

Pay attention to what comes out of your mouth

How we think and speak about ourselves and others determines the space and mood we live in.

Speaking, thinking and even feeling are really very similar in nature. They all involve having internal conversations. Many times when someone asks us “How are you feeling?” it takes us a moment to answer, and only when we say out loud “I am angry!” or “I am sad!” we realize how we actually feel. It all happens in conversation.

In the world of conversation, there are two types: empowering conversations and undermining conversations.

Engaging in empowering conversations make us bigger, stronger and more energized. Engaging in undermining conversations, obviously, make us smaller, more circumstantial, cynical and resigned.

Sometimes the distinction between the empowering and undermining is bluntly obvious. For example, if someone thinks or says: “I am not good enough” or “I will never succeed in my career or marriage”, that is obviously a disempowering belief. But, if someone thinks or says: “Achieving my project is going to be really hard” or “It’s going to take me a really long time to realize my dream”, it may not be as apparent that this too is an undermining paradigm. We tend to relate to these type of comments as straightforward descriptions of the way things will be.

One of the reasons we keep engaging in undermining thoughts and conversations is that we don’t do a good job telling the difference between facts and interpretations. We often draw disempowering conclusions about past events, or think and say undermining things about present situations and/or future possibilities as if we are innocently reporting on facts, while in reality, everything we are thinking and saying is purely our interpretation.

We do it with others: “He doesn’t like me”, “She is incompetent”, “He only cares about himself” etc. And worst, we do it with ourselves: “I can’t do this”, “It will never work”, “I don’t function well with these type of people and/or situations” etc. These seemingly ‘innocent’ comments often become self-fulfilling prophecies that come back to bite us.

I was supporting a business-owner friend who wanted to double his income by end of the year. He ended up achieving 70% of his goal, which in my mind was quite an accomplishment. I tried to get him to see that even though he fell short of his goal his achievement was still very admirable. It wasn’t easy. He was disappointed and beating himself up. He kept saying things like: “What was I thinking?”, “I shouldn’t have taken on such a big goal”, “It is never easy” and “Some people make it happen and others don’t.”

From time to time we all fall into a vicious circle of negative conversations in which we draw unfavorable conclusions and assign negative meaning to events. Like my friend, if we take on bold objectives and then we fall short we forget that we were the ones who created these goals in the first place.

Furthermore, the way we express ourselves also often lacks rigor, accuracy, and self-awareness. When I ask people to share about a project that isn’t on track, they often jump to: “I am failing” and “It’s not working” rather than “I failed to achieve the outcome I promised last month” or “I tried to fix the problem with X solution and it didn’t solve the problem.”

The first implies “I am a failure, therefore most likely I won’t ever succeed and I shouldn’t even try”. The latter implies “I failed in last month’s goal, which means nothing about my ability to achieve the same goal in the future”. In fact, the second allows us to learn from our shortfall and identify what could be changed, corrected and/or improved in order to succeed the next time.

Lastly, any type of conversation in any area of our life with an explicit or implicit reference to “I am not good enough”, “Something is wrong with me”, or “I should be different”, is untrue and more important disempowering, harmful and destructive.

So, how do you get free from these undermining cycles?

  1. Develop your self-awareness around conversations. Pay attention to what you are saying to yourself and what comes out of your mouth.
  2. Especially, become aware of the self-deprecating mechanism outlined here, by catching and stopping yourself in real-time when you are about to buy into undermining conversations.
  3. Start telling the difference between facts and interpretations.
  4. When you feel, think or say things, ask yourself “Is this empowering or disempowering me?”. You will be able to tell by how you feel about the conversation. If what you are thinking or saying makes you feel great, it’s probably empowering. If it makes you feel crap it is probably undermining.
  5. Make sure you are clear that your interpretations, no matter how valid they may be, are true facts or not. This distinction will help you with the previous points.
  6. When you catch yourself thinking an undermining thought, have the courage to say to yourself “thank you for sharing” and don’t believe or buy into that conversation. Instead, create an equally valid thought that does empower you.
  7. Lastly, surround yourself with people who are committed to the same things, who will support you and keep you honest in your commitment to only engage in empowering thoughts and conversations.

The more you practice, the better you will become.

Enjoy the journey.