Can you tolerate things getting worse before they get better?

Consider this rare and true example: A sales team of a technology company was struggling to achieve its objectives. Team members worked long hours, including weekends and holidays to meet their numbers, everyone felt overworked and stressed and needless to say “work-life balance” was a big issue. 

The General Manager of that organization, who was a bold, demanding and strategic leader, came out with an edict to transform his team’s predicament: “No one was allowed to work past 8pm on weekdays or at any time on the weekend.” He made it clear that everyone was still expected to deliver their numbers, and that offenders of his new instructions would suffer the consequence. At first, people were shocked. Many were skeptical. However, after firing the first person who violated his new policy people started to take notice.

In the first month, the team missed its numbers by 20%. Everyone expected the General Manager to cancel his “unrealistic” policy, but he didn’t. In the second month, the results were still around 10% below and only in month three did the team hit its numbers for the first time in a long time. What happened following the third month was quite extraordinary. Not only did the team start to consistently meet its number, but it actually often exceeded its numbers. In addition, something changed in the overall atmosphere within the team. The overall energy, commitment, and dialogue of the team shifted to be much more productive and powerful, and more oriented around how to do more with less.

Unfortunately, this example is indeed rare. Most leaders can’t tolerate even the slightest temporary dip in performance. They panic at the first sign of a dip, and they often react in negative ways that set the team back and send a message that they don’t have the courage and faith to stay the course.

This is especially true in publicly traded companies and the common justification for not taking risk is that it would negatively affect the stock performance.

Case in point, the senior leadership team of a technology company that had acquired a couple of companies and whilst in the process of fully integrating and leveraging its new assets it was struggling to achieve its sales results. After the first missed quarter people blamed it on the integration, so they didn’t make significant adjustments to the strategy. However, when their shortfall repeated itself next two quarters people started to get frustrated and discouraged. Some of the senior leaders urged the CEO to adjust the strategy and make bolder changes in order to plant the seeds for breaking out of the negative vicious circle. However, the CEO didn’t feel comfortable rocking the boat, so things continued to chug along. Eventually, the CEO did listen and make some changes, but he lost a lot of time and the goodwill of his people, stakeholders, and investors.

If you are a status quo leader driving a status quo agenda, you don’t have to worry about doing bold things. However, if you want to take on a bold objective or initiative there is a high likelihood that things will get worse before they get better. It’s not a slogan. If you can’t tolerate the rollercoaster ride, don’t get on the train.

But, without this courage, you will keep retreating backward instead of pushing forward to overcome your courage and resilience barrier.

The good news, however, is that if you do stay the course and reach the other side, things will get even better than they were before you started.


Are you just expecting results and progress or relentlessly driving them?

If you want to achieve a bold outcome or drive a new reality and change in 2019, don’t expect your desired outcomes to just happen, cause them to happen!

This statement may sound over simplistic, obvious and common sense to you. However, I cannot tell you how many times when I work with organizations even at the senior levels, where I see people frustrated because they did everything, they believe is needed in order to get the result and it still didn’t happen. Alternatively, they put in place the process, metrics, milestone and/or alerts to achieve the result and they have been tracking them on a frequent basis or they instructed their team members to achieve the result, and then they relied on the same result happening as in the past.

I am sure you have heard people say things like “We should be further along”, “The initiatives are not achieving big enough results”, “We are moving too slow”, and “We don’t see a change in behavior yet”.

If you mapped out the trend of any significant achievement or initiative, more often than not it would look like a horizontal hockey stick. If you have been around, you know that things often do not go the way we planned them.

Sometimes what we wanted, but didn’t expect, happens. At other times, what we were sure would happen didn’t.

With any meaningful achievement first, you need to invest a lot of effort and energy at first without seeing a lot of return and progress. By the way, I said, “without seeing a lot of return and progress…” I didn’t say “without any return and progress actually happening…” A lot is happening, we just can’t see it until things begin to take off.

Expecting progress, change and results is the wrong approach. You have to drive and cause them!

Just like you wouldn’t dig out a flower seed every week after you planted it to see if it is making progress, you can’t second-guess yourself, your direction or your team.

In fact, if you want to succeed in any significant undertaking you have to manage your expectations and have the mindset that your job is not to “see if it will work” but rather to “ensure and prove that it will work”.

It seems that leaders who don’t stay the course when they want to achieve a bold result, always tend to justify their failure with excuses and blame. I often hear them explain their failure with excuses like: “There was too much going on“, “The change initiative interfered with our core business or results“, and “People stopped being on-board“. The quitters worry more about their own personal brand and image and how they will be perceived. They tend to want to cover their behind.

In contrast, leaders who stay the course tend to always look inward at the source of what is working and not working – especially what isn’t working. They don’t care about blame or fault. They only care about how to make sure the promise of the new future will stay alive and be realized.

When things go well, they become nervous and shake people up in order to avoid complacency or arrogance. When things don’t go well, they rally their teams and engage in questions such as – “What are we doing or not doing that is causing this?” and “What could we do differently?”

So, in order to achieve great things in 2019, give up blaming others and circumstances for what isn’t working, and instead take 100% ownership and responsibility to get it done, even if it is challenging.

Is your team showing up aligned in public?

A senior executive of a large global service organization, whom I was working with, was sharing with me the challenges he and his peers were having in being able to address key challenges and opportunities as a senior executive team, through open, honest, authentic and courageous debate. The collective trust wasn’t there and as a result, the senior leaders either avoided dealing with key challenges or when they had the opportunity, they weren’t honest enough to reach resolution and alignment.

Needless to say, the senior executives often left the Executive Leadership Team meetings feeling dissatisfied with their outcomes and frustrated about the lack of debates and alignment.

It was hard for the senior executives to contain their personal frustrations and convey a unified front that things were good. In fact, the executives often engaged in back-channel conversations with other executives, and even with their direct staff. When I spoke to some of the leaders who report to the senior executives, they even acknowledged that their bosses often made sarcastic comments and sniping remarks about their colleagues and other businesses and functions when they spoke about company strategy and dynamics.

The senior executive described the dynamic as:

We don’t debate things enough privately in order to be aligned publicly

I thought that was a very insightful way to think about this.

One of the big frustrations and challenges I encounter in so many organizations is the lack of alignment of the senior leadership team. It’s always associated with a lack of real, robust debates and conversations. Needless to say, that when the top team is not aligned the disconnects, divisions and silos permeate throughout the entire organization. In siloed organizations communication and sharing doesn’t flow between divisions and levels. Everyone looks out for their own agenda and success, people protect themselves and this environment is typically a breeding ground for politics, blame, finger pointing, and overall cynicism and resignation.

Communication is the source of the problem and communication is the cure. You cannot grow and take a sizable organization to the next level without the entire senior leadership on board. And, you can’t get the entire senior leadership on board without open, honest, authentic, courageous and effective communication. It is naïve and irresponsible to think otherwise.

Strong CEOs may be able to turn an organization around through command-control. In a turnaround, people tend to be open to being told what to do by someone they trust who could rescue them from a bad situation. However, that mode won’t sustain and scale over time. Even if a CEO can continue to crank out great business results, the culture of that organization would most likely be one of fear and politics. People may be pleased to make money, but it would only be a matter of time until good people will want to leave.

In order for the senior leadership team of any organization to be genuinely aligned and on the same page about the important things the leaders must be able to debate the topics and reach alignment and decisions with high ownership.

In some organizations, the role of the senior team is to advise and give input to the decisions of the CEO. Even then the senior team has to be able to debate the important topics. The senior leaders have to feel that they are heard, and they are influencing the direction and decisions of the company. If they feel that way, they will be able to show up in the wider organization as a unified front and voice that owns the decisions. If they don’t, they will become resentful and cynical, and continue to perpetuate the negative environment. It is inevitable.


Make 2019 the best year ever!

I love new beginnings. Starting a new year, chapter or phase brings with it new possibilities and hope.

Whether you want to improve your financial situation, increase your health or fitness, find true love or find your dream job, at the start of a new cycle we often feel that we have another chance to realize our goals—including those we tried but didn’t achieve before. I find this space of possibility and opportunity extremely empowering and exciting.

However, in order to truly experience a fresh start, you have to first understand and accept the fact that new possibilities and hope exist in your own heart and mind, not in the real world. In fact, your ability to realize a fresh start depends on how you think and speak. The only person who can give you a fresh start and a new beginning is you.

For example, I have a friend who has had his share of challenging circumstances. Every time I ask him how he is doing he says something to the effect of “Same day, different shit!“. Pretty much every time I talk with my friend about new possibilities and try to help him change his predicament, he is quick to push back and explain to me how things just can’t be different given his circumstances. I haven’t given up on him yet, but I am definitely less inclined to engage in these conversations any longer.

I often encounter people who say they are open-minded but when others try to enroll them in new possibilities, they are quick to push back and provide all the reasons for why these new ideas won’t work. When I point this out, they explain that their point of view is simply pragmatic and realistic. But most people around them experience them as skeptical, cynical, closed-minded or often simply negative.

Sometimes in order to create a fresh start you need to let go of old perceptions about yourself, the world, and/or people around you – especially the perceptions that have constrained your ability to improve yourself and your circumstances. Sometimes you need to forgive others or even harder – yourself – for past mistakes, shortfalls and disappointments that you are still holding on to, or holding a grudge about. And, sometimes you simply need to change your point of view, interpretation or conclusion about past events from disempowering to empowering.

And, if you are thinking to yourself: “I am open-minded, but I can’t see where I could improve” my advice to you is – ask someone who knows you well, loves you and who will tell you the truth to give you feedback. Listen to them and receive their input with openness.

In order to create 2019 as a great year, start by explicitly and boldly declaring what you want to, and what you will achieve in the new year. The notion of striving and working toward a future state that you are looking forward to and are excited about today is a very empowering platform.

Use whatever framework works best for you to capture your objectives. Here is one option that you may find helpful. Use the following questions as steps to create your 2019:

  • What are the key areas of my life that I would like to move forward in 2019? By areas I mean life categories that would help you organize your thoughts. Potential areas could include Finances, Career, Job, Health, Family, and Love etc.
  • In each of the key areas – what are the specific objectives I will achieve? In each area, you will most likely have a few objectives. For examples your objectives could look like: (1) Double my income, (2) Find true love, (3) Deepen my intimacy with my family, and (4) Get healthy and fit.
  • In each objective – what are the specific projects I will take on to fulfill my objective? For some objectives, there could be one project. For others, the objective will become the project. However, for the more complex objectives, you may need a few parallel projects. For example: If you have a commitment to get healthy and fit, you may have a few projects: (1) Register to the gym and go 3 times each week, (2) see a nutritionist and start eating based on a health plan, and (3) Get rid of all my old clothes and buy new ones. Make sure the projects have clear end results, milestones, and execution plan.

After you have mapped these three levels of areas, objectives and projects summarize all your actions for the next 90, 60 and 30 days and make sure you review them every week or two.

New Year’s Resolutions have a bad reputation mainly because we say them out loud, but we don’t follow up and follow through on them. If you want 2019 to be different, share your objectives and projects with one or more of your closest friends, family members, and/or professional associates and ask them to hold you to account for your 90, 60 and 30-day action plan. Schedule follow-up conversations with them to review progress and adhere to these, even if you are behind.

You have a choice whether to make 2019 the best year ever or merely another year filled with compromised desires and cynical explanations.

I wish for all of us that 2019 will be our best year ever!