Stop stating the obvious and start taking a stand!

I was attending a leadership team meeting where the topic of the discussion was bringing clarity to the roles and responsibilities of three of the key functions in the company who work closely together.

The lack of clarity in these roles and responsibilities was causing internal and external angst; team members were competing for deals, projects and who is the lead in each scenario, and customers were feeling confused about who they should go to with their opportunities and challenges.

Needless to say, this reality was hurting the company as a whole in terms of efficiency, ability to scale, morale, business results, and reputation.

Instead of dictating and mandating the answer the CEO wanted the senior leaders to reach an agreement through consensus.

The dynamic of the debate was contrived and awkward because even the leaders who had a stake in the outcome and therefore had a clear bias toward how they wanted the roles to be divided and defined, were holding back and conveying their thoughts in a diplomatic way.

People kept highlighting the challenges and dilemmas instead of clearly stating their thoughts about their desirable solution. There was a lot of: “Well, the problem is that each of us has strong exposure and contact with our key customers…” or “The problem is that we all do this today, and we all are good at this…” or “We need to figure out a way to define clear boundary lines without demotivating our people, promoting cross-selling to our customers, for the good of the whole….”  etc. etc.

The conversations dragged on for hours. It was ineffective and, to be frank, it was exhausting and brutally painful.

Unfortunately, I see this dynamic in key business conversations and meetings all the time – people state the obvious instead of taking a stand about the way forward.

One reason for this is that people think there is a right answer to any given dilemma or issue. This is simply not true, especially in this day and age. Things change so quickly. There are so many examples of the obvious becoming questionable, the fashionable becoming obsolete and the unexpected becoming the norm.

There are no right or wrong answers, only possibilities, and choices. The role of leadership is to make these choices and then be responsible for carrying them out. That is what taking a stand is about. Pure creation.

The other reason is that people lack the courage to take a stand. They fear that if they clearly state their stand about such critical and sensitive topics such as strategy or organizational structure their idea may not get selected or if their idea does get selected it then fails. In addition, they fear they’ll be viewed as ‘forceful’, ‘self-serving’ or ‘political’. They are concerned about what others would think of them and how their clear stand could hurt them in the future. The phrase ‘career limiting move’ comes to mind…

But, if you want things to move faster, your meetings to be briefer and more productive and your experience of day-to-day business interaction to be much more satisfying, then be more courageous, clear and assertive about the future you want and stand for.

Just don’t be arrogant or get too attached to your answer, especially if you are part of a team. Someone else’s suggested way may be a better fit for what the team needs. Be open to that.

Instead, promote a dialogue where people spend less time on pointing out the problems (which got you into this dialogue in the first place) and spend more time on taking a stand regarding solutions and directions that enable you to create and fulfill your future.

Start talking plain English

This may sound over simplistic, but one of the reasons teams find it so hard to get everyone on the same page when it comes to important strategies and plans is because people simply don’t talk in plain English.

I don’t mean that people don’t speak the English language. I mean that people in corporations tend to talk in a conceptual, vague, unclear and convoluted corporate language, which is predicated on professional slogans, jargon, acronyms and other shortcut phrases and noun-type words.

For example, people say things like: We want to be Best in Class‘, but it is hard to tell if that means ‘Best among their peers in the industry’, ‘Best among other teams in their company’ or ‘Much better than they are today’?

Or, people say: “We need to enable our teams”, but do they mean train everyone, improve specific systems and/or tools, create new systems and/or tools or all of the above?

While everyone assumes that everyone else understands what is said and meant – more often than not that is completely not the case. Then people wonder why not everyone is owning the strategy and rowing in the same direction.

You wouldn’t fly with a pilot that commanded his flight with the low-level clarity and rigor that most corporate teams manage their business with. Nor would you put your body under the knife of a surgeon if you believed that he or she wasn’t 100% accurate and precise about their strategy and proposed execution of the operation. We don’t tolerate approximate measures when life is at stake. But for some reason, we do tolerate vagueness and lack of clear and rigorous conversations in business.

Corporate language is a language of implicit, not explicit clarity. You would think that with so much at stake within the business world people would want to leave nothing to chance. However, experience shows that leaders are content with leaving declarations, commitments, promises and expectations at a general and vague level.

So often when supporting teams in creating their strategic plan I listen to the dialogue and even though I am not an expert in their field I can immediately tell that their inability to converse in plain language is hindering their ability to think, create and articulate thoughts and ideas effectively.

Simply by asking: “So, what do you mean by that?” everyone quickly realizes that different people have different assumptions and interpretations about what is being said and meant.

My questions are often met with a blank stare or a long-winded response that only further illuminates the lack of clarity or I get a barrage of different, sometimes even opposing responses from different team members.

People seem to be so entrenched in the language-style used in PowerPoint presentations that they seem unable to move away from that style and converse in the same manner when interacting face-to-face.

This behavior is ingrained in corporate culture. However, it stems from our basic survival and comfort level instincts. We like to leave things high level and vague in order to ease the pressure of total commitment. After all, if you define things too clearly it becomes crystal clear what you’re saying, what you stand for, what you are committing to, and what you are accountable for. But, if you leave things more general it gives you wiggle room, especially when facing adversity. At the core, it’s not a language issue. It is a commitment issue.

The typical corporate language is sufficient for perpetuating the ordinary and status quo. However, if you have bolder ambitions in mind of being extraordinary and the ‘best of the best’, you better challenge the norm and start promoting and demanding a new level of simple, straightforward and rigorous exchange.

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.

Is the talk in your team creating high performance?

Have you ever heard someone say: “Talk is cheap”?

Well, nothing is further from the truth!

Talk is one of the most powerful capabilities we have to create and make things happen!

For example, when a Rabbi or Priest says: “I now pronounce you man and wife,” that creates a real new reality. When a judge says: “You have been found guilty!” or “You are innocent!” that pronouncement also changes someone’s life.

For example, when a Rabbi or Priest says: “I now pronounce you man and wife,” that creates a real new reality. When a judge says: “You have been found guilty!” or “You are innocent!” that pronouncement also changes someone’s life.

But, there are so many simple day-to-day examples that show the power of words. When you say something negative like: “This sucks…” or “I’ll never succeed at this…” or “I can’t do this because of them…” this determines your outlook, behaviors and mood too. It makes you smaller than your circumstances.

However, when you say something positive and empowering like: “You can count on me to get this done…” or “Let’s figure out how to overcome this obstacle…” or “Thank you for doing your best to help me…” it creates a much more powerful disposition and makes you bigger than your obstacles.

The great thing about talk is that we all do it all the time, and we have total control over how we express ourselves. We can talk in a constructive way or destructive way.

So, how do you use this powerful capability most effectively to elevate yourself and your team?

At a personal level, you start by paying greater attention to what comes out of your mouth. Most people don’t have strong awareness in this area. They often express negative and undermining opinions and views about areas that are important to them as if these are undisputed facts. The consequence is: loss of possibilities and ability to shape or change their situation and future.

When you consider the effect of conversations in a team setting, the impact and opportunities are so much greater. In fact, you can use team conversations as the lever to elevate your team to higher performance.

How do you do that?

A CEO I am working with asked me once the question:

Do I need to have all my Leadership Team members 100% aligned and owning the future in order for this team to be a high performance team?

My answer was clear “If you want High Performance, then Yes!”

Committed and aligned people think and talk differently about their circumstances, challenges and opportunities than uncommitted people. The former quickly take ownership, get energized, step up and rally others to collaborate around the issues. The latter complain, get discouraged and blame others or circumstances for their problems.

Committed people don’t cover their behinds when things don’t work, they don’t let their ego’s get in their way, and they do not indulge in blame, fault or victim-type conversations. No matter how challenging things are, they only tolerate conversations that make a difference and focus on moving their vision forward.

When an entire team is negative you can be sure to have a very toxic, suffocating and unproductive environment.

If half of the team talks in a negative, undermining or ineffective way and the other half in a positive, empowering and effective way the overall effect may be neutral. However, there would be nothing extraordinary or high performing about that team. Status quo leads people to play it safe. People say the right things but avoid rocking the boat and behave in ways that are comfortable but lack power and impact.

In contrast, when everyone talks in the same positive, empowering and effective way you will experience a different level of collective power.

If you keep that focus going over time, you will reach a tipping point of high performance.

So, if you want to create a high performance dynamic in your team make sure everyone talks in the same powerful way. Powerful requires rigor and discipline. Make sure commitments, timelines and expectations are clear. And, make sure people hold each other to account for their commitments.

And, don’t be fooled by appearances. People often say the right politically correct things in public and then they pay lip service to their pronouncements in their actions.

Pay attention to what people actually do and how they speak behind the scenes. The informal chatter is often more reflective of how people really feel. It is also more instrumental in shaping your team culture, for good or bad.

Hold people to account for speaking and acting consistently with their vision and commitment. In fact, encourage everyone to do the same. This way you will be creating a culture of honest, courageous, deliberate and direct communication.

Taking stock of how your team members express themselves is half the battle. Once you have awareness of how people talk about the important things, you can start coaching and influencing them to talk more effectively.

For example: by changing the talk in the team from “why we can’t…” to “how can we…” you will start changing the attitude and culture of your team.

If you take an honest look at your own team environment – what do you see? How do people around you talk about the things that are important to them?

Challenge yourself to set down your smartphone

I just returned from a lovely summer vacation at a nice beachside resort. Being the proud workaholic that I am, (I love what I do!) I use these vacations to unplug from work. I, personally, need this disconnection physically and spiritually. Additionally, unplugging greatly contributes to my business success. These times off provide invaluable opportunities to think, reflect, take stock of progress, and to create and plan for the future.

As my wife and I were sitting on the beach and by the poolside, the number of people constantly glued to their smart devices struck me; people of all ages, from all walks of life – fathers, mothers, their kids. In fact, with many guests, it seemed as if they were on Facebook, email or Instagram nonstop.

It was the same way at the restaurants during breakfast, lunch and dinner – people sitting around a table, each in their own world, glued to their personal smart device, consumed by what was on their screen rather than who was in their company.

So, when do these people actually enjoy their vacation?

I am not naïve, and I don’t mean to be narrow-minded or judgmental. I understand the modern smart digital age we live in. I take part in it every day. I use my smartphone too, when not on vacation. In addition, I have three kids who are, or were, teenagers. So, I fully get it.

However, I try very hard to manage and control my smart-device usage and not allow it to manage and control my life. It seems that so may people have reached an unhealthy point, and my vacation people-watching experience definitely confirmed that.

Some people may push back and say, “Being on my smart device doesn’t take away from my vacation, it enhances it,” or “It doesn’t distract me. It helps me relax.”

I don’t buy it!

When people are consumed by their smart devices, they are not meaningfully present in the moment with the people and activities around them. It’s as simple as that – when they are on their smartphones 60-90% of the time, they are fully present with their immediate environment only 40-10% of the time.

Don’t take this the wrong way, I try and take the fullest advantage of these innovations and I value the transformation technology, smart devices and the digital and social media environment is bringing to many areas of my life.

At the same time, I also see the negative affects of technology – people being so occupied by their devises that it compromises their ability to relate, communicate and drive intimacy.

Where are you on this spectrum?

Photo by: Johan Larsson

How to start a great blog

I have had my blog now for around four years. As I have expressed before, I love writing and I love my blog.

Taking on the practice and discipline of writing on a frequent and regular basis has inspired and forced me, in the best way, to look inward in order to bring forth, articulate and share new leadership ideas and insights that would be relevant and useful to others. My blog has become my catalyst for new thinking and a key platform for expressing my Self, adding value and making the difference I want to make. It has also deepened my self-confidence and sense of who I am and my purpose.

Over the last few years, as social media has become more prevalent, I have had an increasing number of people ask me for my advice and tips on how to start a blog.

To be clear, I am not an expert in blog writing or social media. In fact, I am using a great professional social media group that is guiding and coaching me on how to take my content to the next level and engage with my audience.

However, because I am passionate about writing and blogging, and because I feel I have learned some great lessons over the last few years in blog writing, I want to share this with you and dedicate this post to the topic of: how to start and maintain a great blog.

Here are a few simple tips:

1- Make sure your blog has a clear purpose, direction and scope. The more focused your blog is, the more effective it will be – for you as the writer and for your readers. The purpose of your blog should be narrow enough so that you and your readers understand what is in-scope and what isn’t. However, at the same time it should also be wide enough to allow for different shades and subtopics inside your main purpose and scope.

To get clear on your purpose, direction and scope of your blog you can ask yourself the following types of questions: What will my blog be about? What will I write about? In what area do I have something unique to say? In what area do I want to make a difference and have something to say? What can I contribute that others (readers) would resonate with and be interested in?

2- Make sure your blog has a clear name that reflects what it is about. After you get clear on the purpose, direction and scope of your blog you should give it a great name. When naming a blog, make sure that the name effectively reflects your vision for your blog. When people read or hear the name of your blog they should be able to instantly “get it.”

There are no rules, however, my guidance is that names like “Living Life,” “Social Media” or “Wealth” are too wide and include too much. However, names like: “Healthy living,” “Living Courageously,” “Growing your Business with Social Media” “Making a Difference with Social Media,” “Constantly Growing your Wealth” or “Becoming Financially Free” are more effective names. Names that are more verb-oriented are generally more clear, focused and effective than names that are more noun-oriented.

3- Make sure you write on a regular basis. It is more important that you decide the frequency you feel comfortable writing in, and stick to that, than the actual frequency of your writing and posting.

Some people believe that if they start a blog they have to write and post something new every week or even more frequently than that. Obviously, the more frequently you write and post new things, the more dense your output and potential attraction of readers is. However, I don’t believe writing every week or more is a pre-requisite or necessary when you start a blog. I recommend to people to start with writing and posting new things at least once a month.

However, it is more important that whatever you decide, you announce and declare it to your readers and then you stick to it. This way, people start expecting and looking forward to your blogs. You can always increase the frequency of your writing and posting as you get the hang of it. I started with once a month, then I moved to every other week. Now, I write every week. This frequency suits my routine and commitment.

For those of you who feel that you have something to share and give that others around you would resonate with, and find useful, I strongly recommend to take on writing a blog. I hope these few simple tips will be useful to you in your endeavor. Good luck!

Why is straight talk so difficult?

I was coaching two entrepreneurs who were partners in a services business. They were very good at what they did and their partnership made them a lot of money and afforded them great market brand and reputation.

However, they had very different personalities and they had an acrimonious relationship for a long time.

Even though their teams had to work closely together, somehow the two managed to navigate the business conversations and activities while staying clear of the need to directly deal with each other on a personal level.

They continued to avoid dealing with their personal conflicts, lack of trust and overall contentious relationship, even though it negatively affected the people under them, as well as the overall effectiveness of their company.

When I talked with each of them alone, they always had lots of blunt criticism and negative comments about each other. But, when the three of us had sessions together, their accusations always seemed watered down. They were not communicating in a straightforward, bold and honest way.

Every time one of them criticized the other I would first ask them, “Have you told your partner how you feel and what you want/need?” and if the answer was “No!”, as it often was, I coached them to go do so.

On several occasions when one of them would report: “We had a blunt conversation and I told my partner exactly how I feel and what I want,” the other would contradict the story and say: “We talked but we didn’t discuss anything new.”

I see this type of dynamic happening in organizations all the time. People can engage in straight talk with me, but then they water it down when they talk to the person with whom they need to have the blunt and direct conversation.

Why does this happen?

From my experience, it is due to one of the following reasons:

  •  People are not clear about what they want to say. When people speak in circles or stumble on words, or when they don’t know which words to use or how to phrase what they mean it is simply because they don’t know what they want to say. Many times, people enter conversations feeling confident about what they want to say but then during the conversation, they realize their thoughts are still half-baked and unclear. People are also unclear when they haven’t quite taken a solid, final stand on something yet. I have seen this happen many times. The minute people become clear about what they believe and want, they always find an appropriate and effective way to say it.

 

  • People are not willing to own what they have to say. They are not willing to own the tough feedback, coaching, assessment or requests they have of others. This may seem a bit simplistic, however, if you net it out, I find that it all somehow boils down to courage. Having the courage to either dig deep and be clear about what we want to achieve and what we want to say, or actually coming out with it even if it may be uncomfortable to the person expressing or the person receiving.

So, next time you find yourself stuck in a conversation ask yourself: “Am I really clear about what I am trying to say?” or “Am I avoiding owning what I have to say?” This will help you move forward.

Make a fresh start in 2015

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

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

However, in order to truly experience a fresh start we have to understand and accept the fact that new possibilities and hope exist in our own heart and mind, not in the circumstances and world out there. In fact, our ability to realize a fresh start depends on how we think and what we say. The only person who can give us a fresh start and new beginning is our self.

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!” When 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 again and again 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.

Another example: in my corporate work, 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. They refer to their point of view as pragmatic, realistic, or merely giving an accurate account of the way things are. But, most other people around them experience them as skeptical, cynical, closed-minded or often simply negative.

Sometimes in order to create a fresh start we need to let go of old perceptions about ourselves, the world, and/or those around us—especially the perceptions that have constrained our ability to improve our self or our circumstances. Sometime we need to forgive others or ourselves for past mistakes and shortfalls that we are still holding on to, or holding a grudge about. And, sometimes we simply need to change our point of view, interpretation or conclusion about past events from disempowering to empowering.

During the Christmas, break I saw the recent Woody Allen movie Magic in the Moonlight. It was a fun movie with a relevant motif to this blog. The story is about an arrogant conjuror who goes on a mission to unmask a woman posing as a mystic, who is a possible fraud. After failing to find flaw in her method the conjuror drops his cynicism and begins to believe, with a elated sense of joy, that there is more to life than meets the cynic eye … and, of course, he falls in love with the beautiful mystic woman. When later in the story the conjuror discovers that the mystic is indeed a fraud, he finds it hard to go back to his cynical views and ways because he realizes that his short-lived bliss was based on his own attitude change from cynical to optimistic, even when founded on a false premise.

In order to create a new beginning, we should also not be shy about explicitly, clearly and boldly declaring what we want and what we will achieve in the new year. The notion of striving and working toward a future state that we are looking forward to and are excited about today makes a big difference.

I wish us all a great 2015.

Photo by: Fitz Crittle

Wishing you a happy holiday season and happy new year!

As we approach the end of another great year, I want to thank all of you for reading my blogs. For those of you who took the time to express your appreciation and suggestions I want to extend a special gratitude.

I wish all of you and your loved ones a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous year in 2015.

My next post will be on January 9th, 2015.

I am excited about continuing to write every Thursday in 2015, staying in touch with all of you and adding the most value I can.

Thank you for 2014.

Gershon

Completing another great year in a meaningful way.

I can’t believe 2014 is almost over. What an amazing year.

As we enter the holiday season and end of the year it seems appropriate and timely to write something about “completing the year.” There are some powerful and useful distinctions associated with completion that have greatly benefitted me over the years. I want to share some of these with you in this blog.

Completing a phase, period, initiative or task effectively is just as powerful and rewarding as starting or executing these effectively. However, it seems as if most people tend to focus more on the starting and executing part. We underestimate the power and value of completing things effectively, not merely finishing or ending them.

Completing a phase, period, initiative or task is very different than finishing or ending it.

We don’t have to do anything for something to end. It is the nature of the world. Things begin, go through their cycle and end. A year, a project or a lifetime, it’s all the same. But, in order to complete things – or more accurately to be complete with things we need to apply a deliberate and mindful focus and awareness.

Let’s look at 2014:

When most of us take stock of the year’s events without the distinction completion in mind we tend to focus on the cold facts of what actually happened. In that context we tend to ask ourselves things like: “What did we and didn’t we do?” and “What results were achieved?” While some people find intellectual stimulation and value in trying to represent past events in the most factual, objective and accurate way, this information does not empower or uplift our spirit and soul.

In contrast, if we look at 2014 through the lens of completion we are compelled to push our thinking and reflection beyond the cold facts of what happened to the meaning of things. We explicitly focus on, and own our relationship to what happened.

In this space we tend to ask ourselves questions such as “What did we accomplish?” “What did we learn?” “Where and how did we grow?” “How are we better, stronger and more prepared for the future?” and “Are we satisfied and complete?”

In fact, the concept of success and failure is completely an interpretation, not a fact. We can emerge feeling victorious and successful even when we don’t explicitly meet our goals. And, we can feel defeated and like failures when we did meet our goals. The feeling of success or failure is determined by the completion conversation.

Completing the past enables us to put things in the right perspective and place. It helps us to put the past in the past so we can be free to focus on the future with a clean slate. When we see the past as complete we are always left feeling stronger and more empowered and excited about the future.

However, when we leave things incomplete, past incompletions tend to haunt us and cloud our thoughts, plans and aspirations for the future. We tend to become more hesitant because of past failures and/or blindly confident because of past successes. In both cases, we are reacting to our past and that is sub-optimal and de-energizing.

The good news is that we all have the ability to bring completion to the past at any moment of our journey, no matter what happened and what we are dealing with. We just need to take stock of the past, draw empowering conclusions from its events and then declare the past complete. It requires taking a stand. And, this takes courage. But, we can all do it if we want to empower ourselves.

As we are ending 2014, I am inviting you to reflect on your year. First, make the list of what happened. It’s useful to start there. But don’t end there. Ask yourself:

  1. What did I accomplish?
  2. What did I learn?
  3. Where and how did I grow and improve in the areas I care about?
  4. How did I forward my bigger personal and professional vision and purpose?
  5. What am I most grateful for?
  6. Who do I want to acknowledge, recognize or thank? (Make sure you tell them.)

Once you declare 2014 complete, you will feel a sense of peace, emptiness, calmness, centeredness and focus. In that space you can powerfully start creating next year to be your best year ever.

Wishing you and your family a happy holiday season and happy new year!

Make a difference with your words

We have all heard the expressions “words are cheap” or “action speaks louder than words.”

That is not true! In fact, words are the most powerful tools we have to create realities and make things happen.

Let’s take some universal examples: When a priest or rabbi pronounces a couple “man and wife” a new reality is created from his or her speaking. When a judge sentences a person as guilty or not guilty that is a real and immediate outcome and reality. And, when a president of a country declares war on another country the world changes in that moment out of that declaration. These are all words that create a world.

These are big examples. Think about day-to-day stuff. When a man asks a woman “would you marry me?” and she says “yes” (or “no”) a new reality is just born. In fact, every time someone promises or asks someone else for something specific that conversation creates an outcome, direction and reality.

The problem is that most people don’t know how to use words so they use words that are designed for one thing for another – they use words that are designed to create possibilities and ideas when we they are trying to drive action. Or, they use blank words that don’t create anything when they are trying to dive ideas and possibilities.

It’s like a chef using the wrong knifes for different ingredients … or a carpenter using the wrong tools to cut wood.

In all these crafts there is obviously an art and a science. The art is expressed in the personal style, touch and taste. However, there is also a science – If we want to be effective we have to use the right tools for the right intent and outcome. It is the same with words.

In my last newsletter I wrote a brief lesson in the Leadership on a Napkin segment about words. I want to elaborate a bit more on this topic as it is a relevant and powerful one, and I see people and teams struggling with, and missing the mark on this all the time.

Here are my practical recommendations:

Stop saying “we need to do…” “we should do…” or “we have to do…” take these phrases out of your vocabulary. These statements may be valid, perhaps even true. However, they don’t make any difference in creating possibilities or driving action. They are conceptual descriptions that keep the conversation theoretical and hypothetical.

I hear these statement stated too many times in conversations. In most cases when people say these things others roll their eyes, go to email or simply disengage because they feel these statements are just pronouncing the obvious. These often show up as “blah…blah…blah.”

These statements don’t come from commitment and they don’t evoke commitment. They make the speakers feel as if they are expressing something important…a commitment. But, in reality these are very safe statements that don’t put the speaker on the hook for anything. And, the listeners often feel lectured to.

And if you need another logical reason why these statements don’t make a difference: people simply don’t do what they need to, should or have to. So, pronouncing it doesn’t change or move anything.

So, what words do make a difference?

If you want to create a new possibility or let the world know who you are and what you stand for you should use the words “I want to do…”

This still doesn’t directly and immediately evoke action. However, it puts your ass on the line for something, it makes the conversation personal and it puts something at stake for the speaker.

These words do not express a description. They are a declaration. These clearly are powerful words of commitment that engage and compel people. It gets people’s attention and touches their hearts. I have seen people wake up, sit straight and pay attention when others are declaring what they want… how they want the reality and future to be for the team.

Even though “I want” isn’t a conversation for action it provokes the conversation that leads to action. If someone says “I want to do this…” others are likely to say “So, what are you going to do to make it happen?” Just like people don’t do what they should, people don’t do what they want to. However, when they declare what they want they are more likely to take action.

If you want to drive committed action and accountability use the words “We will do…” or “I will do…” These words express a promise. While there is no guarantee in life about anything, people are more inclined to do what they promise than what they want or should.

Also, when people promise things they are more inclined to track what they are promising. And, if they drop the ball or don’t behave consistently with what they promised it is more likely to become a personal or collective integrity issue for individuals and/or the team.

 

Photo credit: Tulane Public Relations

Are you having the courageous conversations?

The senior leaders of a large and successful technology company wanted to improve their overall effectiveness as a team, including their communications and meeting productiveness. The leaders acknowledged that their conversations and meetings were not where not effective and that included:

(1) The short-term financial updates and immediate fire drills always took over the meeting’s agendas and the team never got to discuss the more strategic topics of opportunity and change,

(2) When the leaders did get to the discussions the same few team members always dominated the conversation and other team members felt unable to contribute,

(3) The team debated issues endlessly without reaching conclusions, alignment and decisions,

(4) Important decisions that affected everyone were made behind the scenes with the same few inner circle team members, and

(5) When the leadership team did make a collective decision (especially change-related) people often didn’t comply, follow up and/or reinforce.

The senior leaders had frustrations with, and complaints about other colleagues in the team. However, for the most part they blamed their boss, the CEO for not “making the meetings productive”, and not “empowering the senior team to make the key decisions”

Meanwhile, the CEO was frustrated because his senior leaders were not having the necessary conversations with each other. They needed to work together and behind the scenes between the meetings to confront things, resolve issues, align on strategies and plans, and hold each other to account for decisions that were made in prior meetings.

Instead, people were escalating the tough issues to him, expecting him to resolve and make the decisions, even on issues the leaders were fully capable of, and empowered to solve. As a result, people felt the meetings were a waste of time because most of the time was spent on reviewing updates and reports, confirming decisions and other mundane topics that could have easily been handled elsewhere.

In short – The leaders were simply avoiding having the courageous conversations.

I see this dynamic at all levels of seniority in most (all) organizations. People want things to change, they want more empowerment, responsibility, involvement and authority, but they are not willing to step up and have the courageous conversations with stakeholders, team members and each other.

Yes, these conversations can be messy, unpredictable and uncomfortable; they could cause tensions, conflicts and even deteriorate trust temporarily or permanently. But the cost of avoiding them – for the leaders – is not being able to provide leadership, make the difference and drive change. And, for the organization, not functioning on all cylinders.

So, how do you change this?

It starts with people owning up to their avoidance of courageous conversations. In next week’s blog I’ll share a framework that works for teams and individuals for starting to take on the courageous conversations.

I will also share the end of the story of the technology leaders and how they generated a meaningful breakthrough in their courageous conversations.

 

Stay tuned…