What gifts have you received during the COVID era?

Recently my wife and I were sitting on the porch drinking our morning tea. My wife was reading me a new affirmation she had received via social media about how COVID has presented the world with unique opportunities to reprioritize and focus on what is most important, yadda, yadda, yadda…

I am sure like me you have received many of these affirmations and videos. Many of them rung true, some even touched and inspired me.

In the same spirit, I asked my wife: “What gifts have WE received so far during the COVID era?

My wife and I generally feel very blessed in our lives and we frequently count our blessings. This has especially been the case recently as we know that COVID has had devastating effects on many people in terms of lost loved ones, serious illness and loss of livelihood.

I challenged my wife to share her views on “What net new gifts have we received as a direct result of the COVID era? In other words, what good things have happened to us that would not have otherwise occurred without the pandemic?”

We came up with a list of things that were meaningful to us. Here are a few of them:

  1. We grew closer to our kids
  2. Our kids grew closer between themselves
  3. We spent more quality time and grew closer as a family
  4. My daughter had wanted to change her job for a long time, but she was too comfortable. Her employer had to shut down the business, and she was temporarily laid off, which gave her the opportunity and courage to resign and start working on a new direction
  5. We completed a few projects in our home that were on our ‘bucket’ list for a long time
  6. I significantly improved my classical guitar performance.
  7. Our garden is looking more beautiful than ever…

While traditional and social media keep pumping the notion of looking at the half-full part of the glass and finding the silver lining in the COVID era, I am not sure how many of us truly feel and own it.

Most of us probably dedicate a big part of our mindshare to coping and managing our work/home life, another part to keeping updated with information and relationships, and the rest to hoping, wishing and waiting for things to get back to ‘normal’.

How much time do we really spend on acknowledging our ‘COVID gifts’ and enjoying them?

I invite you to do the exercise of listing all your COVID gifts. You could do it alone or with your loved ones.

When you do it, keep your list specific and real. Don’t censor or judge. Don’t disqualify any gift because it is ‘too small’. If it is something that enriched your life and you feel that in reality it wouldn’t have naturally or easily happened without the COVID era, count it in.

If you come up empty-handed and you feel you didn’t receive any gifts it could be for two reasons:

  1. You are too self-critical or cynical. In this case, be more generous with yourself and find the gifts that probably exist. Alternatively, ask someone who knows you well and help you see the gifts that you received and have not acknowledged.
  2. You are not taking advantage of this era and living as fully as you can. If this is the case, it is never too late. Start now. Connect with your loved ones and friends. Use any extra time to complete something you have been wanting to achieve for a while. Read a book, learn something, be creative, watch a Netflix series, clean out a corner in your home or help someone else.

There are always gifts. You just have to be ready and willing to see and own them.

Will you lead or lag the virtual revolution?

Just like the smartphone revolutionized the way we live and do business, it is inevitable that COVID will transform the way corporations work and do their business.

Why is this transformation inevitable?

Survival is a very powerful instinct. COVID very abruptly required companies to shift the way they manage their employees and customers, and the way they conduct their business.

At first, most companies scrambled to stay afloat. But for most, it didn’t take long before they found their new bearing. As I wrote in a previous blog, some companies even excelled in the last few months, finding and creating ways to take their internal and external business to new heights that surpassed pre-COVID times.

Many large corporations are weathering the COVID storm. Others will eventually do the same as well. However, many of the radical changes and innovations that companies had to create and implement in order to survive during the last few months, as well as their benefits, cannot and will not go unnoticed.

Companies are having and will continue to have new realizations about how they think about and manage their business, employees, and customers.

Here are three selected examples out of many more I heard from clients:

  1. “We were afraid of how to stay focused and productive, but we actually managed to be more focused, productive, and efficient working virtually than in the office. We got more things done…”
  2. “We were afraid of how to keep our teams united, motivated and in communication when everyone works from home, but our teams are probably more aligned, united, motivated and coordinated than ever before…”
  3. “We were afraid of our ability to maintain customer presence, value and loyalty due to the fact that everyone was working from home, but it turned out that our presence with, and value to our customers has only increased given the fact that we conducted more virtual webinars, presentations, training sessions and other customer events than ever before…”

The most significant realization for many companies may be that they actually can continue to grow and improve their business with much less overhead, by incorporating a radically different virtual strategy to their business.

Many companies have rejected and resisted programs like working from home or as it is commonly referred to as “flexible work” for the belief that it undermines productivity and effectiveness. I am sure this myth will dissipate across the board.

I know of a few communication technologies companies that have not used their own video and conference call products to run their own business pre-COVID and, during the last few months, they have had to use them to conduct day-to-day work. They stayed very productive during the last few months at home. They and other companies like them are going to start using their own technologies post-COVID.

In fact, for many companies, the use of communication technologies previously had been almost solely to offset and reduce travel costs. In simple terms, instead of people traveling to an off-site meeting/conference in one location, they conduct their meetings virtually and save a lot of money.

Some types of events and meetings are far less powerful and effective virtually, and some are flat out impossible to conduct via video. However, now that companies have experienced the virtues of virtual platforms, they will feel much more comfortable to take advantage of them.

Many companies own or lease a large amount of very costly real estate footprint based on their traditional way of doing business. I am sure many companies will reassess their real estate needs and resize their portfolio, now that they have proven to themselves and their customers that they can be as successful, with a much greater reliance on virtual tools, platforms, and approaches.

Lastly, it seems to me that the virtual revolution will address the gender imbalance in the workplace.  I believe that to a large degree the pre-COVID ‘work from home’ trend was initially promoted and primarily driven by and/or for mothers wanting to continue to develop their careers while having a family and caring for their children.

Therefore, the more the virtual revolution is accepted and takes hold, the more opportunities it will open up for women to take on more prominent roles in corporations. After all, in many of the old-fashioned companies that have resisted enabling working from home, opportunities for women’s advancement have been scarce.

The virtual revolution is inevitable. It is already underway. However, as always, some companies will lead the trend, and others will follow.

Will you be among the leaders or laggers in the virtual revolution?

Stay out of your head!

The last few months have certainly tested our mental stamina and resolve. One person I spoke to told me that COVID is easy for him because he loves to stay at home and not go out. However, I am sure that for most of us staying at home with minimal-to-no going out is a challenging proposition.

I have been working virtually for many years, so I am quite comfortable working in a virtual-mode. However, working solely virtually without physical meetings and interaction with clients or going out of the house has been trying for me too.

Repeated instructions like “Stay at home!”, “Stay in touch with family and friends” and “Stay 6 feet from others” have been ringing in our ears as they mark this periodI want to add another strong recommendation to the list for those of you who want to stay centered, focused, and strong in these challenging times: Stay out of your head!

The conversations that go on inside our head are not innocent, arbitrary or random. Their aim is to keep us contained and ‘out of trouble.’  They achieve that purpose by filling our consciousness with discouraging, gloomy and scary information and warnings.

Each of us has our fears, baggage, and demons from the past. The conversations in our head exploit those to their end. They make us draw disempowering conclusions about situations that seem bad, which leads to disempowering reactive decisions.

It’s no surprise that the media is speaking about a spike in anxiety, depression, and suicide during the COVID months.

It’s not because people have spent too much time at home. It is because they have spent too much time in their head.

Most of us consume way too much TV, news, and social media, and for many, it can also be their primary source of information and knowledge. Both mainstream media and social media – regardless of your political persuasion – have been polluting our minds and stressing us out. Many people believe what they hear and see without questioning it, and can struggle to distinguish between what is real and what is fiction.

This predicament is discouraging and demotivating.

So, how do you stay out of your head?

Simple, be in action!

Being in action is the only alternative to being in our head. Action takes place in the real world.

When you are engaged in any kind of action – be it exercising, drawing, dancing, listening to music, playing an instrument, knitting, reading or communicating/sharing your thoughts and feelings with a friend or family member – you focus outward.

In fact, if you think about it, when you are engaged in action, you stop thinking about your worries and fears. All noise disappears into the background, and your entire attention, focus and consciousness are on what you are doing.

To be clear, I am not suggesting you stop watching TV and/or engaging in social media, this is not necessary or practical, and you wouldn’t do it. I am, however, strongly suggesting that you manage your time to reflect a healthy balance between doing things that throw you into your head (exacerbating your fears, worries, anxieties, etc.) versus the actions that keep you out of your head.

I have found that when I spend most of my days in activities that pull me out of my head and require me to focus outward (activities such as supporting others, writing blogs and articles, and/or playing my classical guitar), it enables me to overcome any fears and anxieties if/when they arise.

Whether you are at home or not, working now or not, I recommend you take on a conscious commitment to spend the majority of your days out of your head.

To that end, make a list of the things you love/like to do or something you could do that would get you out of your head and start doing them.

What is your mid-term mark for leveraging COVID?

If you had to give yourself and your organization a mid-term mark (four months in) for how powerful you have been in leveraging the COVID era, what would it be?

Based on my observations, from supporting several companies and teams in the last few months, you could be in one of three spaces:

  1. Hoping to survive COVID,
  2. Trying to stay productive,
  3. Excelling and taking your business and culture to a new level.

I am sure most if not all companies went through some degree of survival mode in the beginning when the business and economic reality of COVID hit. At first, some leaders were in denial, brushing off the severity of the pandemic. Other leaders expressed hope that it would simply go away, even when there was mounting evidence that the epidemic was spreading globally and here to stay.

I would like to believe that most leaders were able to collect themselves, think rationally and strategically and move on to a more productive space.

Unfortunately, I saw some leaders who didn’t and remained in panic and reactive mode.  They continued to make panicky decisions such as: freezing all budgets across the board without distinction; stopping all corporate programs – “run the business” and “improve the business” without exception; and laying off as many employees as possible to mitigate short term risk, without any enlightened regard for longer-term consequences.

Some companies seem to still be in that space today after four months. What a waste of energy and time!

Other leaders pride themselves on the fact that they quickly and efficiently shifted their entire workforce to a virtual work mode from home. In many cases, this shift was an admirable logistic undertaking given the size and geographical spread of their workforce.

Some companies are used to working virtually; they have the platform and technology to do so. However, for some companies working from home is an entirely foreign concept. In one case, employees literally unplugged their desktop computers (not laptops) and took them home via Uber.

The physical move to home was no small task for many. And then, establishing a virtual routine of productive business performance and customer service is also an admirable accomplishment.

Unfortunately, many leaders stopped there, settling for uninterrupted productivity.  As long as they could continue to provide the same services (or close) that they were offering pre-COVID virtually and uninterruptedly, they were content.

In one case, the CEO of a large regional division (which was faring well in virtual mode) told his executives to put on-hold all improvement and transformational programs for the time being, because as he put it, “They are ‘excessive’ during these challenging days.”

I believe this CEO’s mindset is quite common these days, and most companies feel that staying productive is a high enough mark.

The companies that inspire me most are those who quickly passed the first two spaces and then pushed themselves to the next level.

One CEO told his leaders to “discard COVID as an excuse.” His words were blunt, but he succeeded in setting the bold expectation of continuing to take the business, that was already on a path of transformation, to the next level – full speed ahead, without reservations.

Another CEO of medium size lighting company with the same mindset launched the most significant improvement programs his company has ever had focussing on many critical areas, including Sales, Production, R&D, and Marketing. By doing so, he increased productivity, effectiveness, results, and impact beyond the best months pre-COVID. His company will never be the same.

In fact, the two CEOs and other leaders who took bold initiatives believe that COVID is not a time to be cautious, think conservatively, hold back resources, or play safe. On the contrary, the COVID era is the perfect opportunity to rethink things, challenge the status quo, figure out approaches to truly work smarter, scale, and significantly improve processes and ways of doing business. Actions not merely to survive or overcome a tough epidemic but to generate lasting breakthroughs in their business.

Much has been written about the influence of COVID on businesses, and much more will be written over time. But when all is said and done, what are you really going to learn and take forward from the COVID era?

 

Complete 2019 in a meaningful way

Effectively completing a chapter can be a meaningful and powerful endeavor if you approach it with a deliberate and conscious mindset. Unfortunately, most people tend to focus more on starting a project and executing it, and when it reaches its end, they just move to the next one. We tend to underestimate the power and value of completing things effectively, not merely finishing or ending them.

The dictionary defines ‘Finishing‘ as ‘Bringing a task or activity to an end.’ It defines ‘Completing‘ as ‘Making something whole or perfect.’

You don’t have to do anything for something to end. It is the nature of any cycle. Things begin, go through their evolution and end. A year, a project, or a lifetime, it’s all the same principle. But, in order to feel complete at the end of your year, with all the good things and bad things that happened, you need to apply deliberate and mindful focus and awareness.

How do you complete things?

If you review the year’s events without the distinction of completion in mind, you are likely to focus on the cold facts of what occurred. You will ask yourself questions such as: “What did I do?”, “What didn’t I do?” and “What results did I achieve?”. Most likely, your sense of satisfaction would be determined by the number of outcomes you achieved. If you achieved most of your goals, you would most likely feel good. If not, you would feel bad.

In contrast, if you look at 2019 through the lens of completion, you will push your thinking and reflection to a deeper level beyond merely the facts of what happened. You will still account for the facts of what occurred; however, you will be compelled to own what happened and what didn’t happen in a more meaningful way.

You will ask yourself questions such as “What did I accomplish?”, “What did I learn?”, “Where and how did I grow?” and “How am I better, stronger and more prepared for the future?”. This type of taking stock will deepen your connection with your higher purpose and vision, and it will make you feel more satisfied and complete.

Your experience of success and failure are based on interpretations, not facts. You can feel victorious and successful even when you didn’t meet your goals. And, you can feel disappointed and unfulfilled when you did meet them. The feeling of success or failure is often determined by the notion of completion.

Completing the past and feeling that you have learned and gained the most out of it will enable you to put things in a more powerful perspective. It will help you put the past behind you, and this will leave you feeling freer, stronger, and more empowered and excited to focus on the future from a clean slate.

However, if you leave things incomplete, past incompletions could haunt you and cloud your thoughts, plans, and aspirations for the future. You could become more hesitant to take on new things because of past failures and/or you could take on things with a sense of vengeance and need to prove something, which could rob you of enjoying the journey. In both cases, you would be reacting to your past, and that won’t be effective or satisfying.

The good news is that you can bring completion to your past at any moment, no matter how good or bad things were. You just need to take stock, draw empowering conclusions from past events, and then declare the past complete. It requires taking a stand, and it takes courage. But it is easy and fun!

How to complete 2019 in a practical and meaningful way:

As you end 2019, reflect on your year. First, make the list of the facts – what happened, what you did and didn’t do and accomplish. 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. Whom do I want to recognize and thank? (Make sure you tell them.)

Once you declare 2019 complete, you will feel a sense of satisfaction, peace, and fulfillment. In that space, you can powerfully start creating your next year to be your best year ever.

In conclusion, on a personal note – Thank you for following my blogs during 2019. I hope at least some of them were useful to you. I will be taking some time off myself and will post my next blog in the week of January 13th, 2020.

Wishing you and your family a Happy Holiday Season and Happy New Year!

 

Are you living in and enjoying the moment?

A powerful quote by Alfred D’Souza, which I have shared in the past:

 “For a long time, it had seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be got through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last, it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life”.  

Have you ever had the frustrating or upsetting feeling that you are moving too slow, or you are behind in achieving your life and/or professional goals?

I had a conversation with a senior executive who has had a very successful and impactful career so far, in which he has built strong teams, achieved extraordinary results, and has received many accolades. He was eager to find his next promotion and role. Throughout our conversation, he kept referring to his feeling that “he should have been further along in his career by now, given his age and the number of years he had been in his company…”

A different professional who was looking for ways to build greater wealth through investments, shared with me recently that he felt he was behind and he should have been wealthier by now given his age…

I have heard these types of expressions from successful people many times before about different areas of their personal and professional lives. In fact, if I am honest, I have had these feelings from time to time about my own goals.

The problem is that as ambitious people we tend to set bold objectives in order to stretch ourselves, and then somewhere along the way, especially when we face challenges, we feel we are behind, we forget that we were the ones who created these high bars for ourselves in the first place.

We move so fast that we forget or neglect to stop every now and then to review our goals and take stock of our progress.

The whole point of setting goals is to direct, focus, and, most importantly, empower ourselves. The minute our goals are out of tune, it affects our mood, spirit, and performance. We need to have the courage to change, cancel, or adjust our goals to make sure they maintain their relevance and purpose. We also need the courage to acknowledge, own, and celebrate our progress and accomplishments, even if we didn’t exactly hit our set targets.

We definitely want to avoid the trap of feeling that our validation, validity, and “OKness” is based on whether or not we have hit our goals.

The entire “retirement” concept is predicated on the following premise. We work extremely hard throughout our life, often sacrificing and neglecting key areas like family, marriage, health and recreation, in order to achieve financial and professional goals that would allow us to ‘one day’ get to that stage in life where we can “truly start doing what we love to do and enjoy our life“.

Can you hear how ludicrous that sounds!?

And let’s be honest, the dominance of social media doesn’t help at all! In fact, it only makes the pressure and stresses greater. Instead of only seeing our neighbor’s new car or job, we are now exposed to thousands of online ‘friends’ who display their ‘perfect’ lives. No wonder the feelings of ‘the grass is greener on the other side’ are stronger than ever.

Throughout our prime years, as we are working extremely hard, we feel like ‘when we get the next promotion, close the next deal, make the next million, buy the house or car of our dreams, get our children through college or married’ – “THEN life will truly be great.  But then when we reach a certain age, we start looking back and talking about our life in terms of ‘the good old days…’

So, if throughout our life we feel that ‘someday’ we will start living and then at the prime of our life we feel like ‘the best is behind us’ – when is our time??? When do we enjoy today… The moment???

If you want to stop delaying your enjoyment of your life, here are some thoughts about how to do it:

  1. Keep reminding yourself that you are the one who created your objectives and expectations in the first place. As the author of your future, if you find your goals and timelines to be too daunting and/or stressful, change them to ones that are more reasonable and ones that empower you.
  2. Acknowledge your accomplishments – every month, week, and every day. Focus more on your progress and what you have accomplished and less on your gaps, deficits, and what you haven’t achieved.
  3. Make sure to set time in your busy life for activities that fuel you with energy, enjoyment, fun, and fulfillment… If you are a workaholic, make time for the hobby you love or for personal time, or great vacations… and take time off. If you are married and/or have kids make sure to spend quality time with them on a regular basis… force yourself to do that….
  4. Stop equating your material achievements and success with your self-worth. Stop getting caught in the hamster wheel of jealousy and competitiveness. When you reach certain milestones or accomplishments, take the time to appreciate and celebrate what we have accomplished. Do not move right into your next goal; don’t let the rat race continue.
  5. Anticipate now what you will regret in the future if you don’t do or say, and do or say it today!
  6. Avoid falling into the trap of comparing yourself and your life with others… or even worse, being jealous of others. As my wise wife puts it: ‘you don’t want what others have and what they don’t have!’

It’s now or never… literally!

 

Can you tolerate brutal honesty?

There are two types of leaders – those who can only tolerate brutal honesty and those who cannot tolerate brutal honesty at all.

Leaders who are relentless about driving a culture of open, honest, and courageous communication around them are typically extremely committed to high performance. They have zero interest in, or tolerance for, internal drama or politics. They operate at a high level of personal integrity, authenticity, and ownership. And, they expect and demand the same from people around them.

They make it difficult – if not impossible – for people to get away with doing the things that undermine and weaken the organization, such as pointing fingers, adopting a victim mentality, indulging in destructive politics, and “cover-your-ass” behaviors.

These dynamics and behaviors distract everyone from the goals of the organization, and even if these behaviors are subtle, they drain energy and waste everyone’s time. Eventually, people begin to feel that they cannot make a difference, and the organization loses focus and cannot achieve the results it seeks. In today’s environment of growing competition and limited resources, no company can afford this.

In contrast, leaders who avoid brutal honesty at all costs are part of the problem. They enable and permit unclarity and vagueness in roles, decisions, and objectives.  Lack of clarity often fuels politics. Contrary to their declarations, leaders who lack courage thrive in political environments. In fact, they use the politics to hide and manipulate people to do what they want them to do without having to do the tough ‘dirty work’ of taking a stand, expressing how they feel, making clear decisions in sensitive areas, and giving direct feedback and coaching to their people.

I was working with a senior executive team of a very large global service company. At the start of our engagement, I interviewed all the senior executives and a handful of managers to gain insight into the culture and dynamic of the organization and its senior team. The interviews revealed significant issues and dysfunctionalities in the levels of trust, cohesion, collaboration, and communication between lines-of-business and functions, as well as between the senior executives themselves, including the CEO.

When I presented my findings, all the executives confirmed the issues. While people were somewhat startled by my summary, everyone seemed extremely relieved that the truth was finally out.

The executives were eager to engage in open and honest dialogue to address the issues and start driving change.

While there were no disagreements about the issues, the CEO took the dysfunctionalities personally. Despite his declarations to the contrary, he behaved in a defensive and passive-aggressive way, suppressing all courage, goodwill, and progress. Needless to say, the executives became weary and fearful of expressing their views. The dialogue became inauthentic and useless; everyone left the conversation feeling frustrated and discouraged about the lack of senior openness to change.

I could see over a short period of time, following the meeting, that the executives started to disengage and invest less of their commitment, passion, and energy in trying to change things.

Any manager or employee can be the catalyst for change, even reversing damage created by past-behaviors and establishing new high-performance team dynamics. It takes courage to be a role model and hold others to account. In fact, in an environment where people are used to only voicing what they think their leaders want to hear, managers need to stand for a higher standard of brutal honesty, refusing to settle for any less than that!

No matter which method they use, they must make their unconditional commitment to honesty known and must convince their people that they mean it. It’s not enough to declare it. Managers need to demonstrate through action that they are genuinely open to feedback, criticism, and input, including about themselves.

As we all know:

It takes ten rights to fix one wrong and one wrong to undermine ten rights.

The leadership philosophy of open, honest, authentic, and courageous communication can be messy, lonely, and painful at times. However, when leaders have the courage to behave authentically every day, a powerful platform of authentic team ownership, commitment, and accountability emerges around them.

Brutally honest leaders inspire, empower, and equip the people around them to tackle any challenge and/or opportunity they encounter, no matter how unfamiliar, complex, or difficult, in a powerful and unstoppable manner.

Nothing can beat that!

 

Can you commit to change and stay the course?

When it comes to generating change, there are two types of teams… or more accurately, two types of leaders: those who stay the course and those who don’t!

At a simple level, you could say that any change initiative goes through three key steps. You could call them different things, but in essence, they are:

Creation, Execution, and Breakthrough.

The first step – Creation – is the easiest and most fun. It’s about imagining a better future state, creating new possibilities, and committing to them. It is about setting the course. If you do it right, your team will emerge from this step feeling highly optimistic, energized, hopeful, and eager to achieve a better future for itself. Optimism causes people to feel empowered, bold, and invincible.

The second step – Execution – is the toughest step of any change, both physically and mentally. In fact, most teams fail the test of this step. In more cases then not, they abandon their dreams, aspirations, and change altogether.

Step two requires hard physical work. It is the epitome of building the airplane while flying it. You have to start projects in new and untested areas, do things differently, challenge existing thinking, approaches, and systems, and get the skeptical and cynical people on board. And, all this, while continuing to do the daily work you did before.

Step two requires a tremendous balancing act. However, the toughest thing is that it requires great faith (that often feels blind) – in your bold future, your new and untested strategies, and in your ability to achieve them.

It would be an understatement to describe the experience of step two as pushing a rock up a steep hill.

Some leaders love the thrill of a new idea, fad, or beginning, especially when it helps them to engage and motivate their teams around a new purpose.  As long as their effort continues to progress with even mild success, and managers and employees continue to feel good about the process and engage in its activities, these leaders stay engaged, and they continue to invest their own commitment, energy, time, and resources in the process.

However, the minute things get tough or messy, instead of doubling down and leveraging challenges as opportunities to accelerate change, these leaders quickly become skeptical, lose their commitment, energy and resolve, and eventually they simply get distracted by other activities, lose interest, disengage and move on to the next new shiny thing.

It is easier to stay engaged and focused at the beginning of significant change initiatives when everyone is at the initial excitement stage, there is increased goodwill all around, and people tend to be on their best behavior in areas such as trust, teamwork, and collaboration.

However, if you take on any Big Hairy Audacious Goal, it is inevitable that at some point in the process, you will have to confront your barriers to change. Marathon runners describe this as hitting the wall. It’s the moment, about halfway through the run, when overwhelming fatigue kicks in and you feel like you may not have what it takes to finish the race. It’s a devastating and discouraging feeling. If you buy into this, it can really hurt your performance. However, if you anticipate this phenomenon, you can be ready for it and get through the tough patches with minimal distractions in focus, commitment, and effectiveness.

It is the same with any change initiative!

The wall often manifests as people feeling overwhelmed with keeping up with their existing jobs while pursuing future work, initiatives taking too much time and energy to launch or demonstrate results, and people beginning to disengage because of growing frustrations, skepticism, and doubt.

The leaders who trust themselves, their vision, and their process push forward and stay the course, no matter what. They are the ones who move on to step three – Breakthrough – and achieve extraordinary results.

Unfortunately, most leaders are not good at staying the course. Many leaders simply don’t know how to stay focused when they don’t know what to do next. They tend to stall, stop, and eventually give up. Others can’t tolerate things getting worse – before they get better – so they react badly to chaos, messy situations, and unpredicted challenges, which are inevitable in any worthwhile change.

Most leaders and teams fall short or outright fail to achieve their intended change outcomes not because they are incapable or because they go all-out and fail, but rather because they don’t stay the course; they give up at the most critical time in the process.

And, to add insult to injury, most leaders don’t take responsibility for their shortcomings. They don’t admit: “We just didn’t stay the course!” Instead, they tend to justify their failure with excuses like: “There is too much going on“, “The change initiative is interfering with our core business or results”, and “People are no longer on-board“.

The cost of not staying the course is not much higher than failing to achieve higher levels of performance and results. It is in the overt and covert sentiments of cynicism and resignation that come in the aftermath of defeat.

To any leader that wants to generate change in his/her organization, I suggest:

Stay the course no-matter-what or don’t start at all!

 

Are you afraid to say “I don’t know” and “I need help”?

I was working with a large global technology company that was struggling with making its quarterly sales and revenue numbers. For several quarters in a row, they missed their forecasted and committed numbers.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on who’s eyes you are looking from), the head of sales was a friend of the CEO, so he didn’t fire him. Instead, every quarter, the CEO would confront and challenge the head of sales who always insisted that he knew wasn’t working and what he needed to do.

The head of sales fired a few managers, and he reorganized his sales team a few times, but none of it made any difference. He continued to miss his numbers.

However, the head of sales’ senior executive peers where quite pissed by the sales performance, they all believed their colleague was in ‘way over his head’, he didn’t know what the problems were or what to do to fix them. All leadership team members felt that together, as a leadership team, they would be able to figure out how to fix the issues and get sales back on track. However, they were most frustrated about the fact that the sales leader would not admit: “I don’t know how to fix this!” and, “I need help!”

In a different true story, the CEO of a large regional technology company was trying to retain one of his top senior leaders. The leader had been in the company for many years, and he had done an amazing job growing his division. In fact, the growth he achieved fueled the growth of the entire company.

However, he had reached a point in his career in which he wanted to go to the next level and become a CEO himself. The CEO convinced the senior leader to stay, and he promised him that he would find or create the opportunity for a CEO role for this leader by restructuring his company.

Months passed, the CEO didn’t come up with a solution, and the senior leader grew more and more frustrated. The senior leader loved the company. Being a seasoned executive, he had his own ideas about how to structure the company for the future. He wanted the opportunity to partner with the CEO in his thinking and planning about the future. He believed that the two of them could come up with the most optimal structure for the future. However, the CEO was a proud man who, even though he struggled with finding the optimal solution, wouldn’t let his guard down easily.

Who said that leaders have to always have the answer and solution to the big dilemmas, questions, and issues?

So many leaders seem to be afraid to admit that they do not know how to do everything; that they do not have the answer; that they really do need help.

I cannot tell you how many times I have witnessed senior executives who become bottle-necks to success, limit possibilities and solutions, slow things down just because of their pride and/or desire to appear in control, having all the answers; trying to come across as having their proverbial ‘act together.’

What’s up with that?!

Who said that leaders need to always have the answer and solution to the big dilemmas, questions, issues, and opportunities?

It takes a village to generate extraordinary success in any field. No one person has all the thoughts, ideas, and abilities to achieve significant success. For some strange reason, some senior executives seem to think that they do or should.

If you are confident and comfortable in your own skin, you should be fostering an environment of innovative thinking. You should be surrounding yourself with people who are smarter than you.

Leaders who are insecure in their leadership intelligence, position, or ability tend to be more narcissistic, command-control, and passive-aggressive. They tend to be threatened by other powerful people/leaders; hence, they tend to use authority and fear to manage.

I like Andy Stanley’s quote: “Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.”

In parallel: Leaders who never say “I don’t know” or ask for help… simply fill the gap.

So many leaders seem to be afraid to admit that they do not know how to do everything; that they do not have the answer; that they really do need help.

How often do you admit you don’t know and ask for help?

In memory of T. Boone Pickens

I am dedicating this week’s blog to a great man, entrepreneur and business icon who passed away on September 11, 2019 at the age of 91, T. Boone Pickens

I have met quite a few highly successful and wealthy entrepreneurs and business leaders over the years. Some of them inspired me, some did not.

T. Boone Pickens inspired me. He accumulated and lost a great deal of wealth in his life. He was a bold entrepreneur who stayed true to his vision and business values his entire long life. He took bold risks, even in the face of adversity, he reinvented himself a few times in his life, and he was always open to new ideas and change.

Many powerful and wealthy people let their success ‘go to their head’. They become arrogant and condescending. T. Boone Pickens remained humble and generous. I admired that about him.

The following message from T. Boone Pickens was written prior to his passing on September 11, 2019 – I hope it will inspire and touch you the way it did me.

If you are reading this, I have passed on from this world — not as big a deal for you as it was for me.

In my final months, I came to the sad reality that my life really did have a fourth quarter and the clock really would run out on me. I took the time to convey some thoughts that reflect back on my rich and full life.

I was able to amass 1.9 million Linkedin followers. On Twitter, more than 145,000 (thanks, Drake). This is my goodbye to each of you.

One question I was asked time and again: What is it that you will leave behind?

That’s at the heart of one of my favorite poems, “Indispensable Man,” which Saxon White Kessinger wrote in 1959. Here are a few stanzas that get to the heart of the matter:

Sometime when you feel that your going
Would leave an unfillable hole,
Just follow these simple instructions
And see how they humble your soul; 

Take a bucket and fill it with water,
Put your hand in it up to the wrist,
Pull it out and the hole that’s remaining
Is a measure of how you’ll be missed. 

You can splash all you wish when you enter,
You may stir up the water galore,
But stop and you’ll find that in no time
It looks quite the same as before.

You be the judge of how long the bucket remembers me.

I’ve long recognized the power of effective communication. That’s why in my later years I began to reflect on the many life lessons I learned along the way, and shared them with all who would listen.

Fortunately, I found the young have a thirst for this message. Many times over the years, I was fortunate enough to speak at student commencement ceremonies, and that gave me the chance to look out into a sea of the future and share some of these thoughts with young minds. My favorite of these speeches included my grandchildren in the audience.

What I would tell them was this Depression-era baby from tiny Holdenville, Oklahoma — that wide expanse where the pavement ends, the West begins, and the Rock Island crosses the Frisco — lived a pretty good life.

In those speeches, I’d always offer these future leaders a deal: I would trade them my wealth and success, my 68,000-acre ranch and private jet, in exchange for their seat in the audience. That way, I told them, I’d get the opportunity to start over, experience every opportunity America has to offer.

It’s your shot now.

If I had to single out one piece of advice that’s guided me through life, most likely it would be from my grandmother, Nellie Molonson. She always made a point of making sure I understood that on the road to success, there’s no point in blaming others when you fail.

Here’s how she put it:

“Sonny, I don’t care who you are. Someday you’re going to have to sit on your own bottom.”

After more than half a century in the energy business, her advice has proven itself to be spot-on time and time again. My failures? I never have any doubt whom they can be traced back to. My successes? Most likely the same guy.

Never forget where you come from. I was fortunate to receive the right kind of direction, leadership, and work ethic — first in Holdenville, then as a teen in Amarillo, Texas, and continuing in college at what became Oklahoma State University. I honored the values my family instilled in me, and was honored many times over by the success they allowed me to achieve.

I also long practiced what my mother preached to me throughout her life — be generous. Those values came into play throughout my career, but especially so as my philanthropic giving exceeded my substantial net worth in recent years.

For most of my adult life, I’ve believed that I was put on Earth to make money and be generous with it. I’ve never been a fan of inherited wealth. My family is taken care of, but I was far down this philanthropic road when, in 2010, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates asked me to take their Giving Pledge, a commitment by the world’s wealthiest to dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy. I agreed immediately.

I liked knowing that I helped a lot of people. I received letters every day thanking me for what I did, the change I fostered in other people’s lives. Those people should know that I appreciated their letters.

My wealth was built through some key principles, including:

  • A good work ethic is critical.
  • Don’t think competition is bad, but play by the rules. I loved to compete and win. I never wanted the other guy to do badly; I just wanted to do a little better than he did.
  • Learn to analyze well. Assess the risks and the prospective rewards, and keep it simple.
  • Be willing to make decisions. That’s the most important quality in a good leader: Avoid the “Ready-aim-aim-aim-aim” syndrome. You have to be willing to fire.
  • Learn from mistakes. That’s not just a cliché. I sure made my share. Remember the doors that smashed your fingers the first time and be more careful the next trip through.
  • Be humble. I always believed the higher a monkey climbs in the tree, the more people below can see his ass. You don’t have to be that monkey.
  • Don’t look to government to solve problems — the strength of this country is in its people.
  • Stay fit. You don’t want to get old and feel bad. You’ll also get a lot more accomplished and feel better about yourself if you stay fit. I didn’t make it to 91 by neglecting my health.
  • Embrace change. Although older people are generally threatened by change, young people loved me because I embraced change rather than running from it. Change creates opportunity.
  • Have faith, both in spiritual matters and in humanity, and in yourself. That faith will see you through the dark times we all navigate.

Over the years, my staff got used to hearing me in a meeting or on the phone asking, “Whaddya got?” That’s probably what my Maker is asking me about now.

Here’s my best answer.

I left an undying love for America, and the hope it presents for all. I left a passion for entrepreneurship, and the promise it sustains. I left the belief that future generations can and will do better than my own.

Thank you. It’s time we all move on.

Do you spend more time explaining or committing?

I was attending a sales planning session of a global service company in growth mode.  Their Head of Sales kicked off the meeting by asking the sales leaders to think big; outside the box, and not let past and current issues and barriers get in the way.

Each regional sales leader then had approximately 90 minutes to present their plan and receive questions, comments, and feedback on their thinking.

However, instead of first making bold declarations of what they are planning to do and then outlining the barriers and risks and how they were planning to overcome them, the leaders took a very different approach.

They outlined their conservative growth plans, and then they spent the majority of their presentation explaining to the audience the risks and barriers to success, as well as the reasons why they can’t take on a bolder game.

Even their moderate ambitions came with a caveat. In fact, they all had a slide in their presentation outlining the assumptions they were basing their objectives on.

Even though they didn’t say it outright, it was clear to everyone that the leaders were hedging their bets, making their objectives circumstantial and seeding the future justifications, excuses and ‘alibis’ should they not meet their growth objectives.

Unfortunately, I see this mindset and behavior in most companies; leaders oriented around tracking and reporting on the status of things; analyzing why things are working or not working; explaining why progress can’t be bigger, faster. There is no power, creativity, and innovation in this orientation.

The role of leaders is to declare, create, take a stand, and commit to future outcomes in areas that are important for the success and growth of their company. Powerful leaders follow the ‘man-on-the-moon’ approach and put a stake in the ground before having a worked-out plan.

Leaders are not the messengers who report on what is working and not working. They are the authors who create, fulfill, and cause the future. Powerful leaders push their thinking to reach the boldest ideas and outcomes they can.

Powerful sales leaders should be creating their next year, not explaining the barriers and risks to achieving it.

During one of the presentations, one of the senior executives in the room stepped in and expressed disappointment with what he referred to as “the overly conservative objectives,” the sales leader was bringing forth. The sales leader rebutted by saying: “It is not a conservative objective; it is an accurate objective.” This only further highlighted the conservative mindset of the sales leader.

There are no accurate objectives! No one can predict the future. There are only bold guesses/predictions or conservative guesses/predictions. Or, in more enlightened terms: bold stands or conservative stands.

When people believe that there is such a thing as an accurate, correct, or right objective, they stop pushing their thinking; they search for accuracy instead of new possibilities.

In addition, at the end of one of the regional sales leader presentation, the finance leader questioned the sales leader by asking if their forecast was perhaps too high. It didn’t take a second for the regional sales leader to agree and further reduce their number.

This conservative and risk-averse attitude comes from people’s fear of commitment and accountability. People are afraid that if they promise a big commitment, take a risk, and fall short, they would receive retribution.

In most companies, accountability is viewed in a cynical and bad way. What do you expect when accountability is referred to in terms such as “one throat to choke“? No one wants their throat to be choked. People try to cover up the cynicism by using politically correct terms. However, in most companies, accountability means “deliver, or you will get fired!

So, if you want to transform the conservative and risk-averse mindset in your organization to a bolder and more innovative and big thinking one, start by promoting a culture in which people are encouraged to think big, take risks and make bold commitments.

Then, demonstrate to everyone – by action, not just words – that there are no negative consequences to failing for the right reasons.

Do you just complain or actually do something about it?

I am constantly blown away by my observation that people in organizations – at all levels – prefer to complain and whine about the things they are not happy about rather than doing something about it.

In fact, when things don’t work effectively, people tend to spend more time covering their behind – i.e., making sure everyone in the universe knows it is not their fault, instead of trying to figure out how to fix the problem.

That is why people rarely step up to outright declare, “You can count on me – I will fix this!” Instead, they prefer to copy the entire universe on their self-protection emails…  or as these are referred to – C.Y.A. or “cover your ass”.

This behavior is very pervasive. I see and hear it everywhere, every day.

In fact, I was in an airport taking a flight the other day. It was not a busy time, so hardly any people in the line. As I was going through security, I couldn’t help but hear the security staff whining and complaining about their supervisor. One of them went on and on about how their supervisor didn’t give them enough time to go to the bathroom. Another added her own criticism about the fact that the supervisor reprimanded her for not doing her job correctly. They were feeding off of each other in a frenzy. It went on for 5 minutes.

First of all, I felt embarrassed for them. It wasn’t appropriate for them to have that conversation in front of the customers – me. However, I guess they were so upset and resigned they didn’t even think about that.

More importantly, I wanted to interrupt and ask: “Did you speak with your supervisor about these issues?. Did you try and do something to correct these small easy-to-fix issues?” However, I didn’t. I am sure the answer would have been a resounding, “NO!

Everywhere I go, I people-watch and can sometimes find myself inadvertently eavesdropping on conversations. Obviously, I don’t do it rudely or inappropriately, but people tend to speak loudly when they are passionate or upset about something, so I pick up on it – probably an occupational hazard.

It seems that everywhere I go people are complaining and whining about their hardships, rather than making attempts to do something productive about it.

After all, why take responsibility when you can be a victim and blame others for the issues. It is so much easier to exist this way.

However, being a victim comes with a hefty price. Primarily, you stay small, you lose your power to shape and influence your circumstance, and you feel resigned.

The good news is that anyone can change their orientation at will. If you are fed up with the powerless conversations, change the channel, and start engaging in powerful conversations.

This means start making clear and direct requests; it may require you to promise things in return. In addition, it means stop participating in the around-the-cooler bitching sessions, which don’t make any tangible difference other than promoting self-righteousness.

You always have a choice when you are unhappy about your circumstances or predicaments – you can just complain or actually do something about it!