Are you dealing with successes and setbacks effectively?

Whenever you take on a major improvement, breakthrough or transformation in your team or company, it is inevitable that along the way you will have successes and setbacks. 

The bigger you play, the bigger your successes and/or setbacks will be. The only way to minimize the setbacks is to play smaller. The only way to increase the successes is to play bigger.  You will have to determine what is more important for you.

When it comes to successes and/or setbacks mindset is everything.

I was in a meeting with a team that had taken on a big change initiative. We were meeting after two months to review progress and firm up the plan forward. At the start of the meeting team members were sharing and giving updates on what they had achieved in their team projects since the start of the process, where they had seen progress and where they had experienced setbacks or lack of progress.

In one case two managers presented the status of their project, which had to do with building a stronger alignment with their corporate head office finance team in order to simplify the approval process for expenses and customer discounts. They had quite a different outlook on their reality. They started by giving a factual report on what they had achieved and what they had not. Among the items that they didn’t achieve was “A clear agreement with corporate on new spending and discount self-approval levels.”.

One of them went on to say:

Our relationship with corporate finance is still not working!

The other manager jumped in with a different take: “It’s true that we didn’t meet our goal of agreeing to clear new self-approval levels, but we have made significant progress and achieved the following results: (1) Corporate acknowledged for the first time that we need more authority, (2) They agreed to work with us to reach the right change, and (3) We have the first meeting scheduled in two weeks. Based on that, our next breakthrough now is to reach that final agreement.”

You could refer to this as the glass-half-empty versus the glass-half-full personalities and mindsets or the optimist versus the pessimist. Both are a valid way to view it. The “Still not working” and “We have accomplished X and now we need to accomplish Y” are two very different paradigms.

  • One owns the progress and the other avoids responsibility.
  • One is looking toward the future and the other from the past.
  • One is oriented around progress and the other around perfection.

When you take on a major improvement, breakthrough or transformation it is critical to stay focused on the future, own the journey, maintain your faith in the direction and keep looking for, and finding accomplishments and proof points for progress. It’s not a cheap spin on a grim reality. It’s a powerful and empowering interpretation that will keep you engaged and compelled to carry on.

When your benchmark for change is perfection, you may feel that you will never achieve it or even get close so you will give up. It is inevitable. But, when you keep seeing small, medium and/or large accomplishments, improvements and other proof points as progress, you will feel compelled and even excited to do more, achieve more and reach higher.

So, next time you feel like saying “X is still not working!” Think again. Look further to find what progress you have made and proclaim that. Then, look further again and declare what is the next breakthrough or progress you will take on next. Use the proof points of real, meaningful and specific signs of progress as the stepping stone to propel you forward to your ultimate future state.

Certain conversations will keep your future open with possibilities and your energy high. Other conversations will keep you cynical and stuck in the past.

I don’t need to ask, but which do you prefer…?

 

How much honesty can you stomach?

If you ask the senior leaders of any organization how things are going in their organization, they would probably give you an upbeat, positive, optimistic description. If you then ask the shop-floor employees, the same question you would probably hear a different story.

From many years of experience, I can attest that there is often a dissonance between how senior leaders view their organizational and business reality and how employees do. While senior leaders often paint a rosier picture and claim that things are going well, even if there are issues, their people often highlight all the issues and describe things as not going that well.

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately, so many leaders seem insecure in this area. They seem to be so concerned about how exposing issues would reflect on their personal brand, that their self-preservation concerns hinder their ability to acknowledge and address the issues heads on.

So many leaders come across as politically correct and covering their behinds when talking about the issues. They can’t seem to be able to say: “This is not working. We need to fix it!” Instead, they say things like: “Things are going well, but we have an opportunity to improve…”

Their vague and watered-down pronouncement prevents them from fully owning and addressing their issues. It also weakens their ability to generate urgency to fix what isn’t working. In addition, their lack of blunt honesty hurts their credibility with their people, who usually know exactly how severe the issues are.

Just reflect on any corporate scandal or breakdown that has been in the news in the last few years and you’ll see a similar pattern – customers experience a big issue – be it environmental, safety or quality issues.

Once the issues are publicly exposed – often in the media, the PR department goes full-throttle into damage control. The CEO makes a public apology and the clean-up begins, including things like a stop in manufacturing and/or a product recall.

However, the question that never gets addressed is – Why did the breakdown happen in the first place?

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

In a company where leaders are unafraid to hear the truth, employees tend to follow suit and be courageous and vocal too. This environment is much more conducive for everyone at all levels making it their daily business to make sure things are working the way they need to. In those organizations, important information, no matter how sensitive, controversial or troubling, percolates up to the right places very fast.

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

You need courage to look in the mirror, face reality and own the uncomfortable and challenging situations. When you do it, you move from being smaller than your problems to being bigger than them. When this shift happens, you always feel more empowered and eager to take action and turn things around.

Honesty is the mandatory first step for taking the game to the next level in any area. And, as the saying goes, “The truth shall set you free.” Even if at first it will “piss you off.”

Is your team extraordinary? If not, do you know how to make it so?

If you want to know if your team is ORDINARY or EXTRAORDINARY simply ‘put your ear to the ground’ and listen to the internal conversations that are taking place within your team.

In an ordinary team when people deal with challenges and new opportunities, the conversations are often oriented around how hard it will be, why it won’t succeed, what are the barriers and problems that will get in the way, and whose fault it is that these problems are in place.

Eavesdrop on people’s ‘around the cooler’ conversations and you will most likely hear phrases such as: “This sucks!”,”You would never believe what happened to me today…”, “They only care about themselves…” and “It’s all their fault…”

You will hear a lot of complaining, judging, invalidating, blaming and winning.

The mood and spirit that accompanies these conversations is often sarcastic, skeptical, resigned and negative.

People’s behaviors and action follow the same tune. In ordinary teams there is no sense of urgency to keep commitments, meet deadlines or get things done, people comply with the minimum standard necessary to keep their job, but they don’t go out of their way to ensure their customers are delighted.

In fact, as stated above, people often blame circumstances and other teams or leaders for why things move slow and they are unable to drive progress with greater speed and efficiency.

In ordinary teams, people tend to take other people’s efforts and contributions for granted so you won’t hear a lot of “Thank you!”, “You did a great job” and “I appreciate your contribution!”

However, in an extraordinary team, people think and talk quite differently about their circumstances, challenges and opportunities.

People don’t indulge in blame, fault or victim-type conversations. They don’t cover their behinds when things don’t work and they don’t let their ego get in their way,

In fact, if you listen in to the ‘around the cooler’ conversations in an extraordinary team you will hear conversations that are oriented around “What can we do about it?”, “How do we breakthrough?”, “What is missing or in the way?” and “How do we fix it?”.

No matter how challenging things are, people quickly take ownership of the challenges and opportunities and they only tolerate conversations that make a difference and focus on moving things forward.

In an extraordinary team, people go out of their ways to recognize and thank their colleagues. “Thank you for doing a great job“, “I appreciate your help” and “I couldn’t have done this without you” are the daily expression of gratitude and acknowledgment.

It is extremely difficult to change people if you believe they are sarcastic, cynical, circumstantial and negative in nature. However, it is much easier to change the conversations people are engaged in.

You have to start by paying greater attention to and having a greater awareness of what comes out of people’s mouths, including your own. Most people don’t have strong awareness in this area. They tend to express negative and undermining opinions and views about areas that are important to them as if these are undisputed truths. The consequence is a loss of possibilities and ability to shape or change their situation and future.

When you consider the cumulative effect of conversations in a team setting, the impact and opportunities are significant. In fact, you can use team conversations as the lever to elevate your team to extraordinary levels. And, extraordinary teams generate extraordinary results.

When an entire team is negative you can be sure to have a very toxic, suffocating and unproductive environment. However, if 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 new heights of high performance.

Power requires rigor and discipline. Make sure commitments, timelines and expectations are clear and bold. And, make sure people hold each other to account for their commitments.

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 after they speak and also how they speak behind the scenes. The ‘around the cooler’ chatter is often more impactful on shaping the mindset, spirit, and mood of the team.

Enroll people in speaking and acting in a way consistent with their vision and commitment. In fact, hold them to account and encourage everyone to do the same.

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 toward extraordinary.

 

How’s your team health? Time for a checkup?

The CEO, of a global service company I worked with, focused only on the bottom line of the business and didn’t put a lot of focus on the ‘softer’ side of the business, including building his own leadership team.

However, when he identified that his team was not working effectively together and he felt that this was now negatively impacting the company’s performance, he decided to invest the time to train his leaders to operate as a high-performance team.

When he started this training with his leadership team their trust was low, leaders were engaged in back-channel chatter and avoiding addressing the business issues, as well as their own inner-personal issues and conflicts, in an open, honest, authentic, courageous and effective manner.

After a couple of team-building sessions, things started to improve. The team started to communicate in a more open and candid way, and everyone acknowledged that the atmosphere was better, people were happier and things were moving better at the business.

The CEO was pleased with the progress and as a result, he stopped all future team-building meetings to make sure his leaders spent the maximum time on business-focused activities.

It didn’t take long before things started to go downhill again, and not for any ill will. Without continuing to focus on team effectiveness, the intense day-to-day grind, busyness, and stress pulled people down again. Everyone was less open, compassionate, generous and collaborative. Finger-pointing and the negative back-channel conversation sprung up again. Teams started to work more in silos with less sharing and transparency, and instead of addressing conflicts head-on the leaders would go to the CEO to complain about their colleagues. Needless to say, the dysfunctional dynamic was hurting the business again.

After a month or so the CEO couldn’t tolerate the nonsense any longer, so he gathered his team, again, for a few team building sessions. This vicious cycle went on a few times. Unfortunately, I see this happen in other companies too.

Driving the business and building the team are two distinct paths and activities with two different sets of challenges and opportunities.

You are not going to develop your team as a high-performance team by merely working on the business at hand. Every high-performance of a championship team knows that.

There are multiple articles on the internet about what you can learn from sports championship teams about being a strong team and making your business greater. I found two great ones – one about the Golden State Warriors and one about recently crowned NBA champions, the Toronto Raptors. These articles are about team leadership, attitude, communication, boldness, not the technical basketball abilities of the players.

Unfortunately, I still meet too many senior executives who don’t seem to get this. They are either old school, or they are closed-minded or they suffer from a low dose of Emotional Intelligence (EQ).

These leaders tend to only spend time on developing their team when they feel they need to fix their team because they have a problem in team effectiveness. The minute they feel they have fixed the problem or at least pulled it out of danger they go back to their old ways of ignoring the importance of team health.

So, if you want your team to be a high-performance team:

Work on building the team distinctly, in addition, and in parallel to driving the business.

Are you managing your objectives or are they managing you?

Aspiring people have personal and professional goals as do most driven teams.

However, having goals is a double-edged sword. Goals could be a blessing or a curse, depending on how you relate to them.

Why?

We create goals in order to focus, compel and motivate ourselves and others. If we are ambitious, we typically take on bold and aggressive ones. We don’t stop there; we typically create a detailed execution plan with strategies and milestones.

Then we delve into implementing our goals and it doesn’t take long before we are so immersed in the roller coaster of our day-to-day life that we forget that we are the ones who came up with our goals in the first place.

When we achieve our goals, meet our milestones and/or achieve our plan as we wanted, we feel great. More than that, we believe we are great. Our mood and spirit are uplifted, we feel empowered and invincible.

However, when we fall short or fail to achieve our goals, milestones or plan we tend to feel disappointed, upset, anxious and/or stressed. We often second-guess our ability to achieve future goals, in the same or other areas. We get nervous about how others will view us. We often even make it mean that we will never achieve our vision or that it will never work smoothly for us.

For the most part, our relationship with falling short is not simple or objective; we don’t view it as: “we have failed to achieve a goal”. We make it mean something much bigger: “we are failures”.

Actually, in both success and failure, we tend to have a reactive and undermining relationship. Both leave us smaller than our circumstances, commitments and dreams. If we fail to achieve a goal, we feel a failure. If we achieve our goal, we feel invincible.

In both scenarios, our identity and self-worth are wrapped up in external circumstances. In either scenario, we are only as worthy as our results in relation to our objectives. And, because we created our objectives and then forgot that key fact, we are now prisoners of our own creation.

The only reason for having goals in the first place is in order to empower and inspire us to reach higher grounds. Creating goals that compel us is a powerful act. However, by forgetting, or not owning that we are the creators of such a powerful dynamic, we lose all the power.

Corporations often take the objective game to a whole other level of drama.

I was supporting a regional sales team of a global product and service organization that recently became public. The company was growing steadily due to the sales team achieving their sales objectives each quarter.

Then, toward the end of one-quarter things changed. A few big regional deals that the team was betting on to achieve its goals didn’t go through according to the plan and the region was at risk of missing its sales objective.

The global sales leader called the regional president multiple times urging, even demanding him to do whatever it took to meet his objectives.

The regional account managers started giving excessive discounts, at times giving up all profitability just to move deals forward in order to achieve their objectives.

The region ended up barely achieving their objective. However, no one felt good about it. People felt they did the wrong thing for the wrong reason; they felt the price of the apparent success was too high – giving up profitable business and ravaging the next quarter’s prospects just to cross the line with the objective at hand.

I guess it is easier to give a huge discount to a client, even at the expense of doing the wrong thing for the health of the business, than to have the tough conversation with your colleagues or boss about not allowing objectives to dictate bad behavior.

I recently spoke to the CEO of a different company who took on bold objectives and missed his first milestone. He shared with me that he felt guilty about the high bar he set, because had he not done that his people would have felt happy and successful.

I see this type of unhealthy, reactionary, survival-based behavior around objectives play out all the time in so many companies.

The lesson here is:

  1. All goals, strategies, and plans are made up.
  2. Don’t be a victim of your objectives.
  3. Own the fact that you created them for the purpose of focus and empowerment.
  4. Have the courage to manage your objectives, including saying ‘no’ to them when they are no longer the right way to go.
  5. Most important, don’t let your objectives manage you.

 

Can your team handle the tough conversations?

You could say that any team is as strong as its ability to handle and engage in sensitive and tough conversations. The easy ones are easy.

Two types of conversation are typically sensitive and tough for people to have – giving or receiving critical or negative feedback, and any topic that requires them to put their own personal feelings, egos, pride and/or agendas aside for the greater good of their company or team.

It could be something more complex such as deciding which team to invest in, which team member to promote or re-allocating resources and budgets from one leader’s team to another.

It could be something as simple as giving honest feedback to colleagues, your boss or subordinates about poor performance, or receiving the same from them.

It is a natural human reaction to take even the most insignificant topics personally, which leads to out-of-proportion reactions and behaviors.

In high-performance teams, team members never lose sight of the bigger picture. They put their team and company first and they always strive to do the right and the best thing for the collective cause.

In high-performance teams, people don’t hold back their punches when it comes to discussing and debating the tough and sensitive topics. Teammates may fully ‘go at it’, push back and/or disagree with other team members, but they continue to listen to each other and consider each other’s views. They never cross the line of interacting in a respectful way.

In high-performance teams, at the end of the conversation, no matter how sensitive or tough, when the team or the leader makes a decision all team members put their personal preferences and agendas aside and they all genuinely align, own and support the decision, whether it is in their personal favor or not.

When they go back to their respective team members, they represent the decision as their own in a united front with their colleagues.

I have seen some great teams that exemplify this behavior. However, I have seen more teams that don’t. I think it would be safe to say that most teams don’t do a great job when it comes to having tough and sensitive conversations.

For example, the senior leadership team of a global manufacturing company was attempting to have an honest discussion about the effectiveness of their organization. The CEO, who felt proud of the high-performance culture he had built opened the meeting by asking his leaders to be open and honest about how things were progressing. He was expecting to only hear great input from his leaders.

However, while the leaders did acknowledge that the CEO had established clear processes and rigorous discipline, they also felt their CEO was not open to hearing their ideas (when they were different than his) or receiving any critical feedback about the processes he had put in place or about his tough and controlling leadership style.

The leaders took a chance based on the CEO’s urging to be open. They told him in a direct and unvarnished manner how they felt about his lack of openness to their ideas and his intimidating style.

Instead of listening, internalizing and owning the feedback… and thanking them… the CEO became very defensive and emotional. He lost his cool and started screaming at his leaders. The room went silent. People were shocked, the level of intimidation skyrocketed and everyone shut down. It was apparent to everyone that the CEO took everything his leaders conveyed personally.

Needless to say, any traces of ability this senior team had prior to this conversation to discuss and address real tough and sensitive issues were destroyed.

Let’s be honest, having the tough and sensitive conversation in a productive, constructive and respectful way takes leadership maturity and courage.

Unfortunately, too often there isn’t enough of these qualities even in the most senior teams.

 

Stop stating the obvious and start stating your stand!

I was attending a senior Executive team meeting where the topic of the discussion was consolidating the roles and responsibilities of a few key functions in the company in order to drive greater scale, efficiency and cost reduction.

The company was commercially successful. However, it was struggling to keep its historical leading market position in the growing competitive landscape, given its high-cost structure.

There were layoffs a few months earlier and the leader’s projection showed that if they didn’t come up with more efficient and wise ways to do more with less, they would have to do it again.

Needless to say, the stakes were high as the company had to shed some overhead cost and come up with new and more modern and innovative ways of doing what they had done in the same way for many years.

Because of the strategic importance of this decision and the fact that it would affect everyone the CEO wanted his senior leaders to fully align on, and own the way forward, in order to avoid problems in the execution of this drastic change.

The discussion was challenging and awkward. Even though most leaders had clear thoughts and biases about how they wanted the new organizational structure to look, everyone was holding back and conveying their thoughts in a diplomatic and cautious way.

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 take the good things from the existing structure without the bad things…”  etc.

People kept highlighting the challenges and dilemmas instead of clearly stating their thoughts about how they believed the new structure should look.

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

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

There are no right or wrong answers and solutions to any business challenges, only possibilities/opportunities, and choices. Things change so quickly these days. There are so many examples of events we were certain would happen that ended up not happening and things we never imagined or anticipated that did happen.

The role of any leadership team is to make – sometimes hard – choices and then be responsible for carrying them out. That is what taking a stand is about.

Real leadership requires courage to take a stand.

Most of the time, leaders have good ideas and thoughts about how to drive the change they want. They simply are afraid that if they clearly state their stand about critical and sensitive topics that impact other people around them their boldness may come back to bite them. The key fears seem to include:

  1. Their idea may not get selected,
  2. Their ideas may get selected and then fail,
  3. They may be viewed as ‘forceful’, ‘self-serving’, ‘political’ or having a personal agenda.
  4. They may be viewed as picking sides or favoring other leaders.

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 powerful and satisfying, then be more courageous, clear and assertive about the future you want and stand for.

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

Promote a dialogue where people spend less time on pointing out the problems and dilemmas (which got you into this dialogue in the first place) and spend more time on discussing, taking a stand and making courageous leadership choices regarding solutions and directions that will enable you to create and fulfill your desired future.

Don’t let past failures stifle your future success

It is a well-known fact that most change initiatives outright fail. Most initiatives start with high expectations and hope for a better future, but because of a lack of follow through and staying the course, they end up producing the opposite effect; managers and employees at all levels who are even more skeptical and cynical about any future prospect of change, including their inability to make a difference in shaping a better future.

This is the starting condition of most change initiatives. I see it in most companies.

Take for example the regional senior leadership team of a large global manufacturing company that was operating in a very competitive and commoditized market in which their fixed costs were growing faster than their top line growth.

They had to figure out how to do things differently and work smarter in order to accelerate their revenues while reducing their expenses. This meant a significant transformation in their operating model and mindset about their business.

This company was very successful, and its leadership team members were very seasoned, experienced and smart executives who had been in their jobs for many years. They knew what they had to do. In fact, they had many great ideas about how they could do things differently.

However, because they had seen so many change initiatives come and go without delivering on their promise and hope, it was extremely hard for them to get excited about the new change. They simply couldn’t help but feel extremely skeptical about the likelihood of success.

If you want your change effort to succeed, you have to first free yourself from that notion that if you have failed in the past you are doomed to fail in the future.

You can do that by understanding and taking ownership of why your past change initiatives didn’t work. In most cases, it is because leaders didn’t follow through and stay the course.

You can’t change the past, but you can learn from your past successes, failures, and mistakes. You must be clear about your future aspirations and commitment so that you can be guided by them, and not by past events.

Secondly, you need to manage the mechanical and process aspect of your change. This means, aligning on clear, bold and measurable objectives that define the end-game or what success looks like, breaking them down to mid-course (six-months or annual) milestones and then scheduling a cadence of frequent follow-up meetings to track, inspect and drive your commitment.

You must make this routine the highest priority, keep each follow-up and review meeting religiously, and not delay or cancel these meetings, no matter what.

If you Google “How long does it take to form a new habit or change a habit?” you will get a variety of answers. Most popular seems to be 21 Days.

However, when it comes to forming new practices, rituals and disciplines within a team or organization, it takes much longer.

From my experience as a practitioner – depending of course on the size and complexity of the organization – it takes around a year of staying the course and keeping to your cadence of follow up meetings to integrate your change initiative into your team’s DNA. And, this is considered to be fast.

Last, but not least, you need to drive a mindset of what I call Unconditional Ownership. This means promoting an attitude of “let’s prove that this change will work“, rather than the common default resigned attitude that exists in most teams: “let’s see if the change will work

The mental attitude is the most important component. In the case of the leadership team described above, they were very good at the discipline of setting goals and metrics, execution and managing process. However, because they carried so much baggage of skepticism and cynicism from the past, it hindered their ability to think outside the box and believe in their power and ability to drive the change they wanted.

You always have a past and a future. The most powerful relationship you could have to them is to be your future and have your past. Or as Mahatma Gandhi put it: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

 

Are you a good communicator?

Most people are really not great communicators. They assume that others see things the way they do, and/or they know what is expected of them, so they either avoid communicating or they communicate in an implicit and ineffective way.

Even those who do communicate often, do it in a much less direct and effective way then they think.

I was coaching two very seasoned and successful executives in the trust and communication between them. Each of them commanded a very large and critical division. Their divisions depended on each other for their success and the overall success of the company. Because these two executives didn’t trust each other they also didn’t communicate in a transparent and honest way and this affected the dynamic between their organizations.

One executive, who was harboring resentments and frustrations toward his peer, left our conversation with a passionate determination to have the brave and direct conversation with his peer. A few days later when I followed up with him, he acknowledged that the conversation took place, it was extremely forthright and bold and had a meaningful impact on his relationship with his peer.

I was pleased to hear this, but when I asked his colleague how the conversation went, he had a drastically different account of what transpired. In his experience, his colleague didn’t communicate openly at all or convey anything new or meaningful. From his standpoint, nothing had improved or changed.

I can’t tell you the number of times one person tells me how bold and direct the conversation was, and the second person says that wasn’t at all.

People don’t communicate in a clear, rigorous, direct and/or bold way and when they are called to the carpet, they often explain and excuse it with “It was a misunderstanding…”.

Well, on rare occasions there are misunderstandings. However, most of the time it is not a matter of “Oops!“.

Communication is the most powerful instrument, tool and/or weapon we have as human beings to build, drive, manage and/or destroy things. It is innate in our human operating system.

People simply don’t want to take responsibility for their potential power and impact, therefore they don’t want to take responsibility for their desires, requests (what they want), how they feel and/or what is working and not working for them.

It is easier and safer to stay small. The way you do that is by communicating in a vague, wishy-washy and cowardly way and blaming the circumstances and events for why things are not moving in the way you want.

There is both an art and a science to communicating effectively. The more you understand and practice the science the better you will get at the art.  Here is a quick overview…

There are two dimensions to communication:

The content, which is the words that come out of your mouth; making sure they are explicit, clear and direct. Making sure the receiver of your communication receives then exactly the way you meant them.

The context, which is the intention, purpose and higher messages behind your words; making sure the receiver of your communication gets where you are coming from, what you are intending and how you feel about the words you are conveying.

For example, “Tough love” – you could be upset with someone and convey harsh words without violating their genuine experience of your great love, respect, and care for them. No contradiction.

The is a construct for conducting and managing powerful communications:

If you want to be a powerful communicator all you need in your toolbox are four tools that will enable you to achieve, drive and manage any outcome you want:

  1. Request an action or outcome. If you don’t explicitly ask for what you want, don’t expect to get/have it. Nothing is too big or small to request. This is so simple and so powerful!
  2. Promise an action or outcome. If you want people to listen to you, rely on you and invest in you, make promises and deliver them. As long as you are authentic nothing is too big or small to promise.
  3. Declare your stance. If you want people to know who you are, declare your stance and where you stand in areas that are important to you. Declarations create platforms for requesting and promising.
  1. Express your feelings. If you want people to know how you feel, tell them. Don’t expect them to already know or assume they already know. There is NO Universal Code or Master Manual for how people should behave, respond or react in key situations.

Three basic tips for being an effective communicator:

  1. Over communicate. Most people under-communicate or they don’t communicate at all. Even if it feels excessive to you, most likely it will feel “perfect” for people around you.
  2. Don’t be lazy. Be explicit, rigorous and direct with your communication. Don’t assume they understand what you mean. Go the extra mile to ensure it.
  3. Take responsibility for how your communication is received. After you communicate, ask the receiver to repeat back to you what you said, what they heard, what they understood and what they are taking away from your communication. Make sure it is what you intended.

It takes courage to be a powerful communicator. It takes courage to be powerful, full stop.

First, in the sea of vagueness, a powerful communicator will always stick out like a thorn.

Second, people tend to get irritated by powerful communicators who break the mode of vagueness and bring clarity, rigor, and accountability to interactions.

So, you have an opportunity to take a stand about the type of communicator you want to be, then promise what you will start and stop doing in order to turn your stand into your natural mode.

Do you love your job?

Early in my career, I was facilitating a manager meeting at a manufacturing plant. There were about 100 people in the session and the managers were going around introducing themselves, one-by-one they stood up and shared a few personal things about themselves.

At the far-right corner of the hall sat a supervisor, from simply observing his demeanor and everyone’s attention on him I could tell that he was one of the factory veterans. At his turn, he stood up and introduced himself using the following words:

My name is Bill. I don’t remember how many years I have been here, but I have 64 months to go!” and he sat down. There was then awkward laughter in the room.

Can you imagine Bill’s mindset as he gets up in the morning and comes to work each day? It seems to me that the definition of his attitude is “Doing Time“.

He probably had a calendar hanging in his locker and every day he would cross off another day until his “release“.

In a different example, I have a client friend that every time he describes his job to me, he refers to it as his “eight-hour inconvenience“. At first, I laughed when I heard his words. However, after hearing them a few times it started to appear quite tragic. I actually started to feel sorry for him.

First of all, no one works eight hours these days. Most of us spend most of our life at work. Second, who wants to come to an ‘eight-hour inconvenience‘. I don’t know about you, but I want my job to be my eight-hour bliss, self-expression, kicking-ass, having fun and making a difference.

Third story… I have a personal friend who every time I ask her how she is doing she gives me the same answer: “The same shit different day…” Painful!

Let’s be real, not everyone loves their job. If you are one of the people who loves their job, consider yourself very lucky and blessed. It’s a privilege.

Some people find their calling and self-expression in their occupation and job. But others don’t. For some people, their job is purely about the salary. They need the job to pay the bills, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Coming to work to pay the bills is a noble and honorable reason to work.

My father in law used to say “No matter what your occupation or job is, any employment honors its employee“.

However, if you want to stay powerful, centered and present at work and not lose yourself, I recommend you adhere to the following principles:

  1. If you love your job, count your blessings, be happy and make the biggest difference you can.
  2. If you don’t love your job make sure you can genuinely choose your job, own your job or at least accept your job.
  3. If you can’t at lease choose, own or accept your job – leave your job and find another job that you can either love or at least choose, own or accept.
  4. Under any circumstances, do not accept or tolerate suffering.

It takes a certain level of numbness to stay at a job you are suffering in.

It’s like when your immune system is weak, the body is susceptive to disease. When you are deadened, you lose your self-expression, joy, creativity, and power. As a result, you are much more susceptive to become cynical, resigned, negative and a resentful victim.

It takes commitment and courage to not accept and buy into resignation, cynicism and the victim mentality.

There are two types of people that you could surround yourself with:

  • Those who are negative and cynical victims, who frequently complain and blame others
  • Those who are not interested in drama and mischief, and always take ownership and look to learn from their successes and failures.

The former will drain your energy and do everything to drag you down with them. The latter will support you to stay centered, strong and true to your greater self.

I am sure you know who to hang out with….

Are you tolerating toxicity and unproductivity?

In order for a leadership team of any company to truly operate at a high-performance level, the leaders need to have the courage to look at themselves in the mirror, face reality and take stock of what is working and what is not working in their own team dynamic.

The ‘working’ part is easier than the ‘not working’ for obvious reasons. There are always challenges, tensions, and issues between teams and between leaders. At times, teams feel frustrated by the fact that other teams are not listening or providing the support they need. Some leaders feel their counterparts are complacent, arrogant or simply incompetent and not adding value.

A few recent examples I have encountered include:

  1. The Head of Sales feeling a lack of support from Marketing. He felt Marketing was not listening to Sales’ needs, they put on events that are not effective and overall not adding value.
  2. The Head of Manufacturing complaining that Sales keeps selling features that do not exist or promising delivery deadlines that the factory did not agree to and cannot keep.
  3. The Head of Sales being frustration about his Head of Services counterpart not being responsive and supportive because he is too focused on selling new services rather than supporting existing ones.
  4. The Head of an overlay function complaining about the lack of inclusion, collaboration, partnership and mere respect and appreciation of Sales.

I could go on and on, there are so many examples.

Leaders tend to take the critical conversations about their team, personally, so even when everyone knows that something is not working, in most cases leaders avoid addressing the issues in order to avoid the unpleasantness of conflict. When issues are addressed, they are often discussed in a wishy-washy, politically-correct, diplomatic and/or polite way.

If leaders want to elevate their trust and partnership, they have to find a way to engage in an honest and brave conversation to air the grievances, complaints, and frustrations they and their team members have about other teams and managers.

Obviously, it has to be done respectfully and productively. It also has to be done in an honest and direct way. Beating around the bush simply doesn’t resolve anything.

I recently had the opportunity to help a senior leader of a technology company in doing exactly that.

Each leader wrote the key frustrations/complaints that his/her function had about the other teams they interacted with most and depended on most. Then each leader, in turn, communicated what they wrote, and others tried to listen openly without reacting.

By the time everyone had a chance to give and get feedback the space of the room had changed. People seem to be more reflective and less defensive.

No one seemed to be surprised by what others said about them.

Everyone acknowledged that many of the issues and frustrations had been around for a long time.

In addition, everyone acknowledged that these dynamics were stifling teamwork, productivity, and performance.

So, I asked them:

“If everyone knows these negative dynamics are going on and hurting the team, why have you tolerated them for so long?”

A couple of leaders took offense and claimed that they tried to change things but didn’t succeed. However, when we examined their claim a bit deeper, they admitted that they made a few light attempts in the right direction, but without strong enough courage, conviction or persistence.

Why do leaders tolerate any level of toxicity around them?

There was a good dialogue in which leaders acknowledged that they had avoided these tough conversations because – in simple terms – these conversations are hard, messy, scary and risky.

You may think that this specific senior team is particularly wimpy or weak. Trust me, that is not the case. On the contrary, this team has accomplished great things. However, like so many other effective teams, when it comes to addressing the challenging conversations, they shy away from the heat.

After acknowledging their shortfalls, the leaders also acknowledged the negative consequences of their environment – the stress, discouragement, lack of collaboration, lack of fun at work and reduced quality and productivity.

I have a client who when describing his job, he refers to it as “his 8-hour inconvenience.” Can you imagine going to work in that space?

It doesn’t have to be this way. If you focus on the negative consequence associated with not addressing the tough conversation, you may be able to muster the courage to take a stand and say: “Enough Already!”, “No more!”. From that declaration, you can start doing things differently.

It takes courage, but it is extremely empowering!

 

Are you failing often enough?

Strange question, you may think, and you are probably right. I don’t mean it literally.

However, I am sure you would agree that people who make bolder decisions and choices; people who go for it ‘all out’ tend to have a higher risk of failing. In fact, the bigger you play in any area if you fail you will most likely fail bigger.

In contrast, people who play small and safe tend to avoid failures and if they do their failure is much smaller.

So, perhaps the right question is: “Are you playing big enough?”

What’s big enough? There is no objective definition or metric. Each one of us has to determine that for ourselves.

However, there are a few guiding principles that I would believe most of you would agree to.

  1. Do you have a vision for your life? It doesn’t have to be fancy. It could be any type or level of articulation of your desired future outcomes, commitments, ambitions, desires. Many people don’t have any of that. It takes courage to dream, desire and want. It takes greater courage to declare it in public. By doing so you are positioning yourself in the world as an optimistic, positive and committed person, rather than a resigned, cynical and negative person. As a result of you raising the bar on your brand, people will hold you to a higher standard, they will expect more from you and they will judge you more harshly if you don’t live up to your declarations/commitments.
  2. Are you taking action consistent with your life vision and commitments? My youngest daughter who is studying psychology at university reminded me this week that wanting something is much easier than actually going for it. In fact, she gave me examples of people we know who keep talking about what they want, but they don’t take any actions to pursue it. Again, it doesn’t have to be fancy. You could start with small steps in the right direction. In fact, walking before you run is a good strategy. When it comes to action, the direction of your action – ensuring that they come from your commitment – is more important than the quantity or magnitude of your actions – at least in the beginning. It doesn’t take courage to want. It does take courage to take actions.
  3. Are you pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone? Once you have got the basic and psychological needs of the survival pyramid down you could start pushing yourself to perform at a higher level. Eleonora Roosevelt’s quote says it quite eloquently: “Do one thing every day that scares you!” If you are doing something, which takes you out of your comfort zone and your stomach is turning, that is probably a good indication that you are playing big enough.
  4. Are you celebrating your accomplishments and successes? From my experience, people who acknowledge, own and celebrate their accomplishments and successes tend to be more positive, happy, fulfilled, powerful and effective! It makes complete sense if you own your accomplishments and successes you are owning your greatness. You are self-empowering yourself. You are promoting a personal brand of someone that is bigger than their circumstances. As a result, you will strive for more, be more open to taking risks and have more confidence in dealing with obstacles and challenges. If you avoid owning your accomplishments and successes, you are fostering a scarce, circumstantial and small self-brand. Great people accomplish great things. Small people don’t accomplish much.
  5. Are you confronting, owning and learning from your failures? As I stated above, if you play big and go beyond your comfort zone you may fail more often and even bigger. However, if you have the courage to confront, own and learn from your failures falling isn’t that bad. In fact, every failure is the opportunity to learn from your shortfalls, put in the corrections and grow.

You can grow from successes and/or failures. So, perhaps my initial question “Are you failing often enough?” isn’t that farfetched after all.